What to Do in Chiang Rai: 7 Must-See Attractions for Unforgettable Experiences

Chiang Rai, located in Northern Thailand, is a city brimming with beauty and charm. As the cultural and historical hub of the region, it offers a unique blend of attractions and experiences that cater to tourists seeking both relaxation and adventure. Known for its picturesque temples, vibrant markets, and abundant natural attractions, Chiang Rai is the perfect destination for travelers looking to explore the hidden gems of Thailand.

As we delve deeper into the wonders of Chiang Rai, we realize that the city has so much more to offer beyond its renowned temples. Its rich history and strong art scene add depth to the bustling markets and authentic Thai cuisine, making it a city full of endless surprises. Whether you’re a culture enthusiast or a nature lover, there’s something in Chiang Rai for everyone to enjoy.

Key Takeaways

  • Chiang Rai offers picturesque temples, vibrant markets, and natural attractions
  • Rich in history and art, it provides endless surprises for visitors
  • The city caters to culture enthusiasts, nature lovers, and all types of travelers

Overview of Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai, the northernmost province of Thailand, is a treasure trove of natural beauty, rich culture, and exciting attractions. With its unique blend of old-world charm and modernity, the city offers an unforgettable experience for travelers seeking adventure and relaxation.

As we delve into the vibrant culture of Chiang Rai, we can’t help but be mesmerized by the myriad of colorful and intricate temples. A prime example is the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), with its ethereal design and breathtaking architecture. Another equally fascinating temple, the Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten), captivates visitors with its stunning blue hues and graceful details.

If you’re looking for more things to do in Chiang Rai, fret not, as the province is filled with diverse attractions. Nature lovers will be thrilled to explore the verdant landscapes and sparkling waterfalls, such as Khun Korn Waterfall, amid lush forests. Adventure seekers can embark on exhilarating treks and zipline through vast stretches of greenery or unwind in the soothing waters of hot springs like Huay Mark Liam Hot Spring.

Chiang Rai’s vibrant night scene is worth exploring too. We particularly recommend strolling through the Night Bazaar, where you can taste mouthwatering Thai dishes and shop for local crafts, all while soaking in the lively atmosphere. Don’t miss the chance to see the Chiang Rai Clock Tower, a beautiful landmark that comes alive with music and lights every evening.

Art enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the Baan Dam Museum, also known as the Black House. This unique, dark wooden complex houses an intriguing collection of artwork and artifacts, reflecting the eccentric and creative spirit of Chiang Rai.

Ultimately, our journey through Chiang Rai is one filled with rich experiences, from immersing ourselves in its fascinating culture to discovering breathtaking natural wonders. In this vibrant province, there are endless adventures and memories to be made.

Getting to Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai, a beautiful city in Northern Thailand, offers numerous attractions for travelers. To make the most of your visit, it’s essential to know the best ways to get there. We’ve got you covered with these convenient options divided into sub-sections: By Air, By Bus, and By Train.

By Air

Getting to Chiang Rai by air is quite convenient. Chiang Rai International Airport (CEI) connects the city to several domestic and international destinations. Flights from Bangkok usually take about 1 hour and 30 minutes, while those from Chiang Mai last about 30 minutes. International travelers can easily connect through Singapore or Bangkok to reach Chiang Rai.

Keep an eye out for flights with airlines such as Thai Airways, Thai AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, and Thai Lion Air. Booking in advance will help you find the best deals.

By Bus

Travelers on a budget can opt for a bus ride to Chiang Rai. The city has an extensive network of bus services that connect it with numerous destinations across Thailand and neighboring countries like Laos. Buses from Chiang Mai take around 3-4 hours to reach Chiang Rai, while those from Bangkok take approximately 10-12 hours.

We recommend choosing GreenBus, a reliable and comfortable option to travel between cities. Tickets can be bought at local bus stations or booked online in advance. Options range from standard to air-conditioned VIP buses.

