Chiang Saen Tourist Attractions
Chiang Saen is a small town in the jungle and upland country at the northernmost tip of Thailand. It stands on a big loop of the majestic Mekong, which in places further south forms the border between Thailand and Laos, with the Laotian hills on the other side of the river.
Chiang Saen can be visited as part of a tour around the Chiang Rai district based on Chiang Mai (regular daily bus services from Chiang Mai, which also has the nearest railway station).By car: Highway 110 from Chiang Rai to Mae Chan and then on 1016 (58 km (36 mi.)).Once the capital of the Chiang Saen kingdom, probably the first Thai kingdom in present-day Thailand, the place then faded into obscurity, despite having acquired a certain fame for its Chiang Saen style. Finds of prehistoric tools have confirmed the theory that the area was already inhabited in Paleolithic times. A settlement in its own right over two thousand years ago, Chiang Saen had its heyday in the 10th-13th c. and under the rule of King Saen Phu. In 1238 it was the birthplace of King Mengrai who established his capital in Chiang Rai in 1261 and in Chiang Mai in 1297. Numerous wars with the Burmese and the King of Ayutthaya left their mark, and from the mid 16th c. to the late 18th c. Chiang Saen was under Burmese rule. King Rama I, the first king of the Chakri dynasty, had it razed to the ground so that it would no longer provide a target for enemy attack, and the town only came to life again under King Rama V (Chulalongkorn).The course of the 8-km (5-mi.) wall that once encircled the town can still be traced from the ruins and ditches buried under grass and trees. Parts of the wall have recently been restored leaving the rest as grassy mounds. The Chiang Saen of today covers only a small section of the area once within the walls. Numerous remnants of temples, some of them very old and not all as yet accurately dated, serve as reminders of the town's past importance.
Wat Phra That Chom Kitti
The 10th c. Wat Phra That Chom Kitti, with its round chedi, stands on a hill outside Chiang Saen with a good view over the town and the border country of the golden triangle. The spire of the crooked chedi is covered in bronze, and also has a Buddha relief. Extremely well preserved Lopburi-style Buddhas can be seen in the niches on each side.A broad flight of 393 steps leads down to the town from Wat Chom Chang's smaller brick chedi opposite.
Chiang Saen National Museum
The National Museum, just before the entry to Wat Chedi Luang has several fine pieces in the Chiang Saen style, including Buddhas, amulets, silver and stucco work, stelae and a demon mask. The recently discovered stone reliefs brought here for safekeeping from Wat Sang Kha Kaew Don Tun are particularly worth seeing. Judging from the hair styles and apparel of the figures they probably date from about 300 years ago rather than from when the monastery was founded.
The three-hour journey on the Mekong to Chiang Khong can prove quite an adventure, but check beforehand with TAT on the dangers it could involve. The trip covers a 20 km (12 mi.) stretch of the river, with many rapids, as it cuts its way through the mountain gorges and jungles.
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang, within the walls by the west gate, dates from the 13th c. and parts of the original bronze-clad spire can still be seen on the 60-m (197-ft) high, bell-shaped 16th c. chedi, now covered in grass.
Wat Ku Tao
The sadly dilapidated ruins of Wat Ku Tao are on the right-hand side of the road coming from Chiang Rai, just before it crosses the Menam Kam River.
Wat Pa Sak
Wat Pa Sak, also outside the town wall, was begun in 1295 under King Saen Phu and got its name from the 300 teak (i.e. sak) trunks that originally surrounded it. It still has a fine pyramidal chedi, said to hold a relic of Buddha brought here from Pataliputra the year it was founded. Twelve large and 16 smaller niches contain finely worked Sukhothai Buddhas, some of them very well preserved, and revealing on closer examination signs of Srivijaya and Dvaravati influences as well. Wat Pa Sak is one of the few remaining examples of the fine art of applying stucco and terracotta. It is worth noting the 14th c. decorative detail in the ornamental banding and the rich ornamentation of the middle section which carries on up into the spire.
Wat Phra That Pu Khao
What is left of Wat Phra That Pu Khao stands on a hill above the Golden Triangle Hotel, with a magnificent view over the point where the Mae Sai flows into the Mekong River.
Sop Ruak, north-west of Chiang Saen and about 11 km (7 mi.) further up the Mekong, is the official viewpoint at the center of the Golden Triangle, looking out over where the Mae Sai River joins the Mekong, and the meeting place of the borders of the three countries that form the triangle, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Laos.The roadside here is full of souvenir stalls, some of them selling pretty pieces from neighboring Burma. The trickle of border traffic between Thailand and Laos - officially for nationals only - can be a fascinating spectacle.
Wat Pa Kao Pan
Wat Pa Kao Pan, in a lovely setting on the bank of the Mekong, is more recent but contains an old chedi.
Wat Phra Buat
Wat Phra Buat nowadays is a striking mass of ruins, but one of the collapsed chedis still bears the remains of a fine figure of Buddha.
Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong
Only one chedi is left from Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong.This temple was built by Prince Thong Ngua in 1489.
Map of Chiang Saen Attractions