best things to do in chiang rai

Things to do in Chiang Rai – [Northern Thailand]

We’re reaching the end of our time here in the Land of Smiles.  We’re in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand having left Laos four days ago. Getting here was easy.


Getting to Chiang Rai from Laos

We took a bus from Huay Xai after the magnificent Gibbon Experience.  The bus took us all the way to the Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 2.

Chiang Rai ticket from Huay Xai

Then we were able to take a convenient 15 THB per person songthaew to the central bus station.  Rather inconveniently there aren’t enough people for it to be 15 THB, so it’s 20 THB each.

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Chiang Rai - Bus Station 2 - to central bus station

We bought our tickets to Chiang Rai, in the center of Huay Xai.  They included the transfer to the bus station there.  It’s located 8km outside of town.  Next time, we’ll get a tuk-tuk to the bus station and buy the tickets more cheaply.  Our tickets cost 750 THB including the transfer.  It would have been 450 without the transfer.  We are definitely losing the plot!

Chiang Rai Cost of tickets from Huay Xai Bus Station

Where to Stay in Chiang Rai

There are a host of places to stay in Chiang Rai – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Chiang Rai, mid-range places to stay in Chiang Rai, and budget accommodation in Chiang Rai.

Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort (SHA Plus+), Chiang Rai, Thailand: The Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort (SHA Plus+) is a five-star hotel conveniently located in the City Center of Chiang Rai. All the rooms here at this top Chiang Rai hotel have air conditioning and WiFi. Rooms at the Meridien also include a coffee/tea machine, blackout curtains, a minibar, and a refrigerator, as well as free toiletries and slippers. There’s a swimming pool specifically for kids, as well as a garden, spa, and an outdoor pool at this luxury Chiang Rai hotel. Check prices of rooms at the Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort here.  

Laluna Hotel and Resort, Chiang Rai, Thailand: The Laluna Hotel and Resort is a mid-range hotel in central Chiang Rai. All of the rooms at this Chiang Rai mid-range hotel have air conditioning and WiFi, as well as balconies and minibars.  Rooms at this excellent-value hotel in Chiang Rai also have a seating area, air conditioning, a refrigerator, and a TV with satellite channels. Private bathrooms include free toiletries.  The garden here is also a fabulous place to chill out.  This is a great place to stay in Chiang Rai.  Check availability here.

Bed-Friends Poshtel, Chiang Rai, Thailand:  The Bed-Friends Poshtel is a budget hotel in the heart of Chiang Rai. All the rooms here at this fabulous budget option in Chiang Rai have air conditioning and internet access, they’re also soundproofed and have blackout curtains for a great night’s sleep.  This super Chiang Rai budget hotel has a bar, restaurants, a coffee shop, and also a shared kitchen and the hotel also provides complimentary drinking water. See room rates here.

What to see in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is used as a base by folks who come to trek to local hill villages.  We trekked in Shan State, Northern Myanmar, and just want some downtime.

I do feel as though we’re going places for the sake of going. Templed out, I call it.  Everything is all blending into each other.  Even the night markets which seemed so exotic 16 months ago now are looking very similar.

That said, we find it impossible to visit and not make an effort to take in the sights.  It turns out there’s we won’t have much downtime in Chiang Rai after all.

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Wat Rong Khun – The White Temple

The absolute no-brainer is to visit Wat Rong Khun, which is known by western visitors as the White Temple.  Even in our templed-out state, this is stunning.

Chiang Rai - Wat Rong Khun - White Temple

We took an easy local bus trip from the central bus station out to the glorious White Temple, which is spectacular, but crowded. And seriously hot.

Chiang Rai - Wat Rong Khun - White Temple (3)

I am singled out for putting my umbrella up to protect me from the sun, seems that there are no umbrellas in the temple area.

Chiang Rai - Wat Rong Khun - White Temple (5)
Chiang Rai - Wat Rong Khun - White Temple (7)

The temple is privately owned, with more art exhibit than temple.  It’s the brainchild of Chalermichai Kositpipat, who after designing and constructing it opened it in 1997.  The entrance is surprisingly, free.

Chiang Rai - Wat Rong Khun - White Temple (6)
Chiang Rai - Wat Rong Khun - White Temple (8)

Kositpitpat is a Chiang Rai artist and to date has invested more than 40 million THB of his own money in the temple.

Chiang Rai - Wat Rong Khun - White Temple (4)
Chiang Rai - Wat Rong Khun - White Temple (9)
Chiang Rai White Temple

It is impossible to take a bad photo of this glorious place.

hiang Rai White Temple (2)

The Clock Tower, Chiang Rai

At the center of a roundabout back in Chiang Rai is the clock tower.  It was also designed by Kositpitpat, the creator of Wat Rong Khun.

Chiang Rai - Clock Tower

The clock tower puts on a music and lights show, so we’re able to watch the 8 pm show. It does seem a shame that the traffic isn’t stopped to watch this.

Chiang Rai - Clock Tower

Wat Phra Kaeo – Chiang Rai

Wat Phra Kaeo – this Temple of the Emerald Buddha holds a replica of the Buddha, which resides in Bangkok.  It’s easy to find, green, leafy and shaded.  We find our way around by borrowing a guidebook (in English) from one of the monks.

Chiang Rai - Wat Phra Kaeo (2)
Chiang Rai - Wat Phra Kaeo (2)

The Hill Tribe Museum, Chiang Rai

We take a short walk to the Hill Tribe Museum and enjoy an excellent, if very dry, 90 minutes learning about the Hill Tribes in this area.  Many of them are actually refugees from Myanmar. If you’re planning on heading out on a trek from Chiang Rai, then I’d seriously suggest you stop by here first.  Here you’ll be able to find information about the do’s and don’ts of visiting villages, as well as your impact on the tribes.

The Night Bazaar, Chiang Rai

We love to spend time at night markets, so have visited many in the last 18 months.  Sadly this wasn’t to be one of those.  The night bazaar here in Chiang Rai, however, seems to be mainly for the selling of cheap clothes and trinkets.  The food court area doesn’t appeal to us, another indication that we’re definitely tired and ready for a break.

How to Go from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai

And so, it’s time to move on from Chiang Rai.  We’re heading to Chiang Mai, where we have a great itinerary planned.  We’re taking the Green Bus X121 bus from the central bus station.  The bus runs numerous times each day, however, it’s necessary to book ahead of time.

Travel Tips for Exploring Thailand

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