The Ultimate List of Things to do in Chiang Rai
Most people say there aren’t many things to do in Chiang Rai. They’re wrong. I’m going to show you why.
All other Chiang Rai travel guides just cover attractions near the town like the White Temple, the Black House, and the Clock Tower. Sure, these are interesting, and you should visit them, but there is so much more to be discovered.
Most travelers don’t explore beyond the town. Unfortunately, they miss out so many amazing things to do in Chiang Rai.
While living in Chiang Rai I discovered incredible waterfalls, beautiful mountains, and relaxing hot springs. I met ethnic villagers, rode crazy motorbike trails, and was awestruck by the local art scene.
In fact, I learned so much I even wrote a huge 30-page Chiang Rai travel guide. Download it now to get all the insights.
- Where is Chiang Rai?
- Attractions in Chiang Rai (town)
- Waterfalls in Chiang Rai
- Art in Chiang Rai
- Hiking Chiang Rai’s Mountains
- Chiang Rai Hot Springs
- Towns in Chiang Rai Province
- Hotels in Chiang Rai
- Getting to Chiang Rai
Where is Chiang Rai?
Chiang Rai is the most northern province in Thailand. It is about 2 hours north of Chiang Mai. That’s right, there are two Chiangs and they are both different places.
Chiang Rai shares borders with Laos and Myanmar. All three countries meet together at the point known as The Golden Triangle… more on that soon. Chiang Rai refers to the province, while Muang Chiang Rai is the largest town in this province.
Attractions in Chiang Rai (town)
Let’s start with the easy destinations to tick off the list. There are plenty of attractions around town like temples and markets.
The most popular starting point is either the White Temple or the Black House which are both just a short trip out of town. Since my last trip to Chiang the Blue Temple has also opened which is now also a popular attraction.
Chiang Rai Walking Street
The most lively attractions in Chiang Rai on the weekends are the walking streets. Chiang Rai’s walking streets are much like those in Chiang Mai. They are large open-air markets which sprawl all over the road. You will find a wide range of food and clothing for sale. It is a fun place to hang out at night and an easy place to meet other travelers.
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. If you can’t decide which of Chiang Rai’s walking streets to visit, just do both!
Chiang Rai Clocktower
The Chiang Rai clock tower is a popular monument and artwork to visit right in the center of town. It is probably the most intricately designed round-a-bout in the world. The Chiang Rai clocktower was designed by the same artist who built the famous White Temple.
If you want to see the clock tower in all its glory, be sure to visit for the light show which kicks off every night at 7, 8, and 9 o’clock – bang on the hour. Don’t’ be late, you will miss it.
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. It is a good way to learn a bit about the history of Northern Thailand, and an easy stop on a walking tour of Chiang Rai.
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. Some nights there is live music, other nights there may be live theatre or Thai comedy shows. You won’t always understand what they’re on about, but it’s entertainment.
The stalls around the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar offer a wide range of handmade goods from the surrounding ethnic villages. You can also find other typical market type goods such as clothing, food, and painting by local artists.
The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar is open daily from 6pm to midnight.
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 songtaew will take about 10 minutes. It is also possible to walk however this could take 45 minutes to an hour.
Discover even more local destinations
Waterfalls in Chiang Rai
One of my favorite things to do in Chiang Rai is to visit a waterfall in the jungle. There is really no better way to appreciate the beauty of northern Thailand. You will understand once you hike through the jungle for an hour to find a 70-meter waterfall pouring over the edge of a cliff. Adventure travelers, this list is for you.
Chiang Rai has some of the best waterfalls in Thailand. In fact, there are so many waterfalls in Chiang Rai that it is impossible to cover them all here, so I’ve just included the best of the best.
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 reached by a 1.5km trek through the forest. It is a great place to experience Thailand’s nature and take a strong shower under a waterfall.
Get all the details on how to get to the Khun Korn Waterfall including location, opening hours and travel routes.
A word of warning, the force of the water is strong, especially during the wet season. I went for a shower here and lost my sunglasses, never to be seen again.
Huay Mae Sai Waterfall
Huay Mae Sai Waterfall (location) is one of my favorite waterfalls in Chiang Rai because as beautiful as it is, no one knows about it. This small two-tiered waterfall is located 19km from the town in the middle of the forest, nearby a nice Lahu Ethnic Hill Tribe.
