Chiang Rai is situated in Northern Thailand, about an hour from the famous Golden triangle, which marks the border between Thailand, 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 backpacking destination you should definitely visit.
Chiang Rai has become more and more popular thanks to Instagram showcasing the famous “White Temple” and “Blue Temple” and with good reason, they’re very beautiful!
But, that’s not all there is to do in Chiang Rai. Keep reading to learn about all the awesome things to do in Chiang Rai!
The most popular places to visit Chiang Rai from are Bangkok and Chiang Mai, but we actually came from Laos, so I’ll break that down for you below.
Thankfully it’s never been easier to get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai and you’ve got a few options. You could hop on the local bus, but it’s easy to book a bus transfer online, actually it’s less than $7. This journey will take around 3.5 hours.
Another popular route to Chiang Rai is from Bangkok and again, it’s super easy to book your transport online. The bus journey takes around 13 hours and costs about $20, and you can also fly to Chiang Rai airport domestically from Bangkok for around $30 if you book in advance and it only takes 1 hour (ish).
When we visited Chiang Rai we actually came from Laos so we crossed the border via a bus and an onward minibus to Chiang Rai. We left Luang Prabang and used a night bus to cross the border. This cost $35 for the full trip and it was a sleeper bus, which basically had little beds on it. So, we could sleep. Can’t complain about that. You can actually book the bus online now, which makes everything super easy to organise. It’s only $35.
When it comes to getting around Chiang Rai, you have a couple of options.
Since we visited in 2017 there are even more options when it comes to accommodation in Chiang Rai! There is something to suit all budget types.
We stayed in a hotel called “Ann Guesthouse” and it was ideal. It’s in a great location that is just a short walk from a variety of shops and restaurants and there is a motorcycle rental company nearby where you can rent bikes for 150-200 baht.
Below are another few Chiang Rai hotels to choose from:
Now it’s time for the fun part! A list of the best things to do in Chiang Rai. You’ll be pleased to hear that Chiang Rai is perfect for those on a budget as most things are low cost. So, if you’re wondering what to do in Chiang Rai...keep reading!
Back when we visited in 2017, this was a pretty famous temple in Thailand, fast forward to now, it’s even MORE famous. This is thanks to the amazing pictures of it splashed across Instagram & Pinterest. But it’s no surprise. This is truly a work of art and one of my favourite temples in all of Thailand (possible South East Asia too!)
Technically, the “White Temple '' is 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 temple in Chiang Rai 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. Interesting..right?
The cost to enter the White Temple is 50 baht (as of 2020), which is around $1.50, so absolutely nothing. The opening hours run from 8am to 6pm and it’s open 7 days a week. I suggest you head early if you want to beat the crowds (and the heat!)
If you’ve arrived via moped, then great news, you can park your moped for free. Just remember that when visiting temples in Thailand, you’ll need to cover your legs and shoulders. If you forget you can buy a shawl in the shops (but they’re a little expensive), so it’s a good idea to pack a shawl with you as you’ll need them for various religious temples across Thailand.
At the time, I actually forgot one, but they let me use my backpack to cover my shoulders, which honestly, was just awkward in the heat!
Don’t forget to explore the grounds of the White Temple too. 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!
We actually visited the temple at mid-day, back in 2017 and it was busy, but not crazy busy. However, I am pretty sure nowadays, it’s even more popular, so the earlier the better. It’s always going to have some tourists, but you can still get a picture with no one in it if you head early. On that note, don’t forget a good camera. You’re going to want to take lots of amazing pictures!
Ah, this wins the award for most beautiful temple (in my humble opinion). Back in 2017, it wasn’t that well known, it didn't have many tourists….oh how times have changed! This is one of the most photographed spots in Thailand and one of the most popular temples in Chiang Rai to visit. When we visited it was deserted!
This temple is a striking blue, like in the picture I’ve provided. What actually bothers me is that a lot of photos on Instagram & Pinterest, change the blue, and the temple starts to look different than to what it is in real life...it needs no editing! It’s absolutely stunning!
Not only that, if you truly look at the attention to detail that’s gone into the work and art both inside and outside of the temple, you’ll be seriously 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 it’s open daily from 7am to 8pm. The temple is located at 306 Moo 2, Rim Kok, Muang, Chiang Rai. It is easy to find alongside Mae Kok River in Chiang Rai province.
This was one of our favourite places to visit in Chiang Rai! It was an unexpected surprise. Khun Korn waterfall is actually one of the tallest (70m) and one of the best waterfalls in Chiang Rai. It’s super super strong, which adds to the fun!
It’s very easy to reach these waterfalls via moped, and you may as well visit on the same day you’ve gone to the White Temple as they’re in the same direction. The drive is also very scenic.
This waterfall is located within a “park” and it’s open from 8am to 5pm. When you arrive, there will be a sign that indicates the safety level of the walk to the waterfall. It will either say “safe”, “moderate” or “dangerous”. Personally I would avoid danger, but it’s your judgement call.
