This Low-Cost Southeast Asian Choice Is Not Too Big, Not Too Small, But Just Right
“Nestled at the base of the foothills just east of Thailand’s highest mountain ranges, Chiang Rai is in an ideal location,” writes Asia Correspondent Wendy Justice.
“Thick, cool forests, majestic waterfalls, elephant camps, and some of the most diverse hill-tribe villages in the world are located just a short distance outside the city.
“At the same time, as it lies at the heart of the infamous Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Burma, and Laos converge in what was once the world’s largest opium-producing region, the city offers plenty of mystique.
“With a population of fewer than 100,000, Chiang Rai also has an intimacy that cannot be found in a big city.
“Well-informed expatriates have known about this area for years, and quite a few have settled here. Many of them lived in Chiang Mai before discovering Chiang Rai. They have found that this much smaller city offers better living conditions and a higher quality of life. The air is cleaner, the traffic is more manageable, and the people are friendly.
“In addition, the cost of living in Chiang Rai is less than in Chiang Mai. This is one of the least expensive places to live in Thailand.
“Beautiful Lanna-style teakwood homes, tucked away behind vast arrays of flowering fauna, grace the quiet streets that make up most of the city. Chiang Rai has largely escaped the breakneck pace of ‘development at any cost’ that has swept across much of Southeast Asia. Although there are internationally accredited hospitals here, and some large shopping complexes just minutes from the city center, a small-town ambiance prevails.
“Living in Chiang Rai, it would be easy to make friends. There are plenty of Westerners here. At the same time, unlike Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai isn’t overwhelmed with hordes of tourists and expatriates. You can mingle with locals on Saturday nights, feasting on street food and enjoying free concerts, when one of the major roads through town is transformed into a pedestrians-only thoroughfare lined with hundreds of stalls selling clothing, handicrafts, deliciously prepared food, and fresh produce.
“What else would you do in Chiang Rai?
“Spend a lazy afternoon at Chiang Rai Beach, along the banks of the Mae Kok River, and enjoy a light meal or a few drinks in a bamboo shelter…
“Walk past Buddhist temples and Christian churches, or immerse yourself in the soothing warm waters of nearby hot springs…
“Chiang Rai just may be one of the nicest places to live in all Thailand. It’s big enough to have all the amenities that Westerners want, yet small enough to be comfortable. The climate is pleasing year-round, and there are distinctive seasonal variations. The surrounding area offers unlimited opportunities for exploration and recreation. Plus, this is an attractive city, with parks and open spaces.
“If you’re considering the idea of a new life in Asia but don’t want a big city or, on the other hand, the challenges that come with being one of the few outsiders in a small foreign town, Chiang Rai could be the perfect choice.”