Chiang Rai is one of my favourite cities in Thailand. It’s located in the northern part of the country, and has a lot to offer. The city itself is not so touristy, and the people is super friendly.
The food is cheap and delicious and thanks to its history as first capital of the Lanna Kingdom, it also has a lot of historical sites and temples you could visit. If that weren’t enough Chiang Rai also offers authentic culture combined with a lush and beautiful nature.
Here is a list with my top things to do in Chiang Rai.
This is probably the most famous attraction in Chiang Rai. It’s really beautiful and every night at 7 pm, 8 pm and 9 pm the clocktower invites you to a light show with music.
The Night Bazaar in Chiang Rai is a charming event that takes place every night. Both local people and tourist gather here to socialize, eat and do some shopping. There is also entertainment every night with local music and dance shows. The atmosphere is relaxed, fun and cozy. The Night Bazaar is one of the must things to do in Chiang Rai.
Saturday Night Market
The Saturday Night Market is not like the night bazaar, its a bustling market with entertainment, food and shopping. It’s not a touristy market, and it seems like the whole city have come to enjoy themselves. The market seems to be endless and you will find lots of food and a good variety of shopping.
This is one of most popular things to do in Chiang Rai among the Thai tourists, but it’s not so well known by western tourists. So if you stay in Chiang Rai on the weekend, make sure that you don’t miss out this lovely and exciting market! The market stretches along Thanalai Road and starts around 5 pm and ends about 11 pm.
Address: Thanalai Road.
The White Temple – Wat Rong Khun
While it’s not an ancient temple, its definitely a stunning temple with great architecture. The White Temple is one of the most popular places to visit among travellers in Chiang Rai. And it sure is worth a visit, but you should come early before it gets crowded.
The inside is not like other temples, and if you’re looking for a temple with great interior, this is not one of them. To be honest, I feel that the inside ruins the experience a little, since the outside is so amazing. The inside is quite empty and doesn’t feel “holy” at all, the outside on the other hand is simply stunning.
How to get here: Go to the bus station in Chiang Rai, and take a blue minibus. It costs about 30 bath. On the way back just catch a songthaew on the opposite side where you jumped off the blue minibus. The cost for a songthaew is between 20-40 bath, depending on the driver and your negotiation skills.
You could also include it in your itinerary if you’re doing a tour, but it will cost you around 300-500 bath p/p, and you will also not be able to avoid the crowds.
This is the bustling border town between Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand. Here you will find lots of shopping with great variety, especially jewelry, tech gear and clothes. However, it’s not like a shopping center with traditional stores, it’s more like a big market with things everywhere.
It’s also possible to go to the top and get a view over Myanmar (Burma). On the top you will also find some temples.
This is another famous part in northern Thailand, mostly because of its history with drug dealing. The Golden Triangle is the place where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand share a natural border. From here it’s possible to visit all 3 countries in a day, or simply just standing in one country and have a view of the other two.
Here is also a museum if you’re more interested in the history of drug dealing in this area. In my opinion it’s not worth it, but hey, who am I to judge. A visit to the Golden Triangle will be included if you choose to book a tour.
Choui Foung Tea Plantation
Tea plantations are really beautiful, especially from distance and above. Choui Foung is not the most famous Tea plantation, but it’s certainly the most beautiful in Chiang Rai. The more famous tea plantation Doi Mae Salong is not bad, but compared to this one it’s next to nothing.
Hill Tribe Villages
Thailand is home to several hill tribe people, and most of them reside in the northern part of the country. The tribes include: Hmong, Karen (Longneck), Akha, Lahu and Tao. If you’re visiting Chiang Rai it’s possible to make a day trip to a hill tribe village, or even go for a homestay.
However, while it’s awesome to meet these people, it’s a little bit controversial, since they are exploited by tourism. On the other hand, some of them rely their income from tourism. I would recommend you to go, but please show respect and don’t stick up a camera in front of their face without asking politely first.
The Hill Tribe people have an amazing culture, and still today carry on their traditions from generation to generation.
How to get there: It is advised to book via a tour operator.
Doi Tung – Mae Fa Luang
Basically everywhere in northern Thailand you will find yourself surrounded by beautiful nature. Chiang Rai is no exception, and if you like to hike and enjoy beautiful natural landscapes, then Doi Tung is something to put on your list with things to do in Chiang Rai. Along the mountain it’s also possible to see and visit some of the local hill tribes that resides here.
Another famous site in Doi Tung, is the Doi Tung Royal Villa, which was once home to the king’s mother. At the Villa you will be surrounded by colorful gardens and lush nature.
Chiang Rai is home to many ancient temples with remarkable architecture and history. It will also here that they found the Emerald Buddha, which is now housed in Bangkok, in the temple with the same name as the temple in Chiang Rai – Wat Phra Kaeow.
It’s easy to walk between the temples in town, but if you’re feeling lazy you could always hire a tuk-tuk or a songthaew.
Spa & Massage
Northern Thailand offers maybe the cheapest and best value Spa & Massage treatments in the whole country. The standard is great at many places, and it’s remarkable cheap. It’s possible to find a 1-hour massage for as little as 150 bath. So don’t be shy when you are in town, pamper yourself in luxury without emptying your wallet. This is definitely one of the top things to do in Chiang Rai!