When one thinks of traveling to the north of Thailand in most cases there is only one great main attraction: Chiang Mai. However, this does not mean that there are not other places in this part of the country that surprise the traveller. In fact, if you have the time, we recommend staying several weeks swarming around here. There are rural/hippy villages like Pai, more remote places on the border with Myanmar, and bigger cities like Lampang or Chiang Rai which, although at first sight they don’t usually fall in love, hide a few interesting proposals. Our advice is this: don’t leave Thailand without giving the north a chance!
If you want more information for your trip, visit our TRAVEL GUIDE TO THAILAND
Today we’re going to talk to you about Chiang Rai, the second most important city in northern Thailand, which is home to some of the rarest treasures you’ll find on your journey (guaranteed!) Do you plan to pass through Chiang Rai and don’t know where to start? Don’t worry: here are 9 things to see and do in Chiang Rai (and watch out because at the end of the article we give you a lot of useful info to prepare your visit).
1. Hallucinate in front of (and inside) the White Temple
We all agree that Thai temples are very beautiful. However, after visiting a few of them, they will start to look “always the same” to you. Until you get to the White Temple in Chiang Rai (in Thai “Wat Rong Khun”). My goodness, it may be one of the strangest places we’ve seen in the whole world! And not only because of its exterior, which is entirely bank and full of little crystals that sparkle the reflections of the sun, nor because of its incredible bridge that connects it to the earthly side, nor because of its “sea of hands” where, if you look closely, you can see one with a nail painted red, alien hands, hand and foot or the very hand of the Terminator.
No, no, the biggest bomb is waiting for you inside, where, in a huge mural you can admire drawings of Superman, Sailor Moon, Doraimon, Kung Fu Panda, Michael Jackson, the Twin Towers and Goku (among others), besides taking advantage of its wall to throw some social criticism to the world, it won’t be difficult to notice if you are attentive. It is an unfinished work, so they are updating it with characters that are in the pillory, for example this time we saw Pikachu, we assume by the boom of the Pokémon (a few years ago was not). By the way, the temple, although it doesn’t look like it, is Buddhist and is a sacred place, so you will have to dress properly and behave in the same way.
The madman of this work of art is the Thai Chalermchai Kositpipat, whose project has been joined by many followers creating a school of their own. Chiang Rai is famous for its creative and artistic character.
Tip: don’t miss the opportunity to visit the gardens of the enclosure, with heads hanging from the branches of the trees and extravagant figures, and the exhibition just a few metres from the temple where some of the artist’s works are on display, a walk through a world of dreams and nightmares. And the baths are also worth visiting! Yes, that all-golden building that looks like a minister’s palace… those are the baths!
– Price: 50 THB
– Opening hours: from 06:00 to 17:00 (closed from 13:00 to 14:00).
– How to get there: Buses leave from Bus Station 1 to Wat Rong Khun Temple for about 20-30 baht (30 minutes), to return get on the other side of the highway and stop at any bus or songthaew, they will go to Chiang Rai. You can also stop any shared fire “songthaew” and ask. We rent a taxi to go to the White Temple and Baandum Museum, in total 4 hours and pay for 4 people 600 baht (about 15 euro). Another excellent idea is to rent a motorbike for a day for about 150-250 baht (4-6 euro).
2. If it’s the weekend… don’t miss the Weekend Market
A 70-year-old Thai guy dressed as a cowboy dancing to aerobic music? Yes sirs, this is Thailand! Clothing stalls, skewers, handicrafts, fruit juices, dance floors, thousands and thousands of Thai people wanting to go out: if you visit Chiang Rai during the week end don’t miss the Weekend Market.
Find cheap accommodation in Chiang Rai here. We stay at the Huen Chan Thip Hotel
3. And if it’s not finde… go to the night market
But not just to water down and take home some pants with drawings of elephants… but to visit its Food Court, one of the most complete and interesting we saw outdoors, where you can try a few local delicacies such as tempura dishes, fish or the typical soups of the city. The atmosphere is great, the food good and the prices low… what more do you want?
Tip: don’t leave without trying a coconut ice cream. We repeat both nights: the coconut ice creams at the food court of Chiang Rai’s night market are really addictive. And they cost about 20 baht (50 cent), come on… impossible to resist!
4. Meet the Black House (Bann Daum Museum)
Another 15 kilometers from the city, but in the other direction of the White Temple is the Black House (Baan dum Museum), a complex of different buildings and temples characterized by the dark color of their wood and by more rare elements (also here!) that decorate both the interior of the buildings and the gardens. Many believe that the Black House is a metaphor for death (either because of the predominant black color in the whole enclosure, which is not very cheerful, or because of the hundreds of animal remains that are distributed in every corner) and although its creator, the artist Thawan Duchanee, has never confirmed it… the feeling you get after the visit is not one of peace and joy.
We honestly left there with discordant feelings. On the one hand it is undeniable that the place is amazing (in total there are more than 40 buildings!) but on the other hand to see so many skins, bones and remains of animals, buff da grimilla. But if you like curious places and you’re a bit of a freak, you’ll gosarrrrr! How not to do it in front of the construction that looks like a spaceship?
– Price: 80 THB
– Opening hours: from 09:00 to 17:00 (closed from 12:00 to 13:00).
