Things to do in Chiang Rai Province
Try think of things to do in Chiang Rai. Your list will be short. It’s the smaller, sleepier Chiang of the north and often overlooked by Chiang Mai and Pai.
While living in Chiang Rai for 3 months I discovered a diverse paradise in Thailand’s north. With waterfalls, mountain treks, hot springs, hill tribes, motorbiking trails and national parks there are plenty of things to do in Chiang Rai.
Here in my comprehensive guide to Chiang Rai you will find destinations over the whole province rather than just the town.
Waterfalls in Chiang Rai
One of the most popular things to do in Chiang Rai is to visit a waterfall in the jungle. Chiang Rai is home to many of the best waterfalls in Thailand. There are so many waterfalls in Chiang Rai so just the best are covered here.
Khun Korn Waterfall
Khun Korn Waterfall is one of the tallest and definitely one of the best waterfalls in Chiang Rai. It is located in the Namtok Khun Korn Forest Park about 30km east of Chiang Rai. The waterfall is set in the jungle and is reached by a 1.5km hike. It is a great place to experience Thailand’s nature and take a strong shower under a waterfall.
Huay Mae Sai Waterfall
This discreet 2 tiered waterfall is located just 19km from the town and is one of my favorite Chiang Rai attractions. Huay Mae Sai waterfall is deep enough to be a great swimming spot. When the water is high you can jump from the rocks with a bit of caution.
Huay Mae Sai waterfall is not known to many western tourists and is not offered on tour packages. The best way of getting to Huay Mae Sai waterfall is by motorbike or songtaew. There is no public transport servicing this waterfall.
Huay Kaew Waterfall
This waterfall is generally visited on day trips to the Chiang Rai hill tribes such as the Pha Soet village. The road to Huay Kaew Waterfall in Chiang Rai is a steep and badly potholed trail. I advise only taking your own transport out here if you are feeling quite adventurous. Once arriving to Huay Kaew waterfall you will find a refreshing stream running through the thick jungle.
The Huay Kaew Waterfall Chiang Rai can be combined into a day trip with a visit to the Pha Soet village with it’s tea plantations and the Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring.
Phu Kaeng Waterfall
Phu Kaeng is one of the best waterfalls in Chiang Rai and all of Thailand for that matter. This waterfall consists of 9 levels flowing through the dense jungle. Phu Kaeng waterfall is located about 70km south of Chiang Rai nearby the district of Pan. Phu Kaeng Waterfall is a great destination to get out into wild Thailand.
The best way of getting to Phu Kaeng Waterfall is by hiring a car or taking a songtaew from Chiang Rai. The journey takes about 1 hour each way. National park entry fees are 200 THB per person plus vehicle fees.
Pong Phrabat Waterfall
The Pong Phrabat waterfall is located only 14km from the town of Chiang Rai in the Lam Nam Kok National Park. It is a popular Chiang Rai attraciton for locals but not visited by many western Tourists. The hike to the waterfall is a short and easy path. The park grounds nearby the National Park HQ make for a great picnic lunch location.
Visit Pong Phrabat Waterfall with the Chiang Rai Black House for an easy day trip. You can easily tick a few things off this list of the best things to do in Chiang Rai.
Art in Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai boats a diverse collection of artists. Surrounding the town there are numerous art galleries to view both traditional and contemporary works. Of most importance there are also the two famous buildings White Temple and Black House.
Art Bridge Chiang Rai
Art Bridge is located at the turn off to Chiang Rai International Airport (Mae Fah Luang Airport) and hosts the works of many local Chiang Rai artists. The collection changes every few months. Expect to find huge panorama paintings of the northern Thailand landscape, modern art and a collection of sculptures.
The Art Bridge gallery is best visited together with a trip to the Black House (Baan Du).
White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
One of the most iconic things to do in Chiang Rai is to make a visit to the White Temple. The art on both the interior and exterior of the temple has taken local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat many years to create. Unfortunately in 2014 a huge earthquake shook Chiang Rai and damaged some of the work inside. Chalermchai said it has taken him to long to create his masterpieces and that he would not focus on repairing the damage done.
Black House (Baan Dam)
Many people refer to the Black House as the Black Temple thereby drawing a similarity to the White Temple. The Black House (Baan Dam) is actually not a temple but the house of the creative artist Thawan Duchanee. The are a few buildings to explore across the grounds of the Black house each hosting an odd collection of artifacts.
Mountains and Trekking in Chiang Rai
Getting out of the city and exploring the mountain ranges is among the best things to do in Chiang Rai. The province is flanked by mountains on both the east bordering Laos, and the west bordering Myanmar. The mountains are the perfect place to do some trekking in Chiang Rai while making a visit to the numerous hill tribes in the area.
Phu Chi Fa
One of the most iconic Chiang Rai attractions lies tucked away in Thailand’s north east corner. Phu Chi Fa allows you to stand far up above the clouds. Here you can watch the sunrise with unobstructed views over Laos. Phu Chi Fa is the top sunrise location in Thailand.
The 1 kilometer trek to the peak is best done early in the morning before sunrise. Small trails on the mountain ridge let you wander along the Thai-Laos border.
