Chiang Rai, to the extreme north of Thailand’s mountainous region and bordering Laos and Myanmar, is the erstwhile capital of the Lanna kingdom. Redolent with culture and art and the gentle customs of the Lanna tribe, it is also fast becoming a city much sought after by the MICE sector, especially as it has an airport that is directly served by Bangkok. Not only does it have its own unique attractions to offer, but the proximity to the neighbouring countries as mentioned above makes it a most attractive proposition for an incentive group.
Usually overshadowed by big sister Chiang Mai, known as the ‘Rose of the North,’ Chiang Rai is only now beginning to come into its own limelight. Located along the Kok river, a lot of river-based activities are possible here, including longtail boat rides up the Mekong river. The region offers a lot of natural beauty including waterfalls and hill treks, perfect for camping out for those who prefer an outdoor experience. There are also several elephant camps here that form a unique backdrop to a team bonding exercise, with some even going so far as to provide mahout training courses. Furthermore, golf enthusiasts are sure to appreciate Santiburi, one of Asia’s best known golf courses and on the Thai-Myanmar border.
In terms of day excursions, visitors will also find themselves captivated by the local architecture; as bewitching and fairytale-like as the White Temple is, its starker counterpart the Black Temple is no less majestically carved. A visit to the hill tribes will be a lesson in cultural ethnicity. In fact, a popular party idea for a group dinner could be a Lanna tribal theme. Those with a yen for history will find a visit to the Opium Museum interesting.
The city also has an emerging night scene; apart from the night bazaar, there are pubs and restaurants serving delicious Lanna fare as well as international cuisines. Shopping includes tribal jewellery and handicrafts as well as delicate silver and jade jewellery from across the Myanmar border.
Since not many tourists have discovered Chiang Rai, it is less polluted than many other cities, with cleaner air and a cooler climate than Chiang Mai. Accommodation too remains competitively priced in Chiang Rai. While luxury chains such as the Dusit and Four Seasons have a notable presence here, corporate groups will also find more mid-ranged hotels that offer all the standard facilities.
Chiang Rai is not as developed as Chiang Mai, nor does it have the infrastructure of the latter, however, smaller incentive groups are sure to find a visit to Chiang Rai an unparalleled experience.
Written by: Punam Mohandas