Located in the northeastern tip of Thailand, Chiang Rai is famous for its lavish white temple. Mention Chiang Rai to any tourists, and the White Temple will be the first thing they talk about. Little do they know that there are so many other things to do in this quaint province. Here are some places that I did during my last trip to Chiang Rai.
Must-Dos in Chiang Rai
1. Visit one of Chiang Rai’s famous temples
Every tourist will agree that the iconic Wat Rong Khun is a must-visit when in Chiang Rai. The temple is so white that it blends with the pale blue sky especially when the sun is too bright. As you go closer to the main building, you will notice lots of mirrored glasses and plasters making up the intricate decor.
The artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, transformed his wild imagination into reality. At a closer look, he has paid attention to every single detail, including the posh golden toilet! Believe it or not, he designed and built the temple complex using his own money. His masterpiece is far from done, and will likely continue for the next few decades, but you can always marvel at the stunning beauty of the white temple.
Address: Pa O Don Chai, Chiang Rai
Opening hours: 6:30 am – 6:00 pm
How to get there: Take a bus from the old bus terminal and tell the driver to drop you off at the street going to Wat Rong Khun. You can also take a songthaew, Grab, or private car.
Entrance Fee: 50 THB
Dress code: modest, cover knees and shoulders
Other info: No taking of photo or video inside the temple. Shoes need to be removed before entering the temple.
2. Check out the Black House Museum
The yin to White Temple’s yang can be found inside the Black House Museum, also known as Baan Dam. Built and designed by National Artist Thawan Duchanee, you will see a collection of black houses in the area, and some of them are open to the public. Items on display are mostly outlandish and considered controversial by the locals. You can find some phallic statues and gory imageries there as well, so do take note if you’re bringing your children here.
Opening hours: 9 am – 5 pm
Address: 414 Moo 13, Chiang Rai 57100, Thailand
Entrance Fee: 80 THB
How to get there:
You can take one of the green buses from the old bus terminal and tell the driver to let you off at the drop-off point going to the Black House. Walk the rest of the way. You can also hire a songthaew or a private car.
3. Indulge in Northern Thai cuisine
Like Chiang Mai, the food scene in Chiang Rai is bustling with a mix of Northern Thai and international cuisine. Some of the dishes in the province that you have to try are glutinous sticky rice, pork sausages, chilli dips, and Khao Soi (curry egg noodles). Stuff yourself silly with the wide array of street food here.
The night market offers plenty of local delicacies —you may want to try the famous Thai hot pot too! Restaurants worth trying include Cabbages & Condoms, Laab Sanam Keela, and Lu Lam.
Khao Soi – CC0 / Deankez
4. Catch the Clock Tower show
If you wonder why the Chiang Rai’s Clock Tower looks eerily familiar, that’s because it is also a masterpiece of Chalermchai Kositpipat. Head there at night to see the changing of light and the music playing as the clock strikes 7, 8 and 9. That’s also when lotus flower at the centre of the clock tower will open to let the pendulum switch. This makes a great quick stopover before or after dinner.
Address: Intersection of Suk Sathit and Jetyod road, along Thanon Baanpa Pragarn road, Chiang Rai
Show timings: 7 pm, 8 pm, 9 pm
5. Watch sunrise at Pu Chi Fah
Famous for the sea of clouds during sunrise, Pu Chi Fah is a 2-hour drive away from Chiang Rai. The mountain overlooks the Thailand-Laos border, and the 1-km trek from the gatehouse to the peak will reward you with a gorgeous sunrise view. As the mountain is popular among the locals, be sure to head there early to secure a great spot for the sunrise. If you don’t like waking up in the middle of the night for the car ride, stay at one of the guesthouses on the mountain.
CC0 / sasint
Address: Pu Chi Fa Forest Park, Tap Tao, Thoeng District, Chiang Rai
How to get there: Hire a private driver or join a tour.
6. Shop some handicrafts at the night bazaars
Chiang Rai Night Bazaar may only be a fraction of the size of the Chiang Mai’s night market, but you can still find a fairly wide option of beer, local delicacies, handicraft, and clothes. You will find lots of fried insects, the famous Thai street snack here. If you are looking for some North Thai cultural performances, you can get it here for free near the food court area. Another spot to immerse with the locals is the Saturday Walking Street, offering a bigger variety of food and drinks than the Night Bazaar.
Address: Beside Bus terminal, off Phaholyothin Rd, Chiang Rai
Opening hours: 6 pm – 11 pm
Saturday Walking Street
Address: Thanalai Rd, Tambon Wiang, Chiang Rai 57000
Opening hours: 5 pm – 12:30 am
Where to stay in Chiang Rai
For a luxury stay, I recommend Le Meridien Resort, a family-friendly accommodation that offers a 5-star service with an outdoor swimming pool. If you are looking for a budget accommodation, The Garage is the best suit for its modern rooms and strategic location between the city centre and Wat Rong Khun.
How to get to Chiang Rai
Take the 3-hour direct flight from Singapore to Chiang Rai. If you are going to Chiang Rai from Bangkok, take a bus from Bangkok Northern Bus Terminal. You can also take Greenbus rides available from Chiang Mai.
Best time to visit Chiang Rai
It is best to visit Chiang Rai during the “winter” months from October to February when the weather is cooler. August to September is the peak of the rainy season, and sometimes, rain can start as early as June. The hottest months are from March to May, but you may want to consider visiting Chiang Rai in April to catch the Songkran Festival. The number of tourists may explode during the festival.