Chiang Rai is a beautiful city located in the northern part of Thailand, and it’s one of the most charming cities I’ve ever visited in the country. With its lush nature, breathtaking temples, fun markets, friendly locals and tasty food – Chiang Rai makes one great destination!
One of the best things about Chiang Rai is that the city isn’t that touristy, so you really get the chance to see the local side of Thailand and meet its friendly people.
Are you going to travel to Chiang Rai soon? Then this is the ultimate Chiang Rai Travel Guide for you!
Here’s your Chiang Rai Travel Guide:
Things to do in Chiang Rai
There are several things to both see and do, in and outside, Chiang Rai. To visit Chiang Rai in only two or three days isn’t enough if you want to explore it all. I would recommend you to take one week in the city and explore everything that it has to offer, the nearby attractions and just enjoy the friendly atmosphere that the town has to offer.
I stayed in Chiang Rai for two weeks in 2015, and I’m still longing to go back!
Wat Phra Kaew – Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Wat Phra Kaew is a beautiful lush oasis in the middle on Chiang Rai. Here you can come to have a stroll in a peaceful environment with green plants, colorful orchids, and amazing temples. Was Phra Kaew is one of the oldest and most revered Buddhist temples in Chiang Rai. The temple is also known under the name ”Temple of the Emerald Buddha,” and that’s because it once housed the famous Emerald Buddha that you today find in Bangkok.
Wat Phra Kaew is a peaceful and beautiful place with a calm and relaxing atmosphere, and a visit here is one of the top things to do in Chiang Rai!
The Golden Triangle is the place where the three countries meet; Laos, Thailand, and Burma. From the viewpoint, in the Golden Triangle, you can see all three countries at the same time, and the big river Mekong that separates them.
Except for a cool view, you can also visit an amazing and old temple, see the big golden Buddha statue and do some shopping at the market stalls!
If you like to shop souvenirs, clothes, accessories and jewelry, then you should head to Mae Sai. Mae Sai lies about one hour and 15 minutes by car from central Chiang Rai and is a place to see if you’re planning on going on a tour or if you’re on your way to the Golden Triangle.
Monkey Cave is a must to visit if you like animals. Here you can feed cute and wild macaque monkey and see them playing, swinging from tree to tree and bathe in the turquoise lake where the catfishes live. If you’re in good health, then I recommend you to challenge yourself and climb the steep staircase to see the cave inside the mountain and also to get up to the viewpoint where you can see a beautiful view of the area.
Wat Rong Khun – The White Temple
Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple, is one of the most unique and beautiful temples in the World. The White Temple is a privately owned art exhibit in the style of Buddhist temples that you can see around the Chiang Rai Province. It’s such a beautiful temple with its sparkling white color, incredible details and beautiful green garden with fish ponds.
The temple is free of charge to visit, and it’s open every day from 6:30 am to 06:00 pm. The best time to visit the temple is either early in the morning or before it’s closing to avoid the huge crowds of tourists.
Wat Rong Khun is one of the most famous and beautiful temples in the world, and therefore you should write it up on your list of things to do in Chiang Rai!
Chiang Rai offers a variety of shopping with everything from clothes and decor to hill tribe vendors selling handmade products. In the city center, there are a few stores selling souvenirs, sunglasses and some clothes, but if you visit the markets or the shopping mall, you can find a huge variety of everything that you need.
The Night Bazaar
The Night Bazaar lies just a short distance away from the big clock tower in town. When heading towards the market, you will see a big sign that says; “Chiang Rai Night Bazaar.” Inside the market, you will find small stalls selling everything from clothes and bags to paintings and handicrafts. The Night Bazaar is very cozy and has a friendly atmosphere with beautiful lights hanging over the alleys, performances of traditional Thai dance and singing.
In the corner of the market, you will find the big food court where they sell lots and lots of food, drinks, and snacks. My recommendation is not to eat there every night because the price is high and you don’t get that much food for your money. But if you want to try it for one night, then I would recommend you to try a “hot pot,” which is a thing there.
At the food court, they also have these ice drinks with fresh fruit for 30 TBH (less than 1 USD), make sure to buy one because they’re so delicious! My favorite is with passion fruit, pineapple mixed with either orange or banana!
