The dictionary definition of a sleepy river town, Chiang Saen (เชียงแสน) is the site of a former Thai kingdom thought to date back to as early as the 7th century. Scattered throughout the modern town are the ruins of this empire – surviving architecture includes several chedi (stupa), Buddha images, wí·hăhn (sanctuary) pillars and earthen city ramparts. Chiang Saen later became loosely affiliated with various northern Thai kingdoms, as well as 18th-century Myanmar, but didn’t become a Siamese possession until the 1880s.
Today huge river barges from China moor at Chiang Saen, carrying fruit, engine parts and all manner of other imports, keeping the old China–Siam trade route open. Despite this trade, the town hasn’t changed too much over the last decade, and because of this it's a more pleasant base than the comparatively hectic, touristy Sop Ruak, the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’, 9km east.