Chiang Rai Town Overview
Chiang Rai offers attractions for all travelers from the stop over tourist to the intrepid backpacker. Whether travel for you means relaxing by the lake, showering in a fresh natural waterfall or visiting the ethnic hill tribes, Chiang Rai has it all.
The town of Chiang Rai itself is a modest one, a slow paced farming village set in the far north of Thailand. The wet season between the months of July – October is a very wet one, with downpours so heavy that the main street floods bar entrances and cuts off power for several hours at a time.
The busiest place for western tourists is centered on JetYot (seven spired pagoda), starting at the popular decorative clock tower round-a-bout. Walking distance attractions can be found such as the bus terminal market open on Fridays and Saturdays, and the huge street market at the far end of JetYot open on Sundays, all assuming the rainy season does not have other plans.
The night scene of Chiang Rai consists of a few small bars with the most lively being Peace House (the local Reggae Bar). Every Friday night the venue fills with backpackers, volunteer workers and local Thai’s for an open stage live jamming music session. Close by to Peace House these is also the Northai Bar & Gallery featuring a bar, restaurant and art gallery space over 4 levels. Further outside the tourist center there are a number of other student orientated bars with live music and much cheaper beers on the menu as outlined in my nightlife guide to Chiang Rai.
The town of Chiang Rai itself offers a few historical and other attractions, all of which are listed in detail in one of the many Thailand Travel Guides. For many of the other regional visit worthy attractions, the best way of getting around is to hire your own motorbike. Most of the attractions listed out here are within a 30-45 minute travel from the town center.
Chiang Rai Waterfalls
During 3 months spent living in Chiang Rai I had visited countless waterfalls around the province. The following are some of the best waterfalls Chiang Rai has to offer, and within easy reach of the town:
Namtok Khun Korn (Khun Korn Waterfall): Probably the most well-known waterfall in Chiang Rai, towering over 70m tall. Khun Korn waterfall is a 30km trip outside of the town, followed by a 1,400m trek through lush rainforest (each way), most impressive during or shortly after the wet season.
Namtok Phu Gaeng (Phu Gaeng Waterfall): this waterfall is about 50km south of Chaing Rai following the road to Phayao, taking approximately one hour to reach. Phu Gaeng Waterfall consists of 8 cascading levels deep in the forest with clean empty camping sites available for over night stays.
Namtok Prabat (Prabat Waterfall): A lesser known waterfall, even by locals. Prabat Waterfall is situated behind the Rajapat University of Chiang Rai, approximately 20km north of the town found by following signs along the way to Mae Sai. Another hidden treat along the way is the relaxing Prabat Hot Springs, with naturally heated ground water reaching up to 50 deg for your worn out trekking feet to soak in.
Huay Mae Sai (Waterfall): a lesser known and more off-the-track attraction to visit. This waterfall consists of 2 sections which can be accessed via a short 10min trek. The waterfall can be found by following somewhat misleading signs 19km out of the greater Chiang Rai area. A number of small minority villages can also be accessed close by Huay Mae Sai Waterfall along the winding pot-holed road.
More information about other waterfalls and hot springs in the province can be read at on ChiangRai Sawadee.
Chiang Rai Wats
Wat Rong Kun (White Temple) – although recently damaged by a high scale earthquake, this is probably the most well-known attraction of Chiang Rai. The temple is easily accessible via personal transport following the main road south to Chaing Mai for 13km.
Baan Si Dum (Black House) – another very popular attraction just 10km outside the Chiang Rai town center, often mistaken as “Black Temple.” The Black House is about a half day trip and can be mixed together with a visit to Mae Fah Luang University and a couple of local art galleries along the way.
There are many more attractions further outside the local Chiang Rai district which can be considered full day trips and are covered in my comprehensive guide of what to do in Chiang Rai Province.