There is a short 15-20 minute walk from the lower parking area to the Huay Mae Sai Waterfall, quite slippery when wet. At the end, you will find two levels Huay Mae Sai waterfall. The lower level has a deeper pool of water and is great for swimming. The upper level has a taller waterfall and a good place to sunbake on the rocks.
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 to arrange private transport. There is no public transport servicing this waterfall.
Huay Kaew Waterfall
The Huay Kaew Waterfall (location) is a beautiful two-tiered waterfall, located far out int the forest. Hardly any tourists make it out this far, and most that do are on long hiking tours to the Pha Soet Village, an Akha Hill Tribe. Do not confuse this with the Huay Kaew Waterfall in Chiang Mai.
The road to Huay Kaew Waterfall in Chiang Rai is a steep and badly potholed dirt/concrete trail. The route follows the Kok River before heading deep into the forest. Near the end, you will pass tea plantations surrounding the Pha Soet Village and come across a sign for the waterfall. From here it is a bit of walking up the hill, but not far. I advise only taking your own transport out to the Huay Kaew Waterfall if you are feeling quite adventurous – and seriously have travel insurance. Otherwise, arrange for some private transport.
Combine the Huay Kaew Waterfall, the Pha Soet Akha Village and the Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring for a great day trip from Chiang Rai. If you’re interested send me an email and I’ll personally help you arrange.
Pu Kaeng Waterfall
Pu Kaeng Waterfall (also spelled Phu Kaeng Waterfall) (location) is one of the best waterfalls in Chiang Rai and all of Thailand. This waterfall consists of 9 levels flowing through the dense jungle. You will hike through the jungle for about 45 minutes from the starting point up to level 9. The trail is slippery, and overgrown as not many people visit. Pu Kaeng Waterfall is a great destination to get out into wild Thailand.
Pu Kaeng waterfall is located about 70km south of Chiang Rai nearby the district of Pan. To get here you Phahonyothin Road south of Chiang Rai towards Chiang Mai. After about an hour you will see the sign for the waterfall on the opposite side of the road.
The best way to get to Pu Kaeng Waterfall is to hire a car or songtaew from Chiang Rai. National park entry fees are 200 THB per person plus a vehicle entry fee.
Pong Phrabat Waterfall
The Pong Phrabat waterfall is located 14km north of Chiang Rai in the Lam Nam Kok National Park. The entrance to the waterfall is at the end of a long road veering off to the mountains behind the Rajabhat University. You will find the National Park HQ at the end of the road. From there it is an easy walk to to the Phong Phrabat Waterfall itself.
The waterfall is only a small cascading stream, nothing like the huge Khun Korn Waterfall. There are a couple of pools deep enough for swimming in, and some grass to lay back an relax in the forest.
The area nearby the National Park HQ makes for a great picnic location. You may see many locals hanging out here, especially students from the nearby Rajabhat University. The Phong Phrabat Waterfall is not visited by many western tourists or tour groups.
Visit Pong Phrabat Waterfall with the Black House and the Phong Phrabat Hot Spring for an easy day trip. You will easily tick off a few things do in Chiang Rai in one day.
Art in Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai seems to be the art capital of Thailand. There is a huge range of talented artists living here turning out some amazing artwork from landscape painting to modern sculptures. There are a few great galleries to view both these traditional and contemporary artworks near the town.
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 Daam).
White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
One of the most iconic things to do in Chiang Rai is to visit the White Temple. Read my full article on this amazing work of art.
The art on both the interior and exterior of the White Temple has taken local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat many years to create. 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. However, before long he was already back inside the temple working on the art again.
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.
Hiking Chiang Rai’s Mountains
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 visiting the hill tribes in the area.
Phu Chi Fa
One of Chiang Rai’s most scenic locations lies tucked away in the northeastern corner. The jagged rocky summit of Phu Chi Fa allows you to stand way above the clouds where you can watch the sunrise. Down below in the valley is a small village along the border of Laos.
Phu Chi Fa is definitely the top sunrise location in all of Thailand, and the most scenic hike in Chiang Rai.
The 1-kilometer hike to the peak of Phu Chi Fa is best done early in the morning (around 5am) so you can watch the sunrise from the top. Afterward, you can explore the small hiking trails on the mountain ridge which let you wander along the Thai-Laos border a little farther. You will get a great view of the valley all the way along. Just follow the small dirt trails.
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.
