Chiang Rai

Experiential journeys will make you a storyteller
About Chiang Rai

Tucked away in the mountains of Northern Thailand, sharing its borders with Myanmar and Laos, Chiang Rai is a fascinating destination that makes for a great holiday! With unique architecture that redefines Chiang Rai tourism, and beautiful sights that add to the majestic beauty of this town, this calm, yet exciting spot, is a must-visit if you’re travelling with friends, family or going solo. Best explored between October and February when the weather is extremely pleasant and tourist spots are bustling with locals and travellers, there’s much to look forward to in the wonderful city of Chiang Rai.

Amidst the tourist spots that are worth a visit are the intricately designed Chiang Rai Clock Tower, the majestic 9-tiered Wat Huai Pia Kung Temple, the White Temple housing murals of pop-culture references, that makes for a never-seen-before sight and the beautiful Singha Park which promises an exciting activity-filled day, outdoors. If you’re a nature lover, make a beeline for the Mae Kok River and the Doi Mae Salong, which is amongst the highest peaks offering delightful panoramic views.

Chiang Mai also offers a great deal of activities like zip lining, tea tasting, tree-top walks and spending a night among the tribes of the town, which is indeed, a rare sight, one that simply cannot be missed. End each day by soaking in the Chiang Rai vibe at one of the many nightclubs the city houses, some of the most popular being the Cat Bar and the Kaffee Hub, which makes for a great hangout for people of all ages.

Binge eat and savour the flavours at local Thai restaurants, shop at the central Night Bazaar, and make the most of your stay by residing at a fancy hotel or at a homestay, like a local. Ideally, we’d recommend three to four nights here, but if you fall in love with this city (which you certainly will), feel free to extend your trip and soak in the Chiang Rai vibe!

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Chiang Rai FAQ's

When is the best time to visit Chiang Rai?

Although an all-season destination, the best time to visit the beautiful city of Chiang Rai is October to February when the weather is extremely pleasant and all kinds of tourist attractions are fully functional. Just like the rest of Asia, Chiang Rai has three distinct types of weather and enjoys a moderate climate.

Cool Season (October to February): Chiang Rai is simply beautiful during the cool season! The rains are rare, so humidity is extremely low, skies are clear, and the temperatures range between 15°C and 21°C. December and January in fact, are the coldest months and serve as the best time to explore everything Chiang Rai has to offer.

Hot Season (March to May): The off-season in Chiang Rai is usually during these months, owing to the fact that the scorching heat is on its way. Temperatures range from 27°C to 36°C and although waterfalls and rivers seem like the best spots to visit during this time, the other attractions are difficult to explore, especially on foot. Being the onset of monsoon, it is also pretty humid during these months. On the brighter side, you can spend all day sipping on chilled drinks and keeping yourself hydrated and cool.

Rainy Season (June to September): While this might not seem like a great time to visit, think again! The rains occur in short spells and rarely hamper your trip. Following the rainfall, you’re treated to cool breezes, but rest assured the surroundings are mucky and on the days when it doesn’t rain, the weather is warm and humid, which might play spoilsport to your vacation. 

How to reach Chiang Rai?

By Air: Although a relatively expensive option, travelling from Bangkok to Chiang Rai by air is one of the quickest ways to get there. There are multiple flights between the two destinations, both, from Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

If you’re travelling from the international airport Suvarnabhumi, you can choose between Thai Smile, Bangkok Air, and Thai Vietjet. The first two are more expensive, but allow baggage allowance, while the latter, though cheaper, doesn’t offer any baggage allowance.  Once you board the flight from Bangkok, you should land in Chiang Rai within 1.5 hours or so.

By Road: Numerous buses plying every day, low fares, and multiple companies to choose from, what’s not to like about a bus journey from Bangkok to Chiang Rai? Head to the main Mo Chit Bus Terminal, which is designed for your comfort and get aboard a bus that’ll take you right to your destination.

There are Express and VIP buses to choose from, and though VIP buses seem more expensive, the array of amenities and comfort they offer, make it worth the price for a long ride. You can also choose between a night journey if you don’t want to waste a day, or a day journey if you want to check out the picturesque beauty as you make your way from Bangkok to Chiang Rai. 

