Hidden Gems: Chiang Rai Night Bazaar, Thailand

Chiang Mai is the main attraction for visitors in the north of Thailand, and truly it has earned that reputation.  The beautiful romance of the old city, penned in by the tree lined moat, juxtaposed with the modern city sprawling from its banks, with world class entertainment, shopping and, should you need it, medical care.  Yet there is a less visited city slightly further north, on the other side of a mountain range, which has a strong case to vie for the title; I refer to Chiang Rai.

While Chiang Mai is the former capital of the old Lanna Kingdom, a kingdom with its own script and dialect distinct from the South, known colloquially as “northern Thai language”, it is Chiang Rai that remains closely connected to the warm and friendly Lanna culture that endears so many visitors to the mountainous northern area.  Smaller than Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai still boasts a sizeable area and includes a university, newly opened mall and is just 30 minutes drive from the colours and excitement of the border town at Mae Sai, allowing day trips to Tachileik in Burma.

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar: Sunset

The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar

Probably the best place to immerse yourself in Lanna Thai is at the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar.  Spend your days exploring what the locale has to offer, such as shopping at Mae Sai, dawn trips to the mountains and the famous White Temple (Wat Rong Khun).  For adventurers, there are many hikes that can be taken in breathtaking bamboo forests; or hire a dirt bike and traverse the hills on and off-road.  I simply cannot say enough about the sheer beauty of the region.

Freshly showered and hungry for delicious local cuisine, arriving to the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar you will pass a few stalls before arriving at the food court.  A large courtyard covered in wooden tables sits below a stage with traditional music and dancing, surrounded by an array of restaurants on the outside.  Stroll the food counters or choose from a menu what you would like to eat and enjoy waiter service at your table.  You might notice by now that most of the other diners are also tourists.  That is because there are really two food courts!

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar: Cake Store
Cake store

The locals go next door to an almost identical set up, with a few small differences.  The musicians are modern Thai rock groups as opposed to traditional instruments, the tables are smaller and more numerous, and the restaurants specialize in fried insects of every variety.  Yes, any insect you can imagine – and several you can’t – is available in a buffet style.  So fill up your plate, grab a plastic chair, a beer with ice, and rock out!

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar: Night show
Show in Chiang Rai

After your meal head further into the maze of the Bazaar.  Here you will find authentic, handmade crafts in all sorts of materials, as well as beautiful hand stitched clothing.  Hill Tribes come from the surrounding areas to sell these crafts and creations.  You can find jewelry, bags, shoes, art, sculpture, wood-carvings and much more.  There is also a reputable fish-spa, for those desiring the ultimate in clean feet!  You can easily spend hours lost amongst the narrow paths discovering hidden gems.  I was quite pleased to one evening wander into a small store on the corner of a nondescript street and find an extremely knowledgeable and friendly silk and cashmere trader, importing handmade items from India.

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar: Making mats
Making mats

Most people go to Chiang Rai just for a day or two, preferring to spend more time in Chiang Mai, but I can highly recommend a week in Chiang Rai.  The mountain air does one good.

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About Mary Llewellyn

Mary Llewellyn is of Irish citizenship and spent four years traversing remote areas around the globe.  Keeping off the main tourist trail, she worked several jobs from farm hand to non-profit foundation manager in Asia.  Now back home for a spell, Mary enjoys meeting other travelers, sharing experiences and offering helpful tips to those setting out.

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