The 17 Best Things to do in Chiang Rai (All Highlights)
You’re planning to visit Chiang Rai during your next trip to Thailand?
In order to help you plan your stay, I have prepared this guide of the 17 best things to do in Chiang Rai and its surroundings.
You will discover the famous White and Blue Temples, the Black House Museum, the Big Buddha, Khun Korn’s waterfall and many other places to visit + my recommended itineraries to visit Chiang Rai in 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 days.
And as usual, I will also give you all my best tips and my list of the best places to stay in Chiang Rai, depending on your budget.
So, What are the best things to do in Chiang Rai? Where to stay?
Let’s find out!
- The 17 Best Things to do in Chiang Rai (All Highlights)
- Visit Chiang Rai: the 17 Must-See attractions
- 1. The White Temple / Wat Rong Khun
- 2. The Blue Temple / Wat Rong Suea Ten
- 3. Wat Phra Kaew
- 4. The Night Bazaar
- 5. The other tourist attractions in Chiang Rai City
- 6. Singha Park
- 7. Baan Dam Museum
- 8. Khun Korn’s waterfall
- 9. Wat Huay Pla Kung / Big Buddha
- 10. Mae Fah Luang Cultural and Artistic Park
- 11. Trekking in Chiang Rai
- The 6 best things to do around Chiang Rai
- Best things to do in Chiang Rai with your family
- How many days to visit Chiang Rai?
- 1 day in Chiang Rai
- 2 days in Chiang Rai
- 3 days in Chiang Rai
- 4 or 5 days in Chiang Rai
- Where to stay in Chiang Rai
- Where to eat in Chiang Rai
- How to get around Chiang Rai
- How to get to Chiang Rai
- How to get to Chiang Rai: flight prices
- Tourist map of Chiang Rai
- You’re traveling to Thailand? These articles will help you!
- Visit Chiang Rai: the 17 Must-See attractions
Visit Chiang Rai: the 17 Must-See attractions
1. The White Temple / Wat Rong Khun
You can’t visit Chiang Rai without discovering the most famous tourist attraction of the city: the White Temple, also named Wat Rong Khun.
Located 13 km south of Chiang Rai, it’s one of the most famous place to visit in Northern Thailand. You will see it on almost all postcards!
Most people actually only travel to Chiang Rai to be able to visit it.
However, Wat Rong Khun is not an ancient religious temple, with a Buddha statue to worship. Its construction started in 1997, and it’s still far from being finished.
This beautiful temple is the work of a Thai painter and architect, Chalermchai Kositpipat. He built the temple on his own funds and expects to complete it in about 50 years!
If you’re there on a sunny day, you will notice that the White Temple sparkles in the sun: this particularity is due to the mixture of lime and mirror shards the temple has been built with.
During your visit, you will also be able to admire impressive statues and beautiful details sculpted and covered with mirrors.
Inside the White Temple, you will find a Buddha statue, but the most impressive is the fresco mixing traditional Buddhist scenes with scenes from famous movies like Matrix or Star Wars.
This temple is really like no other!
Please note however that pictures are not allowed inside.
Personally, even after seeing many pictures online before going, I found the place really beautiful.
On site, in addition to the White Temple, you can also visit a golden monument housing a small museum featuring impressive works of art. There is also a 2nd museum with paintings and drawings made by the creator of the temple.
Of course, you will also find a souvenir shop selling magnets, tee-shirt or keychains. And to make your day really memorable, you can even take a selfie with a life-size cardboard effigy of the creator of the temple! A bit megalomaniac maybe? 😋
Allow about an hour and a half to see everything. The entrance fee is 50 Bahts.
2. The Blue Temple / Wat Rong Suea Ten
After the White Temple, let’s now discover the Blue Temple, probably the 2nd most popular tourist attraction in Chiang Rai.
This temple is also located outside the city, but to the north this time, on the other side of the Mae Kok River.
Just like the White Temple, the Blue Temple, or Wat Rong Suea Ten in Thai, has only recently been completed.
You have probably guessed it from its name: the Blue Temple is especially famous for… being entirely blue (even inside)!
