Chiang Rai is a town in Northern Thailand, the little sister of the more touristic Chiang Mai. Although some people skip it, or go to Chiang Rai just as a day trip from Chiang Mai, we truly recommend you to stay in this town for a few days. You will be able to visit some of the most beautiful and outstanding temples of Southeast Asia, as well as beautiful nature, waterfall and hot springs.
Go temple hopping
The town itself doesn’t have any beautiful historical sites other than the clock tower. But as many other Asian towns, it hosts a bunch of temples that you can visit for free. If you’ve already been in Asia for a while, it may not be too impressive, but it’s always nice to see the different details from one temple to another.
Opening times: all day
During the night, the town centre gets busy around the market. It’s actually a really nice one, quite organised, where you can buy clothes, fruits, souvenirs, handmade crafts… you can also go there for dinner and enjoy a meal and a smoothie from one of the foods stands and eat it on the tables in the middle of the food court. If you’re lucky, you may also enjoy a show for free on the scenario of the town square!
Price: as much as you want!
Opening times: from around 6pm
Although it is indeed a very touristic spot that you will have to share with many other people, it’s definitely worth a visit. The white temple is actually just one piece of a complex that is still developing more buildings and sites. It’s full of details and decorations, you will want to stop to appreciate them all! In the same complex there is also the Golden temple, which is also beautiful and impressive
Price: Most of it is for free. Entrance to the white temple itself 50RM (1’3€) – free for locals
Opening times: 08:00am – 05:00pm
This temple is also very new, the main hall was finished in 2016. A bright blue colour covers all the walls, and colourful details complete the decoration of this work of art. The artist of this creation, Putha Kabkaew, remains a bit behind the scenes, not showing his name on the information or brochures of the temple. If you notice some similarities between the blue and white temple, is because Putha was a student of Charlermchai, the mastermind behind the white temple.
Opening times: 08:00 am – 08:00pm
Wat Huay Pla Kang
An impressive temple complex with a massive Buddha statue on top of a hill. A must visit if you are in Chiang Rai, and not so well known as the White temple. In fact, white is the main colour in this complex as well, as the long stairs to the big Buddha and the statue itself, as well as one of the temples are all white. It creates a beautiful picture surrounded by the green nature. In contrast, there is also a 9-floor pagoda full of colours.
Price: free. 50 baht (1’5€) to go up the big buddha
Opening times: 07:00 am – 09:00pm
Baan Dam or Black house
This temple looking group of buildings is actually not a temple. It’s a gallery that houses the work of Thai artist Thawan Duchanee. In this gallery you will find very odd pieces of art, such as a hall with chairs made of buffalo horns, and mounted snakes and crocodiles. The remains of a variety of dead animals can be seen in different parts of the gallery. It’s definitely different from everything, and a much quieter place than the touristy temples.
Price: 80 baht (2€)
Opening times: 09:00am – 05:00pm
Chiang Rai hosts several waterfalls just a motorbike ride away from the town. Depending on the season, it will be best to visit one or another. We were in Chiang Rai during dry season, and visited Pong Phra Bat waterfall. It wasn’t too impressive as the flow was really low, but it was a fun hike up to the top where we could refresh in the small pools formed between the rocks. We recommend that you check at your accommodation and ask people around what are the best waterfalls to visit when you are there. Nature is always changing!
Opening times: always, but depending on seasons.
The Pong Phra Bat Hot spring is said to have many healing properties. You can get in the water at a temperature of 54 degrees, enjoy a walk around the pond and the views to the river. The area also offers an outdoor pool and a room to relax at an extra cost.
Opening times: 08:00 am – 08:00pm
On the way to the Pong Phra Bat waterfall and hot spring the fields are covered by pineapple plants. Although it’s not really a touristic attraction, it’s really nice to see these fields and the variety of small pineapples that grow only in Chiang Rai. You’ll notice as well that this little pineapples are sold everywhere in the area, already peeled. A delicious snack!
Our tips to visit Chiang Rai
Rent a motorbike: Chiang Rai is not a big town, but most of the highlights are far from the city centre. We recommend renting a motorbike two days, one to visit the temples and the other one for the waterfalls and nature. Price is around 200-250 baht (6-7€) per day
Accommodation: we really enjoyed our stay at the Chian house. We had booked two nights, and ended up staying for a week. It’s the only budget accommodation in Chinag Rai that has a pool, which is lovely and almost necessary due to the weather. The hosts are incredibly nice, will cook fresh food for you any time of the day, offer information, transport, bookings. Anything you need! The rooms are simple and very affordable. But the best of all is really the atmosphere there. Book it here and I promise you will love it!
Ice cream shop: around the corner of Chiang house there is a little local ice cream shop from a lovely woman. She can not speak a word of English of she will make sure you get all the toppings you want on your ice cream. We treated ourselves with a few of them, for just 20 baht (0’5€)!
Refill you water bottle! Everywhere on the streets there are filtered water machines. You can refill your bottle for a few cents. Save plastic and money!
You can also read our blog posts of our experience while visiting Chiang Rai!
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