Things to do in Chiang Rai, Thailand
Think of things to do in Chiang Rai and your list will be short… until you’ve read this blog post.
Chiang Rai is the sleepier Chiang of the north, often overlooked by the city of Chiang Mai and the hippie village of Pai.
All Chiang Rai travel guides I found online just described the town itself with a few nearby attractions like; White Temple, Black Temple, and the Clock Tower. These are cool places to visit, but there is so much more out there.
While living in Chiang Rai for 3 months I discovered loads of waterfalls, mountain hikes, hot springs, hill tribes, motorbiking trails and national parks. Now I want to share that with you.
Many of Chiang Rai’s destinations are further out of town, and difficult to get to by yourself. With local contacts, I’ve made that easy. Hit the button below, tell me where you want to go and I’ll sort the rest out for you.
- Things to do in Chiang Rai, Thailand
- Explore the town of Chiang Rai
- Waterfalls in Chiang Rai
- Art in Chiang Rai
- Mountains and Trekking in Chiang Rai
- Chiang Rai Hot Springs
- Chiang Rai Beach
- Towns in Chiang Rai Province
- Hotels in Chiang Rai
- Getting to Chiang Rai
- Getting Around Chiang Rai
Explore the town of Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai has plenty of attractions to visit in or nearby the town for a quick trip. The most obvious starting point is the White Temple and the Black House. Since my last trip to Chiang Rai, the Blue Temple has also opened which is now a popular attraction.
Chiang Rai Walking Street
On weekends the most popular attractions are the famous walking streets. Chiang Rai’s walking street markets are much like those in Chiang Mai, but fewer people and more chilled out. The Saturday night walking street is located on Thanalai Road and opens from 5pm to just after midnight. The Sunday night walking street is located just behind Chaing Rai hospital and is open from 5pm to about 11pm.
Chiang Rai Clocktower
The Chiang Rai clock tower is a popular monument and artwork to visit right in the center of town. It was designed by the same artist who built the famous White Temple. There are light and sound shows every night at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm on the hour.
King Mengrai Monument
Another popular attraction near the center of Chiang Rai is the King Mengrai Monument. This monument is dedicated to King Mengrai who established the Lanna Kingdom of northern Thailand (inclusive of Chiang Rai and Chaing Mai) back in 1296.
Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar is a popular place to hang out at night for good food, cold beer, and live shows. There is a wide range of locally made goods and souvenirs from the surrounding ethnic villages available. The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar is open daily from 6pm to midnight.
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 at 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 its 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 attraction 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 boasts a diverse collection of artists. There are numerous art galleries to view both traditional and contemporary works near the town. The most iconic attractions are the White Temple and Black House.
Art Bridge Chiang Rai
The Art Bridge gallery is located at the turnoff 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. There are a few buildings to explore in 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
Stay Here: Resorts Near Phu Chi Fa
One of the most iconic Chiang Rai attractions lies tucked away in Thailand’s northeast 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
Stay Here: Resorts Near 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 northwestern Chiang Rai and just 6km from Myanmar. The peak at an elevation of 1,367m is accessed via a very steep road. The area around Doi Mae Salong is home to many ethnic villages, tea, fruit and coffee plantations.
The most popular time to visit Doi Mae Salong is between December and January when flowers 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. As 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 Chiang Rai’s hot springs to keep you busy in the north of Thailand all year round.
Pong Phrabat Hot Spring
Thr Pong Phrabat Hot Spring is the closest hot spring to Chiang Rai, located 11km north of town. The water is naturally heated however the Pong Phrabat hot spring is concreted and tiled, so don’t come expecting a scenic natural setting. Entry is cheap, at just 20 THB per person and is hardly visited by foreign tourists. A trip to the Pong Phrabat hot spring is best combined with a day trip to the Pong Phrabat Waterfall.
Location: Pong Phrabat Hot Spring
Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring
The Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring is located along the Kok River in the Lam Nam Kok National Park, about 24km north-west of Chiang Rai. This is one of the nicest hot springs in Chiang Rai. The hot spring is set in a relaxing forest surrounding with a water temperature of 65 degrees Celcius.
