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One of the best things to do in Chiang Rai is to admire the stunning temples.

The Best Things to Do in Chiang Rai, Thailand

  • Post last modified:October 25, 2023
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This city is home to some of the most beautiful temples in all of Thailand. Normally taken as just a day trip from Chiang Mai, we're here to share with you the best things to do in Chiang Rai, and why it should be on your Thai bucket list.


In this guide you'll learn everything you need to know for visiting, the best places to see, and a seriously stunning cafe to check out.


So without further ado, let's jump right in to our complete guide of things to do in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

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Where is Chiang Rai?

Chiang Rai is the northernmost big city in Thailand, located in the Mueang Chiang Rai District. The city lies just 64 km south of the Myanmar border, and a little over 100 km from the border of Laos.

where is Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chiang Rai is the northernmost city in Thailand.


How to Get to Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai isn't often a major destination for people, but rather a day trip or weekend getaway from the much more popular city of Chiang Mai. That being said, we do think that this city is worth a visit for at least a night. Here are the different options for visiting Chiang Rai.


Flying to Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai has a small airport that is located just 8 km outside the city. We read that it is an international airport. However, the only flights that we saw arriving or departing were all from Bangkok (both DMK and BKK), with the exception of one daily flight from Phuket.

Flight Tip: Using Skyscanner you can put from "your city" to "Thailand". This way you can see which is the cheapest airport in the area to fly to. Also, you can check the calendar to see which are the cheapest dates for each airport!

Search for a flight to or near Chiang Rai:

Rather take a bus from Bangkok to Chiang Rai? You can book your ticket below:


Visiting Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai

This is actually the most popular to visit Chiang Rai, and exactly what we did. Chiang Mai is a much bigger city, and a bit better connected in terms of flights. Chiang Rai is 185 km away from Chiang Mai, and is a 3 hour drive.


The easiest way to get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai is by bus. It is important to note though, that there is only one company (Green Bus) that does the trip, and they do sell out in advance. If you'd like to purchase your tickets you can get them on the Green Bus website.


If there are no tickets, or you prefer private transportation, here are a few other options:



Another option for visiting Chiang Rai is by doing a tour from Chiang Mai. They usually leave in the morning, and bring you to the major highlights of things to do in Chiang Rai. Here are a few different options for taking a day trip to Chiang Rai.


Entry Requirements for Thailand

If you're looking to travel to Chiang Rai, you'll need to keep in mind the requirements to enter Thailand. Here's everything you need to know for entering this country without any issues.


Visa Requirements for Thailand

First thing's first- let's make sure you'll be able enter Thailand without any problems due to visa restrictions. Currently, Thailand offers visa-free visits for up to 30 days to 64 different countries, and allows 18 citizenships to receive their visa upon arrival.


If you'd like to extend your stay to 60 or 90 days, you can simply apply for an extension at your local embassy, or do so once you are in Thailand. The applications for visa extensions are $30. Another you can do is just leave the country and visit a neighboring one, to restart your 30 days in the country when you come back.


If you want some more info on the visa process for Thailand, or to see if you personally need a visa, you can click here.


Covid Entry Requirements for Thailand

Thailand, as well as many other Asian countries, have been quite conservative with restarting tourism. As of this year, Thailand is officially open to tourists who are either fully vaccinated, or receive a negative Covid test result within 72 hours of flying.


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Local Adjustments

While traveling there are things that you might forget about, that may be different from the place that you are coming from. Here are a few of the local adjustments to keep in mind while traveling to Thailand.


Language

The official language in Thailand is Thai. If you are a westerner, this language won't be the easiest to pick up.


I'm not going to lie- I definitely thought that there would be much more people with better English than I had experienced. Especially when dealing with taxis and tuk tuks, it is important to have an app such as Google Translate ready to help.


Currency

The currency used in Thailand is the Thai Baht. Currently (July 2023) every 1 USD or 1 Euro is equal to 36.79 Thai Baht.