Phu Chi Fa is a 2 to 2.5hr drive from Chiang Rai. If you want to make a one day trip you will have to leave Chiang Rai by about 3am, latest. To see the sunrise at Phu Chi Fa, I recommend you spend a night or two in the village.
Stay Here: Resorts Near Phu Chi Fa
Doi Pha Tang
Doi Pha Tang (location) is located 30km north of Phu Chi Fa, nearby the small ethnic Chinese settlement called Ban Pha Tang. Be sure to stop by Ban Pha Tang on your way to try out the delicacy – stewed pork and steamed buns. The local 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 via a badly potholed road. It is another 1km hike from the car park to the top of Doi Pha Tang where the peak sits at an altitude of 1,909m. The peak of Doi Pha Tang offers a stunning 360-degree view of Laos and Thailand divided by the Mekong River.
This is another opportunity to do some hiking in Chiang Rai, with small trails following the mountain ridge. These trails offer a scenic view all the way along, I highly suggest you spend a few hours up here. You can also take a tent up Doi Pha Tang and camp up on the summit, which is by far one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai.
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.
Doi Tung is another mountain in Chiang Rai located to the north of the province. by the Myanmar border. There are ethnic villages and tea plantations around the area to explore. Doi Tung is best visited on a day trip up to the Mae Sai Tachiliek border gate.
Chiang Rai Hot Springs
Thailand is hot, but in the winter, Chiang Rai is in a place of its own. As the air temperature 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 in Chiang Rai to keep you warm in the north of Thailand all winter long.
Many of the Chiang Rai hot springs can be difficult to get to, and drivers may even refuse to go to those which are further out. I’ve provided the location for each hot spring below so you can get there yourself with a bit of effort. Otherwise, send me an inquiry and I can help to arrange the transport for you.
Pong Phrabat Hot Spring
The Pong Phrabat Hot Spring (location) is the closest hot spring to Chiang Rai. It is located just 11km north of town. The water is naturally heated however the Pong Phrabat hot spring is concreted and tiled. Don’t expect a scenic setting like those hot springs in the National Park.
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.
Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring
The Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring (location) 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.
Pong Phra Soet Hot Spring
The Pong Phra Soet Hot Spring (location) is also located in the Lam Nam Kok National Park. It is only 1km away from the Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring and is in a similar natural forest surrounding by the Kok River. There is a large outdoor pool for the general public and 8 private spa rooms which can be reserved.
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 of 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 to the Bonus Hot Spring (Natural Infinity Pool)
Towns in Chiang Rai Province
Chiang Rai is just one of many towns in Thailand’s northernmost province. As you can tell by the length of this article, there is plenty more to see. If you want to see what the rest of Chiang Rai province looks like then I suggest visiting at least one of the following three towns. Each has its own unique attractions.
With one week to spend in Chiang Rai, you may as well visit all of the following towns. Let me know which was your favorite!
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!
Stay Here: Fortune River View – Chiang Kong
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 in my guest article on the top attractions in the north of Thailand.
The most popular thing to do in Chiang Saen is to visit the Golden Triangle. This is the where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. The countries are divided by the Mekong and Ruak rivers. The Golden Triangle is really nothing more than a quick photo stop and an iced coffee.
I suggest spending your time in Chiang Saen exploring the ancient temples. A few notable temples in Chiang Saen are; Wat Pa Sak, Wat Phra That Chedi Luang, Wat Roi Ko, and Wat Phra Buat. All are located within Chiang Saen’s Old City precinct and are within walking distance of each other.
These old temples in Chiang Saen give it a similar feeling to the ancient city of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.
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.
Find the best budget accommodation
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 and timetable). Tickets start from 129 THB per person. A one-way journey takes about 3hrs.
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 departs from 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 (tickets and timetables). After the 14 hour train, you then take the Green Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
Is Chiang Rai worth visiting? Hell yes! As you can see, there are seriously so many things do to up here. Whether you are looking for an adventure exploring waterfalls or just want to relax in one of Chiang Rai’s hot springs you won’t get bored. Of course, check out the popular attractions like the White Temple and Black House, but please, get further out of town and explore the province too!
I hope you loved reading this huge article on Chiang Rai as much as I loved making it! If you use it, please share it. Most of all, enjoy your time in Chiang Rai. It is an amazing place to visit.
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Essential Thailand travel tips:
- Check out my favorite hotels in Chiang Rai
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