The Ultimate Chiang Rai Travel Guide and Top Things To Do in 2022

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Chiang Rai is a city that sits next to the famous Chiang Mai and these two are often known as the sisters in the Northern of Thailand.

However, most of the travellers only heard of Chiang Mai. Even if they take a detour to Chiang Rai, most travellers often spend a day or two at Chiang Rai to visit the popular White Temple and clocktower. There are even half day tour from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai to visit the famous White Temple.

In fact Chiang Rai has a lot more to offer and it is filled with hidden gems like stunning waterfalls, unique Black Houses and the food!

In this Chiang Rai travel guide, I will share with you the top things to do when in Chiang Rai!

When is the best time to visit Chiang Rai?

The climate in Thailand is being hot and humid throughout the year. However, the weather in Thailand can be differentiated into rainy seasons and dry seasons.

Chiang Rai is situated in the Northern Thailand so October to February will be the most ideal times to visit Chiang Rai because the weather during these months is most pleasant with lower heat and less humid.

Getting to Chiang Rai

Most travellers visit Chiang Rai after or before visiting Chiang Mai. 

By Bus:

The most common way to travel to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai is by bus.

Chiang Rai is about 190 kilo-metres away from Chiang Mai. If you take bus from Chiang Mai, you will reach Chiang Rai in less than 4 hours. 

In my trip, I took the most convenient way which is the Green Bus to travel from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. The Green Bus provides services daily for Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai route from the Arcade Bus Station.

There are 3 different types of buses you can choose from for your journey: 

  1. V Class Bus

Seats : 24 or 30 premium seat, Air-con, Toilet on board

Fee: 258 THB

Travelling time: 3 hours.

2.  X Class Bus

Seats: 40 seat , Air-con, Toilet on board

Fee: 166 THB 

Travelling time: 3 hours 20 minutes.

3. A Class Bus

Seats: 48 seat bus, Air-con, No Toilet

Fee: 129 THB 

Travelling time:  3 hours 30 minutes.

 

By Flight:

Taking flight from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai will take longer than by bus because there is no direct flight from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. 

However, if you are travelling from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, you can take the 1-hour direct flight from the capital to Chiang Rai. 

Chiang Rai International Airport is just 8-kilometres from the city centre so you can hire a taxi at the airport upon arrival.

Getting Around Chiang Rai

The public transport system in Chiang Rai is less developed compared to their capital Bangkok. However, there are a few options you can choose from to get you to the attractions in Chiang Rai.

  • Tuk-Tuks : Tuk-tuks are a common mode of transportation in Thailand, and Chiang Rai is no exception. It costs about 40 to 50 Baht for a short distance trip (20 mins).
  • Scooter : Hire a scooter for only 200 Baht a day and you can have the freedom to go to anywhere anytime you would like. This is considered the cheapest option to travel around Chiang Rai.
  • Grab taxi : Grab is a ride sharing app, famous in Southeast Asia region. The cost is about 80 – 120 Baht per trip which is slightly pricey compared to Tuk-tuks.

Where to stay in Chiang Rai?

There are plenty of good hotels to stay from budget to luxury. Some are near the city centre of Chiang Rai and there are also a few at the mountain of Chiang Rai. If you are first time to Chiang Rai and want to explore the major sights, I would recommend to stay in the centre of Chiang Rai :

Budget : Bed-Friends Poshtel

Mid-range: The Heritage Chiang Rai and Convention

Luxury :The Riverie by Katathani

Things to do in Chiang Rai

1. Visit White Temple

Chiang Rai travel guide : White Temple
Chiang Rai White Temple

The White Temple is also known as Wat Rong Khun. The White Temple is an iconic landmark in Chiang Rai, also the most visited temple and the most photographed place in the city. 

While it has the name of temple, but it is actually a privately own art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple since 1997. The White Temple is a blend of art, Buddhism and creativity. 

The temple is big and one could easily spend at least an hour here to explore the bizarre design of the temple exhibit. Visitors can take photos outside of the temple but it is not allowed in the main temple hall.

Entrance Fee : 50 Baht

Opening Hour : 8 am – 5 am 

Getting to the White Temple: As the White Temple is a famous sight, there are direct buses depart regularly from the Chiang Rai Bus Station. It is the most cheap way to get to the White Temple. Otherwise, you can also take tuk-tuk or hire a Grab taxi directly from your hotel.

Chiang Rai White Temple
Chiang Rai White Temple

2. Admire The Blue Temple

Blue Temple
Chiang Rai Blue Temple

Another popular temple to visit in Chiang Rai is the Blue Temple.

Locally known as Wat Rong Seur Ten, the Blue Temple is exactly like the name implies : painted in bright blue colour and decorated in Gold details.

