Chiang Rai is most assuredly still a commercial town. For those trying to find a smaller version of Chiang Mai you'll need to look elsewhere. That doesn't mean Chiang Rai isn't trying. It means it's just not there yet.
For those driving themselves around North Thailand Chiang Rai makes for a good stop over place with quite a few things to do. Trekkers might also be happy here as many guest houses run small scale treks into the surrounding mountains away from the Chiang Mai groups.
Many of Chiang Rai's main attractions are outside the town center. Renting a motorbike is probably the best way to see them unless you book a day tour through a hotel or travel agency.
Did you know?
Chiang Rai was founded by Phaya Mengrai in 1262 as
part of the Lanna kingdom.
Chiang Rai town itself is walkable though not the best idea on a hot day. Thankfully the north of Thailand is a bit cooler than the south for most of the year. Again, having your own transport (motorbike) is one of the most effective methods of seeing the town.
Visit the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun): Definitely Chiang Rai's most famous and popular attraction. Built by a wealthy Thai artist called Chalermchai Kositpipat it's often crowded so go early! Read more about the White temple.
Wat Rong Suea Ten (Blue Temple): A new temple (2016) with a strong blue interior color which is best visited early in the day to get the most of the color.
Baandam Museum (Black House): If you are looking for something away from temples try the artistic black houses at this large museum compound. Animal bones and skins are just park of the decor here. Admission: free. 9am-5pm closes 12pm-1pm. Read more about the Black House.
Hill tribe Museum & Education Center: If you are going trekking this museum is well worth a visit first to understand the surround culture and how much it's changed. Located in the center of the town. 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm Sat & Sun Admission: 50 Baht.
Wat Phra Kaew / Kaeo: This is Chiang Rai's most important Buddhist Temple. Legend states that lightning hit a chedi here which opened up to reveal an Emerald Buddha statue inside. This statue is now kept at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. Admission: free. 9am-5pm.
Clock Tower: If you are wandering around the town streets then you are bound to pass by this landmark. It's not worth going out of the way to see but it does add a little bit of decor to the town. At night there is a light show every evening at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm which isn't too spectacular but if you are having dinner nearby it makes for a nice evening.
Wat Phra Sing: Another impressive wat that once again used to have a Buddha statue that's now in Chiang Mai. There's a replica now in its place. Located near the town hall. Admission: free. 9am-5pm
Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong: Located overlooking the Kok River in the town this wat is rumored to contain Thailand's oldest holy relic. The relic is said to be contained within one of the Chedi in the compound. Admission: free. 9am-5pm
Go Trekking: Nearly every guest house in Chiang Rai will help you find a trek to your liking. Whether it's to visit caves or mountains it won't be an issue. Most trekking takes place in Doi Tung, Doi Mae Salong and Chiang Khong. Most rates are geared towards two people starting at 2500 baht up to 5000 baht for a two night trek. Bargaining can bring down the prices by quite a bit.
Visit some caves: Lion Hill Cave is located 2km west of Chiang Rai. While not been that deep or cavernous it does offer some great atmosphere as light beams flow through the cave ceilings.
Eat: there's a nice night market every evening in Chiang Rai. Dishes are a little more spicy than in Chiang Mai so do watch out. The main strip of restaurants are on nearby Phahonyothin.
North of Chiang Rai
If you'd like to take some day trips by yourself or on a tour then there are some places worth checking out away from the city.
The Golden Triangle: Were Myanmar, Laos and Thailand all intersect by a river. There's a temple nearby, a boat trip to the intersection and a plethora of souvenirs to buy.
Mae Sai: Fancy a trip to the most northern part of Thailand? This is where you'll find it along with the border to Myanmar (Burma) and a sprawling market of both local produce and souvenirs. You can also overnight here very easily.
Plane: Mae Fah Luang-Chiang Rai International Airport is located 8km from Chiang Rai town center. AirAsia, Nok Air and Thai Airways all serve this airport. A taxi to the center of the town costs about 220 baht (prices are told to you beforehand.)
Bus: There are two bus terminals in Chiang Rai, an old one (terminal 1) and a new one (Terminal 2). There is a songthaew connecting terminal 1 with terminal 2 for 15 baht.
Terminal 1 is located in the town center. Buses from Chiang Khong, Mae Sai and Green Bus company from Chiang Mai serve here.
Terminal 2 is located 7km outside the town. All other bus services from around Thailand stop and depart from here. Green Bus from Chiang Mai also serves here on it's way to the town center terminal.
Chiang Mai: buses take about 3-3.30 hours. Fares range some 190 baht to 300 baht for VIP seats. Numerous buses depart throughout the day from Terminal 1 & 2.
Bangkok: Buses to from Bangkok (Mo Chit) take between 11-12 hours. Fares range from 690 t0 990 baht for VIP buses. They depart from Terminal 2.
Mae Sai: Buses to the border town of Mae Sai take just over an hour. Fares range from 50 baht. They depart from Terminal 1.
Chiang Rai has a good selection of accommodation for all budgets. Most of the hotels and guest houses are located in the town center making it easy to get to them. Keep in mind that many of Chiang Rai's attractions are outside the city center.
|Le Patta Chiang Rai Hotel - Everything is catered to a tee in this relatively new and modern hotel. Rooms are spotless with all the little extras included. The staff are very attentive and small pool is a great way to enjoy the day. ★★★★★||
+ Top Rated!
|Bura Resort - Looking for a romantic hideaway resort in the hills? Bura will do the trick. While a good bit from the town the relaxing villas and waterfalls make it a treat! ★★★★☆||
|Pankled Villa (Buffalo Hill Guesthouse) - If cozy, relaxing and easy are things you like in guesthouse Pankled is a good choice. The staff are lovely and the villas very private and quiet. The on site restaurant is good enough not to want to eat out. ★★★★★||
|The North Hotel - Need a cheapy by the market and old bus station? With clean dorms and privates at rock bottom prices you won't go wrong here. ★★★☆☆||
|Golden Land Hotel - There's nothing to get too excited about here except the price. The rooms are clean, just don't expect any frills. It's got parking so if you are on a budget it will do for a night.. ★★★☆☆||