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Exploring Chiang Saen, Thailand Apr 28-30, 2016

Exploring Chiang Saen, Thailand

Location: Chiang Saen, Thailand

Going with the Flow
Chiang Saen...just a few days ago, I didn't even know this place existed. My plan was to go to Pai after Myanmar. But somehow, the Flow took me to the Golden Triangle - the spot on the map where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet. First Mae Sai, now Chiang Saen. I'm open to where life takes me. I was curious what's here.

Using my newly discovered techie way of reaching my destination, getting to Chiang Saen from Mae Sae was painless (B50, 1 hour). I knew exactly when to tell the driver to stop. From my research, I checked-in at the cheapest place - Chiangsaen Guest House at B150/night. It's not pretty but I'm a guerrilla traveler and a mountaineer - nothing hurts. At least I didn't have to worry where I sleep that night. Having taken care of that, next step was to rent a bike and go to the better hotels to make a web deal.

Chiang Saen
Unlike Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, Chiang Saen is not a familiar destination in the north of Thailand. It's a laid back sleepy town on the bank of the mighty Mekong River. Tourists are few and they only stay for a night to break a long trip into Laos or take the extended tour for the Golden Triangle from Chiang Rai. You get a glimpse of the real Thailand where tourists are welcome but locals don't put on a drama or anything contrite for tourism. The locals seem to be just as happy going about their own ways with or without tourists. This is perhaps the charm of Chiang Saen - the laid-back unpretention. When the sun is down, the river bank 'boardwalk' takes on a new form as vendors line up the promenade with cute low picnic tables and mats for outdoor dining. This is where Chiang Saen's charm becomes evident. On one side of the bank is a group of mostly housewives doing a led group dance and on a pub across the street, the youngsters are having their drinks and fun. The entire scene is wholesome and refreshing. The Thais know how to have fun, and more importantly, they know how to balance work and recreation.

Brief History
Even though Chiang Saen is now a sleepy town, it wasn't always like that. Around Chiang Saen's perimeter is a fortified city wall. From the stream running along the northern wall, it might even be a moated city like Chiang Mai. From the inscription by the river, there used to be an east wall that has since been taken over by the river. All this gives evidence that Chiang Saen was once the mighty capital of the Lanna Kingdom - long before even Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai were established. But the succession of tribal wars, earthquakes and power struggles obscured an accurate account of Chiang Saen's history. Only the surviving ruins of temples and chedis give a muted statement on the historical backdrop of the place.

Golden Triangle
In the north of Thailand, the biggest draw is the Golden Triangle - the confluence of the Ruak River and the Mekong where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. Ironically, there's really not much to it. The opium days that gave rise to the notoriety of the place is now a historical footnote. But yes, during its heyday back in the 1950s, the opium trade in the Golden Triangle generated enough money to fund revolutions and destabilize governments. The name itself conjured images of the CIA, drug lords, opium cartels, mercenaries, money laundering, heroin and anarchy. This romanticized notion is what gives this place a kind of marketing edge.

Chiang Saen is perhaps one place where the highlight for me was the people I met - 2 nights, 4 wonderful souls.


Sudarat ChuajettonSudarat
An elegant hotel got my attention - Pak-Ping-Rim-Khong. I thought I could interest the owners to a barter deal. I ended up talking to Sudarat who was representing the family business. She liked the program, but unfortunately, the hotel was fully booked for the days I planned to stay in Chiang Saen. But we got on well, and continued to talk about other things. She invited me to have breakfast the following day and have me savour what they offer in their bed-and-breakfast. I was there the following day lavished by a hearty Thai breakfast with Sudarat across the table as we continued out talk. I enjoyed her company. I only wish we could hang out more, but hotel duties tied her up.

Ed A. Gms Jessie Guilbert Gomez Julie Mac MasegosaJulie, Edward and Jessie
For a while, we were the only tourists in Chiang Saen. We kept bumping into each other and later discovered we all checked-in at the same place. We started hanging out - morning yoga, alfresco riverside dinner, lakeside naps, etc. They were kind enough to let me tag along on their motorcycle tour of Chiang Saen's tourist attractions, with me riding in tandem with Julie. We somehow resonated having similar tenets and insight about many things. My Chiang Saen experience was exponentially enhanced having met them - it was great fun!

