Chiang Rai is often referred to as the little sister of Chiang Mai, but other than their names and location in northern Thailand, they don’t have as much in common as you might think. It’s relaxed and laid-back vibe make Chiang Rai even more ideal than the islands for a holiday of doing nothing or being as busy as you want. Sleepy Chiang Rai was founded in 1262, and like much of northern Thailand, the city still identifies with its Lanna history. You can see it in the architecture, cuisine, art, and music.
One of the most notable differences from Chiang Mai is that you won’t find a lot of variety in the nightlife and shopping here. Most of the action revolves around the Clock Tower in this city, and that’s a pretty small area. Tourism is really starting to expand here though, and the city is taking note and developing their hospitality skills.
This small city now has its very own Night Bazaar and a Jazz Festival! There’s also a Saturday Walking Street, and activities along the largely undeveloped riverside are starting to take shape. The Mae Kok River is best viewed while taking a slow longtail boat ride. Chiang Rai is about slowing down, relaxing your mind, and taking in all the city has to offer.
Chiang Rai is one of the oldest cities in Thailand, making it an exciting destination for historians. The many temples and museums are big tourist draws. It’s also a very photogenic city for all of you photographers out there.
When to Go to Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai isn’t that much further north than Chiang Mai, so it has a similar climate, but is actually a bit cooler overall, perhaps because of its elevation at 1280 feet. The time to visit Chiang Rai depends on what activities you plan to enjoy while you’re there. It’s never very cold in Chiang Rai, but it can get chilly at night during certain months, so be prepared with some cool weather clothing. They have a cool, hot, and rainy (off season) and each one has pros and cons.
Cool Season – October to February
You’ll need summer and cool weather gear during this season as temperatures vary greatly from day to night. Mornings are about 21 degrees Celsius, but temperatures drop by 10 to 15 degrees at night. The coldest months are December and January, and these are actually peak season months for tourists.
Even in this season, Chiang Rai won’t be overly crowded. Hotel prices will be at their highest during this season, especially December and January, but Chiang Rai is still a bargain. Prices for other goods and services don’t fluctuate according to season, but hotels definitely change their rates.
Hot Season – March to May
Daily temperatures during this season are about 27 degrees Celsius and as high as 36 degrees in May. April is the hottest month overall, but March is still pretty pleasant weather-wise. You can find some good hotel discounts during this season and nowhere in Chiang Rai will be crowded.
If you don’t mind the heat, this is actually a great time to visit because there are just enough tourists to keep things interesting and meet new people if you so desire, but restaurants and attractions won’t be crowded and there is very little rain.
Rainy Season – June to September
Even though it’s the rainy season, most days will still have some sunshine. August and September are actually really good times to visit Chiang Rai because there isn’t that much rain, but temperatures are cooler. In the afternoons, you can expect a one or two-hour rain shower. The worst rains are from mid-July to mid-August. If you plan any outdoor activities during this season, come prepared with wet weather gear. Average temperatures are about 25 degrees Celsius.
How to Get There
Option 1: Flights
- The quickest way to Chiang Rai from Bangkok is to fly. The flight is about 1 hour 25 minutes and by far, the quickest way to Chiang Rai. There are two airports in Bangkok. Prices vary depending on which airport you fly out of.
- Don Mueang Airport has flights starting at 8:10am and there are over 25 flights a day. Flights run from 1000 to 2100 baht depending on time of departure. Flights are with Thai Lion Air and Thai AirAsia.
- Suvarnabhumi Airport has flights beginning at 8:45am and they have about 4 flights a day. Flights run from 1650 to 2000 baht on Thai Smile.
Option 2: Bus
- There are two bus companies that go to Chiang Rai, Bangkok Busline and Siam First.
- From Morchit buses depart from 18:10, 19:00, 19:20, and 20:30. The ride takes about 12.5 hours ranges from 600 to 700 baht. For this low price, you can sleep on the bus and save on a night’s accommodation while still arriving at your destination in the morning.
- Sombat Tour Viphavadee 13 has one departure at 18:30, 695 baht and the ride takes 11 hours 25 minutes. Still a bargain, and you will save on one night’s accommodation.
The bus departs from Phuket Bus Terminal at 15:00. This bus ride takes one day and 5 hours. That’s 29 hours on a bus for 1850 baht. Operated by Green Bus. There is no flight option. I would recommend getting to Bangkok first, and then you can decide the best way to go on to Chiang Rai.
