Chiang Rai – A Quiet City in Northern Thailand

This post was last updated on February 17th, 2020 at 02:37 pm


Chiang Rai is located in the north of Thailand and lies on the banks of the Kok. This area has an enormously diverse landscape and different sights but is often overlooked by tourists. However, if you take the time for Chiang Rai you will find a small, wonderfully quiet, and relaxed city. In addition, it is the gateway to the Northern Province and the Golden Triangle.

 

Chiang Rai; Chiang Mai’s Counterpart

The city is the perfect base for hiking or other activities in this beautiful region. Chiang Rai is characterized by different culture and traditions than other cities in this region. It is, therefore, a very nice place to visit if you’re looking for something different.

 

You will find plenty of good accommodations and in the evenings, Chiang Rai will change to an atmospheric city where you will find various market stalls and many restaurants.

 

Although the city still has 62,000 inhabitants, it is a lot quieter than that other famous city in the north; Chiang Mai. The city attracts few visitors since most tourists all travel to Pai and Chiang Mai. That’s a shame, because Chiang Rai has a lot to offer.

 

Tea plantations in Chiang Rai
There are many beautiful tea plantations in Chiang Rai

 

10 Fun Things to Do in and Around Chiang Rai

There is plenty to do in Chiang Rai, especially in the surrounding area. The city is best known for its beautiful nature in the area, and especially the tea plantations. In addition, you will find a number of beautiful temples that are certainly worth a visit. We’ve listed the most beautiful sights below!

 

1. Visit the Golden Triangle

Although this is not in the city itself, Chiang Rai is seen as a starting point towards the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is a sort of three country point as we know it. Thailand, Myanmar and Laos border each other in the Golden Triangle.

 

The Golden Triangle used to be best known for the opium cultivation in this region. The opium cultivation stood still for a while because it was banned by the government, but it has increased again in recent years.

 

Aerial View of the Golden Triangle in Thailand
View of the Golden Triangle, a great scene!

 

In the Thai region of the Golden Triangle you will also find many hill tribes that are not westernized by tourism. We can only hope that these hill tribes will retain their authenticity in the future.

 

TIP – Also go to the Phu Chi Fa Mountain. Although this is not entirely in Chiang Rai, it is definitely a must-see. It is 2 to 3 hours from Chiang Mai and with good weather you can even see Laos!

 

2. Day Trip to the Wat Rong Khun

The Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple, is located just south of Chiang Rai. The White Temple is a fairly new temple and although the temple attracts more and more visitors every year, it is still relatively unknown among tourists.

 

In Thailand itself, however, the temple has grown into a national museum. Because of its color it is also one of the most recognizable temples in the country.

 

White temple with many ornaments next to a lake

The Wat Rong Khun (a.k.a. white temple) south of Chiang Rai

 

TIP – More information about the temple can be found on our Wat Rong Khun page.

 

3. Explore the Night Bazaar

In the city center near the bus terminal and the famous Clock Tower you will find the Night Bazaar. It is a bit similar to the Night Market in Chiang Mai, but much smaller. The bazaar is organized every evening from sunset to around midnight.

 

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar Market
Chiang Rai Night Bazaar Market

 

You will find stalls filled with Thai souvenirs and clothing at competitive prices. Don’t forget to negotiate.

 

Are you not into shopping? No worries; the Night Bazaar is a paradise for lovers of good food. There is an interesting mix of western and Thai dishes. For a few dollars you can have a delicious dish, or some fried insects 😉

 

Man holding some grilled skewered pork
Some grilled skewered pork is a great option!

 

4. Visit the Clock Tower in the Evening

The most important point in the city center is the golden Clock Tower which also serves as a roundabout. It was designed by the same man who designed the famous Wat Rong Khun. The beauty of the Clock Tower will be illuminated by a light show which takes placen every evening at 7 p.m., 8 p.m., and 9 p.m.

 

Every night this light show, with music, turns the dusty street into a small spectacle.

 

TIP – The Clock Tower stands at the intersection of Thanon Jet Yot and Thanon Baanpa Pragarn.

 

5. Visit the Mae Salong Mountains (Viewpoint)

Chiang Rai is surrounded by beautiful nature. One of the most beautiful places is the Mae Salong Mountains. Doi Mae Salong is one of the many attractions in Chiang Rai and one of the most popular places that tourists visit. This mountain range is known for the tea plantations that you can visit.

 

The town of Santikhiree is the place to be for exploring this region. It is about a 2 hour drive from Chiang Mai and with the stunning views here it is a must-see when you are in Chiang Rai. The village offers enough restaurants and hotels for tourists.

 

TIP – You can also book a tour to this region; check Asian Trail for more info.

 

Stunning view from the Phu Chee Fah mountain area
Stunning view from the Phu Chee Fah mountain area

 

6. Relaxing in a Hot Spring

Thailand is warm, but in the winter Chiang Rai is nice and cool. If you find it too cold, you can go to one of the many hot springs in the area, Chiang Rai has quite a lot of them. The best known hot springs are the following;

 

Pong phrabat

This is the closest hot spring around Chiang Rai and can be reached via a day trip to the Pong Phrabat waterfall. It is a popular attraction for the locals. This hot spring is located around 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) outside the city.

 

Huay Mal Lium

This is one of the most beautiful hot springs in the city. It has not been renovated so it’s still in its natural state as it was. You will also find a waterfall here.