You can park your moped in the carpark free of charge then simply follow the directions to the waterfall. It takes around 30 minutes to walk there (1.5km) and it’s actually a really nice scenic walk as you’re wandering through the forest.
There are a couple of small river flows to cross and it can be muddy if it’s been raining, so take your time and watch your step.
We met very few people on our trail but we did spot some odd animals and snakes along the way. You’ll feel the presence of this waterfall before you actually see it. You’ll hear the roar and when you see it, you’ll be impressed. You can only go so far as a viewing point (I’m sure you could sneak down, but it didn’t seem safe).
Even when you stand at the normal picture point, you’ll get drenched! This is such a powerful waterfall.
Chasing waterfalls is a common activity in Thailand and this is definitely one you should consider. Remember to bring water.
Chiang Rai has quite a few awesome waterfalls and this is another one that came to our radar. However, we didn’t get the chance to visit in the end. We heard great things about how untouched and secluded it was. It’s located around 19km from Chiang Rai which I would assume presents a beautiful scenic drive since you can only access it via moped.
This waterfall is deep enough to swim and when the water level is high enough, you can jump in...something Bradley loves to do when it comes to waterfalls.
Keen to visit even more waterfalls in Chiang Rai!? Then this one is a great option since it’s only 14km from Chiang Rai. Fun fact this waterfall is close to a hot spring too. I actually regret not seeing more hot springs in Chiang Mai as after research (after we left…) I discovered there are actually quite a few! Hot springs are awesome and always worth a visit. If you want to visit the hot springs and waterfall, they’re open from 8am to 6pm daily and there is a picnic table available so it’s the perfect place for a spot of lunch.
By the time it came to visiting the Black House, Bradley and I were all “templed” out, so we gave it a miss. However, I’ve heard and read from many people it is worth a visit. It’s actually an art house or museum. There are a variety of different artifacts to discover from Thawan Duchanee & other contemporary Thai artists. So if you’re interested in art, then this is a good choice for you. Baan Dam is open daily from 9am to 5pm and the entrance is 80 baht.
(Be aware is closes for lunch between 12pm and 1pm)
You can get tours that combine the Blue Temple, White Temple and Black House, all in one day. Like this one! Book it here. The cost of the entrance as of 2017 is 80 baht.
If you need an excuse to go shopping for souvenirs, or shopping for yourself, then you should check out the Chiang Rai night bazaar. It’s bursting with stalls that sell everything you could possibly need. This is a great place to grab a beer or a bite to eat as there are lots of different food offerings available. If you want to relax too, you’ll usually find people offering Thai massages or foot massages outdoors for a cheap price.
What’s really great about this night bazaar is that it’s vehicle free, which means you don’t run the risk of getting hit by a tuk tuk! :P I picked up some great souvenirs here. The night market runs daily from around 6pm to 11-12pm. This is one of the most popular things to do in Chiang Rai at night.
There are other night markets in Chiang Rai that are held on specific nights. You can find out more about them here.
There are 3 different “zones” to Chiang Rais walking street. The first zone is where you can purchase unique products from specific communities. The second area is where you will discover all the handicraft pieces and you’ll find massage services. Then the final zone is the souvenir zone where you can pick up gifts for your family and friends or yourself of course!
The Chiang Rai walking street is open every Saturday from 4pm to 12pm and is held on Thanalai Street in the middle of Chiang Rai downtown. Again, this is another great thing to do in Chiang Rai at nighttime, especially since Chiang Rai nightlife isn’t exactly buzzing as of yet. (You will find a couple of bars though, including a reggae bar)
Located in the northern tip of Thailand is the Golden Triangle Park. The golden triangle is basically the intersection between 3 countries; Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. This makes for an interesting day trip and something unique that not everyone gets the chance to experience. There are lots of things to see in the area, including, the Golden Triangle Buddha Statue at Wat Phra That Pukhao which looks really cool!
Since Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are only around a bus ride away from each other, it’s totally feasible to do a quick trip to Chiang Mai to see some of the best highlights the city has to offer. Whilst I do suggest you spend at least a few days in Chiang Mai if you’ve got the time, you shouldn’t miss out if you don’t.
You can check out our full guide on the best things to do in Chiang Mai for some inspiration on what to fill your day with.
I mentioned before about the awesome markets that Chiang Rai has to offer...well, they’re also the perfect spot to pick up fresh ingredients to create some homemade Thai dishes. If you’ve got self catering style accommodation, then it’ll be pretty easy for you to pick up some local ingredients and attempt to make the a Thai curry, or Thai spring rolls yourself.
If that’s not an option, then you can always book a cheap cooking class online. This one is great value and looks like a lot of fun!