It's important to note that it is very rare to be able to use a credit card in Thailand. Unless you are staying at a larger hotel, or dining at an upscale restaurant, cash is normally the only method of payment accepted. (There is also a transfer option, but this is only for people that have a Thai bank account).


Outlets

Thailand is actually awesome when it comes to outlets, because they can serve both American and European appliances. Plug types A, B, & C are all accepted. The standard voltage in Thailand is 230 V, with a standard frequency of 50 Hz.


This is important to know in case you have American appliances. The reason is because the plug may fit, but the energy might not be the same. In this case, you're going to need an energy converter to not risk blowing out your electronics.


Water Potability

If you travel to Chiang Rai you may notice some people saying the water is safe to drink, and some who say it isn't. We think it honestly depends on your personal tolerability, as well as the exact establishment that you're in. We recommend asking someone working there if their water is actually safe to drink or not. If you are on the sensitive side, then we suggest sticking to bottled water.


Tipping Culture

The tipping culture in Thailand is not exactly set in stone. Tipping in Thailand isn't very typical. However, the fancier the establishment, the more likely you will find others tipping a bit (up to 10%). For street food, taxis, or salon services, it isn't necessary to tip at all.


However, if you're dining at a 5-star establishment (which chances are you wouldn't be in Chiang Rai), then you should consider leaving a bit extra.

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Things to Do in Chiang Rai

Now that you know the basics for making your way to this northern Thai city, here is a list of my favorites things to do in Chiang Rai.


Don't have time to read the whole article and want to save it for later? Just pin it!

Things to do in Chiang Rai Pin
Things to do in Chiang Rai Pin
Things to do in Chiang Rai Pin

Go Temple Hopping

One thing that Chiang Rai is known for, is its temples. It actually has some of most beautiful temples in all of Thailand, and visiting the different temples should be on the top of your list for things to do in Chiang Rai. Here are a few of the best ones to check out.

white temple, things to do in Chiang Rai

One of the best things to do in Chiang Rai is to admire the stunning temples.


Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)

This is hands down my favorite temple in Thailand, due to its creative style. It is actually a privately owned art exhibition more than a sacred temple, but it is just simply stunning. With is glamorous style and hands coming up from the ground, it's unlike anything you've seen before.

white temple, things to do in Chiang Rai
white temple, things to do in Chiang Rai
white temple, things to do in Chiang Rai
white temple, things to do in Chiang Rai

The White Temple is full of unique and peculiar art installations.

There is so much to explore at this temple, so make sure to watch our for all of the bizaar accents. There is even one hand that has a middle finger up with a red painted fingernail to look out for. Want to hear something else that's odd? There is another temple-looking building that is completely gold, and the only thing that's there are the bathrooms!

gold temple Chiang Mai

The stunning gold building is actually the bathroom!

The White temple is open from 8 am to 5 pm and is 100 Baht to enter. We suggest getting there as soon as they open, because there are so many tour buses that come here, and it can be hard to really enjoy it with so many people around. For photos you'll want to take them as you go through, since you can only go through one way, and exit through the other.


white temple, things to do in Chiang Rai
white temple, things to do in Chiang Rai
white temple, things to do in Chiang Rai

The White Temple is the most beautiful temple in all of Thailand.

Want to book a tour to the White Temple? Here are a few options:

Wat Rong Suea Ten (Blue Temple)

When it comes to interior, this was the temple in Thailand that really impressed me the most. The Blue temple is sapphire colored, and has gold accents not the outside. 

Blue Temple, things to do in Chiang Rai
Blue Temple, things to do in Chiang Rai
Blue Temple, things to do in Chiang Rai
Blue Temple, things to do in Chiang Rai

The Blue temple is one of the most beautiful in Chiang Rai.

On the Inside you can sit with a monk and have him bless you, putting a string bracelet around your wrist.

Blue Temple, things to do in Chiang Rai

The Blue Temple has a stunning interior.