Option 1: Flight
- Flights from Krabi to Chiang Rai are perhaps prohibitively expensive at over 17,000 baht on Thai AirAsia. You must first fly to Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, and then on to Chiang Rai. The flight from Bangkok to Chiang Rai is over 16000 baht and I don’t know why.
- Another flight option is to fly Thai AirAsia to Bangkok, and then switch to Thai Lion Air. This would cost about 2400 baht.
- Other flight options include switching airports in Bangkok and are simply not practical in terms of time and price, in my opinion.
Option 1: Bus + Bus
Buses depart every hour from Pai to Chiang Mai for about 200 baht. The ride takes about 3 hours 10 minutes. Operated by Prem Pracha. From Chiang Mai, you’ll have a 3 hour 20 minute bus ride on Green Bus and the cost is about 270 baht. There are numerous departures throughout the day.
Option 2: Flight + Bus
There’s a flight operated by Kan Air. It departs Pai at 11:00 and costs about 2100 baht to Chiang Mai. From Chiang Mai, you can take Green Bus to Chiang Rai. You won’t really save any time with this option as you will have to wait for the bus to depart from Chiang Mai anyway.
Best Things to Do in Chiang Rai
#1 Wat Rong Khun
Part of me didn’t want to put this first, but when you see it, you will understand that there really is nothing that compares to it and this temple really has to be #1 on the list. This is the White Temple that is an iconic symbol of Chiang Rai. It is five kilometers south of Chiang Rai. The artist and architect, Chalermchai Kositpipat, is nothing if not unconventional. This temple is ornate and unique in every way, including its white color that symbolizes purity.
#2 Chiang Rai Clock Tower
This clock tower resembles the White Tower with is twisted spires, but perhaps with a bit more subtlety. Or maybe it’s just because it’s smaller. The tower was built in 2008, so it’s a fairly new addition to Chiang Rai, like many of its monuments. It was built to honor His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyadej. But this clock tower is best viewed at night. At 19:00, 20:00, and 21:00 this tower puts on a musical light show.
#3 Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park
If you are in this city for just a day or two, this is the place to visit to learn about and experience Chiang Rai’s past. The museum showcases the city’s history and heritage beautifully. It’s 5 kilometers outside the city to the west. There’s a beautifully landscaped garden and lake with teak structures. Make sure to stop by the Haw Kham pavilion to learn about Buddhism and Lanna traditions.
#4 Wat Klang Wieng
This incredibly ornate temple is one you simply cannot miss. The red, gold and white stand out against the blue sky and it just screams, “Take my picture!” It’s in the center of the city and it is an entire complex of temples. It was constructed in 1432 and renovated in 1903 after being damaged in a storm. The red structures are considered quite unusual, simply because they are red. It’s on the corner of Rattanaket and Uttarakit Roads, just north of the Clock Tower.
#5 Hill-Tribes Museum and Education Center
Visiting this museum before heading into the hills for an actual hill-tribe visit is very helpful towards understanding their tribal traditions, culture and daily lives. The main purpose of the museum is to teach people about the culture and etiquette they should follow when visiting the hill-tribe people. There are two large exhibit rooms. One showcases customs and traditions and the other has a colorful exhibit of traditional costumes. Open 9:00 to 18:00, Monday to Friday, and from 10:00 to 18:00 on weekends.
#6 Free City Tour by Tram
There are a surprising number of temples and museums in Chiang Rai. If you visit between November and January, you can take a free tram ride around the city and get on and off as you like to see the different sights. It stops at nine attractions around the city and starts at King Mengrai’s Monument. The sights I’ve mentioned are all on the tour in addition to a few more interesting temples. The tram runs at 9:00, 9:30, 13:00, and 13:30.
#7 Chiang Rai Wat Tham Pla (Fish Cave Temple)
This cave is about 13 kilometers south of Mae Sai. After climbing 200 steps, you will reach your destination and may be awe-struck by the limestone walls and lush greenery that feels like it is closing in on you. Inside the cave is so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face. There are two large rooms that contain a Burmese-style image of Bhudda, and that’s not all. Bhudda is bedazzled.