Which are the major tourist attractions in Chiang Rai?

1. Chiang Rai Clock Tower: A landmark of the city, the Chiang Rai Clock Tower is an ode to the artist who built the White Temple and bears his signature style. The intricately designed golden tower, with swirling spires showcases an interesting light and sound display every evening.

2. White Temple: A unique element amidst the attractions, the White Temple is known for its beautiful structure as well as its one-of-a-kind murals which are dedicated to pop culture and old-school artistes who have a massive fan following.

3. Singha Park: Experience a fun-filled day at the zoo, a farm, and a garden. Zipline your way across the forest, feed the animals on the farm, and end your day by munching on delicacies.

4. Phu Chi Fai: An absolutely breath-taking attraction, Phu Chi Fai makes way for eye-pleasing views of the mountains, beaches and the island and dense mangroves. Lay your eyes upon it all from a height of 1600m above sea level!

5. Golden Triangle: Your trip to Chiang Rai is incomplete if you don’t visit the Golden Triangle. Known for its shared borders with Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, here’s where they meet at the Mekong River. This is a slice out of history with glorious ancient structures and beautiful views all around.

6. Mae Kok River: Treat yourself to an adventure as you go on a boat ride across the crystal-clear waters of the Mae Kok River. Interact with the local tribes on the way, gorge on local Thai food and don’t forget to rejuvenate at the hot springs tucked away in the villages!

7. Wat Huai Pia Kung: The famous 9-tiered temple is an enthralling sight to behold! It is home to the largest Bodhisattva in Thailand, and boasts of a fusion of Thai and Chinese architecture. One of the most serene spots in Chiang Rai, head here for breathtaking views amidst tranquility

8. Doi Mae Salong: One of the highest peaks standing tall at a height of 1800 metres, Doi Mae Salong is a must-visit for its ethereal beauty and refreshing air, all year-round. There are small guesthouses, coffee plantations and lots of Chinese food that welcomes you.

9. King Mengrai the Great Monument: Dedicated to the founder of the Lanna Kingdom, King Menagrai, this monument is prettified by three huge golden flags and can be spotted right from the highway leading up to the city. King Mengrai was the founder of this beautiful city and locals often flock to the place to pay their respects to his statue. Make sure to check out the souvenir shops around this spot.

10. Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park: If you’re a lover of history and enjoy some old-world charm, head here for some beautiful artefacts and arts. Learn about Buddhist rituals and visit the teakwood exhibition.

What are the things to do in Chiang Rai?

1. Zipline Through Singha Park: Treat yourself to an exhilarating experience as you ‘zip’ past the sprawling tea plantations and panoramic views of lush greenery. You can choose from a range of difficulty levels based on your love for thrill!

2. Sip On Freshly Brewed Thai Tea At The Plantation: Head out to the outskirts of Chiang Rai where you shall visit the most picturesque plantations of Choui Fong Tea Farm. The taste of freshly brewed Thai iced tea here will linger on your tongue, long after you’re done exploring the plantations.

3. Spend A Night Among The Tribes: Inhabiting the mountains of Northern Thailand are the local tribes that have made their homes there since over a century. Learn about their ethnicities, rural life, dine with them and spend the night at a homestay among them.

4. Gorge On Street Food: When in Chiang Rai, eat like a local. Ditch the fancy fine-dines and opt for street stalls offering delicacies like Bua Loy Kai, a quirky coconut milk dessert, and Khao Soi. Street stalls often promise the best food at the best prices, so make sure it’s on your list!

5. Stroll Through The Night Markets: From teas to tees and herbs to handicrafts, Chiang Rai Night Market promises it all! Choose from an array of products and souvenirs, dine at the stalls serving up exciting flavours, and stop by to watch LIVE performances at the open-air stages, set-up right in the middle, literally the centre of attraction.

6. Walk Through The Unique White Temple: A temple like nothing you’ve seen before, the White Temple is designed in an intriguing fashion with bridges leading to the temple grounds. It showcases works by an esteemed Thailand artist where the beautiful interior murals aren’t of deities, but of pop culture stars like Superman, Micheal Jackson and the adorable Minions, from animated movies.

