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Chiang Saen north of Chiang Rai, the guide to discover the golden triangle

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.”

Na antiga cidade de Chiang Saen
In the old city of Chiang Saen

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

Mapa de Chiang SaenThe 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.

Ruínas de Chiang SaenHistorical 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.

The temples of Chiang Saen
The temples of Chiang Saen

Finding a hotel in Chiang Saen

You will find the best quality/price ratio by comparing offers from the main booking sites via our partner

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.


Chinese restaurants in Chiang Saen
Chinese restaurants in Chiang Saen

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:

Khao Soy Chiang Saen
Khao Soy Chiang Saen

Ballad on the Mekong

Viagem no MekongMany 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

Museu Nacional de Chiang SaenTo discover the archaeology, settlements, and history of the city.

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

Chedi Wat Pa Sak
Chedi 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

Wat Phra Pha Ngao Chiang SaenLocated about 4 kilometers from Chiang-Saen on the Chiang Khong road.

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

By bus

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).

By car

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.

By boat

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).

Chiang Saen, nas margens do MekongVideo

A nice little video that introduces the city and its surroundings.

Chiang Saen’s map

Mapa de Chiang Saen

See also: Travel to Thailand, the complete guide to prepare your trip

Sources:; 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



Settled in Thailand since a few years (with trips to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia), I love this country and its inhabitants, the real country of Smiles! Sorry for any translation errors that may occur. Feel free to mention them in the comments, I will correct them. Thank you.

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