In this post, you will find our guide to travel to Chiang Rai, in Thailand. We have armed it based on our experience, so if you want to know more before or during your trip to the city, read on. What to see in Chiang Rai and its surroundings, what to do in Chiang Rai, where to sleep in Chiang Rai, how to travel to Chiang Rai and much more.
- 1 What to see in Chiang Rai.
- 2 Important information to plan your trip to Chiang Rai in Thailand
A little bit of history about Chiang Rai …
Located about 4 hours from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is a small town near the border of Myanmar and Laos. Over time it has gained popularity as a tourist stop. Today traveling to Chiang Rai has become a mandatory stop when visiting Thailand.
It is not necessary to sleep Chiang Rai, most people visit it for the day from Chiang Mai. However, if you want to know your surroundings calmly it is highly recommended to stay for at least one night.
What to see in Chiang Rai.
Chiang Rai is a small city, whose biggest attractions are two temples that, in reality, are more like works of art. Most people decide to travel to Chiang Rai only to visit these two amazing places. It is said that one of them represents heaven and the other one represents hell. These temples separated by several kilometers, so look at our “how to move” section and plan your day before leaving your hotel.
The white temple or Wat Rong Khun.
This temple was designed not many years ago by the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. Its construction began in 1997 and is one of the most beautiful and characteristic temples of Thailand. It is painted completely white and covered with small crystals.
It represents the way to heaven, so to reach the small future meditation room you must cross a bridge surrounded by hands that ask for help and alms. To get to heaven, first, you have to go through hell.
It is still under construction and there is no fixed date for it to be finished, it’s estimated that by 2070 he White Temple of Chiang Rai will be complete. Nowadays the artist is still working and it is possible to see him painting the interior mural, where you will find characters like Spiderman to SpongeBob (photos are forbidden inside, but you can search inside Google).
It is worth mentioning that there is a building in the complex that is not white: the bathrooms. They are all painted in gold and you had to enter to them during your trip to Chiang Rai, even if you do not have the need to pee.
- Opening hours: 08:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed Sundays (You can enter the temple at intervals of time, if it is closed when you arrive, ask when is the next turn to go in).
- Price: 50 baht
Ban Daam Museum or Black House Museum.
Describing this place is not easy, you have to see it with your own eyes if you decide to travel to Chiang Rai. It was created by the national artist Thawan Duchanee. In it are built about 40 black houses with different materials. Inside of them, you can find animal’s bones and skin, stuffed animals and many other pretty gloomy things.
- Opening hours: 09:00 to 12:00 – 13:00 to 17:00
- Price: 80 baht
Formerly the cultivation of opium was the main activity in this area, so you can find lots of museums dedicated to this activity and it’s history. The best known is the “Park Hall of Opium”.
Today, Chiang Rai is very popular especially for being the place where the Ruak and Mekong rivers make a natural border between Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Visiting Chiang Rai will not be complete if you do not get to this important border.
The prices of the souvenirs are the lowest we saw in Thailand, so it is also a good opportunity to make some shopping.
There are boat rides on the river that “cross the border” with the other countries. Only advisable if you want to say you were in the other countries… not much to see in the ride.
It’s 100% one of the attractions of the city because of the good atmosphere and the entertaining shops. In the “where to buy” section of the google map, you can see its location.
The Clock Tower.
Located in the center of the city, at night you can enjoy a little show of lights and music.
Important information to plan your trip to Chiang Rai in Thailand
Best time to travel to Chiang Rai
The climate is quite similar to Chiang Mai with three seasons. For more information visit our Chiang Mai post here. The best time to travel to Chiang Rai is undoubtedly between November to February.
- November to February: The best time in terms of weather. Less rain and good temperatures.
- March to April: Intense heat and less rain so the air pollution is high. The forests and nature in the area are dry because of the fall.
- May to October: Rainy season, but at the same time the natural surroundings will be very green and beautiful.
How to get to Chiang Rai
1. Tour from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
Taking a tour from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is one of the most popular options for tourists who don0t have time to stay longer. There are many agencies that offer this day trip… its very tiring, but at the same time very efficient.
In general, the van will pick you up at the hotel around 08:00 am and the trip includes a visit to the “White Temple” and the “Golden Triangle” pluss the typical stops for shopping in local stores.
The journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai takes about 4 hours, so be prepared for a quick visit to the attractions and many hours on the bus. The price is around 900 baht per person (2015).
2. Airplane to Chiang Rai:
There is a national airport, so you can travel to Chiang Rai by plane. Flights from the main cities of Thailand, such as Bangkok and Phuket, connect with Chiang Rai making your trip faster, easier and more efficient if you come from farther destinations than Chiang Mai.
3. Bus to Chiang Rai:
Chiang Rai has two bus stations; the “new” in the outskirts and the “old” in the center. Try to always be left at the center when traveling by bus to Chiang Rai. This is where all the accommodations are and you can walk to them because the city is pretty small.
From Chiang Mai, the buses leave from the Arcade station and cost approximately 135 baht per person. You can also hire shared or private minivans at tourist agencies. This trip takes approximately 3 hours.
Why visit Chiang Rai
The sites of interest, temples, and landscapes of Chiang Rai are very beautiful, plus its location near the border with Myanmar and Laos. However, it is also one of the cities with the lowest prices in Thailand, so many tourists come here to shop. If you are looking to buy a souvenir to take home, visiting Chiang Rai is what you need.
Indispensable items when traveling to Chiang Rai
Remember to have with your clothes such as long pants, sarongs or handkerchief, that will allow you to cover your shoulders and legs, whether you are a woman or a man. Entry to temples with an inappropriate dress is prohibited.
How to move around Chiang Rai
Since the two main attractions (the white temple and the black temple) are located several kilometers from the city, and in opposite directions, walking is quite unviable. Bicycles, if you are very athletic, can be an alternative but we do not recommend them unless you have the physical condition to support the exercise and the heat at the same time. Here are several alternatives for how to get around Chiang Rai:
1. Motorcycle or scooter rental.
There are several places that offer motorcycle or scooter rentals when visiting Chiang Rai. The easiest way to get one is to ask at your accommodation if they can arrange it or if they know where is the closest shop where you can rent it. The city in general works with agencies that move between the different accommodations at the call of the owners, so they should have the information easily.
2. Taxi or Tuk Tuk
In Chiang Rai, it is easy to find taxis or tuk tuk that take you to the tourist sites. The prices are always negotiable. Ask about the rates in your accommodation so the drivers do not scam you by charging high prices.
3. Public bus or Tour
To get to the golden triangle, the road by car is more than an hour, so the best alternative is to do it on a tour that you can take in the city or by public buses (which in general take much longer to arrive and return , and they do not have fix schedules). We recommend you to share a van with other tourists that take everyone and bring them back to the city. You can also rent a scooter and drive yourself.
Where to sleep in Chiang Rai
If you decide to sleep in Chiang Rai, try to stay downtown so you can walk to the Night Market and have several restaurant alternatives to choose from. There are many options for prices as low as $ 15 per night in a double room with private bathroom and air conditioning.
Where to eat in Chiang Rai
If you are looking for more local food at the Night Market you can find a food court with all the specialties you want.
Use your intuition or the Tripadvisor recommendation platform. There are many good places scattered around the center of the city.
The most typical dish of this area of Thailand is the Khao Soi, of Burmese influence. It is a noodle soup a little spicy with vegetables and spices.
Where to buy in Chiang Rai
Every night a large market opens, similar to the Chiang Mai fair, in the center of the city. In it, you can find local objects and souvenirs at great prices.
The Golden Triangle:
The lowest prices we have found in Thailand were in this place. We have the theory that it is because of the closeness to the borders of Laos and Myanmar. As an example, I found a child’s suit that in Bangkok costs 200 baht at 50 baht, without even negotiating a bit.