Another cave closer to Chiang Rai is Tham Phra (Bhudda Cave) which sits on the banks of the Koh River. You can get there via longtail boat from the pier if you want to visit this impressive shrine to Bhudda.
#8 Experience the Shopping and Street Food
Chiang Rai is a unique place for shopping because most of the handicrafts you see there are created by local artisans, either from the hil-tribes or in Chiang Rai. The artists here practice and create their crafts in their homes, and sometimes the only way to acquire their crafts is to go them. There are also artisan communities that help to promote local products like herbal teas, spa products, textiles, and tribal crafts.
On Saturday evenings, Thanalai Road turns into a walking street with shopping kiosks and food carts, music and just a generally festive atmosphere. It’s 1.5 kilometers of interesting, fun local products and food to experience and you can meet some great local people selling their wares. There are cultural performances as well.
The Night Bazaar appears at sunset, four blocks south of the Clock Tower. Locals set up their stalls and sell local handicrafts, great food, scarves, artwork, pottery, you name it. It’s a great venue for finding truly unique gifts for those back home, or a something unique for yourself.
Other great shopping venues that sell locally made products include Chaing Rai Herbs Shop, Doy Din Daeng for beautiful pottery, MZ Collection for handmade jewelry, and Nine Shop at the Night Bazaar for hand-painted clothes, caps, socks, and bags.
#9 Muay Thai Camp
Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) has become more and more popular in recent years since these Thai boxers have used this unique style of boxing to win matches against much more experienced combat sport fighters who don’t know these techniques. It’s also receiving a lot more air time on international television. People come from all over the world to learn this sport by training with professionals in Thailand. They stay for months to learn from the best. It’s so popular, even sleepy Chiang Rai has a few Muay Thai gyms.
Chiang Rai Muay Thai Academy is for private members only and has two rings. They offer boxing classes and Muay Thai classes, both for beginners and advanced. There is also a Lanna Fight Club and a couple of smaller gyms in Chiang Rai as well. It seems these facilities do not have their own websites, but there is a bit of information about them online.
Outdoor Activities around Chiang Rai
The area around Chiang Rai is lush and green and just ready to be explored. There are many hill-tribe communities, trekking opportunities, and even waterfalls. Here are some recommendations of great ways to experience the outdoors around Chiang Rai.
#1 Phu Chi Fah
Fiercly popular during the ‘winter’ season from October to Febuary, this is one of the most beautiful viewpoints in all of Thailand and one of the only places you can stand above the clouds. In the winter months, you might be greated with a sea of clouds beneath you. We rank this one of the best detinations to catch a stunning sunrise or sunset. In peak periods, this area is highly popular with Thai tourists but less well known by foreigners. To get here, it will take nearly 3 hours driving from Chiang Rai, but should not be missed if you are in the area.
#2 Mae Kok River Journey
The Mae Kok actually runs west to east through the city. You can start in Tha Ton and take a longtail boat ride journey on the river, for about four hours, and ending in Chiang Rai. You can see the beautiful scenery and relax while letting someone else do the driving. If you don’t have four hours, you can book shorter tours floating down the river in Chiang Mai.
#3 Hill Tribe Visits
Chiang Rai is a great launching point for overnight treks to visit the hill-tribes in the area. You can plan your visit with PDA Chiang Rai. They organize tours for one to three days. You can also combine these trips with longtail boat rides. Staying overnight in a hill-tribe village is an experience you won’t soon forget. Profits are used to support community development by PDA. PDA is located in the Hilltribe Museum & Education Center. At the moment, there are problems with their website, but it is easy to book after arriving in Thailand if you call, or simply go to their office when you arrive in Chiang Rai. I do not recommend using the website at this time as it seems to be corrupted.
#4 Visit the Natural Hot Springs
Seven kilometers from Chiang Rai is a Pong Phra Baht Hot Spring and it is worth a visit just for the beauty that surrounds it. The water is about 45 – 50 degrees Celsius, so I don’t recommend trying to boil any eggs in it unless you want to be disappointed. There are private rooms you can rent here for enjoying a soak before trekking to Pong Phra Baht Waterfall.
About 20 kilometers from Chiang Mai you can find Huay Mak Liem and Pha Serd Hot Springs in a more natural setting where you can actually boil an egg, but I still don’t recommend it. The scenery here is also stunning and waiting for you to enjoy while relaxing in the hot springs.