By Train

Although there’s no direct train route to Chiang Rai, you can still travel partially by train if you prefer this mode of transportation. First, take a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, which would take around 12-15 hours. The State Railway of Thailand offers express and sleeper trains that provide a comfortable journey.

Once you arrive in Chiang Mai, transfer to a bus or minivan for the final leg of the trip to Chiang Rai. This added step will take about 3-4 hours and can be easily arranged at the Chiang Mai train station or any local travel agency.

Whichever method you choose to reach Chiang Rai, rest assured that you’re in for an unforgettable adventure in this charming northern Thai city. Happy travels!

Accommodations in Chiang Rai

When visiting Chiang Rai, finding the right accommodation can be crucial to ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable trip. We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite places to stay, catering to different budgets and preferences.

For those on a budget, Chat House is an excellent choice. The hotel is located close to the city center and only about 1.6 km from Chiang Rai Bus Station, making it an ideal base for exploring the city’s attractions. The rooms are clean and comfortable, with essential amenities to make your stay pleasant. You can find more information about Chat House here.

For travelers seeking a mid-range option, consider The Legend Chiang Rai Boutique River Resort & Spa. This stylish resort offers a more intimate escape with only 78 rooms, all tastefully designed with calming lotus ponds and warm wooden accents. Guests can unwind in the impressive infinity-edge swimming pools overlooking the Kok River or enjoy a glass of wine at La Casa & Wine Bar in the evenings. You can book a stay at The Legend Chiang Rai Resort & Spa here.

If you’re looking for something a bit more luxurious while visiting Chiang Rai, we recommend the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort. This luxury resort offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains, along with exclusive amenities such as private terraces, a world-class spa, and memorable culinary experiences. The resort also supports ethical elephant experiences, allowing guests to interact closely with these gentle giants. You can learn more about Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort here.

In addition to these recommendations, Chiang Rai has a variety of other accommodation options to choose from, including guesthouses, boutique hotels, and Airbnb rentals. Regardless of your budget and preferences, you’re sure to find a comfortable place to rest your head while exploring this fascinating city in Northern Thailand.

Exploring the Temples of Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai, a vibrant city in northern Thailand, is home to a plethora of unique and awe-inspiring temples that will surely leave you mesmerized. Let’s dive into some of the most iconic temples that we must visit during our stay in this fascinating city.

White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

Designed by renowned Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, the White Temple is a masterpiece of modern Buddhist architecture. This stunning temple, covered in white and adorned with pieces of mirror, symbolizes purity and enlightenment. The intricate and thought-provoking artworks within the temple complex are truly captivating, depicting scenes from Buddhism and other spiritual teachings.

Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten)

The Blue Temple, a more recent addition to Chiang Rai’s temple scene, boasts a mesmerizing blue and gold color scheme. Inside the temple, you’ll find a breathtaking mural of the Lord Buddha, demonstrating the dedication and skill of its creators. The vibrant colors and remarkable design make the Blue Temple a must-see during our temple hopping journey.

Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew)

The Grand Palace, also known as Wat Phra Kaew, holds an esteemed place in Chiang Rai’s history as it once housed the precious Emerald Buddha. Though the statue has moved to Bangkok, the Grand Palace remains an essential stop for temple enthusiasts. The beautiful gardens and intricate architectural details embody the rich cultural heritage of this ancient city.

Big Buddha (Wat Huay Pla Kang)

One of Chiang Rai’s most famous and visited Buddhist temples, Wat Huay Pla Kang, boasts an impressive 9-story pagoda and a towering Big Buddha statue. The serene atmosphere and magnificent views of the surrounding landscape make it a must-visit destination on our temple exploring adventure.

Black House (Baan Dam Museum)

Finally, let’s not miss the Black House, also known as Baan Dam Museum. Unconventional and distinctive from other temples in the region, the Black House is a thought-provoking array of art pieces, artifacts, and even animal remains. Created by renowned Thai artist Thawan Duchanee, it offers a unique experience for visitors seeking something out of the ordinary.

