At the northern tip of Thailand lies Chiang Rai, a place of beautiful landscapes and exquisite temples. Rich in cultural diversity, here is where every moment yields a treasure trove of natural wonders, warm-hearted people and a myriad of traditions.
Often confused with its closest neighbour Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai may be smaller but it has a more laid-back vibe. There is plenty to see and discover here. Food options are good and almost all the attractions can be reached very easily within the city centre, making Chiang Rai a perfect holiday destination for the budget-conscious.
Day 1: Arrival in Chiang Rai
Welcome to Chiang Rai! To get into town from Chiang Rai International Airport, grab a taxi, which would cost approximately THB150 one way. Check into your hotel (check out our recommendations at the bottom of the article), get some lunch and have a little bit of rest before heading out.
Ready to start your holiday? Let’s roll with some greens at Choui Fong Tea Plantation. Located a one-hour drive away from the city centre, this heavenly area is the perfect place to unwind, order an afternoon tea set and enjoy the breathtaking views. Don’t forget to try their famous matcha cake, it’s legit delish!
Afterwards, take a tuk tuk back to town and head over to Ryokan Art Center for some art appreciation. At the entrance, you’ll be greeted by a human-sized Totoro sculpture. Inside, art from local artists. Check out their Facebook page for any events happening during your trip.
Easily accessible from a majority of hotels and guesthouses, the Chiang Rai Walking Street is one of the more popular spots for shopping and street food in Chiang Rai. Here is where you can purchase various products at extremely affordable prices.
Day 2: Culture, Nature and Temple-hop
Had a good night’s rest? Let’s begin day two with a trip to the Golden Triangle, where you have a chance to see the three countries Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos from one spot! What used to be a hub of opium production is now a flourishing tourist spot. Catch the giant golden Buddha on a ship, go on river cruises, see the elephant statues atop a palanquin or find out more about the history of opium. Take a boat ride across the small island named Don Sao in Laos – no visa required!
After lunch, it’s time to explore Chiang Rai’s most famous temples. First on the list is the Black House Museum. Also known as Baan Dam, it is not like your usual historical museum. Here in the complex featuring buildings, huts, and installations, the subjects are a bit dark. They include a collection of animal skin, bones, teeth and taxidermy. But before you call PETA though, the animals died from natural causes, which gives the finished place a more spiritual vibe rather than barbaric.
Admission fee: THB80 (MYR10.50)
More of an art piece than a sacred worship place, the White Temple may be unconventional but it is nonetheless a must-visit when in Chiang Rai. Another passion project by Chaloemchai Khositphiphat (who also built Baan Dam), this temple is home to eclectic murals with both Buddhist elements and modern influences. Don’t forget to visit the ‘Golden Toilet’– one of the most beautiful toilets in Thailand, if not the world.
Admission fee: THB60 (MYR8)
Since you’re already here, don’t miss out on another temple located within the area. Rich in colour and details, Wat Ring Suea Ten is also known as the Blue Temple due to the vibrant blue and gold hues painted on the temple. Although relatively new (the temple finished construction in 2016), it was built on the ruins site of a 100-year old temple.
Before capping the night off, head to the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar for some souvenir shopping. Like most night bazaars in Thailand, it offers affordable knick knacks and quality merchandise. There’s also entertainment later in the night when all other attractions have shut down. A fun place for you to discover the exotic sights and scents of the city, it is truly a unique experience!
Day 3: Flower Power and Depart Chiang Rai
Love nature? Wait till you see the Mae Fa Luang Garden! Located on a mountain with spectacular views, the botanical park lies on the slopes below the royal villa. Beautiful flowers growing between rock formations are the key highlights of this expansive flower garden.
Still have some time before your flight? Go for a relaxing full body or feet massage and then you can depart from Chiang Rai feeling fully rejuvenated. Safe travels home!
CHIANG RAI TRAVEL TIPS:
▪ Best time to visit Chiang Rai is between the months of October and February, where it is the coolest and daytime temperature averages at 25°C.
▪ If you love flowers, plan your trip in December or January when the beautiful pink cherry blossoms bloom.
▪ To get around town or to visit various attractions, just hail a songtheaw. Remember to negotiate your prices before going on.
▪ If you’re up for adventure, rent a scooter for just THB 200 per day. The easiest and most fun ride around town!
▪ Food are easy and aplenty here, especially if you love northern Thai cuisine! Dishes like Khai Soi or Khanom Jeen start from THB 40 to 60 at regular restaurants, and just slightly cheaper from the street side stalls.
▪ Keep small change handy when visiting the night market as you might want to try every single snack and dessert on offer here.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHIANG RAI:
3D2N HOLIDAY IN CHIANG RAI BUDGET BREAKDOWN:
- Accommodation: MYR 400
- Food: MYR 200
- Admission fees: MYR 40
- Transportation: MYR 100
- Souvenir shopping & massage: MYR 200
GETTING THERE: AirAsia flies from Kuala Lumpur to Pattaya. Book your seats now at airasia.com