7. A Tree-top Walk To Remember: Tucked within the Mae Fah Luang Garden is an adventurous 390-metre long walk on a narrow suspension bridge, 30 metres above the ground. A rather unique way to walk through the forests, we’d say!

8. Be Mesmerised By The Clock Tower Show: A special musical light show awaits at the intricately designed Golden Clock Tower, a beautiful sight, in itself. The well-synced show is performed every evening at 8 pm and is definitely a must visit for tourists of all ages.

9. Cycle Through Chiang Sean: The quaint town of Chiang Sean is best explored on a bicycle. Meander through the charming countryside, admiring the rich history of the region.

What is the local food of Chiang Rai? Which are the best places to taste this food?

Exploring Chiang Rai tourism isn’t complete without stuffing yourself with sumptuous Thai meals all across the city. Some of the most popular dishes of the area are Khanom Jeen Nam Ngiao, simply known as Noodle Soup, Khao Suey, a coconut-based curry loaded with veggies and meats and topped with garnishes.

Then there’s the Kaeng Khanun which is hot and sour soup made with unripe jackfruit, the Sai Oua, a delectable pork sausage, and Toasted Tadpoles. Owing to the abundance of herbs and spices in the region, Chiang Rai also has some great dips to offer that you absolutely shouldn’t miss out on. The best spots for a hearty Thai meal are:

1. Chiang Rai Nam Ngeow: This open-air diner has a simple but satisfying menu with signature dishes like noodles in spicy pork broth, Khao Soy, and steamed rice-skin dumplings, a dessert that completes your meal. It’s a casual restaurant with delicious flavours at reasonable prices.

2. Lee Ocha: Designed with red lanterns, giving the restaurant a common Chinese feel, Lee Ocha is known for its outstanding Chinese cuisine ranging from simple rice porridge to crispy chicken and seafood. Over the years, it has earned immense patronage and is a hotspot for casual dining.

3. Phu Lae: An easy-find through the streets of Chiang Rai, Phu Lae is designed in shades of red complemented by wooden interiors. The restaurant is popular for its curries, beef steaks, and herb-infused mussels.

It serves up eclectic flavours from all across Thailand which makes it a favourite among locals and tourists. Enjoy your meal with some soothing tunes playing in the background.

4. Rod Yiem Beef Noodle Soup: Flanked by folks from near and far, this eatery is in business since over 3 decades and is known to serve the best noodle soup in Chiang Rai! The menu is a basic one, offering rice noodles and beef soup with different varieties of beef added for some chunky bites.

You can also end the meal with pandanus-flavoured ice cream. The place is almost always crowded, but the soul-satisfying food they provide is worth the wait.

5. Salung Kham: Born out of a simply passion for cooking, this family-run restaurant is worth a visit! The owner has designed a menu using his family’s secret recipes and the flavours come from the heart.

Sai Oua and garlic-fried frog legs are the must-try dishes! Eminent personalities too, visit this spot often, so don’t be too surprised if you spot someone famous walking right through the door.

What is the best public transport to commute around Chiang Rai?

As Chiang Rai is a small town, most of the places to visit in Chiang Rai can be easily covered on foot. However, if you are looking for local public transport, below are the options-

By Bus: Local buses are available to take you to the various parts of the city, neighboring villages and other rural parts.

By Tuk-Tuk: Tuk-tuks which are one of the kinds of auto rickshaws are the best way to get around Chiang Rai and places worth visiting are not very far from each other.

By Songthaew: Songthaew is a local two-row passenger vehicle that is easily found in Chiang Rai. They can help you get to different places in the town. Most of these generally run on sharing basis, so they are also very affordable and best for budget travelers.

By Taxi: Taxis services are available throughout the city to take you around the tourist attractions and other areas. Taxi drivers may also help you with insights that help you explore the best of the city.

Except for these public transport facilities, you can also choose to rent a car or motorbikes for about 200-300 baht per day by depositing your passports with the rental agencies. Make  sure you wear a helmet when you ride as it is compulsory according to Thai driving laws.

What is the local language in Chiang Rai and which are the most commonly used greetings?

Like in most other parts of Thailand, people of Chiang Rai speak Thai as well. They also speak English so tourists don’t face trouble usually. But Thai is however, the official and most widely spoken language. Without knowing the tones or inflections, almost anything you try to say beyond the most basic, may make no sense to the Thai ear. In some areas "R" words take an "L" sound, so Chiang Rai is actually Chiang Lai. To help you keep up with people here, below are some of the most common used greetings…

 - Sawatdee (krub/kah) - Hello
- Sabai dee ru  - How are you?
- Sabai dee (krub/kah) - Fine
- Khob Khun (kup/kaa) - Thank you
- Chai - Yes
- Mai Chai - No
- Dai - (You/I) Can
- Mai Dai - Can not
- Pood Thai Mai dai - I cannot speak Thai

Which are the best shopping places in Chiang Rai?

Shopping in Chiang Rai itself feels more like an undercurrent than mainstream activity. It is home to a handful of natural-born artists and craftsmen. Unlike in Chiang Mai, where arts and crafts are often concentrated in one single area, Chiang Rai’s artists prefer to pursue an independent lifestyle, practicing and trading their own crafts. 

Below are some of the most famous markets and shopping places in Chiang Rai:

- Chiang Rai Walking Street
- Doi Chang
- Doy Din Daeng
- Hill-Tribe Museum Souvenir Shop
- Kaad Luang
- Local Products Promotion Centre
- Saturday Walking Street
- Night Bazaar

Which are the famous temples to visit in Chiang Rai?

Chiang Rai is a land renowned for its breathtakingly beautiful temples that extend the terms “artistic” and  “creative” into another dimension. 

Here are some of the best ones listed below:- 

- Wat Rung Khun- The White Temple
- Wat Phra Kaew – Temple of The Emerald Buddha
- Wat Phra Sing.
- Wat Phra Kaew – Temple of The Emerald Buddha
- Wat Phra Sing
- Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong
- Wat Phra That Doi Ngam Muang
- Wat Ming Muang
- Wat Jetyod
- Wat Klang Wiang
- Wat Chiang Yuen
- Wat Mung Muang

Which are the best place for a tribal experience in Chiang Rai?

Chiang Rai has a host of villages inhabited by the tribals, since decades. Some worth visiting are:

1. Karen Village: You’re welcomed by a population of oddly 3 lakh tribals, living in bamboo and teak houses, with their main source of income as farming. They are known for their fine craftsmanship and are recognised from their strikingly bright clothes.

2. Palong Village: Although the smallest tribal group, Palong women stand out because of their unique clothing accompanied by silver waistbands and ornaments, and most importantly, their gold ornamented teeth. Their main source of income is growing tea, chillies and sugar cane.

3. Akha Village: Another popular village with a population of approximately 80,000, the men and women of the Akha tribe live separately. The women here don black caps ornamented by silver coins. They earn their living primarily through tourism and farming.

4. Padaung Village: What’s unique about the tribe here is that all of them have very long necks. Since a young age, the neck is encased within golden rings, and more are added over the years. Gradually the neck becomes weak to support the head and the rings act as a support and can therefore never be taken off.

Which are the best cycling routes in Chiang Rai?

A cycling tour can be enjoyed in various parts of Chiang Rai. However, if you are looking for some famous routes, below are some of them:-

- Chiang Saen
- Chiang Rai Loop
- Chiang Khong
- Phu Chi Fa
- Mae Sai

Which are the best waterfalls to visit in Chiang Rai?

One of the most popular things to do in Chiang Rai includes visiting a waterfall in the jungle. Waterfalls here are considered to be the best in Thailand. As there are so many of them, choosing the best one can be a difficult task.  

However, here are some of the famous waterfalls in Chiang Rai:-

 - Khun Korn Waterfall
- Huay Mae Sai Waterfall
- Huay Kaew Waterfall
- Phu Kaeng Waterfall
- Pong Phrabat Waterfall

Which are the most popular hot springs to visit in Chiang Rai?

You can enjoy a peaceful bath amongst nature and follow the smell of sulfur at the hot spring spots in Chiang Rai.