#5 Visit the Waterfalls
The national parks around Chiang Rai have plenty of waterfalls to enjoy. The closest and tallest is Khun Korn Waterfall, 17 kilometers southwest of the city. It is 70 meters tall and a sight to behold. You have to hike to the waterfall, which takes about 45 minutes on a beautiful path that crosses bamboo bridges and passes by cascade pools.
There is also another really beautiful waterfall about 20 kilometers west of the city. Huay Mae Sai Waterfall is located near the hill-tribe of Akha and Lahu. It has two tiers and is great for cooling off.
There are numerous places to trek around Chiang Rai, including around the waterfalls I mentioned. Unfortunately, many companies in the area also promote elephant trekking which means riding the elephants, which you should never do. See more about this in Responsible and Respectful Tourism. But trekking using your own two feet is very possible and there are numerous companies that can help you to book a trek after your arrival in Chiang Rai. Please confirm first that they do not do elephant treks.
Best Places to Eat in Chiang Rai
#1 Doi Chang Fresh Coffee $$ – $$$
This coffee house sells locally sourced coffee that is grown on Doi Chang mountain. These high-quality Arabic beans are grown at 1200 meters, and are organic and hand-picked. They are a member of Beyond Fair Trade and that means the farmers keep 100% of the profits from the sale of their beans. Doi Chang is located on Banpaprakan Road just west of the Clock Tower. They serve more than great coffee, though. Breakfast, lunch and brunch are also great and they have free wifi. The peaberry cappuccino is highly recommended as are the homemade cakes. It has a garden in front making it easy to miss, so be on the lookout. Cash only.
#2 Baan Chivit Mai $$ – $$$
This Scandanavian owned café and bakery was founded by Swedish missionaries. Their goal was to teach the skills of baking and running a business to ethnic hill-tribe children. Inside you will find a tempting display of cakes, breads, cookies and pastries, not to mention good coffee and a welcoming atmosphere. It overlooks the main bus terminal and the Night Bazaar. They also serve a few Thai and western dishes as well as breakfast and some great sandwiches on their homemade bread. It’s on Prasobsuk Road and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. They have free wifi. Cash only.
#3 Chiang Rai Nam Ngeow $
This place is a permanent street stall that serves up super tasty Thai food. It’s cheap and delicious! It’s located on Singhaklai Road near King Mengrai’s Monument. Go visit the monument and then head straight here for noodles in a spicy pork broth (Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeow) and steamed rice-skin dumplings for dessert. Khao Soy (egg noodles in a spicy curry soup) is also highly recommended. Portions are small, but they match the super cheap price tag, so just order more! Cash only.
#4 Salung Kham Cuisine $$ – $$$
This rather unique establishment is in a lovely, old country house and has been around for over 20 years. It is family owned. The owner is a Chiang Rai native and they serve up northern Thai cuisine made from grandma’s secret recipes. The sausage is a must to try, as are the garlic-fried frogs’ legs! Yum! Food here is authentic northern Thai, so maybe not to everyone’s taste, but it is a chance to experience unique food and try something new. It’s very relaxed and not a place you will feel rushed. You might even see an important local politician here or a dignitary because this is where the city takes its honored guests. Serves lunch and dinner and has takeout. Not sure about wifi here or use of credit cards. Bring cash to be safe.
#5 Barrab $
This restaurant in the center of Chiang Rai is simple and flavorful. It won Tripadvisor’s 2016 Traveler’s Choice Award. They serve northern Thai food and bbq. They have brunch, lunch and dinner and accommodate those who need gluten free or vegan options. Serves alcohol and has an English menu. It is located on Banpharprakan Road near the Clock Tower. Free wifi. I’m not sure if they take credit cards, so best to come with cash in hand.
How to Get Around Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai city is quite small and easily navigated on foot, by bicycle, or scooter. Unless you plan on visiting the surrounding countryside on your own, without a guide, you shouldn’t need to rent transport around this area.
In the city, the Clock Tower can be used as a reference point to help you navigate your way through the small streets.
You can rent a motorbike from many places around town and from many guesthouses and hotels. There is a lot of competition so prices are very low. There are many motorbike rental companies on Jedyod Road, Phaholyothin Road, and also around the Wangcome Hotel.
