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  • Alexis Beard

Destination: Chiang Rai.

A city where different worlds come together to become one, Chiang Rai, in the north of Thailand, is part of the famous Golden Triangle formed around the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. A land of magic and contrast, this mystical city is a blend of religious tradition and unique nature.

Lost amidst mountains and rivers, Chiang Rai unfurled its rich past before our eyes. Founded in 1262 by King Mengrai as the capital of the Lanna Empire, its historical wealth is unmatched.

Its most visited attraction is the breathtaking White Temple, a structure of sculptures and mirrors that seems otherworldly. It represent the different realms of existence as held by Buddhist believes. Though a fairly new construction, it would seem to belong to a time before reckoning, with its silver trees, golden constructions, and enveloping spirituality.

Among the many landmarks we visited en the are is the Tower of the Clock, a golden construction in the center of the city that offers a light and music show every day from seven to nine p.m. We also visited the Temple Ming Muang, a mystical place whose creation dates at least seven hundred years back. The founding kings of the city used to frequent this temple, setting their fortunes on its astral power. The night bazaar is another must. This little market has become the gravitational center of the city’s nightlife, where food is paired with music, dance, handicrafts and local fashion.

Another temple in the area that is worth exploring is Wat Chet Yot. Small and tranquil, it offers unrivaled peace. To learn about the tribes that live in the mountains and the outskirts of Chiang Rai, the Hill Tribe Museum awakens the visitor’s interest in local traditions and the desire to visit a typical settlement.

The provincial part of the city consists of wide valleys that stretch towards the mountains in the horizon. In the summit of one of the most important hills in the area lies and old temple named Wat Phra That Doi Tung, whose construction is believed to have begun in the year 911. At is feet rests the royal villa, the once-residence of the venerated princess Somdej.

The provincial seal of the area is a white elephant, the symbol of royalty. Legends describe a strange elephant that approached the area and decided to remain, thus indicating to humans to begin the construction of Chiang Rai. The presence of this majestic animal is a grand feature of the area, even if it’s not the white variety. There is an elephant camp that the traveler cannot afford to miss.

Chiang Rai Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort.

At the summit of a spectacular hill near the border with Laos and Myanmar we find a place as wonderful as the strange lands that surround it, the Chiang Rai Anantara, which, though in Thailand, offers views of both neighboring countries, as well as the opportunity of roaming the jungle atop an elephant. The hotel is surrounded by luxurious vegetation, visible from its restaurants, spa and gigantic pool. It is hard to imagine that such an awe striking contrast could ever be found anywhere else in the world, of the subtleness, yet luxury, of the hotel, with the music of elephants and the beauty of the wild jungle.

Its 77 rooms and suites are spacious, built in traditional Thai style, with views of the Mekong River. Our suite was particularly charming, with a wide balcony and a cozy living room.

As for design, the hotel uses typical artistic Thai items, with teak figurines, timber floors, linen weaves and comfortable, artisanal furniture.

For every night we stayed we were able to enjoy one of the unique abilities offered by the resort; spa treatment on the first day, visit to the elephant camp on the second and a trek through the surroundings on the third. Other activities are also available, such as yoga classes, cycling and tours on a typical boat through the Mekong River.

The Sala Mae Nam restaurant serves and excellent international breakfast along with traditional Northern Thai cuisine. It’s built on a high-roofed terrace, surrounded by dramatic views of the infinite horizon. Their insignia dish is the Khao Soi Gai, a delicious yellow curry noodle soup with chicken coconut that blew our mind.

The Baan Dhalia restaurant offers Italian dishes with a tinge of rustic Thai cuisine and, paired with the view of the Mekong Valley, makes for an incredible culinary experience. The Italian and Mediterranean cuisine is complemented by a vast international wine cellar. Dishes range from a classic Caesar salad, prepared on the table, to the parmesan spaghetti, cooked at the table within a large wheel of parmesan cheese. It was quite the experience for the senses. We were also delighted by the seafood, the black truffle cream, the carbonara, the pesto trapanese with Parma ham, the tiger prawn pesto and the pine nut, to name a few.

After dusk, we were invited to the Elephant Bar and Opium Terrace to enjoy a few snacks and a refreshing cocktail and glass of wine. In summer, guests sit outside, taking in the clean, warm air of Northern Thailand, while in winter a cozy chimney is kept lit to fight the mildly cold temperature In this same space, at midday, we devoured a delicious gourmet beef hamburger, elaborated with Angus meat and sesame buns complemented by lettuce, tomato, cucumber, fried egg, Swiss cheese and mushrooms.

And, if we had wished so, we could have planed our own dinner anywhere in the resort, for instance in a terrace before the Mekong River or by the elephant babies in the bamboo forest of the Elephant Camp.

In its renowned Lanna Cooking School we learned a few secrets of Thai cuisine. This school offers a five-day course that includes an introduction to Thai ingredients, the preparations of noodles, tours through local markets and a vegetables workshop.

Chiang Rai blends and contrasts the old and new world of Thailand, opening the doors to the past while keeping its gaze towards the future It is a land of rich heritage, of culture and tradition.

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