Chiang Rai possesses some of the most rural and untouched parts of the country with many groups of indigenous tribes still thriving in its hilltops. In the winter months of the year it also reaches some of the coolest temperatures in the Kingdom, which get nearly as low as 0 degrees Celsius up on some of the peaks.
Several ethnic groups make up the demographics of the Chiang Rai people. The largest are the Khon Muang, which literally translates to ‘City People’ and are today amongst Siam’s main group of northern inhabitants.
You also have many Tai Yai people, who are ethnically Burmese, but migrated from the Shan State in Myanmar to eventually settle in Thailand a few generations back. Another group are the Tai Lue, who had migrated down from China, through Laos and also eventually found their way to settle in Chiang Rai as well.
In terms of actual hill tribes, you have the Akha, who are the largest group of tribal peoples living in the Chiang Rai region and who also originally immigrated from China. Next you have a mix of some of the other, lesser hill tribes groups that settled in Thailand from the Lahu, Lisu, Karen, Chin Ho, Mien and Hmong tribes, all of which are descendants of southern China as well. The names of the tribes can get a bit confusing to a newcomer though because each of the groups are actually referred to by different names when in Thailand. Lahu becomes Musor, Lisu become Lisor, Mein become Yao, Hmong become Maeo, and etc.
These days it is less common though to see hill tribe people dressing in their beautiful traditional costumes when they are out and about, going about their daily lives. As a result, traditional clothing is now mainly reserved and worn for festivals and special occasions like wedding ceremonies and other celebrations in their villages.
Chiang Rai, like almost all Thai provinces, is filled with various beautiful temples, some caves, waterfalls, and other rich cultural attractions. But when I go to Chiang Rai I really just enjoy driving through its wonderful hills, admiring the views, taking in the fresh mountain air, and visiting some of the welcoming mountaintop villages as you can see from my photos.
Parts of Chiang Rai, especially atop one of its biggest mountains; Doi Mae Sarong, actually look a bit as if they are made up of small villages from China as you will some storefront signs written out in Chinese language characters. There are also a number of plantations in the region that grow tea, coffee, and other forms of local agriculture like strawberries, all of which thrive in the cooler and steeper mountainous regions of Thailand.
If you are a person like me that loves high vistas, open spaces, and beautiful landscapes, then Chiang Rai is sure to impress you on a visit.