Inside, you can find a large white sitting Buddha statue, tinted with blue reflections depending on the lighting.
Outside, you will also find many blue statues with impressive details, such as the dragons or guards located at the entrance.
After the white temple, this is really the place to see in Chiang Rai. The temple is beautiful and the entrance is free.
3. Wat Phra Kaew
Let’s continue this list of Chiang Rai’s must-see temples with Wat Phra Kaew.
Contrary to the White and Blue Temples that are more tourist attractions than religious buildings, Wat Phra Kaew is one of the local’s favourite places of worship.
In 1434, the chedi (also called “stupa”) of the temple was struck by lightning and the building collapsed, revealing a magnificent statue of Buddha that was hidden inside.
The Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade) quickly became a national symbol and thus has been moved several times, notably to Chiang Mai and Laos. You can now admire the original at the Grand Palace, in Bangkok.
The Emerald Buddha you will see in Wat Phra Kaew is actually a copy, surrounded by frescoes representing its history.
On the site, you can also see a large sitting bronze Buddha and visit a small museum with statues.
Admission to Wat Phra Kaew is free.
4. The Night Bazaar
Where to go to Chiang Rai in the evening?
If you want to buy souvenirs during your road trip in Thailand, the best place is for sure Chiang Rai’s Night Bazaar.
It’s in my opinion prettier than those of Bangkok or Chiang Mai and it’s also cheaper. You will find there many stands selling clothes, jewellery or wooden objects.
Several tribes from the surrounding mountains also come there to sell their handicrafts.
In the centre of the evening market, you can eat in a very nice wooden restaurant. Just opposite, there is a stage where traditional dance shows are organized. There are also several food stalls.
The Night Bazaar is open every night and is located close to the bus terminal.
If you’re in Chiang Rai on the weekend, you should also go to “Saturday or Sunday Walking Street”. The street (a different street depending on the day) becomes pedestrian in order to accommodate many stands.
It’s really the ideal place to go to Chiang Rai on weekends: you can do a bit of shopping and try the delicious Thai street food!
5. The other tourist attractions in Chiang Rai City
During your trip to Chiang Rai, you should take a walk in the historical part of the city. There are several buildings and temples to discover.
So, what to see in Chiang Rai?
- The statue of King Mengrai, the founder of the city
- The golden clock tower, designed by the creator of the White Temple. It lights up every night in a small music and lights show.
- Wat Ming Meuang, supposed to shelter the spirit of the city. It’s quite different from other temples, with its Hindu vibe!
- Wat Phra Sing
- Wat Klang Wiang
- Wat Jet Yot
- The HillTribe Museum or museum of the mountain tribes. A great place to learn more about history, culture and the way of life of these ethnic groups in Thailand
- The park located in front of the HillTribe museum. During my stay in Chiang Rai, there was the flower festival there – It takes place every year in January. The park was full of art installations, food stands (I ate there every night!) and there were also free concerts in the evening.
- The Oub Kham Museum, with its superb collection of objects from the kingdom of Lanna. Guided tour is mandatory.
6. Singha Park
Let’s continue this guide of Chiang Rai with the Singha Park (named after one of the most famous beers in Thailand!).
It’s located about 6 km from the white temple.
You can’t miss the entrance to the park, symbolized by a large golden lion statue where everyone stops for a souvenir photo. A food court with cafes and shops is located nearby.
You should then follow the road to get inside the park. It will take you to a nice viewpoint over a lake and tea plantations. On the other side of the park, you will also find an educational farm and a mini zoo featuring exotic animals such as giraffes and zebras.
In Singha Park, you can also enjoy a zipline going above the tea plantations or rent a bike. Every year, the park also organizes a hot-air balloon festival.
If you don’t have a car, please note that the park is not served by public transport, so you will have to take a tuk-tuk or a taxi to get there.
And as Singha park is pretty big, you will then have to rent bikes or take the small tourist train.
Entrance is free, but you will have to pay for the zipline, the bikes or to take the tourist train.