The area surrounding Phu Chi Fa is filled with winding mountain roads, hill tribes and waterfalls. For more on this check out my guest article Standing Above the Clouds at Phu Chi Fah.
Doi Pha Tang
Located just 30km north of Phu Chi Fa is the small Chinese settlement of Ban Pha Tang. Be sure to stop here for the local delicacy of stewed pork and steamed buns. The restaurant offers a fantastic view over the mountains.
The road from Ban Pha Tang to the peak of Doi Pha Tang is a steep 1km ascent. It is another 1km hike from the car park to the top of Doi Pha Tang at an altitude of 1,909m. The peak of Doi Pha Tang offers a 360 degree view of Laos and Thailand divided by the mighty Meekong River.
There are a number of small hiking trails following the mountain ridge which are worth exploring. An early morning hike up Doi Pha Tang is definitely of the best things to do in Chiang Rai Province.
Doi Mae Salong
Doi Mae Salong is located in the north western corner of Chiang Rai province, just 6km from Myanmar. The peak is at an elevation of 1,367m and is accessed via a very steep road. The area is home to many ethnic villages and tea, fruit and coffee plantations.
The most popular time to visit Doi Mae Salong is between December and Januray when flowers are in full bloom all over the mountain. Doi Mae Salong is best reached by spending a night in the village of Tha Ton from where you can take songtaew in the early morning.
Chiang Rai Hot Springs
Thailand is hot but in the winter Chiang Rai is in a place of its own. When the mountain air drops to freezing one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai is to soak away in a natural hot spring. Here is a selection of hot springs to keep you visiting the Chiang Rai attractions all year round.
Pong Phrabat Hot Spring
This is the closest hot spring to Chiang Rai and is easily accessible with a day trip to the Pong Phrabat Waterfall. The hot spring is a popular Chiang Rai attraction for the locals. The water is natural heated but the Pong Phrabat hot spring is now appears man made. The pools are tiled and separated into sections ranging from hot to very hot.
Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring
The Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring is located along the river in the Lam Nam Kok National Park. This is one of the nicest hot springs in Chiang Rai and has been left in its natural state. The Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring can be combined with a visit to the Huay Kaew Waterfall and Pha Soet Village.
Fang Hot Spring
This Chiang Rai attraction is situated in the Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park about 2 hours drive from the city. There is a natural geyser by the park entrance which erupts every 10 minutes or so up to a height of 50 meters.
There are a set of private hot spring houses within walking distance from the geyser. These houses contain naturally heated baths and are some of the best hot springs in northern Thailand.
Note: Fang district is actually in the north eastern corner of Chiang Mai province. It is easier to visit the Fang Hot Spring from Chiang Rai and is a must visit destination so I couldn’t leave it out.
Bonus Hot Spring
By far the best hot spring in the north of Thailand is this natural heated lake. Set high up in the mountains the hot spring is as close to a natural infinity pool as you will find, offering vista views over the mountains below.
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Chiang Rai Beach
Going to the beach sounds odd but it is actually one of the fun things to do in Chiang Rai right by the town center. This beach is not by the ocean obviously. Chiang Rai beach is located 4km outside of town along the banks of the Kok River.
Chaing Rai beach is a great place to have a traditional style Thai lunch out in a bamboo hut. After lunch go for a refreshing swim in the river. Be careful swimming during the rainy season as the current can get dangerously strong. However it is fairly safe to swim or tube down the river in the dry season from October to March.
Getting to Chiang Rai beach from town is very easy. A motorbike or songteaw will take about 10 minutes. It is also possible to walk however this could take 45 minutes to an hour.
Towns in Chiang Rai Province
Chiang Rai is just one of many towns in Thailand’s northernmost province. Want to know what the rest of the province has to offer? You’re best off starting with a visit to the following 3 towns which offer plenty of alternate things to do in Chiang Rai Province.
Chinag Kong is a sleepy little town situated along the Meekong River. The main attraction here is to stay at a river side guesthouse and enjoy the early morning and late afternoon views of the river and the Laos mountain backdrop. Get yourself a room with a riverside view like this here .
Another thing to watch out for in Chiang Kong is the early morning procession of monks. Much like in Luang Prabang, the monks walk the streets at around 6am to fill the alms with food offerings.
Chiang Saen is another border town located 50km north of Chiang Kong. Chiang Saen is home to a city of ancient temples dating back to the year 1325, well before the Ayutthaya period. Find out more on Chiang Saen on my guest article on the top attractions in the north of Thailand.
The most popular things to do in Chiang Saen is to make a visit to the Golden Triangle. This is the location where the Thailand, Laos and Myanmar borders meet. The countries are divided by the Meekong and Ruak rivers. The Golden Triangle nothing more than a quick photo stop and an iced coffee. Better spend your time exploring the ancient temples.
Mae Sai is located 60km north of Chiang Rai and is the main Thailand-Myanmar border town of the north. In the past it was a popular crossing point for 14 day visa extensions. Now the Burmese side of the border market is the main attraction offering a wide range of knock off goods and Burmese whiskeys.
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What do you love about Chiang Rai? Leave a comment and I’ll be sure to check it out on my next visit!