Chiang Rai, in northern Thailand, is considered to be the antithesis of Chiang Mai – a quieter, calmer, greener city surrounded by hills and a gateway to the larger Golden Triangle area. Visits here are all about slowing down to experience the local lifestyle, be it shopping at the night market or paying your respects at one of the local temples.
Wat Phra Kaew is Chiang Rai's most sacred temple. Built at the base of the Doi Tung mountain, it features a wooden prayer hall, 14th-century 'chedi' and Lanna artefacts in an attached museum. You'll also find a replica of the temple's Emerald Buddha statue, actually made of jade (the original now resides in Bangkok). Wat Rong Khun, a few kilometres south of the city, is far less traditional. Mirrored mosaic tiles embedded in the white stucco temple cause it to sparkle in the sun, creating an ethereal effect. Look out for the carp-filled pond and wall murals depicting scenes not of Buddha but of Harry Potter, Superman, Hello Kitty and other figures from pop culture.
Chiang Rai's hilly surroundings are home to tribes that still practice traditional ways of life. Get a cultural history lesson at the Hilltribe Museum & Education Centre, whose collections feature costumes, crafts and tools. You can even book a trekking tour to one of the villages while you're here.