 

The best hot spring in Chiang Rai; Nam Roo

Nam Roo is a naturally heated lake that lies deep in the forest around the mountains of Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park. The lake is high in the mountains and looks like an infinity pool. The view over the mountains is incredible.

 

TIP – Nam Roo is located 120 kilometers (74.5 miles) from the city. You can go there yourself (via Highway 118), but you can also book a tour.

 

7. Visit Temples

In Thailand you have a lot of temples, the same goes for Chiang Rai. The temples are very scattered in Chiang Rai, so many tourists skip a number of temples. That’s a shame, because you can have a lot of temples all to yourself! These are the best known temples;

 

  • Wat Huai Pla Kung – a beautiful building with a giant Buddha
  • Wat Phra That Doi Tung – a small, picturesque temple
  • Doi in Cee – a temple that tourists often skip where you have an impressive view

 

8. Get Active

There is a lot to do in and around Chiang Rai. The nature around the city is impressive and also the biggest reason that travelers come here. It is unthinkable not to go into nature for one of the many activities. The best-known activities are;

 

Visit the Caves

If you are not afraid of the dark, go to Wat Tham Pla (“Fish Cave Temple” or “Monkey Temple”). It is located in an enormous cave about 13 kilometers (8 miles) south of Mae Sai; a nice day trip from the city.

 

Snakes next to a stairway heading to a temple
Do you dare enter the Monkey Temple? 😉

 

Rent a Bike

One of the best ways to explore Chiang Rai and the surrounding area is by bicycle. The city area is a good start for recreational cyclists, because it is relatively flat and safe. You can also choose to go for one of the adventurous cycling trips.

 

Bicycle tours vary from two to five days or longer if you wish.

 

Visit Traditional Villages

Many of Thailand’s traditional villages lie in the mountains around Chiang Rai. It is, therefore, the ideal base for a beautiful trek in the mountains to visit the villages. You can book treks for one day up to several days.

 

9. Go to the Mae Fah Luang Garden

With more than a hundred different types of flowers, the Mae Fah Luang Garden is definitely recommended when you are in Chiang Rai. Enjoy a relaxing evening by strolling through this 25-acres large and beautifully designed garden. The many flowers and plants are nice and soothing.

 

TIP – Entry is free.

 

Garden with many different flowers and mountains in the background
The Mae Fah Luang Garden with a beautiful background

 

10. Tasting Session on the Tea Plantations

Places like Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka, Darjeeling in India, or the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia are known as the places in Asia to admire beautiful tea plantations, but many people forget about Chiang Rai. If there is a place in Thailand where you can see impressive tea fields, it is around Chiang Rai.

 

The region is surrounded by beautiful fields! There are several tea plantations that you can visit. These are some of the best tea plantations in Chiang Rai;

 

Doi Mae Salong

This large tea plantation is located on the hill of Doi Mae Salong. From the viewpoint you have a beautiful view. It is one of the most beautiful places in the area of ​​Chiang Rai. You can also see the largest teapot in the world here, a nice bonus 🙂

 

Choui Fong Tea Plantation

Another beautiful tea plantation surrounded by green hills and large tea plantations is the Choui Fong plantation. You can enjoy a walk through the plantation here and you can also visit various tea restaurants on the plantation.

 

101 Tea Plantation

This is another well-known tea plantation in Chiang Rai that focuses primarily on producing and selling different types of tea. The most popular teas are Mae Salong tea; Assam tea, and Ching Ching No. 12. It is great to be here with a cup of tea and enjoy the view of the mountains.

 

Green tea leaves at 101 tea plantation
The 101 tea plantation looks very beautiful!

 

Where to Stay in Chiang Rai

You will have no problems finding a good hotel or guesthouse in Chiang Rai. These, and many other accommodations, are plentiful in the city and you also have plenty of alternatives in terms of dining options. Especially around Wat Jet Yot there are a lot of restaurants and places to sleep.

 

Prices

The prices for accommodations depend on your own wishes. You can sleep for as little as US $20 per night in a budget guesthouse, but also in resorts for about US$220 per night. To give you an idea;

 

  • Dorm $6 to $11 per night
  • Budget hotel $20 per night
  • Normal hotel $35 to $55 per night

 

TIP – Check out all accommodations in Chiang Rai at Booking.com.

 

Starry night in Chiang Rai
Amazing view of a starry night in Chiang Rai

 

How to Get to Chiang Rai

If you travel to Thailand it will almost always be via Bangkok. Fortunately, it is easy to travel from there to Chiang Rai. There are a number of options for getting there. These are some of the easiest.

 

To Chiang Rai by Bus

Most travelers who come to Chiang Rai come here by bus; the easiest and cheapest way. There are a number of places from where you can travel to Chiang Rai by bus. The most famous are;

 

  • Bangkok ➜ 500 to 1,000 baht (US $16.20 to $32.40), takes about 12 hours
  • Chiang Mai ➜ 120 to 300 baht (US $3.90 to $9.70), takes about 7 hours
  • Mae Sot ➜ 410 baht (US $13.30), takes about 12 hours
  • Sukhothai ➜ 255 baht (US $8.25), takes about 8 hours

 

To Chiang Rai by Plane

A faster way to get there is by plane. Planes depart daily from Bangkok to Chiang Rai. Prices are not too bad. For US$35 you can fly from Bangkok to Chiang Rai.

 

Book Tickets Online

You can book tickets online via 12GoAsia. We have used this website many times for our trips in Asia. Check out the current routes and prices from Bangkok to Chiang Rai.

 

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