Hill Tribe Visits
Most of the hill-tribe villages within close range of Chiang Rai have long ago been set up for routine visits by group tours; a clear example is the “Union of Hilltribe Villages,” located north of the Chiang Rai airport, where members of various tribes are herded together for the convenience of tourists. The vibe in such villages is more like a human zoo than an insight into a disappearing lifestyle.
That being said, there are ethical ways to experience the diversity of the hill tribe cultures, like joining the Population and Community Development Association (www.pdacr.com; tel. 05374-0088) for authentic hill-tribe encounters. A professional and experienced organization it offers an array of tours with particular attention given to ethical interactions with hill-tribe people. Longer treks are a two- to three-day sojourns with overnight stays with Akha and Lahu tribes. PDA offers tours where tribal people participate in the tourism by offering guided tours instead of simply watching Westerns walk around their village. Half-day tours, sightseeing trips, and day trips to Myanmar and Laos are also on the menu.
Chiang Rai To Mae Sai
This is a popular "visa run" route, where you can cross the border at Mae Sai to Myanmar and reenter Thailand for another 30 days (as long as you have not been in Thailand for 60 consecutive days previously; you'll have to pay 500B). Most visitors coming from Chiang Rai zip through the little border town of Mae Sai on their way to the Golden Triangle and Chiang Saen, but the town is worth a stop. It is the northernmost point in Thailand.
Just to the right of the border gate to Myanmar (the end of the highway), you'll find a busy market area with rows of tacky souvenirs -- and silver jewelry brought from Myanmar. There is also a busy hotel used mostly by Thai tourists and gem traders. Warning: Don't be tempted by the offer of cheap rubies or sapphires, as such offers are almost certainly a scam.
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.