Exploring Chiang Saen, Thailand
early morning yoga by the mighty Mekong River with Julie, Edward and Jessie

Chiang Saen has numerous compelling Wats, some sit magnificently on a hilltop offering a stunning view of Laos and the Mekong River. Mostly, there are lone chedi ruins scattered across town, interspacing themselves with commercial establishments, parks and residences. A short motorcycle ride can also take you to the Chiang Saen lake - it's easy to get lost since there are no street signs and Thais don't understand what "lake" means. But for me, the main charm of Chiang Saen is alfresco dinner by the river bank.

Ending Thoughts
I often hear from travelers that they want to experience the real culture of the place, away from the maddening tourists. Well, this is it! Chiang Saen. It's almost that kind of neighborhood secret you say in hushed tones 'coz you want to keep it all to yourself.

--- TheLoneRider

Next stop: Chiang Khong, Thailand

Chiang Saen, Thailand

hotels in Chiang Saen - hotel
my blue songthaew leaving Mae Sai with my newly discovered technique, I would know exactly how near I am to my hotel arriving in Chiang Saen, clueless where to go Chiang Saen market scene
grabbing a few eats at the market and having a picnic at a nearby park grilled eats from the market Chiang Saen river side scene when it gets dark they have a group public dance too
alfresco dinner with new friends from France - Edward, Jessie and Julie morning yoga by the Mekong River with the French crew I was lavished with this Thai breakfast by Sudarat at their family hotel, Pak-Ping-Rim_Khong morning tete-a-tete with Sudarat at Pak-Ping-Rim-Khong Hotel
hitting all the attractions on a motorbike. With Julie on the handlebars, I was in good hands Tree Pose for Buddha the Gilded Buddha at the Golden Triangle Park at the Golden Triangle where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand the confluence of the Mekong and the Ruak River
at the  Wat Pra Dhat Pha-Ngao Mekong River view from the Wat Pra Dhat Pha-Ngao wall mural depicts the battle that took place centuries ago the column of the Teak Wood Temple
more Buddha statues chilling at Chiang Saen Lake with Julie, Jessie and Edward many stand-along ruins in Chiang Saen night life in Chiang Saen with my French friends
market scene early in the morning as I was leaving Chiang Saen my green songthaew for Chiang Khong    
Pak-Ping-Rim-Khong Hotel

Pak-Ping-Rim-Khong Hotel

Location: 484 M.2 Rimkhong Rd., Wiang, Chiang Saen
Tel: 0(+66)53650151 / (+66)819933763
Email: pakpingrimkhong (at)

Things to do, Places to go in Chiang Saen

  1. Golden Triangle - ride 10 kms north along route 1290 to Sop Ruak until you see a huge Golden Buddha. The Golden Triangle is where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. There is the Opium Museum to visit
  2. Chiang Saen National Museum - located within town, you read more about the role opium played in Thailand's history, the local tribes in Thailand's north and the devotion of the Thais to Buddha
  3. Wat Pra Dhat Pha-Ngao - sitting atop a hill with a panoramic vista of Mekong River and Laos. Many religious temples here including the Wooden Teak Temple (currently undergoing a facelift)
  4. Night Dining along the Mekong River - when the stores close around 6pm, the food vendors line-up picnic tables and mats along the 'boardwalk' of the Mekong River. Meals are very reasonably priced and served straight to your table. A must-experience in Chiang Saen!

Chiang Saen FYI / Tips

  1. the tourist area where most of the hotels, restaurants, ticket offices, tour operators are, is located within the market area close to the T-junction of route 1290 and 1016
  2. with the exception of 24-hour convenience stores and perhaps a local pub, most establishments (cafes, resto, stores) close between 5pm and 6pm. When they close, the vendors serving dinner and drinks along the riverside take over. They remain open until about 10pm - this will be the only action happening in Chiang Saen during this time
  3. the money changer, Twelve Victory Exchange, located beside the market/7-11 give good rates
  4. prices in Chiang Saen are generally lower than Chiang Mai (except bicycles B50 vs B80)

