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Sunrise over the Mekong River | © marguerite/Flickr
Sunrise over the Mekong River | © marguerite/Flickr
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A Guide to Chiang Saen, the Oldest City in Thailand

Picture of Iona Proebst
Updated: 5 October 2017
If you find yourself exploring magical northern Thailand, don’t overlook the oldest city in Thailand. Chiang Saen may not appear to be much at first but dig a little deeper and you will find plenty of things to discover. We’ve put together a handy guide to help you explore this ancient Lanna stronghold.

What at first might appear to be a sleepy rural backwater is actually the site of a former Thai kingdom believed to date back to the 7th century. Chiang Saen, or Wiang Hiran Nakhon as it was then known, was one of the main cities of the Lanna kingdom and was the capital before Chiang Rai was established by King Mengrai in 1262. After a turbulent history, captured by the Burmese and then left by King Rama I, the town was left as a ghost town and still can’t be described as “booming” to this day. As you explore Chiang Saen, you’ll see ruins of the old city wall and other glimpses of a bygone era.

Temple ruins in Chiang Saen
Temple ruins in Chiang Saen | © Adam Jones/Flickr

Modern Chiang Saen has a few surviving sites dating back to the empire, which include chedis, Buddha images, earthen city ramparts and wí·hăhn pillars, making the town particularly attractive to cultural enthusiasts and historians alike. Chiang Saen is roughly 9 kilometres from the Golden Triangle across the mighty Mekong River from the Lao town of Ton Pheung. Due to Chiang Saen’s location is acts as an important stop off point along the old Chinese-Siam trade route for river barges carrying various imports.

Sunrise over the Mekong River
Sunrise over the Mekong River | © marguerite/Flickr

While you’re in town check out the lake, the Chiang Saen National Museum, or some of the impressive temples like Wat Pa Sak, Wat Phra Chao Lan Thong or Wat Phra That Pha Ngao. It is also very pleasant to just walk along the banks of the Mekong River or sit and watch everyday life go by. The evening street-side vendors offer delicious cheap meals. Pick a plastic table to dine on or join the locals on mats on the ground. There are also a few local style restaurants north of the night market serving authentic Thai dishes.

Chaing Saen National Museum, Wiang, Chiang Saen District, Chiang Rai 57150, Thailand

Wat Phra That Pha Ngao, Wiang, Chiang Saen District, Chiang Rai 57150, Thailand

Chiang Saen spirit house
Chiang Saen spirit house | © Adam Jones/Flickr

Accommodation options are fairly limited in Chiang Saen and it is advised if you are looking for luxurious lodgings to stay closer to the Golden Triangle where many resorts are located. In Chiang Saen town itself, a friendly and affordable option is the Chiang Saen Guest House. If you are looking for a mid-range option with a tranquil atmosphere and stunning views over the Mekong River to Laos and Myanmar try the Mekong Sunshine Resort.