Activities for ChiangRai visitors:
There was a time, decades ago, when the thing to do was trek to hill-tribe villages, take photos and smoke opium. Now, for good reason, that’s not done so much. The villages aren’t remote, some frown on strangers stealing their image, the government is hardly as indulgent about opium, and marching into people’s homes for the curiosity value of it is sometimes even recognized for the rudely-mannered arrogance it is. You can still go to human zoos to see
"long-neck” people, but that, at least, is generally recognized for what it is (if not beforehand, then maybe subsequently).
But there’s lots to do that isn’t intrusive:
On Sundays, the Thanon Khon Muan weekly street fair on SanKhongLuang Road fills a wide area with goods-for-sale, small stages with plastic chairs for audiences provide interesting entertainment, there’s an area for participatory dancing, food, food and food, and the ever-popular people-watching.
Mondays in BanDu a few kilometers up Hwy 1 from the bridge over the Kok, opposite the highway from Gate #1 to Rajapat Univ, is a “Walking Street” with mostly clothes for sale but also food and drink, packed with Rajapat students enjoying themselves.
Tuesdays, also in BanDu, in an open area on the highway just south of there, right north of Wat BanDu, is a Talat Nat open market featuring low prices and often a blow-up fun house for kids, plus a safely-enclosed trampoline.
Every night in the middle of town the “Night Bazaar” provides lavish entertainment on several large stages, beer, food, hill-tribe vendors and a remarkable array of delights.
Saturdays there’s the Thanon Tanalai (Tanalai Road) Walking Street, so popular that walking can be difficult. Kids do stunts on bikes and boards, and again, there’s participatory dancing.
Every night TokTaeng Restaurant towards the south end of town has local ethnic cuisine and local music by musicians in traditional local garb, and a quick walk further south, towards the KhunGon intersection that marks the end of town, also on the west side of Pahonyothin Road (the main thoroughfare) is ToopYaDong herbal-whiskey stand with interspersed comedy ad local music (all in local lingo only, and with some very friendly katoey lady-boys).
East of Hwy 1 on the south side of the Kok River a row of good restaurants provide sea-food, local fish, Chinese food, stage shows and riverside ambience.
“Pattaya Noi” (ChiangRai Beach) is a great place to relax of an evening, with a long row of open-sided pavilions to choose from for drinking and enjoying bar-b-q chicken and fish.
And then there’s JetYod Road, with tourist-oriented bars, massage shops and restaurants with Western food. Oh, and coffee-shops too (but they’re everywhere, anymore!).
Days, there’s the Elephant Camp on the Kok west of town, several hot-springs, waterfalls, museums, and the Central (Main) Market, at the northeast corner of which hill-tribe folk in tribal attire sell vegetables daily.
Day trips to outlying areas can work out, but often overnight is better, especially if you want to see the sunrise from PuChiFah overlook on the Mekong, or the birds at ChiangSaen Reservoir. To see Santikiri/DoiMaeSalong, ThoedThai/BanHinTaek, DoiTung and the Amphoe MaeFahLuang borderlands requires a couple days (at least), and good accommodations are generally available (except during the Chinese NewYear period).
Then there are the many National Parks, reservoirs, fishing parks, the Ostrich farm, artists to find out about, arboretums, caves, temples, interesting businesses (Lanna Souvenir, Orn’s Used Books, DoiDinDaeng Pottery), NGOs (AFECT, Mirror Art Group), and long-tail boat rides on the Kok River.
This list is hardly complete or comprehensive, but perhaps some things should be left to discover on one’s own. There are guides, bicycles, motorcycles and cars to hire, and a few Tourist Authority offices, if you can find them!