In other words, some of you will have seen this OP before.
Not the larger and better known city of Chiang Mai, but Chiang Rai, in Northern Thailand deserves your attention. I am a retired USMC infantry officer and have seen more than a few interesting places, some of which I even liked. One of them is located in the Chilean Lake District in the Lake Villarrica area. I reconned it as a possible retirement spot a year or so ago, but, eventually, decided on Chiang Rai instead. And here’s why:
In a word – isolation. The beauty, privacy, and pace of life in the Chilean Lake District suited me just fine. But a feeling of isolation set in after a time—too much isolation, even for a retired Marine grunt seeking peace, quiet and a less-structured life after three decades on the hoof. And, from my spot in Chile, l found it difficult to reconnect quickly with the world whenever I felt like it.
So I boogied on over to The Land of Smiles to investigate Chiang Rai, a town in the Golden Triangle that I had visited before. The people are super-friendly respecters of an individual’s privacy, the pace of life is slow and relaxed, the land is gorgeous, and–guess what—the outside world is only a quick plane ride away. Flying to Bangkok from Chang Rai takes just over an hour and is dirt cheap at about $50 USD for a one-way ticket. From Bangkok, one of the world’s great cities, you can quickly and conveniently reach anywhere on earth.
Chiang Rai isn’t for everyone. You won’t like it here if you are addicted to nightlife and are looking for the Thailand of most travel books. If you crave a party town, pass us by. This is a conservative community where different cultures and sub-cultures merge to form something unique. Every Saturday night, for example, there is free live entertainment for all. The Thais form huge dance circles of up to 100 locals at a time, and dance to mostly traditional music. Visitors and “newbies” are welcome, and you will be invited into the circle even if you tower over the crowd and have two left feet. It is sweet to see grandparents and their grandchildren, dancing right next to young lovers preparing to start their own families. All are respected as they dance beside their neighbors in Zen-like peace and harmony.
If you’re ready for dinner after all that dancing (or just watching), or if you simply want to shop, never fear. Chiang Rai has pedestrian only ”walking streets” adjacent to the town square during these events. Wander around for a few minutes, and you’ll find you can purchase almost anything under the sun. I particularly like the endless variety of delicious and safe-to-eat Thai street food that can be purchased for a song from the many food stands. Just be aware that the sidewalks everywhere roll up and down with the sun, except on “Farang Street,” the non-Thai area of the town, where the foreigners who don’t want to fit in with the rest of us hang out.
If you’re an expat with a yen to fit in, you must visit the well-known watering-hole owned by an interesting Aussie chap just off ”Farang Street,” where you can spend time holding court, exchanging recipes and talking about the (usually hot) weather. And if you’d like to investigate some genuine and interesting attractions, look no further than the world-famous Wat Rong Khun or White Temple. Many tour buses arrive and depart all day long here so I would recommend you show up early, (when the weather is relatively cool). According to my insider Thai friends, the famous artist who designed the White Temple was more than a bit eccentric, and hid “penis images” within his sculptures. (If you look for them you may find a few.). He also designed the Clock Tower, a popular landmark that provides locals and tourists alike a wonderful light show at about 8PM every evening. Also well worth your time is a visit to the nearby Black House. This “walking museum” pays homage to the eccentric mind of the Thai artist who lived and worked there. Yet another pleasant getaway, within about a 40-minute taxi ride of the town is the Doi Tung Garden founded by Thailand’s Queen. While visiting, buy your friends a cup of coffee at the coffee shop just outside the garden’s front gate; and encourage them to take home some Doi Tung coffee. They’ll thank you later, trust me.
Finally, come to Chiang Rai for the weather, but stay for the storms. Mother Nature is often on display here in the foothills of the Himalayas and is always magnificent. Recently, a hailstorm left about an inch of ice in my garden. During the monsoons, the streets flood until you are knee-deep in runoff if you get caught out in a storm without your umbrella–not that it helps much when the rain comes down sideways. The best thing about our location though is that being so close to the foothills it cools off nicely, so unlike Bangkok and most of Thailand, evenings and mornings are always fairly pleasant. Explore this lovely, humble town, and save on your electricity bill. You’ll never use your A/C here!