Finally, there are a few shops and snacks right on the premisses. Don't miss our on the delicious coconut ice cream! This full experience was definitely one of my favorite things to do in Chiang Rai.

Blue Temple, things to do in Chiang Rai

Don't miss out on the delicious coconut ice cream at the Blue Temple!

Want to take a tour that includes the Blue Temple? Here are a few options:

Wat Tham Phra (Buddha Cave Temple aka Monkey Temple)

This in our opinion is a bit of a hidden gem, as when we went it was completely empty! The temple is built right into a cave, and lies right along the river, making it have a super serene experience.


monkey temple, things to do in Chiang Rai
monkey temple, things to do in Chiang Rai
monkey temple, things to do in Chiang Rai

This temple is built right into a cave!

Wat Huay Pla Kang

This place is more than just a temple, but a complex of stunning architecture. The giant white Buddha made us think of the one of Phuket, and was just magnificent. There are also amenities on the premises as well as a gift shop on site.

temple, things to do in Chiang Rai

The giant Buddha is similar to the one in Phuket.

Wat Tham Pla (Fish Cave Temple)

This temple is a bit of a hike from the city, so unfortunately we didn't get to make it. Head one hour Northland you'll find a unique temple that is right near the border of Laos. With its long decorative stairs and coy ponds, and peculiar accents, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai's surroundings.

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Explore the Night Market

If you're looking for one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai in the evening, then this is your spot. The market runs each night starting from 6 pm until around 11 pm. There aren't a ton of shops, but a few cute handmade items can be found at the storefronts, as well as inside the the main building of the market.


night market, things to do in Chiang Rai
night market, things to do in Chiang Rai
night market, things to do in Chiang Rai

There are a few cute shops that the night market has to offer.

For me the best part of the night market is the giant food venue. This area is bustling and includes all different local food options, live music, and homemade crafts.

night market, things to do in Chiang Rai
night market, things to do in Chiang Rai
night market, things to do in Chiang Rai
night market, things to do in Chiang Rai

The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar has a bunch of different food options to choose from.

Want to take a tour of the night market with a local host? Here are some super fun ones to book!

Stop by the Clock Tower

If you're in the city and have little time, we wouldn't necessarily have this at the top of your list for things to do in Chiang Rai. However, if you spend a couple days like we did, then it is just a short walk from where the night market and center is.


Check Out the Golden Triangle

Head north of Chiang Rai and you'll be able to witness the Golden Triangle, which is where the three borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet. Once a huge drug trafficking landmark, it is now a touristic destination where you can rent a boat and admire the view of this triple border.


Want to take a tour to the golden triangle? Here are options from both Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai:

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Visit a Long Neck Village

Did you know that in the north of Thailand there are long-neck villages? These families came from Myanmar to escape their situation in their home country. Seeking safety, Thailand offered them they own village to live in. It's quite sad, because apparently they aren't allowed to leave. 

tribes in Chiang Rai

There are several local tribes in northern Thailand that you can see in Chiang Rai.

The tradition in some of the villages is that women use gold rings around their neck to lengthen their necks. With time they put more and more rings around their necks, and the belief is that the longer the neck, the more beautiful the woman. 

Long Neck Village, things to do in Chiang Rai
Long Neck Village, things to do in Chiang Rai

The long neck village is a super unique place to see in northern Thailand.

Longneck Karen Village is a place where you can explore where they live, as well as a few other indigenous tribes. I personally have mixed emotions about it, as some call it "a human zoo". However, I also think it's interesting to learn about the locals, and to connect with them, contributing to their economy. If you do decide to visit here, please be super respectful, and always ask to take photos.

fabric making, Karen village
Long Neck Village, things to do in Chiang Rai
Long Neck Village, things to do in Chiang Rai

Make sure to always respect the locals and ask to take pictures.

Want to book a tour that includes one of the long neck villages? We've listed a few below from both Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.

Want to learn a bit more about the long neck villages before booking anything? Here's some info that will give you more insight on one of the Akha people in Thailand.