The best way to get to the Huau Mak Lium hot spring is by hiring a motorbike or 4WD. It is also possible to take a longtail boat upriver from the Chiang Rai pier located by the Mae Fah Luang Bridge.
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 northeastern corner of Chiang Mai province. However, it is easier to visit the Fang Hot Spring from Chiang Rai. It is a must visit destination so I couldn’t leave it out.
Bonus Hot Spring
The best hot spring in northern Thailand is this naturally heated lake. Set high up in the mountains, this hot spring is the closest thing you’ll get to a natural infinity pool. The view over the mountains is incredible. Get all the details in your free travel guide 8 Secret Destinations in Asia.
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 visiting the following 3 towns which offer plenty more things to do in Chiang Rai Province.
Stay Here: Fortune River View – Chiang Kong
Chiang Kong is a sleepy little town situated along the Mekong River. The main attraction here is to stay at a riverside guesthouse. From here you can enjoy the river view with a Laotian mountain backdrop.
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. It is a cultural experience not to be missed.
I highly suggest staying a night at the Fortune River View (Chiang Kong). It is incredibly cheap for a luxury hotel and offers a great view of the Mekong River. It is actually one of my Top 8 Hotels in Thailand!
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 thing 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 Mekong 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. It is the main Thai-Myanmar border town up here.
In the past, Mai Sai was a popular crossing point for “border runs” a quick and cheap way to extend tourist visas for an additional 14 days. These days the Myanmar border market in Tachilek is the main attraction. Here you can find a wide range of knock-off goods, terrible cigarettes, and questionable Burmese whiskey. Most people only head across the border to Tachilek for an hour or so, but it is also possible to stay for a couple of nights in a hotel near the market.
Hotels in Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai may be a small town, but there is no shortage of top quality hotels and resorts. Whether you want a budget guesthouse or a luxury hotel, there is a good option out there. Try one of my personal favorites for a start:
Budget: for a great budget accommodation option try Fun-D Hostel located 500 meters from the center of town. There are private and dorm rooms to choose from, with some great beer specials during the week.
Mid-Range: for comfortable rooms, and a huge pool for under $50 be sure to head to Laluna Resort. Laluna is located 2km south of town, a short walk from the weekend walking street market.
Luxury: my favorite luxury accommodation in Chiang Rai is the Dusit Island Resort, Thailand’s local 5-star hotel chain. The Dusit Island Resort is located about 2km from the center of Chiang Rai overlooking the Kok River with some great mountain views.
For further options, check out my article on the top hotels in Chiang Rai. This is a list of the top budget and luxury guesthouses in and around town.
Getting to Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai – the best way to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is the Green Bus. Tickets start from 129 THB per person. A one-way journey takes about 3hrs. Check Green Bus for the latest timetable and pricing.
Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang – the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Chiang Rai is a popular route for travelers heading from Thailand to Laos or vice versa. the slow boat does not actually depart from Chiang Rai, buy Huay Xai, a small border town 65km away.
Flights to Chiang Rai – Chaing Rai has a domestic terminal with daily flights from major airports including Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Popular budget airlines include AirAsia Thailand, Nok Scoot, and Thai Smile.
Train to Chiang Rai – despite what other travelers my tell you, there is no train to Chaing Rai. You can, however, take a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, then take the Green Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
Getting Around Chiang Rai
Getting around the town of Chiang Rai is fairly straightforward, most of it can be walked. However, as soon as you want to venture out a bit further, transport can get difficult. Without a proper public transport system in Chiang Rai, it may seem almost impossible.
Generally, the easiest option is a motorbike. However, not everyone can ride a motorbike, riding a motorbike sucks in the rain, and sometimes you’d just prefer to sit in the back of a songtaew and enjoy the trip.
I know what it’s like to get ripped off by drivers who charge three times the amount to unknowing travelers. That’s why I’m working with reputable local drivers, who can offer customized trips for rock bottom prices.
Hit the button below to inquire about getting a local driver in Chiang Rai. We’ll do the hard work, you enjoy.
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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!
Essential Thailand travel tips:
- Check out my favorite hotels in Chiang Rai
- Get prepared for your trip with my mega Thailand travel page
- Going to Bangkok? Check out these destinations around town
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