The Blue Temple is comparable smaller than the White Temple so it might feel a little more crowded than the White Temple.So, if you want nice photos, my best advice is to arrive early, around 9 a.m., to beat the crowds.

Entry fee: Free

Opening hour :  7am-8pm

Getting to the Blue Temple: Blue Temple is located in a village site. If you are getting from the White Temple, you can get here by using Grab taxi or Tuk-tuk. The journey  only takes about 10 minutes.

3. Taste Thailand Coffee at Chivit Thamma Da

After visiting the Blue Temple, take a 5-minute walk across the road to the famous coffee house – Chivit Thamma Da.

Chivit is a family run bistro cafe with a fusion of Thai and European style food.  It is a relaxing place where guests can enjoy great food by the beautiful Kok River of Chiang Rai. 

Chivvit Thamma Da
Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House

4. Watch the Clock Tower Light Show

Chiang Rai clocktower at night
Chiang Rai Clocktower at night.

The Golden Clocktower is a work of art designed by the Thai artist Chalermchai Khositpipat and unveiled in 2008. Chalermchai is also the artist that designed the renowned White Temple.

The clocktower is actually serves as a traffic roundabout in the Chiang Rai city. During the day, it is appeared as a stunning golden structure in the middle of the road. While the day approaching to the evening around 7, the clocktower starts the crowd-stopping light shows.

Turning between gold , pink , green, blue and orange, the clocktower light show will start and last for about 15 minutes when the clock chimes the hour at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm. 

Traveller will stop by at the pedestrian way to capture the magical moment. Otherwise, you can also sit a a restaurant facing the clocktower to admire the light show while having dinner.

5. Visit Black House (Baan Dam Museum)

Black House in Chiang Rai
Baan Dam Museum.

The Black Temple, or the locally known “Baan Dam Museum”, was one of the most remarkable place that I have visited in Chiang Rai.

To me, it is at the top of the must-see list for everyone visiting Chiang Rai. Although it is often referred as “The Black Temple”, but it is actually a museum. It does have the exterior of a Lanna-style Buddhist temple, but the moment you step inside the museum you quickly know that it isn’t like any other temple you have visited in Chiang Rai. 

In fact, the Black House is the world’s largest collection of animal remains made into furniture and art installations. There are about 40 buildings spread throughout the entire museum. 

Baan Dam Museum
Snake skin in Baan Dam Museum.

One of the most noteworthy buildings is the main building. Inside the building there is a large wooden table, covered with crocodile and snake skins.  The wall and the floor of the main building are covered with sculpture, paintings and furniture made out of animals skins, horns and bones like goat’s heads. Even the toilet in the museum are filled with animal sculptures or the ceiling fans made of horns.

Apart from the main building, there are several interesting buildings in the museum . For instance, there is an igloo structure that caught my attention. Inside the white domes are the animals skins and bones showcased in different ways.

This museum is huge and I would recommend spending at least 2 hours here.

Entrance Fee: Free.

Opening Hour : 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Getting Here: Baan Dam Museum is about 18 minutes drive away from the downtown of Chiang Rai. Take a tuk-tuk ride or Grab taxi here will be more convenient if you do not have a scooter.

6. Chiang Rai Night Bazaar

Night Bazaar is one of the iconic thing in Thailand and Chiang rai is no exception. There are several night bazaars in Chiang Rai like Saturday Night Market, Chiang Rai Walking Street, Sunday Happy Street and more. Take a stroll at the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar.

I actually prefer the night bazaar in Chiang Mai because it has a wider variety of things to see. Nonetheless, the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar and Kad Luang Night Bazaar are the two bazaar that I prefer in Chiang Rai. They offer a wide variety of food and souvenirs to buy from.

Opening Hour : Daily at 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm

Chiang Rai Travel Expenses

Overall , the travel expenses in Chiang Rai are relatively cheaper than in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. 

Hotel Costs : 

This depends on which district you are staying at and also the budget you have for accommodation. The hotel we stayed at was a budget type which was about THB 2000 per night. If you are on a tight budget, you could look for a hostel dorm that costs about THB 800 to share a room with other travellers.

Meals:

Meals are cheap in Chiang Rai. A food budget of around THB 150 a meal is enough for street food. If you go to restaurants, the cost for a meal will be around THB 200.

Transportation:

If you plan to take Grab ride around Chiang Rai, then a budget of THB 300 a day should be enough. However, if you are sharing ride with your travel partner, you could save more on transportation.

Tours and Tickets:

The costs for Tours and Tickets depend on the type of tours you join. For my experience, if you join all the tours I have mentioned in this guide, it will be roughly THB 1000 in total.

I hope you find this guide useful and help you plan your trip to Chiang Rai. This guide is based on my visits to the city. If you are planning a trip to Chiang Mai too, you can refer to this Chiang Mai travel guide here !