Rates start around 100 baht per day, especially if you want the bike for several days. They may ask you to leave your passport as a deposit. If you’re not willing to do this, a deposit of 2000 baht or more may be required. I think this is a better option than leaving your passport. During high season, prices for a bigger bike run about 250 baht per day.
Everyone is required to wear a helmet by law and you’ll likely be pulled over and fined if you don’t.
Not that many tourists choose to rent a car, but those who want to explore the surrounding mountains and parks find a car useful. Parking can be a bit of an issue, but roads and traffic conditions are generally good. There are several car rental companies in town. International chains such as Budget, Avis, and National are located in town if you prefer to use them.
Driving in Chiang Rai is easier than in Bangkok and some other cities, but it is still advisable to hire a driver. There are checkpoints outside the city as you go toward the northern border and The Golden Triangle, so you may need assistance getting through these. Always exercise caution on the roads as Thais loosely interpret the traffic laws.
Taxis charge a low standard fare of 35 baht plus 2 baht for every kilometer. Chiang Rai is small, so this means these drivers aren’t making much money. Drivers are prepared to use the meters honestly, but most tourists feel they deserve a tip since the fares are so low. Some examples of rates for longer rides are 80 baht to Ban Du, 80 – 100 baht to the airport, and 100 – 120 baht to Wat Rong Khun, and to Mae Sai will be about 630 baht. These are all approximate costs, but are really a bargain if you think about the fact that you won’t have the hassle of driving yourself.
Tuk Tuks and Songteaws
Tuk tuks are an iconic Thai mode of transport and they are everywhere. While you will find them all over town during the day, in the evenings they tend to congregate around the Night Bazaar area. Around the center of town shouldn’t cost more than about 60 baht. To get to Central Shopping Plaza is around 120 baht. Some tuk tuk drivers will try to charge way more, so get your haggling skills honed before you arrive.
Songteaws are “red trucks” and they usually follow fixed routes to popular tourist sights. You can negotiate with them to take you to destinations further outside the city. The ones with a fixed route are color coded and will display their destination on the side, but in Thai script. They cost less than ones that don’t run a fixed route, but they are often crowded and make a lot of stops, which can get frustrating. But isn’t this all part of the Thai experience?
Where to Stay in Chiang Rai
For a small city in Thailand, Chiang Rai offers a surprising variety of hotels. Budget travelers will certainly have lots to choose from, but so will the luxury traveler. The area along the Kok River is starting to really take shape and luxury hotels are taking advantage of the great scenery and location along the river. There are high-end resorts in the mountains that are totally unexpected in this sleepy city.
Budget $10 – $50 per night
Yes, there is a 3.5 Start resort in the budget category. Maryo has 60 well-appointed rooms with lovely but minimal décor and perfectly fine bathrooms, but the real draw here is the pool, the location, the service, and the price. Amenities in addition to the lovely pool include a restaurant and bar, air conditioning, shuttle bus service, and free wifi. It’s located just south of the Night Bazaar on Sankhongluang Road, so you can walk back after enjoying a night out. Rates during high season range from $35 – $53 a night.
This hostel has great amenities and the price is certainly right! It has free wifi, a spacious common room, hot showers, and it even has a washing machine. Bathrooms are clean and stocked with shampoo and soap. Beds in the 8-bed mixed room dorm are kind of hard, so if that bothers you, bring a pad with you. They do not accept credit cards, but at only $6 a night during high season, you probably don’t need to use one anyway. This is a great backpacker’s option.
Located just 300 meters from the Clock Tower, this hostel that has it all makes it easy to stay in Chiang Rai on a tight budget and still be comfortable. This hostel has only one floor, a great open common area with reflecting pool and sun beds, and they have ten dorm rooms with individual lockers and top quality beds. There’s a common kitchen area. Wifi is free throughout the building. They do NOT accept credit cards, but with these prices, you won’t need to use one. There is a female only dorm and a mixed dorm rooms as well. A budget double room is also available as well as single room with shared bath. The common areas are great here, and the bathrooms are well-designed. All this and more can be yours for just $7 a night for a dorm bed.
