Many people visit Chiang Rai as a day trip from Chiang Mai just to visit the White Temple, but there is so much more to explore in this northern Thailand province. Chiang Rai town is itself rather small with just a few attractions, but head a short distance outside of the city and you will find some incredible spots you simply cannot miss. We think Chiang Rai is definitely worthy of at least two days of exploration, read more in our 1-2 day Chiang Rai itinerary:
Best time to visit Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is an all year round tourist destination, but the best time to visit is during the peak season between October and February as the weather is much cooler and less humid. March to May is the hot season, and between June and September is the rainy season.
Getting around Chiang Rai
Downtown Chiang Rai is quite compact so easily walkable, however most of the main sightseeing spots are out of town so to visit them you can either book onto a tour, hail a tuk tuk, or call a Grab taxi (a bit like Uber). Grab is widely used by both tourists and locals across Southeast Asia, and the fares are really cheap! Download the Grab app and use the code GRABCKTRAVELS to earn a free ride when you sign up.
Getting to Chiang Rai
The easiest way to get to Chiang Rai is by plane, or if you are travelling from Chiang Mai or other nearby cities – then the best way is by bus.
By plane: Chiang Rai has a small airport that serves budget airlines such as Air Asia, Thai Smile and Nok Air, with direct routes from Bangkok, Phuket, Hong Kong and China. From the airport you can get a bus or taxi into town. Check SkyScanner for the best air fares.
By bus: There are two main bus stations in Chiang Rai: bus station number 1 is located in the main town and is the one that you will most likely need to get to your hotel/hostel. We arrived in Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai having purchased a VIP air-conditioned bus ticket online in advance with Green Bus for 250 Baht one way. The journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai takes approximately 3.5 hours.
Use 12Go Asia to research public transport timetables and book tickets:
SIM Card / Internet
Having data on your phone whilst travelling around Chiang Rai is super handy especially if you plan to use a Grab taxi. SIM cards are pretty cheap in Thailand with generous data allowances and are available to purchase from airports, malls and 7-Elevens (bring your passport along for identification purposes). Alternatively you can also prepay online and collect a SIM – just remember to make sure your phone is not locked to your local network provider before purchasing one.
If you do not want to change your SIM then renting a pocket WIFI device with unlimited high speed internet access might be for you. We’ve used portable WIFI’s many times on our travels and love that we can both connect our devices to it at the same time. Pre-order one online with Klook for collection when you arrive in Thailand at either Suvarnabhumi or Don Muang Airport in Bangkok.
Chiang Rai itinerary
As a lot of the popular Chiang Rai attractions are located outside of Chiang Rai town, we reckon the best way to see as many as possible in one day is to book onto a guided tour. We booked a private tour with Tony, the owner of Lanna Cultural Tours and it was honestly one of the best day tours we have ever done on our travels.
In one day we covered many famous spots in the province of Chiang Rai. We took the suggested route that Tony recommended but you can also request tweaks to the set itinerary if it is logistically feasible. Tony explained everything along the way so expertly and we never felt too rushed at any of our stops. You cover a lot of places in a short space of time and learn so much about the tradition and culture of the area – you would be hard pushed to find a more rewarding experience than this.
Here are some of the main sightseeing spots we visited:
Located a 20 minute journey of town, this is one of the most famous Chiang Rai attractions and the first port of call on the day trip. This unconventional and privately owned Buddhist temple is the brainchild of Chiang Rai-born artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, and is a quirky fusion of traditional Thai architecture with modern popular culture. Read more about the White Temple in Chiang Rai >
Next up on our Chiang Rai itinerary is the Black House – located a 25 minute drive from Chiang Rai town. Set amongst lush green northern Thailand surroundings, Black House is an artful portrayal of hell which houses a collection of dark wood buildings featuring works by Thai artists such as Thawan Duchaneee. It also houses a large collection of skins, teeth, bones and taxidermy.
Choui Fong Tea Plantation
After a lunch stop we visited the Choui Fong which is the biggest tea plantation in the province, producing 1000 tonnes of tea per year. The tea house has scenic views over the plantation, plus offers tea tastings, tours and a restaurant selling items such as green tea cake and green tea smoothies.
We ended the day at the Golden Triangle which is where Thailand borders with Laos and Myanmar at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. The green and lush mountain region has an abundance of Buddhist architecture and small villages and is a popular tourist destination.
