Chiang Rai Guide: What to See and Do in Chiang Rai, Thailand

In this Chiang Rai guide you will discover what to see in Chiang Rai and what to do to make your trip through northern Thailand unforgettable.

Chiang Rai is one of the largest cities in northern Thailand and one of the most popular in the country . Its charm lies not only in the city itself, but in its surroundings: the White Temple, one of the most recognized in the country, is only 14 kilometers away, mountains as imposing as Doi Tung or Mae Salong, or the famous Triangle of Gold are proof of how much there is to see in Chiang Rai and its surroundings.

Index of contents

What to see in Chiang Rai

Despite its 78,700 inhabitants, Chiang Rai is one of the most populous cities in the area, after its neighbor Chiang Mai (approximately 200,950 inhabitants). Chiang Rai is located 200 kilometers northeast of Chiang Mai and 860 kilometers from Bangkok, the country’s capital. Its origins date back to the year 1262 , when the city of was founded by King Mangrai.

This city has a lot to offer, so we start with the most interesting temples to see in Chiang Rai:

The White Temple

The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is one of the symbols of Thailand and one of the most visited and appreciated temples by travelers. Despite its popularity, it is a contemporary temple that began to be built in 1997 by Don Chalermchai Kositpipat, although today its construction is not yet complete.

White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

This Buddhist and Hindu temple is designed entirely in white , a color that represents purity, and in glass, which represents the wisdom of Buddha. Its aesthetic is totally groundbreaking and very different from other Buddhist temples that can be visited in Thailand. Hundreds of murals and white statues surround this spectacular temple.

Inside there is a Meeting Room ( ubosot ), with drawings decorated with gold. It is the main part of the temple and is reached through the Bridge of Reincarnation . This bridge is one of the most famous parts of the White Temple in Chiang Rai and, crossing it, you will see hundreds of sculptures of white painted hands that represent human suffering. Reaching ubosot means, metaphorically, having overcome suffering and pain to achieve happiness.

How to get to the White Temple?

The White Temple is 14 kilometers from the city of Chiang Rai. To get to the temple you must take a bus from the central station of Chiang Rai and in a short time you will arrive at the gates of the temple.

Practical Data

  • Location: Mueang Chiang Rai District
  • Hours: from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Price: 50 Baht (€1.3)

The Black Temple

In addition to the White Temple in Chiang Rai you will also find the Black Temple. It is actually considered as a museum, the Bandaam museum, located about 10 kilometers from the urban center of the city.

The Black Temple
The Black Temple

This complex, made up of 40 black buildings, was the work of Thawan Duchanee, a Thai architect and painter. In the Black Temple you can also see some of Duchanee’s paintings.

How to get?

From the Chiang Rai station you can take a bus that will take you to the vicinity of the Black Temple.

Practical Data

  • Location : 13 Tambon Nang Lae
  • Hours : from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Keep in mind that they close from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.
  • Price : 80 Bahts (€2, approximately)

Wat Phra Kaew Temple

Another of the temples to see in Chiang Rai is the Wat Phra Kaew Temple. Among other reasons, you cannot miss it because it is one of the oldest temples in the city. Its origins are not very clear, although it is estimated that it was built in the 14th century. It is in this temple that the Jade Buddha was discovered after a lightning strike destroyed the stupa where it was located. It is a temple entirely built in wood.

You must bear in mind that in this temple they have especially strict rules in terms of going with appropriate clothing. Try to cover your shoulders and go with long pants to avoid problems. We also recommend you make your visit early in the morning since during the rest of the day there may be quite a few visitors.

How to get?

Unlike the White Temple and the Black Temple, this temple is located in the city center of Chiang Mai, so it will be easy for you to reach it on foot.

Practical Data

  • Location : 1 Rop Wiang
  • Hours : from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Price : free

Wat Phra Singh Temple

The Wat Phra Singh Temple is a temple built in 1385 and is one of the oldest in the city. It is located in the western part of the city and you can reach it on foot, by bicycle or by taking a tuk-tuk. It is located near the city hall and the Wat Phra Kaew temple. The architecture of this temple is Lanna style

Wat Phra Singh Temple
Wat Phra Singh Temple

Formerly in this statue was a statue of Buddha, the Phra Buddha Sihing, which was later transferred to Chiang Mai. Now in Wat Phra Singh there is a replica of this statue.

Practical Data

  • Location : 2415 Ruangnakron Rd
  • Hours : from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Price : free

Wat Prathat Doi Chom Thong

The exact origins of the Wat Prathat Doi Chom Thong temple are unknown, although historians point out that its construction dates back to the 10th century. Its function was to house a relic of Buddha.

This temple is located 30 minutes from the city of Chiang Rai, so if you want to visit it you will have to go by bus or rent a motorcycle.

Practical Data

  • Location : Rop Wiang
  • Hours : from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Price : free

Wat Klang Wieng

The Wat Klang Wieng Buddhist temple was built in the 15th century, although later, due to a storm, it suffered serious damage. It was later rebuilt thanks to the parishioners themselves and their donations. This temple is located in the center of the city, you can easily reach it on foot or by tuk-tuk.

Inside the Wat Klang Wieng complex, you can see a white pagoda in which there are several golden Buddha statues. Behind this pagoda is the temple, the jewel of the complex. There you can see multiple golden sculptures like those of snakes located right at the entrance of the temple. Within the complex you will also find a library.

Practical Data

  • Location : Wiang
  • Hours : from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Price : free

clock tower

During your visit to Chiang Rai, you will surely come across the Clock Tower, located in the heart of the city. It is the place from where most excursions and tours of the city depart and is an important meeting point for locals. The Clock Tower is a good place to visit at night, since its lighting makes it very attractive. It is located at the estuary of Thanon Baanpa Pragarn and Jetyod Road.