Embarking on this temple exploration journey, we’ll be able to delve into Chiang Rai’s rich history and marvel at the extraordinary craftsmanship of these stunning edifices. Each temple offers a unique experience and a remarkable story waiting to be discovered. So let’s grab our cameras and immerse ourselves in the enchanting world of Chiang Rai’s temples.

Cultural Experiences in Chiang Rai

Hill Tribes Village Visit

One of the unique cultural experiences to have in Chiang Rai is visiting the Hill Tribes Village. The villages are home to various ethnic groups, offering a firsthand glimpse into their traditions, customs, and way of life. As we walk through the village, we’ll see locals dressed in traditional attire, children playing, and craftsmen at work. Make sure to be respectful by asking for permission before taking photos and remember, it’s all about immersing ourselves in their culture.

Baan Dam Museum Tour

Another fascinating cultural attraction in Chiang Rai is the Baan Dam Museum or Black House, created by the late national artist Thawan Duchanee. The museum is a series of unique buildings and artwork installations that showcase Thawan’s perspective on life, death, and Buddhism. As we tour the museum, expect to marvel at the intricately crafted sculptures, furniture made of animal bones, and elaborate paintings by Thawan himself and other artists. Make sure to keep an eye out for the local monks who often visit the site and join their chant sessions if you get a chance!

Art and Craft Shopping at Night Bazaar

When the sun sets, the Night Bazaar in Chiang Rai comes alive, presenting an amazing opportunity to explore the local artworks and craftsmanship. Strolling through the bazaar, we’ll find an array of handmade souvenirs like hill tribe fabrics, wood carvings, and silver accessories. This bustling market is not only a great place to shop but also to interact with the locals and learn about their crafts. Don’t forget to practice your bargaining skills and enjoy navigating your way through the maze of stalls offering a slice of Chiang Rai’s vibrant culture.

Nature Adventures in Chiang Rai

Exploring Waterfalls

Chiang Rai is home to some stunning waterfalls that not only offer breathtaking views but also provide refreshing swimming spots. One of the most impressive waterfalls is Khun Korn Waterfall, which is surrounded by lush greenery and creates an incredible atmosphere for nature lovers. Apart from Khun Korn, there are several other waterfalls worth exploring, such as Huay Mae Sai Waterfall and Pong Phrabath Waterfall. To fully appreciate these natural wonders, we recommend going on a guided tour or planning a hiking trip.

Singha Park Visit

Singha Park, a vast agro-tourism destination, is a perfect place for an outdoor adventure. Here, we can enjoy activities like cycling through the picturesque tea plantations, visiting the organic vegetable gardens, and ziplining over beautiful landscaped gardens. Don’t miss out on Singha Park’s iconic giant statue of a golden lion, which serves as a symbol of its parent company, Boon Rawd Brewery.

Mae Sai and Golden Triangle Tour

The Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet, is one of the most intriguing places to visit in Chiang Rai. Embark on a fascinating tour to the town of Mae Sai, located on the border between Thailand and Myanmar. Here, we can explore the bustling markets, temples, and enjoy views of the magnificent Mekong River. A visit to the Hall of Opium museum is also a must, as it offers a unique insight into the history of the opium trade in the region.

Doi Tung Trekking

For those looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure, trekking in the Doi Chang mountain range is a perfect choice. Home to some of the best coffee plantations in Thailand, Doi Tung offers scenic hiking trails that lead through dense forests, lush tea plantations, and remote hill tribe villages. The breathtaking views and cool mountain air make this trekking experience an unforgettable one.

Elephant Sanctuary Visit

An ethical elephant sanctuary visit is a must for those who want to learn about the conservation of these gentle giants. In Chiang Rai, we can find several sanctuaries dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and care of elephants. By visiting these sanctuaries, we not only get a chance to interact with these majestic creatures but also support their long-term wellbeing and contribute to their protection.