Soak in Some Hot Springs

If you're looking for a little relaxation after all of the temple hopping, then you'e in luck- because there are hot springs in the area! Pong Phra Bat, Huay Mak Liam, and Phra Soet are amongst quite a few that lie just outside the city of Chiang Rai. 


Want to book a tour that includes a stop at the hot springs? Here are a few that we've found:

Explore Magical Cafes

Chiang Rai doesn't have a ton of impressive cafes inside the city itself, but we did find two that are super adorable, and worth the drive outside the center.


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Things to do in Chiang Rai Pin
Things to do in Chiang Rai Pin
Things to do in Chiang Rai Pin

Lalitta Cafe

This is one of the most astetically pleasing cafes you could ever go to, and definitely one that Instagrammers will appreciate. Lalitta Cafe is more than just a place to grab a cup of coffee, but has a stunning garden area with lush greenery, colorful stones, waterfalls, and a misty steam rolling through the air. This place will honestly make you feel as if you've walked right into a fairytale!


There is in fact a small entrance fee for seeing this place, although we went staright to the restaurant and didn't realize. There is parking on site, and the place can get quite busy, so we definitely suggest going early.


Instagrammable cafe in Chiang Rai
Instagrammable cafe in Chiang Rai
Instagrammable cafe in Chiang Rai
Instagrammable cafe in Chiang Rai

This is definitely the most Instagrammable Cafe in Chiang Rai


Want to see a sneak peak of what is truly is like there? Just click here to see the reel we took of this magical wonderland.


Ma Doo Boua Cafe

This is actually a place that we found in Phuket, and were told there is another location in Chiang Rai. This cafe has a large pond with Lilly pads where you can row around, as well as have a nice bite to eat. We didn't make it here, but it seems that it is about an hour drive from the city center. We would definitely call beforehand to ensure that this is the same place though, as we can't say we've personally been!

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Stay in a Mountain Villa

If you're looking for one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai to experience nature, then this is a super unique spot. Chanshine Villa is a stunning hotel located in the mountains outside of Chiang Rai. They feature stunning glass cabins that overlook the rolling hills with layers of clouds all around them. We highly recommend this for a place to stay while in the area. 


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Food & Drinks in Chiang Rai

The cuisine in northern Thailand is actually quite different than other areas of Thailand, and we really enjoyed the variety of flavors. Here are a few of our favorite dishes to try from Chiang Rai.


Khao Soi Gai Nong

I have to say, I'm definitely not a curry lover. However, if you do like curry, then this is definitely something to try while in northern Thailand. This spicy coconut curry soup is served with a chicken drumstick, and topped off with crispy egg noodles.

coconut curry soup, food in Chiang Rai

This spicy coconut curry soup is traditional to the area.

Larb

I actually tried this delicious dish in Koh Phi Phi, but it is from northern Thailand. This is essentially a "meat salad" made with minced chicken or pork. I couldn't believe how something so simple could have so much flavor and have me craving for more.

 

Hot Pot

This is a concept that is super popular around Asia, and although not entirely native to Thailand, the hot pot was a super popular option throughout the stalls at the night market. The  pot of broth comes with raw ingredients that add while it continually cooks during your soup refills. An extremely tasty and fun practice, we definitely think this was one of our favorite gastronomic experiences while in Chiang Rai.

night market, things to do in Chiang Rai

The hot pot is one of the most popular things to get at the night market.

Brussel Sprouts with Oyster Sauce

This is a simple dish, and really just a side, but was my favorite! You can find this at the night market at one of the kiosks. The leaves are taken off the Brussel sprouts and then sautéed in oyster sauce- simple but delicious!

sir fried vegetables, food in Chiang Rai

These veggies are super tasty, and were our favorites.

Two other popular green vegetables that you can also try with oyster sauce include Chinese morning glory, and chayote.