7. Baan Dam Museum
Baan Dam Museum, also called “Black House Museum” or “Black Temple” is for sure among Chiang Rai’s most famous points of interest
It’s located about 15 kilometers north of Chiang Rai.
There, you will find about forty small black houses decorated with crocodile skins, furs and bones for example.
Everything you will see on the site is the work of Thawan Duchanee, a Thai artist who can be considered as a “dark version” of Chalermchai Kositpipat, the White Temple creator!
For sure, the place is original, but all houses are quite similar, and it overall feels a bit messy.
What I also find unfortunate is that most houses are closed and you can only get a glimpse of what’s inside by looking through the windows.
Admission costs 80 Bahts
The easiest way to get to Baan Dam Museum is by car. If you don’t have one, you can always take a song taew or a tuk-tuk.
8. Khun Korn’s waterfall
If you are wondering about what to do in Chiang Rai to enjoy a bit of nature, you should definitely go to Khun Korn waterfall, located 15 km west of Singha Park.
To get there, you will need a car.
Park your car at Khun Korn waterfall’s car park, then walk up the river along the road until you reach a small toilets building. The path leading to the waterfall starts from there.
This short and easy walk (just remember to wear good shoes, it’s quite slippery) will take you through the bamboo forest up to the waterfall in about 30 minutes.
Khun Korn’s waterfall is pretty nice and even in January, the water flow is quite intense: it’s not just a trickle like some other Thai waterfalls at that time of the year. With its 70 meters high, it’s actually the highest waterfall in Chiang Rai province.
Plan to spend about 2 hours there, the time to make the round trip, to take pictures in the forest and to stop a bit to enjoy the freshness of the waterfall. Swimming is allowed, but the water is pretty cold!
Be careful, the site closes at 4:30 pm, so you should go there early. Free entrance and parking.
9. Wat Huay Pla Kung / Big Buddha
As you can see, one of the main thing to do in Chiang Rai is to discover its beautiful and original temples.
And Wat Huay Pla Kung is no exception to the rule.
Just like the white or blue temples, Wat Huay Pla Kung is very recent. The temple is actually a huge statue representing Guan Yin, the goddess of compassion and not the Buddha. The statue is however often referred to as “the Big Buddha”!
It’s super impressive to see, especially since it was built on the top of a hill and looks really huge. Take the “dragon staircase” to reach the base of the temple and then take an elevator up to the head of the statue (40 Bahts).
In addition to Wat Huay Pla Kung, the site also features 2 other monuments: a beautiful white temple and a large pagoda with 9 floors.
Don’t hesitate to climb to the top to admire the view!
The place is really worth a look, and considering the number of visitors and the full parking lot, it seems it’s quickly becoming one of Chiang Rai’s must see attractions.
The Wat is a 15-minute drive from the center of Chiang Rai. Free entrance and parking + 40 Bahts if you wish to go to the top of the statue.
10. Mae Fah Luang Cultural and Artistic Park
During your trip to Chiang Rai, you can visit Mae Fah Luang Cultural Park, located 4 km west of Chiang Rai city center.
Quick note: don’t confuse it with the gardens of Mae Fah Luang, located in Doi Tung. I will tell you more about them below, at #12
Built around a large lake, the park is well laid out and houses several wooden buildings and pavilions in the Lanna style
You will be able to discover:
- The Haw Kham, a tower built from the remains of 32 wooden houses. There is a Buddha inside.
- The Haw Kham Noi and its 19th century murals
- The Haw Kaew, a museum gathering several objects of Lanna civilization.
The place is quiet and relaxing. You can go there if you have some free time or if you’re tired of the crowd.
Entrance fee is 200 Bahts, which is a bit expensive compared to other sites of Thailand. That’s probably why there aren’t many visitors.
11. Trekking in Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is also known as an ideal destination for trekking.
Most of the hotels and guesthouses in the city offer 2 or 3 days trekking tours that will allow you to meet ethnic groups living in the surrounding mountains.
Mostly populated by refugees from Burma or Laos, you will be able to discover the way of life of the Akha, Hmong, or Karen people.
The latter is known for its women with long necks, often nicknamed “giraffe women”.