Midrange $55 – $120 per night
This 4 Star hotel has 40 lovely non-smoking, air-conditioned, modern rooms and is located just 300 meters from the bus station, but you will not notice you are in the city once you reach the hotel. You will have easy access to the center and Night Bazaar and lots of restaurants and cafes. The friendly staff provide great service. The pool is relaxing and some rooms overlook the pool. This hotel has special touches, like free items in the minibar, modern electronic controls in the rooms, and balconies with nice lounge chairs. Other amenities include a shuttle bus service, airport transport, free wifi, and even a babysitting service. Rooms range from $80 to $157 a night depending on the type of room and season.
This beautiful hotel will not seem like a budget option. Nak Nakara is a 3.5 Star hotel with 70 spacious and air conditioned rooms decorated in minimalist Thai style. The pool is beautiful and the hotel has bicycles you can use to ride around town at no cost. Amenities include a great free breakfast, free parking, and free wifi. They have beautiful gardens and the Hill-Tribe Museum is just a 3-minute walk away. Prices range from $49 to $104 dollars a night during high season, depending on the type of room.
This hotel is situated in the center of Chiang Rai, but you would never know it. It’s surrounded by lilies and gardens with a tranquil pool on the property that has plenty of comfy loungers. It has an open-air lobby that might make you question whether you’re in the right place for what you paid. Bungalows and rooms have contemporary décor and are spacious and beautiful. Yes, I said bungalows. There are 79 rooms in this 3.5 Star hotel and you have a choice of a double room, bungalow with pool view, standard twin, and a few others. Amenities include air conditioning, restaurant, bar, business facilities, shuttle service (surcharge), and hot tub and massage. Free wifi is available throughout the property. Prices range from about $40 to $140 per night during high season, depending on what type of room you rent.
High $120 + per night
River Rai Resort
This 4 Star resort has only 8 beautiful, air conditioned rooms with spectacular bathrooms, some with relaxing freestanding tubs. Staff here can book your activities and transportation for you and the pool is stunning. You’ll definitely want to spend some time at the pool relaxing with a view of the river. Additional amenities include restaurant, spa, suites available, and free wifi. This is a gorgeous little boutique hotel with amazing river views is $97 to $160 a night during high season.
A Star Phulare Valley
This hotel is a true getaway for those looking for a luxurious, relaxing holiday. It’s about 20 kilometers from the city center and 16 kilometers from the airport. It’s great for visiting the Golden Triangle, which is only about 48 kilometers away. This stunning property is tranquil and serene, and has a variety of rooms to choose from. The 86 rooms in this property are very spacious, minimally furnished and modern, very comfortable. They have stunning bathrooms, some with freestanding tubs, as well as balconies or decks with lounge chairs. The infinity pool is absolutely stunning and has great views of the surrounding area. Dining and bar areas at Ping Doi Restaurant have contemporary décor and lots of space. You’ll never feel crowded here. Amenities include air conditioning, guest gardens, free airport shuttle, soundproof rooms/bungalows, free wifi in all areas, including the rooms. Prices range from $80 to $300 a night depending on type of room and season.
Best Place to stay in Chiang Rai
The Legend Chiang Rai on the Mae Kok River
This 4 Star hotel is about 5 minutes driving time from the center, but I think that’s to this hotel’s advantage. The area around this hotel is not yet fully developed, so it’s tranquil and surrounded by nature. There are 78 luxurious, spacious studios and villas. You have a choice of king size or two queen beds. Room are decorated in a contemporary Thai style with a clean and luxurious feel.
The bathrooms are modern and spa-like. They also have outdoor showers and huge, unique bathtubs. Some rooms even have a small private pool.
Amenities include a beautiful infinity swimming pool, restaurant, bar, spa, and fitness center. They have a shuttle bus service, airport transport, free breakfast, business center (if you must work) and free wifi in common areas and in the rooms.
You can have an amazing meal at the Wine Casa Bar and Restaurant. The hotel can book any activities that you may want to do during your stay. The atmosphere and service at this hotel make it seem even more luxurious than it really is.
I cannot believe this stunning hotel is just $70 to $300 a night during high season.
Chiang Rai Area Guide
Chiang Rai is divided into North and South by the Kok River. The Clock Tower area is where a lot of the shopping and nightlife is centered, although the Night Bazaar area south of the river is also very well developed now.
The Clock Tower itself is an interesting attraction, especially at night. The light and music show attracts a crowd and is highly entertaining. The area around the Clock Tower is where a lot of the action in Chiang Rai happens. There’s shopping and lots of motorbike rental places if you’re in the market for transportation. A lot of hotels are in this area due to its convenient central location.