Coconut Ice Cream

Thailand has coconut ice cream sold everywhere! It's honestly something I could live off while there. I particularly loved the one from the Blue Temple, which was less than 50 cents, and served with sticky rice and peanuts. It was an odd combo for me, but it was truly delicious and unique.

coconut ice cream, blue temple in Chiang Rai

The coconut ice cream is served with sticky rice and peanuts.

Phulae Pineapple Mojito

Did you know that in Thailand they have baby pineapples? They are not only tiny, but they are super sweet, and can be eaten like a popsicle. In Chiang Rai we actually got to have a Phulae Pineapple mojito, and it was one of the best drinks ever! Make sure to check out the free standing bar on the back left of the market for this bartender's delicious cocktails.

pineapple mojito

The baby pineapple mojitos are incredible at the night bazaar.


Moving Around Chiang Rai

When we visited Chiang Rai we actually rented a car. This was great because it allowed us to explore all of the surroundings comfortably, and at our own pace. We did this by renting a car in Chiang Mai, and dropping the car off at Chiang Rai Airport before our flight back to Bangkok.


Rental cars of course can also be taken care of right in the airport, but it's best to book in advance for the best availability.


Rent a car from Chiang Mai:

When it comes to downtown Chiang Rai, you definitely won't need a car, and can walk everywhere. As far as visiting the temples and other things to do in Chiang Rai, you can either set up an organized tour, or simply take taxis, tuk tuks, or use Grab (a local app like Uber).

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Where to Stay in Chiang Rai

While most of the best things to do in Chiang Rai lie outside the city center, we still think that the best area to stay is right in the heart of the city center. This is because at night you'll definitely want to attend the night market, and the center is also the most well connected spot to reach all of the highlights easily from Chiang Rai.


Want to look for accommodation? Just refer to the map below for the different options:

Booking.com

Is Chiang Rai Safe?

Chiang Rai is a very safe city, and at no point did I ever feel in danger, even walking around by myself or during the night. It's not so big, and has a pretty cozy feel. Like anywhere though, you should always watch out for your belongings, as tourists can be targets for pickpocketing.

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Other Things to Know About Visiting Chiang Rai, Thailand

Now you know how to get around, what to eat, and what to do in Chiang Rai. But there's more! Here are a few other things to have in mind when you travel to Chiang Rai.


The Best Time to Visit Chiang Rai, Thailand

Being in the north of Thailand, Chiang Rai is much rainier than some of the other cities in Thailand. I visited in August (the height of rainy season) and it did in fact rain A TON.


We definitely suggest visiting during dry season, or at least close to it. The months of November to February are the driest to travel to Chiang Rai, but of course can also get a bit busier. My personal recommendation is to go in the shoulder season months such as October or March, so there will be fewer crowds and warm, dry days.

weather in Chiang Rai

August is super rainy in Chiang Rai.

Weather & Packing for Chiang Rai

The north of Thailand is certainly rainier than the south in general. So even if you do visit in the "dry months" you may experience some rain. We definitely suggest bringing a poncho, rain jacket, and umbrella.


It also gets super hot in the city, so you'll definitely want to bring a small fan, and light clothing. I also always carried face wipes on me, as I felt very sticky all the time. These helped me feel a little extra fresh while exploring the city.


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Another important thing to put into consideration while packing for a trip to Chiang Rai is to have clothing that is appropriate for the temples. Being that the temples are a big highlight here, this is super important. Remember that as a woman your knees and shoulders must be covered entirely. So ensure to have a shawl and some long skirts, pants, or dresses to cover up with. Also make sure they are a light material, so you can stay cool.

white temple, things to do in Chiang Rai

Make sure to pack clothing so that you can be covered up at the temples.


Now that you know all of the best things to do in Chiang Rai, what do you think? Will you head there for a day trip from Chiang Rai, or will you spend a night or two? We personally think it's worth spending at least one night, so that you can enjoy the night market. Spending one night in the mountains and one in the city would be the ideal amount of time to be able to explore all of the great things to do in Chiang Rai and its surroundings.


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