Prices start around 3,000 Bahts per person for a 3-day trek and always include accommodation and food.
The 6 best things to do around Chiang Rai
Now that you know everything about the main tourist sites of the city, you’re now ready to explore the surroundings of Chiang Rai.
There are several amazing places to discover during day trips. You will however need to rent a car or hire a driver for the day.
12. Doi Tung
Doi Tung is located 45 km from Chiang Rai, close to the Burmese border. It’s one of the best places to visit around the city
At the top of Doi Tung Mountain, you can discover several tourist attractions:
- Mae Fah Luang Garden, a very large, beautifully landscaped, well-kept and flowery garden
- The Doi Tung Royal Villa, the former residence of the Princess Mother of Thailand. The building, really atypical for Thailand, looks like a Swiss chalet (the Princess Mother actually lived in Switzerland for a long time). You will be able to visit the interior and discover the royal apartments. An Audio guide in English is available and photos are prohibited.
- The Hall of Inspiration, where a film about the history of the place is shown
On the site, it’s also possible to enjoy a small zip-line.
The place is super touristy, with lots of food stalls and souvenirs.
You will have the choice between several entrance tickets, depending on whether you want to visit everything or only a part of the site. The full pass costs 220 Bahts, zip line not included.
The entrance ticket also includes access to an arboretum, located 9 km away from Mae Fah Garden. To get there, you can take your car or a small free bus.
13. Mae Salong
In the surroundings of Chiang Rai, you should also visit Mae Salong.
The area is well known for its beautiful scenery and numerous tea plantations. On the road leading to Mae Salong, you will pass through a few small traditional villages and enjoy great views over the rice fields and the forest.
In Mae Salong, you will find a large market and a monument with the statue of a general. The area is known to offer a nice view over the surrounding area, but I must confess that in my opinion it wasn’t really amazing.
14. Hot springs
Around Chiang Rai, you will find several hot springs where you can relax. They are very popular among Thai people who love to come there with their family on weekends.
And contrary to what you might think, their favorite activity is not necessarily swimming, but cooking eggs in hot water! Small baskets of 3 eggs are sold at all hot springs, if you want to try it.
Here are the most famous hot springs near Chiang Rai:
- The Pha Soet springs, 20 km from Chiang Rai, towards Ban Ruam Mit
- The spring of Ban Huay Zai Kao, in the village of Mae Lao
- Huay Mak Lium spring in Lam Nam Kok National Park
- The one of Wieng Pa Pao, on the road linking Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai
- Pong Phrabat Hot Spring, 11 km North of the city.
15. Mae Sai
Mae Sai is located 60 km north of Chiang Rai, on the border with Myanmar.
The city is especially popular among backpackers for a good reason: it’s the ideal place to extend your visa by leaving and re-entering Thailand!
All you have to do is cross the bridge that connects the city to Burma and make the trip in the opposite direction for your visa to be renewed.
Mae Sai is also known for its huge border market with the city of Tachileik where you can buy typical products of the region or very cheap cigarettes and alcohol.
16. The Golden Triangle
Close to Chiang Rai, you can also go to the famous Golden Triangle
The golden triangle represents the junction between 3 countries: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The place is known to have been the centre of the opium trade for many years.
If you want to get a nice view over the 3 countries of the Golden Triangle and the Mekong River, you should go to Chiang Sen. You can’t really miss the place, all tourist buses go there!
In the surroundings of Chiang Sen, you can also visit the opium museum to discover the interesting history of the Golden Triangle.
There, you can also opt for a cruise on the Mekong River.
17. Going to an Elephant Sanctuary
If you want to see elephants during your trip to Thailand, there is a sanctuary located close to Chiang Rai.
The Elephant Valley is home to several elephants living in semi-freedom, in conditions as close as possible to their natural environment.
During your visit, you can help to feed them and learn more about their lifestyle.
You will find all the information about the Elephant Valley of Chiang Rai on their official website
Best things to do in Chiang Rai with your family
What are the best things to do in Chiang Rai with kids?
To help you organize your family trip to Chiang Rai, here is a summary of the best places to visit in the area with your children:
- The White Temple, as they will be inevitably intrigued by all its sculptures!