Thai cuisine is definitely some of my favourite in the world, I just need to handle the spice better! :P
Bradley and I didn't do this. Because honestly, we weren’t aware of it as a classic “thing to do in Chiang Rai '' at the time! But, we would definitely head to the Chiang Rai Doi Mae Salong Mountain if we ever returned. It’s actually only 6 km from Myanmar which is pretty cool.
What’s really cool about the landscape in Chiang Rai and northern Thailand in general is that it’s packed with lush forests, beautiful waterfalls and brilliant mountain ranges. Which is a stark contrast to the south of the country where island hopping is the chosen sport.
You can drive here on your moped, or you can take a tour. What’s really interesting is that the local tribes reside in this mountain area, and if you take a tour, you can visit the Padong Long Neck Hill Tribe and learn all about their culture and way of life! That’s definitely one of the more unique things to do in Chiang Rai.
You can’t go to Thailand and not get a Thai massage! It’s like a rite of passage. Well, if you haven’t had the chance to get one on your Thailand adventures yet, then your time in Chiang Rai is the perfect excuse. Your best bet is to head into the town to one of the massage shops and negotiate a great deal, or you can head to the night market and have one outside.
But if you prefer something a little more luxurious, then check out this massage experience in Chiang Rai you can book online.
Bradley and I have actually been to our fair share of tea plantations across Asia. From the beautiful tea fields of Sri Lanka, or the tranquil plantations of Bandung. Either way I love tea fields, and I love tea! So the fact there is an opportunity to visit a tea plantation in Chiang Rai, and sip some locally made tea, means you have to go.
Tea is made in cooler climates and since Chiang Rai is located in northern Thailand, the temperatures are cooler and can get even cooler in the winter, which makes it a perfect tea making spot.
You could search for a local tour downtown to the tea plantation in Chiang Rai, or you could drive your moped. It should take around 1 hour and I would imagine it’s a very scenic drive in the highlands of Thailand. It’s open from 8.30am to 5.30pm daily.
This is the most iconic sight in Chiang Rai’s downtown: the beautiful clocktower. It’s a nice spot to visit both day and night, but I would suggest nightfall is better. That’s because the clock tower is lit up and sometimes they even hold a light show which would be pretty cool to see. It’s held at 7, 8 and 9pm and is accompanied by music. Here’s a fun fact, the clock tower was actually designed by the same artist who made the famous “White Temple”!
Every tourist who visits Chiang Rai's attractions, sticks to the blue and white temple, and whilst they are beautiful and worth the visit, they aren’t the only temples in Chiang Rai. Other temples in the area that you can visit include:
Most of these temples are walkable from Chiang Rai downtown, so no need to use tuk-tuks or a moped, just your two feet.
Now that I’ve taken you through all the best things to see in Chiang Rai, it’s time to consider any other questions you may have...F
Absolutely! When we visited, booking tours online wasn’t really an option, but nowadays, they’re plentiful and cheap! For booking tours, your best choice is Klook.
Here are some of the most popular tours which will take you to all the best Chiang Rai attractions.
Based on our experience, I would say the best time to visit Chiang Rai is during the months of November and February. The weather is warm and there is a lower chance of rain due to the fact it’s the dry season.
If you’re wondering how long to spend in Chiang Rai then the great news is that a Chiang Rai itinerary is one that can be as flexible as you are. You can see the highlights of Chiang Rai in one day if you’re in a real rush (White Temple/Blue Temple/ Black House & Night Bazaar).
But, I suggested you spend around 2-3 nights in Chiang Rai. This gives you the chance to explore all the temples in the area, but also head out to the countryside and discover fantastic waterfalls, hot springs, tea plantations and much more.
People often find they end up staying longer in Chiang Rai than originally planned, because despite the fact it’s quite small, it really is bursting with amazing things to see and do.
The good news is, Chiang Rai is very cheap. As you can see from most of the entrance prices to the most famous sights in the area, most cost around $1.50-2 which is nothing. When you eat at the night markets, or even the local restaurants, you’ll not spend more than a couple of dollars, and if you use tuk-tuks or a moped to get around, again, it won’t be expensive.
If you do wish to splash out a little more on a private driver or some luxury tours, then of course the price will creep up, but it still won’t be as expensive as western prices!
There are plenty of cheap Chiang Rai restaurants 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! Seriously a pretty damn great burger!
I suggest a budget of around $30 per day and that’s comfortable!
A natural choice would be to visit Pai or Chiang Mai after your adventures in Chiang Rai. They both offer so much to see and do and are super easy to get to.
So if you’re still wondering is Chiang Rai worth visiting, then I’ve done a terrible job :P But, the answer is YES! It’s one of the charms of northern Thailand and shouldn’t be skipped on any Thailand itinerary.
I hope you’ve found this guide on the top things to do in Chiang Rai useful and if you’ve got any further questions or comments, then simply leave a comment below.
For more help planning your trip to Thailand, check out these other guides we wrote: