Wat Phra Kaew, on Trairat Road, on the northwest side of town, is the best known of the northern wats because it once housed the Emerald Buddha, now at Bangkok's royal Wat Phra Kaew. Near its Lanna-style chapel is the chedi, which (according to legend) was struck by lightning in 1436 to reveal the precious green jasper Buddha. There is now a green jade replica of the image on display in a pavilion behind the viharn.
Wat Phra Singh is 2 blocks east of Wat Phra Kaew. The restored wat is thought to date from the 15th century. Inside is a replica of the Phra Sihing Buddha, a highly revered Theravada Buddhist image; the original was removed to Chiang Mai's Wat Phra Singh.
The Burmese-style Wat Doi Tong (Phra That Chomtong) sits atop a hill above the northwest side of town, up a steep staircase off Kaisornrasit Road, and offers an overview of the town and a panorama of the Mae Kok valley. It is said that King Mengrai himself chose the site for his new Lanna capital from this very hill. The circle of columns at the top of the hill surrounds the city's new lak muang (city pillar), built to commemorate the 725th anniversary of the city and King Bhumibol's 60th birthday. It is often criticized for its failure to represent local style. (You can see the old wooden lak muang in the viharn of the wat.)
The Population and Community Development Association (PDA), 620/1 Thanalai Rd., east of Wisetwiang Road (tel. 05374-0088), is an NGO responsible for some of the most effective tribal development projects in the region. The popular Cabbages & Condoms restaurants, with branches here and in Bangkok (and a resort in Pattaya), carry their important message of safe sex and family planning.
On the top floor of this office is a small Hill-tribe Museum (no phone) that's heavy on shopping and light on museum exhibits, but the admission goes to a good cause. It's open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 6pm, and admission is 50B.
The Mae Kok River is one of the most scenic attractions in Chiang Rai. You can hire a longtail boat to ferry you up and down the river. You'll have the option of stopping at the Buddha cave (a temple within a cavern), an elephant camp (for trekking), a hot spring, and a riverside Lahu village. Trips are about 2,000B per person for a group of three to five people. The ferry pier is beyond the bridge, across from the Dusit Island Resort. Contact Maesalong Tours, 882-4 Phaholyothin Rd. (tel. 05371-2515; fax 05371-1011), or ask at your hotel.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.