If you are looking for more fashionable clothing, sportswear, electronics or just want to go to the movies. Then you should head out to the Central Plaza. The Central Plaza lies a bit outside central Chiang Rai but can be reached by tuk-tuk, minibus or by foot.
I actually walked to and from the Plaza, and I must say it was a nice walk through the less “touristic” areas of Chiang Rai. If it’s a hot, sunny and wind still day, then I recommend you to either bring a big bottle of water, take the minibus or a tuk-tuk.
At the mall, you’ll find a wide selection of stores selling fashion of, both international and local brands!
Saturday Night Market
One of the biggest events of the week is the Saturday Night Market. It’s a one kilometer market on Thanalai Road in the center of town. This road is closed from cars from 05.00 pm to around 11.00 pm every Saturday of the year.
Here you can find everything from tasty food and handmade bags to accessories and cheap Thai massages. During this night they also have entertainment of traditional Thai dancing shows. Make sure to visit the big scene/food court where you can see all the locals dance their traditional dances with a big smile on their face!
This market is something you don’t want to miss during your stay in Chiang Rai since the atmosphere is absolutely fantastic and you’ll have a great time!
Chiang Rai Restaurant
Best Restaurant in Chiang Rai (Unknown Name)
OK. This restaurant is my favorite restaurant in the whole city. A simple, but wonderful restaurant that Alex and I stumbled upon while looking for another restaurant that we found on TripAdvisor.
This restaurant was so excellent that we came back to eat there for both breakfast and dinner almost every day the rest of our time in the city. It’s a simple local restaurant where no tourists are to be seen. It wasn’t the fancy decor or perfect food presentation that made this to the best restaurant in town; it was for its simplicity, local spirit, friendly cook and cheap & delicious food!
We paid around 30-40 THB for one dish, and you got a soup and free water included in the price. In total, we got two huge portions of delicious food, two soups and several glasses of water for the price of around 1,5-2 USD. In addition to that, we also got to interact with the locals, receiving several smiles and got great appreciation when we rounded up the bill.
Since I don’t remember the name (I think it was in Thai) and don’t remember the street address, I’ve made a little guide down below so you hopefully can find this restaurant while you’re in town. I’m not sure if it’s still open (but I hope so because I want to eat there next time I visit), but you can at least give it a try since it lies in the central parts of town.
This restaurant is located on a parallel street (with an unknown name) to Trairat Rd, close to Thanon Baanpa Pragarn Rd where you’ll find the famous clock tower. Down below I’ve made two pictures from Google Earth showing you the location of the restaurant. One where you can see where the restaurant lies in distance of the clock tower and night market, and one showing you what the street looks like and which one is the restaurant.
- Best Restaurant in Chiang Rai
- Clock Tower
- Night Bazaar
When walking in on this parallel street from Trairat Rd, you’ll find the restaurant on your left-hand side on the corner of the white house with red roof.
Good luck finding the restaurant! You won’t be disappointed for that amount of money and friendliness!
Bambuh Boutique Homestay
If you want a little quieter location during your stay in Chiang Rai, then I can highly recommend the Bambuh Boutique Homestay.
Only a short bike ride from the famous Black House, it this lovely and friendly Homestay located.
If you enjoy being out in nature, then you’re going to love this place. Book a room with a terrace overlooking the mountains, enjoy the beautiful decorations and details of the room and have the best homemade dinner and breakfast made by the friendly hosts.
If you want a budget accommodation, but still want to stay in a nice and clean place, then I can recommend you to book your stay at Mercy Hostel. This hostel is located in the city center and has comfortable beds, clean rooms/dorms/bathrooms, and has kitchen facilities with free water and coffee for you to enjoy. Outside the hostel, there’s a cozy area with an ornamental pond for you to hang out at with the fellow travelers staying at this popular place.
One of the best places to stay for backpackers traveling to Chiang Rai!
Right in the center of Chiang Rai, next to the famous clock tower, is this lovely hotel located. It lies within easy walking distance to the night market, and also, to several other sights and attractions in the city. The staff is friendly, and the rooms are both comfortable and clean.
In addition to this, the hotel also offers a lovely pool for you to relax at and soak up some sun!