- The Night Bazaar, where they can choose a few souvenirs to bring back home
- A day at the valley of the elephants
- Rent a bike to ride through Singha Park and see the animals there
- Going to bathe (and cook eggs!) in the hot springs.
How many days to visit Chiang Rai?
To visit Chiang Rai and its surroundings, you should spend at least 3 days in the city.
Apart from the walk in the historical center of Chiang Rai that you can do on foot, all the other points of interest are quite scattered, so you will have to spread out the visits over several days.
In my opinion, renting a car is clearly the best way to make the most of your stay! That’s what I did, and it was very convenient.
I will now give you itineraries to visit Chiang Rai in 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 days, based on the assumption that you have also rented a car.
If you plan to travel by tuk-tuk or song taew, you may have to adapt the itinerary a little bit.
1 day in Chiang Rai
If you have a day to visit Chiang Rai, here are the best places to visit:
- Visit the White Temple, the city’s must-see monument
- Enjoy a short hike to Khun Korn Waterfall
- Go to Singha Park for a photo with the golden lion
- Discover Mae Fah Cultural and Artistic Park (if you have time, if not go straight to the next one)
- Stop at Wat Huay Pla Kang to contemplate the Giant Buddha
- Visit the Blue Temple
- Spend your evening at the Night Bazaar.
2 days in Chiang Rai
If you spend 2 days in Chiang Rai, in addition to the 1st day above, you can add:
- Visit Baan Dam Museum
- Discover the tourist attractions of Doi Tung
- A road trip on the road between Doi Tung and Mae Salong to contemplate the landscapes
- Mae Salong’s Market
- Back to Chiang Rai
3 days in Chiang Rai
In 3 days in Chiang Rai, in addition to the 2 previous days mentioned above, you have different options:
1. Take a stroll in Chiang Rai in the morning to discover the temples of the city including Wat Phra Kaew and the museum of mountain tribes. In the afternoon, go to the hot springs to relax.
2. A day in the valley of the elephants
3. Go to the Golden Triangle and to Mae Sai (if you have the time).
4 or 5 days in Chiang Rai
If you spend 4 or 5 days in Chiang Rai, you also have the option to go for a 2 or 3 days trek in the mountains of Northern Thailand.
You can of course also spread all the activities I talk about in this guide over several days.
Where to stay in Chiang Rai
- Connect Hostel: Youth hostel located 10 minutes from the night market and the bus station. Modern dormitory bed with curtain from 10€. Strong points: cleanliness, modern and really nice common areas, comfortable beds, very friendly staff. This is the best hostel in Chiang Rai. Ideal for backpackers, if you are looking for a cheap hotel.
- Na-Rak-O Resort: Located 600 meters from the Clock Tower and the temples to see in Chiang Rai. Double room with a colorful decoration and a very comfortable bed starting from 21€. Strong points: the availability of the staff, a kitchen for breakfast, the calm. An excellent choice if you’re traveling to Chiang Rai on a budget!
- Nak Nakara Hotel: Located at 2 minutes walk from the HillTribe Museum and the park. Tastefully decorated double room in traditional lanna style starting from €60, breakfast included. Strong points: large swimming pool, free shuttle to the Night Bazaar, comfortable rooms, convenient location. A great choice for its exceptional value for money!
- The Riverie by Katathani: 5 stars hotel located 800 meters from Wat Phra Sing and 1 km from the night market, on the riverside. Modern, luxurious and spacious double room from 100€, breakfast included. Strong points: the huge swimming pool, children’s playground, the view on the river, the jacuzzi, the tennis court. A great choice for a romantic stay in Chiang Rai!
- The Meridien Chiang Rai Resort, Thailand: 5 stars hotel complex located 3 km from the night market. Elegant, design and spacious double room from 105€, breakfast at 14€. Strong points: really beautiful outdoor spaces, swimming pool, Spa, riverside location, quietness, free shuttle to the city centre. Simply the best hotel for a luxury stay in Chiang Rai!
Where to eat in Chiang Rai
I don’t have any specific recommendations for a particular restaurant in Chiang Rai.
