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Chiang Rai Travel Guide

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Chiang Rai, once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom in the 13th century, is now the northernmost capital of Thailand, about 785 kilometers from Bangkok. It shares borders with Laos and Myanmar to the northeast and north, respectively. Known as the “Golden Triangle”, Chiang Rai was an important base for poppy cultivation and trade in the early days. Today, under the guidance of the government, local villagers have switched to tea, fruit trees, and other economic crops.

Chiang Rai is a quiet and simple town with lush greenery and beautiful scenery. Pristine mountainous villages, the romantic Mekong River, and the mysterious Golden Triangle form the main scenery of Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai is also a base for mountain expeditions, and many travel operators offer hill tribe adventures, allowing travelers to explore deep into the northern mountains and enjoy the picturesque natural scenery, as well as visit remote and exotic mountain tribes. There is no doubt that Chiang Rai is a treasure for adventure-loving travelers.

You will benefit from this Chiang Rai travel guide, getting some helpful tips on the top attractions in Chiang Rai, the best time to visit and how to get to and around there.

cai rang floarting market

Best Places to Visit in Chiang Rai

1. The Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle, 40 kilometers north of Chiang Rai, is a triangular area on the border of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos in Southeast Asia, which is famous for its once abundant opium and other drugs. The green hills and red-roofed huts dotted around the area, coupled with the enduring mystique, make the Golden Triangle a popular destination in Chiang Rai.

cai rang floarting market

At the center of the Golden Triangle, Sop Ruak, stands a 4-meter-high marble archway with the words “Welcome to the Golden Triangle” engraved on it. Many tourists take photos here. The House Of Opium, located in the center of Sop Ruak, displays the history of the Golden Triangle and opium poppy cultivation.

2. Wat Rong Khun

Wat Rong Khun, or White Temple, designed and built by renowned Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, is one of the most popular places to visit in Chiang Rai. The temple is a modern white building decorated with shards of mirrors that glisten in the sun. The top of the White Temple is adorned with beautiful forms of Nagas serpents, elephants, and umbrellas.

cai rang floarting market

Wat Rong Khun is painted in plain white to symbolize the purity of the Buddha; it is edged with shining silver mirrors to signify the Buddha’s wisdom shining throughout the universe. The temple’s interiors feature huge hand-painted murals by Khositphiphat, with a Buddhist theme that incorporates many modern elements.

3. Mae Fah Luang Garden

Nestled in the hills of Doi Tung, the Mae Fah Luang Garden is a two-story wooden building modeled on traditional northern Thai architecture with typical Swiss designs. It looks simple, functional, and elegant. The second floor is Empress Dowager’s sitting room with four houses that are connected. The ceiling of the hall is covered with patterns of clouds carved out of pine wood.

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Outside the structure, there is a huge garden planted with thousands of colorful flowers. It is said that Empress Dowager once taught the locals to plant flowers and plants, turning the abandoned mountainous area into a world of flowers.

4. Wat Phra KaewChiang Rai

The emerald Buddha from Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok was once enshrined in Wat Phra Kaew Chiang Rai. Legend has it that in the mid-15th century, an accidental thunderbolt struck a pagoda inside the temple, revealing the hidden emerald Buddha. The temple was then renamed the Wat Phra Kaew (meaning the Temple of Emerald Buddha). 

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The emerald Buddha was later transferred to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, where it became one of the city’s landmarks. The emerald Buddha now in Wat Phra Kaew Chiang Rai is a replica of the original carved in China in 1991. In addition, the temple houses another Buddha, made of alloy, which is almost 700 years old.

5. Singha Park Chiang Rai

More than a park, Sinha is both a farm and a zoo, just 5 minutes away from the famous White Temple. The park is divided into many areas, including a restaurant, a farm, a zoo, and a tea garden. Visitors can feast their eyes on a beautiful landscape of endless rice fields, colorful flowers, lavender fields, and a lake.

cai rang floarting market

Singha Park is an ideal family-friendly destination in Chiang Rai, allowing children to feed giraffes and play with zebras. Every year at the end of November, Singha Park hosts a Hot Air Balloon Festival, when visitors will experience a natural outdoor party with a wide variety of Thai food. Both drive-in and sightseeing bus access are possible at the park.