- Huai Mak Liam Hot Springs
- Pong Phra Bat Hot Springs
- Pha Soet Hot Springs

Which are the best places to for walking tour in Chiang Rai?

Chiang Rai is a small town in Thailand and most of the popular attractions here are located close to each other. So if you are  walking enthusiast, who likes to explore the city on foot, you will be happy to be here in Chiang Rai. You can do a very pleasant and interesting little half day stroll around town, taking in most of the sights and including a few good coffee and snack breaks. 

Below are some of the best places to take a walking tour:- 

- Iconic Clock Tower
- Muslim Mosque
- Walking Street Market
- Wat Phra Kaew
- Wat Doi Ngum Muang
- Wat Doi Chom
- Chiang Rai City Hall

How is the nightlife in Chiang Rai?

Though the usually calm town of Chiang Rai doesn’t seem high on nightlife, you’re in for a real treat here! Some of the best places to visit are:

1. Bar Lamyai: Tucked in the town interiors, Bar Lamyai has a few outdoor tables and a pool table. The menu is pretty basic with a few bar bites and beverages. If you’re on the look-out for cheap eats and LIVE broadcasts, make sure you head here.

2. Cat Bar: Headed by a warm, friendly couple, Cat Bar is a reputed bar doing brisk business since over 2 decades. They’ve got LIVE jam sessions every night, which you can join in and a simple menu serving the local fare.

3. Chiang Rai Night Bazaar: This isn’t the regular nightlife that one would expect. As the name suggests, the night market is loaded with stalls where you can shop till you drop and then head to the beer garden and local food court within the area. The arena also has two open-air stages with LIVE performances for a relaxed evening as you enjoy a good meal.

4. Coconut’s Bar: One of the best places to be at, Coconut’s Bar serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with an extensive menu of delectable concoctions you simply can’t afford to miss. The relaxed vibe and cosy interiors make for the perfect ambience to hang out with your friends over a chilled beer and bites.

5. Kaffee Hub: This cosy lounge is for one and all! The first storey is a cafe with wooden chairs and tables, while the second storey houses the bar and lounge. Choose from an extensive range of coffees and cocktails that you can sip on while soaking in the vibe, and gorging on International and local dishes.

How many days do you need in Chiang Mai?

To explore everything that Chiang Rai tourism has to offer, we’d recommend staying for at least 3 Nights/ 4 Days. There are villages, night bazaars, waterfalls, temples, restaurants, and a lot more! You could extend your stay if you like, but make sure you don’t cut it short.

How do you get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai?

The distance between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is roughly 200 kms, which isn’t too long, but owing to the fact that a lot of transport vehicles go along the roads, it takes much longer than expected to get to your destination. There are no trains or flights between the two cities, so your only option is to travel by bus or hire a private car or minibus.

The buses are extremely comfortable, reliable and quick, plying for approximately 3.5 hours before dropping you off to your destination. Buses are also the most reasonable options, which is why most tourists prefer taking the bus between the two cities.

Does Chiang Rai have a beach?

Chiang Rai tourism doesn’t really promise a beach but the Mae Kok River here is flanked by a small amount of sand on either side, which is why most locals refer to it as the beach. You can stroll along the soft sands or go for a dip in the river, to give yourself a beachy feel!

What should I wear in Chiang Rai?

If you’re travelling between October to February, make sure you carry a jacket along and some full length clothes as it gets chilly at night. While traveling in summers, pack your sunscreen, sunblock, a hat, or an umbrella to protect yourself from the heat.

Feel free to wear shorter clothes, but if you aren’t keen on getting tanned, we’d recommend thin long-sleeved clothing. During the monsoons, make sure you carry along a raincoat or an umbrella and lots of mosquito repellant.

Chiang Rai Reviews

Shubham Jha
Reviewed: 12 Apr 2022
Our trip to Chiang Mai was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had in my life. I did not know this Thai city had so much to offer… The heritage attractions were simply the best. The highlight for me was most definitely the tour of the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the handicrafts village.
Giriraaj Khan
Reviewed: 13 Dec 2019
Even though Thrillophilia looks after everything in their itinerary, be prepared to take out some time for exploring the local streets. The city is lively and there's always so much to learn about its history.

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