Your guide to the top things to do in beautiful Chiang Rai, located in Northern Thailand. From temples, to waterfalls, we've got your itinerary sorted!
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Chiang Rai is situated in Northern Thailand and it’s close to the borders of Laos and Myanmar. You might find yourself with the option to visit Chiang Rai whilst making your way to Chiang Mai, or even Pai on your North Thailand tour, but this is one destination you should definitely visit. This has without a doubt, two of the most beautiful temples I have ever seen in my life and lots more. Below we showcase the top things to do in Chiang Rai!
How to get to Chiang Rai?
When we went to Chiang Rai we came from Laos so we crossed the border via a bus and an onward minibus to Chiang Rai. You can also get buses from Bangkok to here too. Shop around different “travel agents” in Bangkok to find the best deal, but if you are going from Laos, there are only two bus options and they cost you around £30 for the full trip- which isn’t the worst deal! All the good buses in Asia are sleeper buses, which literally have beds on board, so you can get a decent night's sleep.
Where should I stay in Chiang Rai?
There are lots of hotels and hostels to choose from, depending on your budget. Brad and I stayed in a hotel called “Ann Guesthouse” and I would certainly recommend it. It’s in a good location, just a short walk away from restaurants and shops and there is a motorcycle rental place nearby (located down a back street) in which you can rent a bike for about 150- 200 baht. I recommend using a motorcycle (if you can) to go see all the sights Chiang Rai has to offer, but if not, there are lots of “tuk-tuks” that will take you around cheap, approx 50 baht for a journey.
What are the best things to do in Chiang Rai?
TEMPLES! Well, yes, they are certainly a great part of the experience and you will soon see why below.
#1 Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple)
Probably the most famous temple in Chiang Rai, and one of the most popular in all of Thailand. It is no surprise why. This is technically not a religious temple in the traditional sense as it’s a piece of art and it was built as a temple in mind. The art and attention to detail to this place is amazing and just simply breathtaking. As you walk in, you’ll see that things are not quite as they seem from afar. Just look at the symbolic nature of what is happening as you enter and walk around.
The cost to enter the white temple is 50 baht (as of 2017), which is around £1.10, so absolutely nothing. You can park your moped for free (if you’ve arrived via one) and ladies will need to cover up both legs and shoulder, so I recommend bringing a shawl with you on all your trips because you never know when you need it! (They let me use my backpack to cover my shoulders) If you’ve forgotten, they do have a shop in which you can buy something.
As you walk through the grounds, there are other beautiful sites to see and you’ll be impressed by the toilets (don’t judge me, you will see when you go!). There are also some unique hanging heads located all throughout the grounds...see if you can recognize any of your favorite movie characters!
The best time to visit the white temple is probably around mid-day. We went at 12 o'clock and whilst it was busy, it wasn’t jampacked. It’s always got tourists at it, but you aren’t stuck side by side, you still have the chance to get a photo with no one in it if you want. Oh, and bring a good camera, you are going to want to get photos.
#2 The Blue Temple “Rong Suea Ten”
This is my favourite temple of all time. It’s not touristified yet (I don't know if that's a word, but I like it) and it’s essentially deserted when you visit (as of 2017). I hear this is because of renovations that were taking place, so no one really knows that it is complete. But, oh my god this is an absolutely beautiful place. I guess the blue is quite striking, but if you look at the attention to detail throughout then you’ll be extremely impressed.
Inside the temple, there is a giant white Buddha and it is glorious. You can donate to the monks outside and when you are inside remember to be respectful and stay quiet. This temple displays the contemporary Buddhist art that implied the Lord Buddha ‘s doctrine.
Apart from viewing the temple itself, there isn’t much else to do here- but that’s okay! You will need around 15 minutes to take it all in and get the perfect photos. There is also no entrance fee and hopefully, that won’t change in the future. The temple located at 306 Moo 2, Rim Kok, Muang, Chiang Rai. It is easy to find alongside Mae Kok River in Chiang Rai province.
#3 Khun Korn Forest Park Waterfall
This is one of the tallest (70m) and best waterfalls in Chiang Rai and my god it is STRONG! You can reach this waterfall by moped and it’s a good idea to head here after you’ve been to see the White Temple (It’s in the same direction and the drive is beautiful).
It’s open from 8 am to 5 pm and when you enter there will be a little sign saying whether the walk will be “safe”, “moderate” or “dangerous”.
You can park your moped in the carpark for free then follow the directions to the waterfall. It’s around a 30-minute walk (1.5 km hike) to the waterfall and you walk through the forest. It’s muddy (especially if its been raining), so be prepared! It’s a lovely, tranquil walk and you will meet very few people on your path. You may even spot from snakes and weird animals on the way.
Once you get closer to the waterfall you will feel it’s presence before you see it. It’s a mighty scene and when you are right in front of it (or as close as you’re allowed) you will get drenched! It’s an amazing feeling and a beautiful piece of nature.
Chasing waterfalls is a common activity in Thailand and this is definitely one you should consider. Remember to bring water.
#4 Huay Mae Sai Waterfall
This is another waterfall in Chiang Rai but Brad and I didn’t get the chance to visit. However, we have heard great things- because it’s so untouched by tourists. It’s located around 19 km from Chiang Rai and you can access it via moped (only). It’s deep enough to swim and when it’s suitable, you can even jump in! Another great waterfall to visit which is even closer (14 km) is Pong Phrabat Waterfall.
#5 The Black Temple (Black house- Bann Dam)
Bradley and I were all templed out when it came to visiting the Bann Dam, so we gave it a miss. However, it is listed as a top thing to do and it does look beautiful. Again, like the “White Temple”, it’s not actually a temple, but another piece of art. There are buildings to discover on the grounds and you can find a strange collection of different artifacts.
The cost of the entrance as of 2017 is 80 baht.
These are my selections of the best things to do in Chiang Rai. If you’re including it as part of your discovery of the North of Thailand then give yourself two nights in Chiang Rai to comfortably see everything and enjoy yourself. There are plenty of cheap food places to dine and you can get a brilliant Yellow Curry in the “Smiling Moon Cafe”- It cost me 90 baht for the curry and they do great coffee.
I will also recommend ‘Heaven Burger’ which gave me the best burger and sweet potato fries I’ve ever had in Asia all for around £2.50.It’ a small cafe, so you might have to wait for a seat, but oh my god- IT’s WORTH IT!
So there you have it! Comment below with any other things you think you absolutely must do in Chiang Rai!
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As the type 1 diabetic half of Dream Big, Travel Far, I'm passionate about encouraging fellow type 1's to travel the world and not let their diabetes hold them back. I'm proud to now be a full-time digital nomad. Meaning I live my life working and travelling all over the world and am here to help you achieve your dreams as well in any way I can.
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