The tour includes a stop for lunch and a few other scenic refreshment stops. For more details about where we visited and how to book the tour read our day trip in Chiang Rai with Lanna Cultural Tours blog post >
Upon returning to Chiang Rai town, head over to the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar in the centre of town for dinner and a bit of souvenir shopping. There are plenty of food stalls although most sell hot pots, so if thats not your thing the choice of food might be a bit limited. There are a few tourist friendly restaurants near the market – we quite liked the Pizza Company for affordable and tasty pizza, and good air con!
Start the second day of your Chiang Rai itinerary with a visit to the gorgeous Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten). Take a Grab taxi or hail a tuk tuk to reach there as it is located a few kilometers outside of downtown Chiang Rai. This modern Buddhist temple was built in 2016 and is distinguished by its vibrant blue and golden hues, and a huge statue of a White Buddha in the main hall. Entry is free and we recommend arriving early to avoid all the coach tours that arrive here (the temple opens at 7am).
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Next head over to visit another Big Buddha at Wat Huay Pla Kang – a huuuuge temple complex surrounded by green hills with an impressive 90 metre tall Buddha statue, 9 storey high pagoda and a beautiful white temple. You’ll need to take another uk tuk or Grab taxi to reach there as it is a 12 minute drive from the Blue Temple. Entrance to the temple grounds are free, but if you want to go inside and get the lift up to the big Buddha head then the price is 40 Baht (recommended for stunning views).
Remember when visiting Buddhist temples you must dress respectfully (cover your knees and shoulders) and remove your shoes when entering buildings.
After visiting these two temples, we recommend you head back to Chiang Rai town and have lunch at Khao Soi Phor Jai. This basic but highly rated restaurant offers a limited menu and the main item they sell is Khao Soi – a northern Thai dish consisting of egg noodles in a coconut milk soup. A bowl of either chicken, shrimp or fish noodles costs just 40 Baht, and you can also purchase a few tasty side dishes. The restaurant is open daily from 8am to 4pm and located at 1023/3 Jetyod Road.
After lunch take a stroll around town and visit some of the small city temples such as Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Phra Singh. Read more about these temples and other things to do in our things to do in Chiang Rai guide >
If you are a fan of cute fluffy cats then don’t miss the Cat ‘n’ a Cup cat cafe which is home to some of the cutest kitties we have ever seen! Read more about our visit in our Chiang Rai cat cafe guide >
Alternatively, spend the afternoon enjoying a massage or pamper session in one of Chiang Rai’s many spas. An hour long massage can be found for as cheap as 150 baht!
End the second day of the Chiang Rai itinerary with a visit to Late Dinner bar for a mini rooftop bar style sunset cocktail, or head over to one of the outdoor bars near the Clock Tower to watch the light show (don’t expect anything amazing by the way).
If you happen to be visiting on a weekend then check out the Saturday and Sunday night walking street markets. These are markets where some of the city centre streets become pedestrianised for a few hours and are chock full of stalls selling street food, clothing, crafts and souvenirs, along with live entertainment. The Saturday night market is the bigger of the two and located on Thanalai Road, whilst the Sunday one is located on Sang Khon Noi street.
Chiang Rai Accommodation
On a budget?
Here are some highly rated hostels in a good central location:
Highly rated hostel located in the heart of Chiang Rai, only 600 m from the Clock Tower and near restaurants and bars. Offers both dorm beds and private rooms with air con, plus communal shallow pool and outdoor terrace.
Norn Nung Len cafe and Hostel
Located in the heart of the city within walking distance of the night market, with live music every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night.
Mid range hotels
We stayed at these two mid range hotels, both of which were located in an excellent part in town (minutes walk from the night bazaar and many bars and restaurants) and were clean and comfortable:
Wiang Inn hotel
Large hotel with outdoor swimming pool, 3 dining options, spa and karaoke club. Located close to the night bazaar and many reaturants.
HI Chiang Rai hotel
Comfortable hotel with indoor pool located 450 yards from the bus station, with restaurant and free bike hire.
Got some cash to splash? Treat yourself to one of these lovely resorts located just north of Chiang Rai town:
Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort
Luxurious resort surrounded by mountains and historic Buddhist temples, with two-level outdoor pool overlooking the Mae Kok River.
The Imperial River House Resort
Located in a peaceful spot on the banks of the Mae Kok River, with luxury rooms offering views of the river or the outdoor swimming pool. Hotel also has a spa pool and fitness centre.
Other Thailand blog posts
- 12 fun things to do in Bangkok at night
- Guide to the Sunday Walking Street night market in Chiang Mai
- A Day at the Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai
- A Thai cookery class ‘with a twist’ in Bangkok’s flower market
- 99 The Heritage – a stylish stay in Chiang Mai
- Visiting Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai
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