6. Mae Sai

Mae Sai is the northernmost town in Thailand located on the border of Myanmar and Thailand. It is the gateway to the Golden Triangle from Myanmar and a stopover on the way to Mae Salong. There is only one main street in town, with a hill a few dozen meters to the west. More than 100 stone steps lead visitors to the top of the hill, where they can enjoy a panoramic view of the town. At the end of the street is the Mae Sai River, the national border between Thailand and Myanmar. There is a bridge over the river where many vendors and tourists pass by every day.

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Thanks to the increase in traffic, restaurants and shops along the bridge have sprung up, where tourists can find souvenirs with Thai and Burmese characteristics, costumes of local ethnic groups, and jade from Myanmar.

Best Time to Visit Chiang Rai

The cool season from October to February is the best time to visit Chiang Rai, when the climate is quite refreshing and pleasant, not very humid, with an average temperature of about 24.5°C (76°F). This time is perfect for outdoor sightseeing and adventure activities. March to May is the hot season, especially in late May when the weather in Chiang Rai is scorching hot. June to September is the rainy season, with August and September being the heaviest periods of rainfall in Chiang Rai. During the warm and rainy season, indoor activities and waterfall visits are good ideas for traveling in Chiang Rai.

☛ See also: Best Time to Visit Thailand

How to Get to & around Chiang Rai

Getting to Chiang Rai

Since there are no direct international flights to Chiang Rai, tourists need to fly to Bangkok and then transfer to Chiang Rai. There are also daily flights from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. Besides, long-distance buses are available to Chiang Rai.

By Air

Chiang Rai International Airport (CEI), located 8 kilometers from Chiang Rai, is the second largest airport in northern Thailand. There is a 3,000-meter-long runway with irregular flights to Kunming and Shanghai, China.

The vast majority of tourists fly to Bangkok first and then transfer to Chiang Rai, with a flight time of about 1.5 hours. Chiang Mai also offers flights to Chiang Rai, which take 45 minutes. Upon arrival at Chiang Rai Airport, tourists can take a cab to the city center or opt for a cheap tuk-tuk for 80 baht.

By Long-distance Bus

The Green Bus can take you from Bangkok or Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai in 13 hours and 3 hours respectively. You can book the tickets online or buy them at the station. Whichever you choose, remember to buy in advance, especially during the peak travel season.

A bus ticket from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai costs about 140 baht for a second-class seat. An air-conditioned bus ticket costs 321 baht from Bangkok to Chiang Rai.

Getting around Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is a small city, but still offers many means of transportation for tourists to get around Chiang Rai, such as tuk-tuks, songthaews, taxis, and motorcycles. It is also available to rent a car to scenic spots outside the city.

Tuk-tuks & Songthaews

Tuk-tuks and songthaews are important forms of transportation in small Thailand cities, which is no exception in Chiang Rai. This very convenient means of transportation can be found everywhere in Chiang Rai, and stops with a hand wave. The price of a tuk-tuk for travel around town is usually around 50 baht.

There are two types of songthaews. One is similar to a bus, with the route marked on the body. It costs 15 baht per person. The other is privately owned, with no restrictions on routes and is suitable for traveling with many people. Getting around the city by songthaew typically costs around 150 baht. Remember to negotiate the price before getting on.

Taxis

Taxis are commonly found at airports. Most tourists take a taxi from Chiang Rai Airport to the city, which takes 10 minutes and costs between 150 and 200 baht.

Motorcycles & Bicycles

There are many places to rent motorcycles in Chiang Rai, with prices fluctuating between 200 baht and 500 baht depending on the model. You are not required to show a driver’s license, but will need to pay a deposit of $2,000 or use your passport as collateral. Many areas of Chiang Rai are hilly, so drive carefully!

Bicycle rentals are also readily available and cost around 80 baht per day.

Car Rental

Car rental is one of the most convenient ways to get around Chiang Rai, especially to some of the attractions outside the city such as the White Temple and Singha Park. Tourists can ask for car rental services at any large hotel in Chiang Rai and the average price is about 800 baht per day.

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