The complete guide to Chiang Saen, a quiet little town on the banks of the Mekong River, a picturesque and historic place that was one of the major cities of the Lanna kingdom.
Chiang Saen is a small town located 60 km north of Chiang Rai city (about 2 -3 hours drive), it is part of Chiang Rai province.
Like Chiang Mai, the historic city of Chiang Saen is surrounded by an old wall, but the Mekong River forms the fourth “wall.”
Chiang Saen is an ideal place to discover the history of the region through ancient remains, crafts, and images of Buddha in the styles of Lanka, Sukhothai, and Ayutthaya.
On the famous Golden Triangle
The charming city of Chiang Saen is located at the junction between Thailand, Burma, and Laos, the famous Golden Triangle, which has long been an opium-producing region.
Today, officially, opium production no longer exists in Thailand but continues in Myanmar (Burma) and neighboring Laos.
According to legend, the city dated back 2000 years and was a hidden ancient city named Yonok Nak Phan.
With the help of the Nagas (giant snakes), King Singhanawat of Chiang Rai would have founded the city, which would have become very prosperous.
Yonok Nak Phan would then have been destroyed and would now be under Chiang Saen Lake.
Historical research on Chiang Saen proves that the city was under the control of King Meng Rai of the Kingdom of Lanna and takes its name from the ancient Tai language used by Burmese people and the inhabitants of northern Thailand.
“Chiang” means “dense city,” and “Saen” probably comes from the name of King Meng Rai’s nephew, King Saen Phu, who was the third king of Chiang Saen.
King Saen Phu commanded Chiang Sean the capital from 1327 to 1341 before his son, King Kham Fu, took control of it.
When the city declined, it was no longer a capital, but it was marked by the expansion of Buddhism through its many governors, as shown by the ruins discovered – 75 temples in the city and 66 outside.
Later in 1557, many cities, including Chiang Mai and Chiang Saen, were invaded by Burmese and Ayutthaya troops.
Finding a hotel in Chiang Saen
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To see and do in Chiang Saen
The Saturday night market is located along the river to the north of the city.
The Sunday market is located near the bus stop and songthaew.
Food from the north is very famous, inspired by its neighbors: China, Laos, and Burma.
There are many restaurants in the city, especially around the market, on the street along the river and near the bus station.
If you like Khao Soy, you should try the local version:
Ballad on the Mekong
Many roads are available; you can reach Chiang Kong or Sop Ruak (see below for directions).
If you have a Chinese visa, you can even travel to China (Jinghong)
Chiang Saen National Museum
There are dozens of ancient relics, Lanna-style sculptures, Buddha statues, and engraved stones from Phayao and Chiang Saen.
There are also exhibitions of indigenous art from Thai Yai (ไทย ใหญ่), Thai Lu (ไทย ลื้อ), and other mountain tribes.
These objects include musical instruments, ornaments, opium smoking accessories, etc.
Open from Wednesday to Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm.
Wat Phra That Chedi Luang
Located in the old town, this temple was built by King Saen Phu, the third ruler of the kingdom of Lanna, at the beginning of the 13th century.
The site has a bell-shaped main Chedi, in Lanna style, 88 meters high with a base 24 meters wide, it is the largest structure in Chiang Saen.
Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong
Located within the city walls, built by Prince Thong Ngua, son of King Tilokkarat, the 12th ruler of Lanna, in 1489.
The temple has a Buddha statue of 1200 kilos, 2 meters wide, and more than 3 meters high, called “Phra Chao Lan Tong.”
Wat Pa Sak
Located about one kilometer west of the city, this temple was built by King Saen Phu in 1295, and three hundred teak trees were planted, hence the name Pa Sak (Teak).
The Chedi of the temple is in Chiang Saen’s architectural style, and the exterior faces are meticulously decorated with drawings.
The chedi is 12.5 meters high with a base 8 meters wide.
There are also several ancient sites outside the city wall, such as Wat Phra That Pha Ngao, which is a place for Dharma practice.
Wat Chedi Ched Tod is a peaceful place, located 1 km from Wat Phra That Pha Ngao, Wat Phra That Chom Kitti, about 1.7 km from the city, and Wat Sangkha Kaeo Don Han where sketches on brick slabs tell the stories of Buddha’s different lives.
Chiang Saen Lake
It is a large natural reservoir in a picturesque setting.
Waterfowl (waterfowl and migratory birds) migrate to the site during the winter.
The lake is located 5 kilometers from the district on the road 1016, Chiang Saen-Mae Chan Road.
Turn left at km.27 and continue for 2 kilometers to reach the site.
Wat Phra That Pha Ngao
This temple has a bell-shaped Chedi standing on large rocks.
Nearby is a Viharn where several old Chiang Saen Buddha statues are set.
There is also a viewpoint to observe the Mekong River and the city.
How to get there
Chiang Saen is connected by local buses from Chiang Rai (2 to 3 hours drive).
There are buses every 3/4 hours; they often leave when they are full.
The Blue Pick-ups (Songthaews), travel from Mae Sai via the Golden Triangle to Chiang Saen in about 1 hour (50 baht).
The city can be reached by taking road No. 1 north of Chiang Rai for about 30 kilometers.
Then take the highway n° 1016 on the right and continue for another 30 kilometers.
It is also possible to rent a boat carrying up to 8 people along the Mekong River in Chiang Khong (1h 30) for about 1500 baht, or to Sop Ruak (Golden Triangle) for less (about 40 min).
A nice little video that introduces the city and its surroundings.
Chiang Saen’s map
Sources: wikitravel.org; Photos: Wat Pa Sak: Kesaputta : Kesaputta : Ruak and Mekong River : Oatz : Chiang Saen drawing in 1867 of Louis Delaporte : Francis Garnier : Chedi du Wat Pa Sak : Takeaway : Motorcycle in the old city : Takeaway ; Buddha at Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao : Kittipong Khunnen ; Temples Map : Chyutopia : Walk on the banks of the Mekong River : Jpatokal ; National Museum : Chyutopia ; Trip on the Mekong River : Chyutopia ; Khao Soi de Chiang Saen : TakeAway : TakeAway : Chinese Restaurant : Takeaway