As I told you in this article, we ate every night in the park where the flower festival was held. There were a lot of food stands and everything was delicious, from meat skewers to pad thai!
If you visit Chiang Rai at another time of the year, you should eat at the Night Bazaar. You’ll find excellent Thai food at all the food stands.
It’s very convenient, everyone can choose what they want to eat and there’s no need to argue about which restaurant to go to! 😋
How to get around Chiang Rai
The most convenient way to get around Chiang Rai is really to rent a car. There is no subway and very few taxis.
You can easily visit the city center and its few temples on foot.
However, to get to the main tourist attractions of Chiang Rai such as the famous White Temple, you will need to have a car.
To rent a car in Chiang Rai, you can compare prices directly here:
If you don’t want to rent a car, there are still other options for getting around Chiang Rai, they are however less convenient.
- The Song Taew are collective taxis and the most economical way to go from one place to another. They go everywhere. You just wave to them, you tell them where you want to go and they will tell you if they are going in that direction.
- Tuk-tuks are faster than Song Taews because they are private and go directly where you want. However, they are more expensive and drivers have an unfortunate tendency to rip you off. Always try to negotiate to get a fair price.
- By scooter, one of Thai people’s favorite way to get around. But since tourist attractions are quite distant from one another in Chiang Rai, you will be a lot better with a car. This is especially true if you are not used to driving a scooter.
- Hire a driver for the day if you really don’t want to drive. Always agree on the price for the day beforehand. It is best to speak directly with your hotel or guesthouse, they always have someone to recommend you.
How to get to Chiang Rai
To get to Chiang Rai, you have a few possibilities:
Chiang Rai has an international airport, located 10 km north of the city.
Taking a flight is therefore the fastest way to get to Chiang Rai!
From Bangkok, the flight takes about 1h30. Alternatively, you can also depart from other Thai cities such as Phuket or Krabi. The fares are usually pretty cheap and you will save a lot of time.
You can check flights prices to Chiang Rai using our flight comparator a bit below.
There’s no train station in Chiang Rai.
You will have to take a train to Chiang Mai (the nearest station) and from there take the bus to Chiang Rai.
There are 2 bus stations in Chiang Rai: the old one is in the city center and the new one 7 km further south. Both are in operation and are linked by a Song Taew (collective taxi) service that will cost you around 15 Bahts.
- The old bus station is reserved for journeys in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai province.
- The new one links Chiang Rai to most big Thai cities.
Travel time to Chiang Rai:
- From Chiang Mai, it takes about 3 hours by bus to reach Chiang Rai.
- From Bangkok it takes about 11 hours. In this case, the best option is to take a night bus to save time.
- From Sukhothai, it will take about 7 hours.
Of course you can also drive to Chiang Rai. This is the option I have chosen for my itinerary in Thailand.
I did the following road trip: Bangkok – Ayutthaya – Sukhothai – Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai.
And frankly I didn’t regret this choice: the roads are large (3-4 lanes), straight, well maintained and Thai people drive very safely.
I was able to visit what I wanted, stop whenever I wanted: it was great!
And as I told you earlier, the places to visit in Chiang Rai are quite scattered, so the car is really the best way to visit the city and its surroundings.
You can compare car rental prices in Thailand by clicking on the button below:
How to get to Chiang Rai: flight prices
You can check the rates and schedules with our flight comparator, in partnership with Skyscanner. It’s a great way to get the best flight prices!
Tourist map of Chiang Rai
I have created for you a tourist map of Chiang Rai, listing all the best places to visit and points of interest I have talked about in this article. You can display the map legend by clicking on the top left button, the one with a small arrow on it.
And you, what are you planning to visit in Chiang Rai?
🚗 Rent a car
🗽 Book entrance tickets and guided visits
🏄 Book your sports activities
🚤 Book your rental boat
🌍 Take a travel insurance
🙎 Book a tour
🚅 Book your train tickets
✈️ Book your flight
Thailand travel Guides
- Buy the Lonely Planet Thailand guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
- Buy the DK Eyewitness Thailand guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
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