Chiang Saen is a district on the far northern border of Thailand and faces across the Mekong River to Laos. Two important Thai tourism attractions, the Golden Triangle and the ancient ruins of Chiang Saen are easily reached from Chiang Rai. Chiang Saen is 60kms from Chiang Rai, while the Golden Triangle, known as Sop Ruak to local residents, is another 10kms north of Chiang Saen.
Historians say Chiang Saen was founded around 1,500 years ago and pre-dates Chiang Rai as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Temples such as Wat Pa Sak are monuments to Chiang Saen’s long history. The Golden Triangle is located at the point where the Ruak River flows into the Mekong. The river confluence separates Thailand from Myanmar and Laos. The Golden Triangle was the centre of a once major, but now defunct, opium production industry.
The Golden Triangle and Chiang Saen’s temples, several museums, boat rides on the Mekong River and varied shopping opportunities ensure Chiang Saen remains a popular destination for Thai and international tourists. The entries below give more information about what to see and do, where to go shopping, the best places to stay and eat, and how to get here.
Last Updated: January 2019
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Wat Pa Sak
In Chiang Saen, Wat Pa Sak is a 13th century temple built in a classic Lanna style. The flagship of the temple’s ruins is a grand 12-meter-high chedi with a well-preserved base, columns and statues of legendary beings.
Wat Pa Sak: T. Wiang, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 08:00-17:00 (Daily) | Admission Fee: 50 B.
Wat Phra That Chedi Luang
Wat Phra That Chedi Luang is another Chiang Saen temple from the same era as Wat Pa Sak. A huge, pointed chedi gave the temple its name and is the highest such structure in Chiang Rai Province.
Wat Phra That Chedi Luang: T. Wiang, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 08:00-17:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 777 044
Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong
A late 15th century temple, Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong is famed for a magnificent three-metre-high gold Buddha statue and a brass Sukhothai-style Buddha statue. This temple is beside the main highway in Chiang Saen town.
Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong: #114, Baan Wiang, Moo 2, T. Wiang, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 08:00-17:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 650 804
Wat Phra That Pha Ngao
Wat Phra That Pha Ngao is to the south of central Chiang Saen and close to the southern Highway 1290 for Chiang Khong. Pha Ngao Temple sits on top of a hill and has a large terrace which offers panoramic views over the Mekong to Laos. The focal points of the temple are a modern white chedi and a hall containing an ancient Buddhist image known as Phor Pha Ngao.
Wat Phra That Pha Ngao: T. Wiang, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 06:00-18:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 777 151
Wat Phra That Chom Kitti
Wat Phra That Chom Kitti is a another temple on a hill, but on the north side of Chiang Saen The highlight here is a lofty chedi with Buddha statues in alcoves on each side of it. A flight of steps flanked by naga statues leads to the chedi. Religious statues, ornamental buildings and great views are other key attractions at Chom Kitti Temple.
Wat Phra That Chom Kitti: T. Wiang, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 08:30-17:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 650 534
Chiang Saen National Museum
This museum welcomed its first visitors in the late 1950s. It houses a varied collection of historic statues, sculptures and Buddhist artefacts. There are exhibits including old weapons, pots, vases and fishing devices as well. Chiang Saen Museum is near Wat Phra That Chedi Luang.
Chiang Saen National Museum: #702, Moo 3, Phaholyothin Rd., T. Wiang, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 08:30-16:30 (Wednesday-Sunday) | Admission Fee: 100 B. | Tel: +66 53 777 102, +66 53 650 723 | Website | Email
Chiang Saen Lake
Chiang Saen Lake is six kilometres east of town and reached via a turnoff on Highway 1016. The lake and its surroundings are a beautiful natural sight. One of the major draws here is the diversity of bird species and these include oriental reed warblers, peregrine falcons, storks and red avadavats.
The Golden Buddha Statue
The Golden Buddha Statue is the best known tourist landmark at the Golden Triangle. This huge effigy was built as part of a replica dragon boat and has various shrines and alms boxes at which visitors can make donations and wish for good fortune.
The Hall of Opium Museum
The Hall of Opium is a themed museum a little to the north of the Golden Triangle. The museum provides interactive experiences featuring mock-ups of a poppy field and a Bangkok Yaowarat opium den and teahouse, There is a section tracing the evolution of poppies and heroin, and another one showing the effects of drug addiction on both society and addicts.
The Hall of Opium Museum: T. Wiang, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 08:30-17:30 (Tuesday-Sunday) | Tel: +66 53 784 444-6 | Website
The 212 House of Opium (Museum)
The 212 House of Opium is a smaller museum and just across the road from the Golden Triangle’s Golden Buddha Statue. This museum is home to a collection of opium pipes, weighing devices and weights, and pictures and images of poppy cultivation and people smoking opium.
The 212 House of Opium (Museum): #212, Moo 1, T. Wiang, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 07:00-17:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 784 060-2
Markets and Shopping
Market stalls on both sides of the road near the Golden Buddha Statue are loaded up with souvenirs which include hilltribe costumes, Golden Triangle T-shirts, bags of Chinese tea leaves, fake opium pipes and weights, handmade jewellery, semi-precious stones and wooden handicrafts. There is a small selection of stalls close to Chiang Saen which stock items like macadamia nuts and apples and pears shipped down the Mekong from China.
Boat Trips to Koh Don Sao in Laos
Boat tours depart from Mekong River piers at Sop Ruak (the Golden Triangle). There is a choice of larger boats covered with awnings and longtail boats for up to four passengers. The standard route is upstream as far as the Paradise Casino in Myanmar and then back down to the river island of Koh Don Sao. The island is Laos territory, but tourists are permitted to land without visas and just have to pay a small admission fee. Shops on the island sell Beer Lao, Lao whisky, sarongs, postcards and Lao souvenirs. Read more about Getting to Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai.