Located south of the Kok River and west of the main road, you can walk to just about anywhere in the city from here. The Clock Tower is on Thanon Baanpa Pragarn Road. Just ask for the Clock Tower if you’re lost.
Find more about the Clock Tower itself in Best Things to Do in Chiang Rai.
South of the Clock Tower, but still within walking distance is the Night Bazaar, which is a fairly new addition to Chiang Rai, but it has taken off quickly. The Bazaar appears magically at sunset when vendors appear to set up their stalls, but it doesn’t really get busy until after 19:00.
There are two outdoor stages here for performances and a food court and beer garden. Several hotels are in this area, and like the Clock Tower, it’s a great location to use as a home base to explore the area.
Find more about the Night Bazaar in Best Things to Do in Chiang Rai.
North of the Kok RiverChiang Rai there isn’t much to see or do, but there are a few hotels and the airport is here. Some hotels here are near the Kok River and are taking advantage of the scenery and views to entice guests to go north of the Kok for something other than the airport.
General Tips for Chiang Rai Travel
Responsible and Respectful Tourism
In the north of Thailand, the elephant is highly revered, but not always understood. Near Chiang Rai, there are many “elephant trekking” companies that advertise an elephant trek along with other outdoor activities, like hill-tribe trekking. The problem with elephant trekking is it means riding the elephants, sometimes four or five people at a time, sometimes in a chair. Riding the elephants actually hurts them and damages their spines. Their spines are meant to support the enormous weight beneath them, not weight on top of them. Please do not support any company that promotes elephant trekking. Many locals either do not understand the harm it causes, or they simply do not care and just want to make money.
There are also tiger temples in the north of Thailand that are anything but a temple. These tigers are bred in captivity for the purpose of making money. They are drugged so that they are lethargic and unaware of the humans having their photos taken with them. Again, please do not contribute financially or otherwise to these inhumane operations.
Do your research before visiting any elephants or other wild animals. If something seems out of place or unnatural, that’s because it probably is.
Responsible and Respectful Driving
Be aware that there is a helmet law in Chiang Rai, so always wear a helmet when riding a motorbike. Also, be careful when riding through puddles as they often conceal potholes. These two tips are good ones to follow for all of Thailand.
Thais don’t view traffic laws so much as laws, but more like guidelines, and not very strict guidelines at that. Driving around Chiang Rai, whether in a car or on a motorbike, means you should definitely proceed with caution, although within the city traffic is pretty orderly. Exercise caution especially when traveling into the mountains on curvy roads shared by locals.
Many hotels, cafes, and restaurants now offer free wifi, even in hotel rooms. There is enough free wifi on offer in Chiang Rai that you really shouldn’t need to pay for it. It is pretty reliable in most places, but during the monsoons it can be a bit inconsistent.
There are great cafes – actual coffee cafes, not internet cafes – where you can use their free wifi while enjoying a great cup of coffee. Doi Chang and Baan Chivit Mai mentioned in Best Places to Eat in Chiang Rai are two of them. Others include Coffee Bright on Tanalai Road, Raicholada Coffee on Suk Sathit, and Nangnon Coffee on Jetyod Road. There are so many more.
A Budget for Every Traveler
Chiang Rai is a place where you don’t really need to rent transport, or if you do, then you can enjoy some free outdoor activities outside the city, which makes a rental worth it. Either way, with several hostels to choose from at under $10 a night, or even a budget hotel for $20 a night, the budget traveler can easily get by on $30 a day, or dare I say even less if you do stay in a hostel? Yes, it’s possible to spend less than $30 a day and still sleep and eat well.
Travelers who have a budget between $50 to $70 a day per person can really eat and sleep in luxury in Chiang Rai, as well as being able to enjoy all of the activities Chiang Rai has to offer. This budget could also include a vehicle rental so you can explore the surrounding areas.
As with much of Thailand, a high-end budget means the sky is the limit. There are luxury resorts with rooms for $140 a night and up to $1000 a night. For the luxury traveler who does have some limitations on budget, for $150 a day per person, you can still enjoy luxury resorts, great food, transportation rental, and any activities that you want to enjoy. Great food in Chiang Rai is not expensive, and most activities are free. Live it up!