How to Get to Chiang Saen from Mae Sai

  • blue songthaew - B50, 1 hour via Sop Ruak (Golden Triangle) along Route 1290. Blue songthaew waits along the main road corner Thetsaban 8 Alley, just right after KasikornBank and leaves every hour. It will pass through Route 1290 and turn right on the market (Route 1016), its final stop. (my songthaew left Mae Sai at 9:40am and arrived Chiang Saen at 10:35am)

How to Get around Chiang Saen

  • motorcycle - B200/day + gas
  • bicycle - B80 daily rental
  • tuk-tuk
  • downtown Chiang Saen is really a small place - you can walk around it leisurely

Chiang Saen Cost Index

backpacker places (US$1 = Thai Baht 34.92 = Php P47.03 as of May 1, 2016)
  • B70 one Chang bottled beer, big
  • B5 1 liter drinking water in a grocery
  • B200 one hour massage
  • B40-50 noodle soup with meat
  • B40 hot coffee, add B5 if iced
  • B50 songthaew to Chiang Saen
  • B150 bed in a fan room, shared toilet incl. breakfast
  • B80 bicycle rental, 24 hours
  • B200/day one day motorcycle rental + gas

Thailand Blogs by TheLoneRider

  1. Loving Bangkok All Over Again Feb 22-26, 2016
  2. Adventure Hostel Review Feb 22-26, 2016
  3. Hotel Review: Riva Surya Bangkok Oct. 20, 2014
  4. The Shopping Malls of Bangkok Oct 6-20, 2014
  5. Bangkok's Street Food Delight Oct 6-20, 2014
  6. Bangkok Revisited 3 Oct 6-20, 2014
  7. Bangkok Dec 31, 2005

  8. Chiang Khong
  9. Ten Days in Chiang Khong, Thailand Apr 30 - May 9, 2016

  10. Chiang Mai
  11. A First Timer in Chiang Mai Apr 9-23, 2016
  12. Dance Mandala in Chiang Mai at The Yoga Tree Apr 19, 2016
  13. Songkran Waterfight Festival in Chiang Mai Apr 13-15, 2016
  14. Border Crossing from Siem Reap (Cambodia) to Chiangmai (Thailand) April 9-10, 2016

  15. Chiang Rai
  16. Exploring Chiang Rai, Thailand May 11-16, 2016
  17. Visiting the White Temple of Chiang Rai (Wat Rong Khun) May 15, 2016

  18. Chiang Saen
  19. Exploring Chiang Saen, Thailand Apr 28-30, 2016

  20. Mae Sai
  21. 4 Days in Mae Sai, Thailand Apr 25-28, 2016
  22. Border Crossing - Mae Sai (Thailand) to Tachileik (Myanmar) Apr 23, 2016

  23. Pai
  24. Exploring Pai, Thailand May 19-24, 2016
  25. Visiting the Land Split in Pai, Thailand May 23, 2016
  26. Trekking the Ridges of Pai Canyon May 23, 2016
  27. Climbing up the White Buddha (Wat Phra That Mae Yen) May 21, 2016

  28. Pak Chong
  29. Pak Chong (Thailand) En Route to Siem Reap (Cambodia) Mar 20-21, 2016
  30. Goodbye Thai Plum Village Mar 20, 2016
  31. Yoga at Thai Plum Village Mar 19, 2016
  32. Pond Picnic with the Monastics Mar 14, 2016
  33. Sentence Expansion Mar 12, 2016
  34. Alms Round of the Thai Plum Village Monastics Mar 10, 2016
  35. First Day of Teaching English at Thai Plum Village Mar 8, 2016
  36. Cyber Monk Redefined Mar 6, 2016
  37. Thai Plum Village, Day 6: Plum Village and Vipassana Mar 2, 2016
  38. Thai Plum Village, Day 5: Visa Snag Mar 1, 2016
  39. Plum Village, Day 4: Picnic with the Monastics on Lazy Monday Feb 29, 2016
  40. Plum Village, Day 2-3: Getting Settled Feb 27-28, 2016
  41. Plum Village, Day 1: Arrival Feb 26, 2016

  42. Phan District, Chiang Rai Province
  43. Yoga with Amm Prajna Pitchaya and the Sivananda yoga community of Phan May 16-18, 2016
  44. Visiting the Nam Lot and the Pha Khong Caves of Phan District May 18, 2016

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Apr 28-30, 2016

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