Chiang Rai is a sleepy town at the north of Thailand. We said Chiang Mai was your gateway to Laos and Myanmar, well, actually, it’s Chiang Rai. Most buses will connect through here. This town is about a 3-hour drive from Chiang Mai and home to some impressive temples. It’s a lot more quiet and chilled out than Chiang Mai. It doesn’t quite have the same ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’ however, but if you’re looking to escape, this is the place for you.
How to get there from Chiang Mai
There are tons of buses that run daily from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. We used the Green Bus Company, which are some of the best buses on the road. They don’t have wifi, but the seats are comfy and spacious, the drivers are safe and they give you a snack for the road. Win!
You can take the bus from Chiang Mai’s bus terminal and they will drop you off at the main bus terminal in Chiang Rai. The best thing about this bus terminal is that it’s surrounded by a market. Fresh fruit and food galore! Double win!
This terminal is also where the songthaews, tuktuks and taxis are. The cheapest way to get around are the songthaews, for sure. About 20-30 TBH per person, but they won’t drop you off at your exact location (well, actually, they might, but for an extra cost). Tuktuks will be a little more expensive, as will taxis. If you are staying near the center, you can probably walk to your hotel, and save the money to buy treats along the way!
Things to do
This is probably the most famous and crazy temple in all of Thailand. It was recently built and is actually still under construction! It has a crazy history which is fun to know. At the end of the 20th century, the original Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) was in bad shape, but there were not enough funds to renovate it.
That’s when Chalermchai Kositpipat, a local artist from Chiang Rai, decided to rebuild the temple from scratch and fund the project with his own money. He has spent THB40 million of his own money up until now. He considers the temple to be an offering to Lord Buddha and so he believes the project will give him immortal life. The temple will only be completed by 2070, so let’s hope he does get his immortal life so he can see its completion! The cost for visiting the temple is THB50 for tourists, but free for Thai residents.
Getting there is pretty easy, and the price will depend on your budget and time availability. We took a THB20 songthaew from the bus terminal, which took about 30 min. It will drop you off on the ‘highway’, just opposite the Temple. Just cross the street and follow the Stupa to get there. Pretty straight forward! Tuktuks wanted to charge us THB200 (for 2) for the 1-way journey. And taxis were up to THB300. So you have plenty of choice!
This is another recent temple that is still under construction, though it sure does look beautiful. We really wanted to visit the Blue Temple, situated just outside Chiang Rai, but we ended up taking it easy (yeah, Northern Thailand will do that to you). From the looks of it, it seems like an epic temple, but we found ourselves a slice of heaven we just didn’t want to leave. More on that later!
If you have the time to go, this is well worth the visit, especially judging from what our friends told us! If you want to know how to get there, here’s a great article for you.
Another must-see in Chiang Rai, but that we also missed! If you’re wondering why we recommend these places, well it’s because if you’ve made it out to Chiang Rai, you probably want to know all the cool things you can see and do. Seriously, we would have gone too, but when you find out why we didn’t, you’ll understand!
Black House is a bit of a drive out of the city. Baan Dam (Black House) is created by a local artist, Thawan Duchanee. It’s an art studio, a museum and a home, all rolled into one. Well worth the visit, again, from what our friends told us. If you want to know how to get there, check out this great article.
Temples in the City
There are a ton of temples in the city of Chiang Rai itself. We had access to bikes, so we just rode them around and hopped off when we found a nice one. There is one that struck out to us, and it was Wat Phra Kaew, because it houses the Emerald Buddha. This temple was upgraded to a royal temple in 1978, so it’s kind of a big deal in terms of Chiang Rai temples.
It has historical importance because it’s the place where the Emerald Buddha was found, and it’s one of the main centres of Buddhist education and the Sangha’s administration in northern Thailand. This temple might have also struck a cord with us because as soon as the monks and guards found out we were Canadian, they were so proud to tell us the jade used to make the Emerald Buddha was actually from Canada! Also, there’s a great turtle pond there, which is great to watch while chilling. Welcome to the north of Thailand, where chilling is a way of life!
Walking around the city, you will notice that most things revolve around the market, which is also where the bus terminal is. This is a great place to eat, with tons of cheap local food, delicious fruits, and some souvenirs to buy as well!
Ok, the gold clock tower is a bit of a stretch. Do you need to see it? Probably not! But if you are walking around at night, it’s worth sticking around for it to strike the hour. Music and lights will make the place shine. It’s a fun sight to see!
Where to stay
There are plenty of places to stay in and around Chiang Rai. These are a few that stuck out to us.
Gita’s House is nestled in a quiet part of the city, surrounded by beautiful green spaces. Apart from the accommodations themselves, which were everything we expected, from the large room, very clean space, super comfortable bed, and great wifi, what really stood out to us were the people at Gita’s House. Anything we needed, they were right there to help us out, and always with a smile! The family-run guesthouse is homey and cozy. You can really feel that the staff loves working there too, and we can’t blame them.
The energy in the place is palpable. We even had the pleasure of taking one of Kay’s laughter yoga classes, which was a great new experience. A homemade breakfast is provided, with tea and coffee available all the time. Another plus, the free bikes you can borrow to ride around the city! They make everything seem much closer, especially in the heat!
Naga Hill Resort
Staying at Naga Hill was a great little getaway. This is actually the reason we didn’t visit half the things we wanted to – we just didn’t want to leave! We stayed in a little bungalow that really made it feel like we were staying out in nature, in the middle of nowhere. A really great place to disconnect!
The bungalow was big and clean, the bed was very comfy, and there was even a hammock on the front porch. Plus, the bathroom and shower are outside, which is seriously cool. MAJOR WIN!
One of the great features of Naga Hill is their very big salt water pool. With the temperature well above 30 degrees Celsius during our stay, the pool was the best way to cool off. The restaurant was also a nice feature, with so many options available, from Thai and Asian food, to Western food and snacks. We even had the pleasure of eating a full traditional Lanna meal, all vegetarian food, which was really wonderful! But what struck out to us was the incredibly sweet and attentive staff. They were friendly and helpful, which made our stay even more memorable!
Naga Hill was a great escape for us. Three days of total bliss in the middle of nature. A perfect excuse to turn off our phones and laptop, and unwind. For all these reasons, we just didn’t want to leave this place!
Where to eat
Heaven Burger: The name says it all! This place has heavenly burgers! They actually have all sorts of western food, but when you’re in the mood for a good veggie burger (they have meat ones as well), this is the place to eat. Their buns are made fresh with local ingredients, which make the burger even more delicious. And the fries! Don’t even get us started on the fries. They are to die for!
Melt in your mouth: A bit more on the expensive side, Melt in your mouth is set in a beautiful location, just along the river. The decor inside is lovely, and outside, it’s just epic! The food varies from local to western, but it’s all delicious. We needed a break from Thai cuisine, so their pasta dishes were a welcomed treat! A bit of a trek from the city center, but well worth it!
The Night Market: From local meals and cheap eats, you will find it all at the night market. They also have a great variety of fresh fruits and veggies, so if you want to take some home with you, please do. Just make sure you bring a reusable bag with you. They sure love putting everything in plastic bags so if you can do your part to save the planet, please do!
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