Get around in Chiang Rai
It’s very easy to get around in Chiang Rai because there are several options for you to choose from. The question is, which one is the best for you?
If you’re just going around the city center, then I recommend going by foot. Just have in mind to be careful when crossing the streets, because cars won’t stop for you (even if you walk over the zebra striped crossovers). My best tip is to cross the road when you see a gap. If there’s a two-way road that you’re going to cross – walk over the first one when you see a gap, then wait by the middle-line and wait for another gap to cross the last road. Remember to be careful out there!
Tuk-Tuk is one of the most popular ways among tourists to get around. It’s pretty cheap, it’s convenient and transports you fast to your preferred destination in the city. Just wave your hand to one that’s driving by or walk up to a tuk-tuk that’s parked on the street, and you’ll find a ride. Make sure to negotiate the price before you hop into the tuk-tuk, so they don’t rip you off!
The minibusses in Chiang Rai is far the best and praiseworthy transportation I have been riding with. A fare costs around 2 THB, even if you’re going outside the city center. If you want to travel with a minibus, you just wave it in from the street, and you tell the driver where you’re are going. The driver is either going to say yes or no, depending on which way the other travelers are going. If it’s a yes, then hop on and ring the bell when you want to hop off.
Taxi is also a good alternative that’s cheap if you’re just going somewhere in the city center. If you are planning on going outside the center of town, the price will be 10 THB per kilometer, which is not that bad either. The thumbs up for taxis is that they have aircon, they’re spacious and almost always on time.
A bicycle taxi is just what it sounds like, a bike with passenger seats! This is a fun way to get around in Chiang Rai, but make sure not to bargain too much when it comes to the price – remember that these drivers drive around tourists all day in the blazing sun for cheap money, so make sure to give the driver the money that he deserves!
Make sure to use these tricycles at least once during your stay in the city. The drivers will appreciate you riding with them since this is how they make a living.
Travel to Chiang Rai
Mae Fah Luang-Chiang Rai International Airport lies on Phaholyotin Rd 8 outside the city center of Chiang Rai. Several flights are departing from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, and you can fly with companies such as; AirAsia, Nok Air, Bangkok Airways, Lion Air and Thai Airways. I’ve flown with both AirAsia and Nok Air, and I’ve got only positive experiences with those airlines so far.
If you want to find the cheapest flights to Chiang Rai, make sure to check out Momondo! One of the best sites for finding cheap flights!
To get from the airport to central Chiang Rai, you can either hire a pre-paid taxi, take a meter taxi (at the far end of the parking lot) or rent a car at the airport.
The best way is to hire a pre-paid car. You can book one at a desk inside the terminal, and it will take you to your hotel for 200 TBH, which is a fair price.
If you want to go for a road trip in Thailand, then you can also rent a car in Bangkok and drive to Chiang Rai. The town is easily accessible from Bangkok via Hwy 1 and Hwy 2!
By Bus from/to Chiang Mai
If you are planning to go to Chiang Rai after your trip to Chiang Mai, then you should use the Greenbus to get there! In Chiang Rai, there are two bus stations, one in the city center next to the night market, and one outside central Chiang Rai. At the bus stations, you can buy tickets at the ticket booth, and the buses departure daily every other hour.
Don’t rely on that the bus is going to be on time, even if they have a schedule. The buses drive to Chiang Mai is about 3,5 hours and you also get a bottle of water and some snacks onboard.
Weather and Climate
Many people wonder when it’s the best time to visit Chiang Rai, and I’ve got the answers you’re looking for.
During the months of January, November, and December, Chiang Rai offers a nice weather with a good and warm average temperature. If you don’t want to get soaking wet, then you should avoid May, June, August, September, and October, since that’s the months with the most rainfall.
The dry periods of Chiang Rai are in January, February, March and December. April is the warmest month, January is the coolest month, February is the driest month, and August is the wettest month – and should, therefore, be avoided if you don’t want a rainy holiday.
Chiang Rai Map
This is a map of Chiang Rai. On this map, I’ve marked the famous clock tower, which is one of the most popular attractions in town. Google Maps is a great tool to use when exploring Chiang Rai and also to find your hotel when arriving in town. Use the map in offline mode, and you’ll be able to use it without using wifi.