– How to get there: Buses leave from Bus Station 1 to Wat Rong Khun Temple for about 20-30 baht (30 minutes), you will stop at the junction on the highway, from where you will have to walk the last 500 meters, to go back to the other side of the highway and stop to any bus or songthaew, you will go to Chiang Rai. You can also stop any shared fire “songthaew” and ask. We rent a taxi to go to the White Temple and Baandum Museum, in total 4 hours and pay for 4 people 600 baht (about 15 euro). Another excellent idea is to rent a motorbike for a day for about 150-250 baht (4-6 euro).
5. Attend the Clock Tower show
Another freak! It’s not really a wonder, don’t get excited XD, but if you pass by the Clock Tower area at 7, 8 or 9 pm, you can attend its musical show, in which the colors of the tower change and a scene with characters and other things is represented inside. It’s funny, especially to see how the Thai people stop and look at the clock as if they were watching a Broadway musical… they live it with a lot of emotion, so join the party!
6. Make a little temple ruin in the city
Although they do not have the importance or beauty of the temples in Chiang Mai, there are a few good examples of ancient Buddhist temples in Chiang Rai. They are spread out on the streets of the city and you can visit them if you organize a temple route on foot or by renting a bike (many hostels and lodgings have them for free or for a price of about 100 baht per day). Some of the ones you can’t miss are
– Wat Phra Kaew: perhaps the most important in the city for having hosted the most famous and sacred Buddha figure in Thailand: “The Emerald Buddha”. It was in the 14th century when he was discovered buried under the floor of the pagoda that was illuminated by a powerful ray from the sky (all this according to legend), before it was moved to Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang and the Royal Palace in Bangkok, where it is venerated today.
– Wat Phra Singh: this 14th century temple stands out for its excellent wood carvings on the doors, its main hall where the statue of Buddha Phra Sihing is kept (although it is a replica, the original is in Chiang Mai), its golden Chedi and some beautiful gardens.
– Wat Prathat Doi Chom Thong: it is believed that it was the place chosen by King Mengrai to establish the city of Chiang Rai in 1260. Its main stupa holds the city’s oldest sacred relics, making it a favorite among locals, though perhaps not of much interest to tourists, if the views from the hill are anything to go by.
– Wat Klang Wieng: a small temple hidden in the city, but with excellent decorative elements of Lanna art and interesting statues.
– Wat Ming Meuang: another small temple where the “spirit of the city” is said to dwell. The Lanna-style Ordination Hall stands out.
(We are left with a surprise at the end hehe)
7. Try a Khao Soi
One of the typical dishes of northern Thailand, with a Burmese influence. It is a noodle soup cooked with coconut milk, spices, palm sugar, tamarind, fish sauce and chicken. It is slightly spicy but we assure you that its taste is unique. Mmm, we can’t wait to eat another one! Something “normal” will have to be done in Chiang Rai!
8. Explore the surroundings
There are a few excursions near Chiang Rai that might interest you: there are, for example, those that travel to the mythical Golden Triangle (where you can see Laos, Thailand and Burma at a glance, although more than this it is famous for having been the epicenter of… the opium war :-p). Or the one that leads to the characteristic Chinese village of Mae Salong. And a good idea is to rent a motorbike and explore the surroundings.
There are also a few trekking options (if kicking the mountains is your thing) although our favourite excursion is still… Chiang Mai (and we recommend you don’t miss it!).
9. Go to the Blue Temple
This is another temple in Chiang Mai, but it is not just any temple: the Wat Rong Suea Ten is the new star attraction in the city. Its nickname already says it all… it’s blue hehe The truth is that it is a curious place and very different from the typical Thai temples, or rather… the same, but XD blue
– Price: free
– Opening hours: from 07.00 to 18.00
– How to get there: it is located in the city of Chiang Rai, you can easily get there by tuk tuk from the center.
| Map of Chiang Rai points of interest
Chiang Rai is a cultural center that is constantly changing, and as you can see it hides a few surprises that make it worth a visit. So far our recommendations of things to see and do in Chiang Rai, have you been there? What did you like best?
Where to stay in Chiang Rai?
we stay at the Huen Chan Thip hotel for 18 ? per night, a small and cosy hotel with an indoor swimming pool and buffet breakfast. It is about 15 minutes from the night market, in a quiet area of the city. Recommended.
:: How to get to Chiang Rai by bus?
Recently they have built a new bus terminal (Terminal 2) and for routes to other cities, it is the one that has been used. The station near the market has been left only for local buses.
From Bangkok: there are several night buses that go from Morchit station in Bangkok to Chiang Rai. They take between 11 and 12 hours and the prices are around 500-600 baht.
From Chiang Mai: depart and arrive at the Arcade station. High frequency, takes just under 4 hours. We made the journey in reverse and buying the ticket at the station the price is 161 baht, a little more through the web.
From Sukhothai: the journey takes 8 hours and the price of the bus is 260 baht. These are the schedules:
Chiang Rai -> Sukhothai: 07:00 / 08:30 / 09:30 / 10:30
Sukhothai -> Chiang Rai: 06:40 / 09:00 /11:30.
More info and reservations at 12go.asia
:: How to move around Chiang Rai?
Both the White Temple and the Museum are 30 minutes away from the city, but in opposite directions. To get to them you can do it by public transport, with the buses that leave from the Old Bus Station, either sharing a songthaew or negotiating a taxi to go to both places. We did this and for 4 people we paid 600 Bahts (about 15 Euro), it took about 4 hours in total. Another excellent idea is to rent a bike for a day for about 150-250 baht (4-6 euro).
:: How many days will I be in Chiang Rai?
Ideally you should stay 2 days (1 night). Enough time to get to know the basics of the city.