WHERE TO STAY
Tata Hostel is a good option for budget travellers and enjoys a prime location close to the Mekong Riverside zone in Chiang Saen. The choice of rooms is single and double and with or without en suite bathrooms. Onsite amenities include bicycle hire, a bar, car parking and optional breakfast…more info & booking
Viang Yonok Hotel
The Viang Yonok Hotel comprises six fully equipped garden bungalows set close to the shores of Chiang Saen Lake. A swimming pool, sauna, free use of bicycles and kayaks and shuttle services from Chiang Saen are key guest amenities. The stylish bungalows come with terraces, private bathrooms, breakfast included, WiFi and complimentary toiletries…more info & booking
Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort
The Anantara Golden Triangle is an upmarket accommodation choice which is focused on elegance and premium facilities yet is at one with nature. The resort nestles on a hill and gives commanding views of three nations. Highlights here are three restaurants and bars, Spice Spoons Thai Cookery School, the Lanna Resort Spa, interactive elephant experiences and a collection of 61 deluxe rooms and suites which are the epitome of style…more info & booking
The Imperial Golden Triangle Resort
A modern premises overlooking the Mekong River and Laos, the Imperial Golden Triangle offers a relaxing location at which to escape from the pressures of life. Rooms and suites offer river or garden views and are equipped with facilities ranging from kettles and mini-bars to air-conditioning and cable TVs. The main guest amenities are an onsite restaurant and a swimming pool…more info & booking
De River Boutique Resort
De River is right on the banks of the Mekong and roughly halfway between the Golden Triangle and Chiang Saen. Thai massage, a bar, a karaoke lounge, bike hire, a playground for children and 24/7 reception are the facilities here. The resort restaurant serves Thai and Chinese dishes. Cable TV, mini-bars, air-conditioning and heating are top guestroom bonuses…more info & booking
WHERE TO EAT
Chiang Saen District is not Thailand’s most diverse dining zone yet does have a decent assortment of places to enjoy meals. There are a number of open sided restaurants along the riverside just to the north of Chiang Saen Port plus a few more on the riverside at the Golden Triangle. These primarily serve Thai and Northern Thai dishes with Mekong giant catfish (pla buek) a must-try if available. Several establishments serve western favourites like pizza, steak and cake plus gourmet coffees. Recommended places to eat are listed below.
Sriwan Coffee & Restaurant
Sriwan is a riverside restaurant at the Golden Triangle. Menu dishes range from Thai curries and tom yam spicy soup to pad Thai noodles. Panoramic views and delicious freshly brewed coffees are the other key draws at Sriwan.
Sriwan Coffee & Restaurant: #150, Moo 1, T. Wiang, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 07:00-21:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 784 025 | Facebook
Sala Mae Nam Restaurant
Sala Mae Nam translates into English as riverside pavilion. This establishment is a splendid twin-level pavilion and flagship eatery at the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort. Diners are presented with the unique spectacle of roaming elephants as a backdrop while eating. Recommended dishes here include yam spicy salads, tom yam gung (spicy prawn soup) and prawns cooked in tamarind sauce.
Sala Mae Nam Restaurant: #229, Moo 1, T. Wiang, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 06:30-24:00 | Tel: +66 53 784 084 | Website | Email
An additional dining choice at the Golden Triangle, Mekong Pizza claims it serves the finest pizzas on the Mekong. Among standard pizza options are margherita, meat lover, the godfather and tom yam seafood or you can just create your own. French fries, cheesy fries and gourmet salads are tasty side orders.
Mekong Pizza: #301/5, Sop Ruak, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 10:30-21:30 (Tuesday-Sunday) | Tel: +66 83 915 4750 | Website
Kiao Siang Hai
Kiao Siang Hai is a Chinese restaurant on the Mekong esplanade in Chiang Saen. Fried tofu, fried vegetables in Chinese sauces, duck and dumplings replicate the genuine tastes of China.
Kiao Siang Hai: T. Wiang, A. Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150 | Open: 08:00-20:30 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 650 983
HOW TO GET TO CHIANG SAEN AND THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE
Chiang Saen and the Golden Triangle are both on the banks of the Mekong and connected by Highway 1290. Buses and songthaew shared taxis run from Chiang Rai Bus Station 1 to Chiang Saen and the Golden Triangle. There are also songthaews from Mae Sai to the Golden Triangle and Chiang Saen. Some Green Bus services from Chiang Mai‘s Arcade Bus Station (Terminal 3) call at Chiang Rai’s Bus Station 1 and Bus Station 2 before heading on to Chiang Saen and the Golden Triangle.
Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station #3: Tel: +66 95 145 1756, +66 95 145 1766, Map | Chiang Rai Bus Station #1: Tel: +66 53 740 467, +66 95 145 1750 , Map | Chiang Rai Bus Station #2: Tel: +66 53 773 550, +66 95 145 1753 , Map
There are a few elderly tuk-tuks in Chiang Saen town. Drivers tend to park up in the area around the bus stop and the market. Tuk-tuks are useful for trips around town but not as far as the Golden Triangle. Some Chiang Saen hotels and guesthouses offer bicycle hire services while Fat Free Bicycle Shop maintains a Chiang Saen branch with a better choice of bicycles. Visitors planning on going farther afield are better off renting a motorcycle or car in Chiang Rai. Our recommended partner for car hire is Rentalcars.com.
Fat Free Bicycle Shop: #448/2, Klang Wiang Rd., T. Wiang, A. Muag, Chiang Rai 57000 | Open: 09:00-18:00 (Monday-Saturday) | Tel: +66 86 430 5523 | Website | Facebook | Email | Map