Overall, Chiang Rai offers an abundance of nature adventures that cater to all types of travelers. From exploring stunning waterfalls to embarking on scenic treks in the mountains, our experience in this area will undoubtedly be memorable and enriching.

Food and Nightlife in Chiang Rai

Trying Local Cuisine

While exploring Chiang Rai, we highly recommend indulging in diverse local flavors at the city’s numerous eateries and nighttime venues. One of the primary attractions in Chiang Rai is the Night Market, where we can sample a fantastic array of Thai Food. Both foodies and cultural explorers will appreciate the chance to dig into authentic dishes like Khao Soi, a popular Northern Thailand specialty combining egg noodles in a deliciously spiced curry broth.

Another fantastic venue to explore Chiang Rai’s culinary scene is the Chiang Rai Night Market, a bustling, vibrant space packed with delicious treats. Here, we can savor a variety of Thai street food, from fresh mango sticky rice to spicy papaya salad. Don’t forget to try the local delicacies as you weave your way through the bustling market, immersing yourself in the unique flavors of Chiang Rai.

Experience Live Music

After savoring the local cuisine, we highly recommend delving into Chiang Rai’s thriving live music scene. A fantastic spot to discover talented musicians is Tamarind bistro and music house, where two old wooden houses have been transformed into a vibrant cafe by day and a lively music venue at night. We can unwind and enjoy the tunes while sipping on refreshing beverages in this unique cultural hub.

Chiang Rai’s nightlife also offers a wide selection of bars and clubs, catering to a variety of musical tastes. From intimate blues and jazz clubs to energetic dance venues, we can find the perfect spot to let loose and dance the night away.

As we explore the food and nightlife in Chiang Rai, we’re sure to experience the city’s diverse and vibrant offerings. By trying local cuisine and soaking up the live music atmosphere, we’ll truly embrace the unforgettable culinary and cultural experiences that Chiang Rai has in store.

Recommended Itinerary for Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai, a charming city in northern Thailand, offers a plethora of stunning attractions and points of interest to explore. In this guide, we’ve created itineraries tailored to suit a day visit, a weekend trip, and an extended stay. So, let’s dive in and discover what Chiang Rai has in store for you!

Day Visit

If you’re short on time and just have a day to explore Chiang Rai, we recommend focusing on the top attractions. Start your day with a visit to Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) – a magnificent modern architectural masterpiece.

After that, head over to the equally impressive Wat Rong Suea Ten (Blue Temple). Wrap up your day by immersing yourself in the local culture at the Chiang Rai Night Market, where you can indulge in delicious Thai cuisine and shop for souvenirs.

Weekend Trip

If you have a weekend to spend in Chiang Rai, consider the following itinerary. On the first day, follow the day visit plan outlined above. On the second day, begin with a sunrise visit to Wat Huay Pla Kang, a serene temple that offers spectacular views.

Next, explore the intriguing Baan Dam (Black House) – a museum and unique art installation. For a refreshing change of pace, make your way to Khun Korn Waterfall and spend some time surrounded by nature. Finally, visit the Choui Fong Tea Plantation for a calming and picturesque experience before calling it a day.

Extended Stay

For those lucky enough to enjoy an extended stay in Chiang Rai, consider delving deeper into the region’s culture and natural beauty. Over the course of a week or more, follow the weekend trip itinerary and add the following activities:

  • Venture out to the Golden Triangle – the infamous border area of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.
  • Visit more of Chiang Rai’s authentic hill tribes to gain insights into their traditional way of life.
  • Explore additional temples such as Wat Phra That Doi Khao Kwai and the unique Mekong Skywalk.
  • Embark on an adventurous trek through the lush jungles or go on a scenic boat trip on the Mekong River.

We hope this Chiang Rai itinerary helps you make the most of your time in this mesmerizing city. Happy travels!