This tower was built by Chalermchai Kositpipat, the important Thai artist, also the author of the White Temple.

Doi Khun National Park

Doi Khun National Park is a good option for travelers who want to enjoy nature and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was built in 1975 and used to inhabit multiple species of animals, although over the years the number of animals that live there has been considerably reduced.

The main attraction of the place, beyond the natural environment, is its railway tunnel, the longest in the country, with a length of 1,352 meters.

Practical Data

  • Location : Mae Tha District, Lamphun
  • Hours : from 7:45 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Price : 100 Baht (2.5€)

The Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle is the point where the borders between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. Local people call this place Sop Roak, as it is where the Mekong River and the Roak River meet, forming a natural border between these three Southeast Asian countries.

The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle

This is a very rich area in terms of landscape and nature, with an environment surrounded by mountains. You will also have the possibility to navigate the Roak River and the Mekong River to discover the Golden Triangle . The area of the Golden Triangle was formerly known for the cultivation of opium, which was bought by paying with gold. Today the economy of this territory is sustained by tourism. If you would like to know the origins of the Golden Triangle, a visit to the Opium Museum is recommended.

The best-known point of the Golden Triangle is precisely where the Roak and Mekong rivers meet. In that area there is also a ship with a large golden Buddha.

From Thailand to Myanmar

When you are in the Golden Triangle you can also take the opportunity to cross the border and make a small visit to Myanmar (Burma), from Thailand. This does not represent any additional cost of borders.

Once in Myanmar, we recommend you visit a local market near the border. There you can discover the native products of the country and experience another culture firsthand.

How to get to the Golden Triangle?

To go to the Golden Triangle from Chiang Rai, you first have to head towards the city of Mae Sai. The bus ride is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes, and costs approximately 40 bahts each way (approximately €1). Once in Mae Sai you must go to Chiang Saen. The bus ride takes 15 minutes and costs 20 baht (about €0.50) one way. Once there, you will only be 10 kilometers from the Golden Triangle, which you can get to by bus, tuk-tuk or taxi.

The tribes of the interior of the mountains

Northern Thailand is an area where several ethnic groups and tribes converge . Many of them live practically isolated from civilization. Even so, the visits of travelers are welcome , because in part these tribes can survive thanks to tourists. To visit these tribes you can do it, if you want, with an expert guide. If you like nature and go trekking or hiking , visiting the tribes of the interior of the mountains is a great opportunity to practice these sports.

The Akha Tribe

One of the most recognized tribes is the Akha tribe . This tribe lives in villages distributed in northern Thailand, southern China, eastern Myanmar, and western Laos and Vietnam. It is estimated that its population is about 400,000 people. It is a tribe that tries to maintain its traditional spirit, although over the years they have adopted some western customs. Their houses are built from bamboo. They also have their own language, Avkavdawv .

The Lahu Tribe

The Lahu tribe is also found in the mountains of northern Thailand. There are more than a million people from the Lahu tribe, of whom 100,000 reside in Thailand. Mainly their religion is polytheistic. Buddhism was introduced to these tribes in the 17th century and since then it has been widely accepted by its population.

Among the other tribes of northern Thailand you will find:

  • the mien tribe
  • the karen tribe
  • The Hmong tribe
  • The Lisu Tribe
  • The Palaung Tribe

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Things to do in Chiang Rai

Taste Thai cuisine

If you visit Chiang Rai you cannot miss the most typical dish of the area: the khao soi . The dish is a noodle soup, accompanied by some vegetables, meat and curry. Chili is also added, so the resulting flavor is a bit spicy, but at the same time smooth and creamy thanks to the coconut milk.

In Chiang Rai you can taste the best Asian dishes at the Barrab restaurant ( 423/3 Banpharprakan Street) at a very affordable price. It is one of the favorite options for travelers and also offers options for vegetarians. You can also try the best Thai cuisine at Jatujak Gallery & Restaurant (Phaholyothin Street, 541/8).

Taste the typical products at the Chiang Rai Municipal Food Market

It is a highly recommended market, although it does not open every day of the week. We recommend that you ask at your hotel, since there may be changes in the schedule depending on the season and the festivities.

In this market you will find all kinds of food products, with authentically typical products of the region.

Try fried insects

The most daring will be able to live, in the Chiang Rai Bazaar market, a different experience: try fried insects. They will be able to taste insects such as ants or spiders.

Stroll through the night markets

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar

In the city center, the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar opens every day from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. , a market next to Th Phahonyothin station. There you can buy all kinds of souvenirs and handmade products . It is also a good place to taste the typical cuisine of northern Thailand.

Saturday Night Walking Street

Another impressive market is the Saturday Night Walking Steet. It is also a night market that can be visited on Thanon Thanalal Street on Saturdays. It is the ideal place to try Thai dishes and there are many tables to sit and eat them right there. Still, there are a lot of people and it is not always easy to find a free table.

The prices in this type of market are very cheap and for very little money you can easily dine on the best dishes in the area. The market is open from 5:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. On Sundays there is a similar market, the Sunday Night Walking Street, which is on Tri Rat Street, south of Chiang Rai, and opens from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

If you like nature, it is highly recommended to navigate the Kok River . There are raft tours that run from Chiang Rai up the Mekong River . On board these rafts you can enjoy the wonderful natural environment and, if you get up early, you can see a spectacular sunrise from the Kok River.

The Kok River is 285 kilometers long and originates in Myanmar, but most of its course passes through Chiang Rai province.

Are you thinking of traveling to Thailand? We encourage you to discover our trips to Thailand, among which you will find some specific itineraries to visit Chiang Rai:

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