A crowd forms outside of the white temple in Chiang Rai.
Location: Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chiang Rai is the gateway to northern Thailand’s mountainous region, and also a popular stopping off point for people looking to head on towards Laos. I had planned to do some hiking in this area with dreams of trekking through lush green jungles, swimming in secret waterfalls, and seeing some of the hill tribe villages that dot the area. So I jumped on a luxurious Green Bus (288 Baht one way) and after winding our way through the mountains, only 3 hours later we were pulling into the centre of Chiang Rai.

Besides the trekking opportunities in the area, Chiang Rai is popular for it’s markets. There are a few around the town, and the Night Market is the most local of them all. Here you’ll find locally made items using the beautiful fabrics common in the area’s hill tribe population, and a lot of very Thai souvenirs at better prices than you’ll find in Chiang Mai. The Walking Street markets I found to be full of gadgets and the latest clothes as well as food and drinks, but difficult to walk through as it gets unbearably crowded – definitely avoid if you hate slow moving crowds!

Trekkers walk through a valley in Chiang Rai's mountains

There are a lot of trekking tour operators in the area and we inquired at a few until we found one that had a package to suit: a small group, challenging terrain, all day trekking with stops at a waterfall and a few hill tribe villages which included water and lunch. The next day we were up bright and early and in the back of the car on our way out to the mountains.

A view of a valley of riced terraces in the Mountains of Chiang Rai

The trek was indeed strenuous, with two hour stretches of trekking between villages and up very steep embankments. We walked through incredible valleys with terraced rice fields being harvested, past herds of buffalo grazing and through villages frozen in time. The best part was the waterfall we visited. It was completely deserted for the most part, and incredibly tranquil and clean; by far my favourite part of the day. If only I was here longer I would have loved to have done an overnight stay in one of these villages, and experience hill tribe life again, but maybe next time.

Piglets feed in front of a traditional Hill Tribe Village.

Back in Chiang Rai, on our last day we took a tuk tuk out to see the White Temple, which is 15 minutes of out the centre of town. I’d heard that this temple was ‘different’, but that was an understatement. This was the craziest temple I’d ever seen! It’s big and all white, with hundreds of inlaid mirrors making this temple sparkle in the sunlight. It also gets very crowded and is free to enter so it’s worth the ride out to see. You’ll probably never see a temple like this anywhere else!

Me relaxing in a natural waterfall surrounded by jungle.

I would recommend a minimum stay of two days in Chiang Rai, and if I had another day I would have headed out to some of the other temples and the golden triangle area, but I was keen to head back to Chiang Mai. So if you’re heading up to Chiang Mai, do make the trip further north to experience the laid-back Chiang Rai life.

Last photograph by Auyeung Photography, all others by Jelena Stipanicev.