Moving Around in Chiang Rai

Public Transport

In Chiang Rai, you’ll find several public transport options that make navigating the city a breeze. One popular choice is the local Songthaew, which are essentially modified pick-up trucks with benches that accommodate commuters. These vehicles are an affordable and convenient option; just make sure to check their routes to ensure you’re headed in the right direction.

Another common option for getting around is the tuk-tuk. These small, open-air motorized taxis are perfect for shorter distances, and allow you to experience the city on a more personal level. Remember to negotiate the fare with the driver before starting your journey.

Motorcycle Tour

For the more adventurous travelers, renting a motorcycle is an exciting way to explore Chiang Rai and its surroundings. It offers freedom, flexibility, and a unique sense of adventure as you cruise through the bustling streets and scenic countryside. You can easily find motorcycle rental shops in the city, offering a variety of reliable bikes at reasonable prices. Just make sure you have a valid International Driver’s Permit and proper insurance coverage before hitting the road. And of course, always prioritize safety by wearing an appropriate helmet.


Cycling is another excellent way to move around Chiang Rai. Renting a bicycle offers an eco-friendly, cost-effective, and healthy mode of transportation that allows you to enjoy the city at your own pace. You’ll find bicycle rental shops near popular tourist attractions or throughout the city center. Cycling enthusiasts might even consider joining a guided bike tour, which not only helps you navigate the area but also offers insider knowledge on local history and hidden gems. Whether you choose to explore solo or with a group, cycling in Chiang Rai is an unforgettable experience that allows you to truly immerse yourself in the local culture.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the must-visit attractions in Chiang Rai?

When visiting Chiang Rai, there are many astonishing attractions that are worth checking out. Some must-visit spots include the stunning White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), the vibrant Blue Temple (Wat Rong Seur Ten), and the eccentric Black House. Don’t miss the chance to explore the bustling Night Bazaar and try out local cuisine, also make time to visit Wat Phra Kaew, where the Emerald Buddha was originally discovered.

What is the nightlife scene like in Chiang Rai?

Chiang Rai’s nightlife has a chill vibe compared to its larger counterpart, Chiang Mai. The Night Market is a great place to begin the evening, where you can dine on delicious Thai street food, browse through stalls of artisan products, and enjoy live music. After that, you can check out some of the local bars around the city, where you might stumble upon some live bands, karaoke spots or just relax with a cold drink in hand.

How can I explore the Golden Triangle?

Exploring the Golden Triangle, the region where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet, is quite easy from Chiang Rai. You can rent a scooter or hire a private driver to take you around the scenic northern countryside. Alternatively, there are many guided tours available that can provide an in-depth experience, giving you the chance to visit local markets, learn about regional history and culture, and even take a boat ride along the Mekong River.

What are some hidden gems to discover in Chiang Rai?

Chiang Rai is full of hidden gems waiting to be explored. For instance, you can discover local hill tribe villages, such as Mae Salong, which is known for its tea plantations and Chinese influence. Another off-the-beaten-path destination is Chiang Khong, a small town situated along the Mekong River, perfect for a relaxing day trip. Also, consider joining a countryside cycling tour to unearth some lesser-known treasures.

What is the best way to travel between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai?

The most common way to travel between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is by bus, which takes around 3-4 hours and offers a comfortable and budget-friendly option. There are also day trips available that provide transportation between the two cities, stopping at various attractions along the way. Another option is to rent a scooter for a more adventurous journey, but this is only recommended for experienced riders, as the trip takes around 4-5 hours and covers winding mountain roads.

How can I visit the White Temple in Chiang Rai?

Visiting the spectacular White Temple is relatively easy. You can rent a motorbike, hire a private driver, take a songthaew (shared taxi), or join a guided tour, which often combines the White Temple with other key attractions. Keep in mind that it’s best to visit early in the day to avoid the crowds.