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Chiang Rai is located in the northernmost province of Thailand but is often overlooked by travelers in favor of its more popular neighbor Chiang Mai.
However, this beautiful city boasts a unique charm and breathtaking landscapes, not to mention some of the most famous temples in the country. Needless to say, there are many things to do in Chiang Rai and make it a popular place to visit.
Whether you want to explore ancient temples or bustling night markets, or visit hill tribe villages and stunning national parks, there’s no shortage of attractions in Chiang Rai.
In this guide, we’ll highlight what to do in Chiang Rai and share some of our favorite experiences that this hidden gem has to offer, so you can make the most of your visit to this fascinating part of Thailand.
- Is Chiang Rai Worth Visiting?
- Things to Do in Chiang Rai
- 1. Take an Evening Purple Tricycle to Wat Phra Kaew
- 2. Visit the White Temple
- 3. Check out the Blue Temple
- 4. Visit the Black House Museum
- 5. Eat Street Food at Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
- 6. Visit Wat Tham Pla (Monkey Temple & Fish Cave)
- 7. Take the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang, Laos
- 8. Take a day trip to Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park
- 9. Visit Khun Korn's Waterfall
- 10. Dip in a nearby natural hot spring
- 11. Visit the Choui Fong Tea Plantation
- 12. Check out the Golden Triangle Park
- 13. Visit Chiang Rai Walking Street on Weekends
- 14. Watch the Sunset from the Big Buddha
- 15. Visit the Doi Tung Project & Royal Villa
- Best Time to Visit Chiang Rai
- Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Chiang Rai
Is Chiang Rai Worth Visiting?
Chiang Rai is definitely worth visiting. It may not be as famous as some of Thailand’s other cities, but it has a lot to offer in terms of culture, history, and natural beauty.
Whether you’re interested in exploring ancient temples and museums, learning about hill tribe cultures, or going on nature hikes and adventures, there’s something for everyone in Chiang Rai.
Plus, the city’s laid-back vibe and friendly locals make it a pleasant and welcoming destination.
So if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination in Thailand that offers a unique and unforgettable experience, Chiang Rai is definitely worth putting on your Thailand itinerary.
Things to Do in Chiang Rai
Now you know why you should add Chiang Rai to your bucket list, it’s time to share with you some of the top attractions in the city!
1. Take an Evening Purple Tricycle to Wat Phra Kaew
If you’re looking for things to do in Chiang Rai at night, or in early evening, then you will want to look out for the purple tricycle tours.
The breeze gently blew my hair back as I soaked in the balmy evening and the city of Chiang Rai slowly drift by from the comfort of my tricycle seat.
My elderly, yet fit driver, weaved in and out of traffic, pointing out the elaborate golden clock tower and street lamps running down the centre of the main road.
We heard the singing of the King’s Song as we came out of the main business district and turned the corner, riding past the busy street market.
Except it wasn’t hustling and bustling, only stillness and reverence. Every single person in the market place had stopped and were staring out into the air.
I was startled for a minute thinking I had entered the twilight zone, but then I heard the song more clearly and remembered.
How could I forget? A reminder of just how long it had been between visits with my soul country.
We were taking a purple tricycle tour though the streets of Chiang Rai out to Wat Phra Kaew, a temple famous for its chanting monks.
The temple was the original home of the Emerald Buddha, which now lives in the temple of the same name in Bangkok; the most important temple in Thailand sitting within the Grand Palace walls.
According to legend, the chedi (stupa) was once struck by lightning and the building collapsed. Fortunately, it was rebuilt.
We arrived just in time as young orange-robed novices walked in, their cleanly shaved heads slightly bowed and ready to pay their respects to Buddha.
The chanting started and more and more monks filed in until the small prayer hall was full. We sat on the floor at the back, our feet pointing behind us. The chanting floated up and filled the space stretched out to the high ceilings above.
My thoughts floated up with them. Listening to Buddhist monks chant is like sitting watching a fire on the beach. It mesmerises and fascinates and makes you just stare in space and think nothing.
We were soon snapped out of our trance with our guides gentle tap on his watch signalling that we quietly sneak out the back and make our way home for dinner.
We made our way back to our hotel through tree-lined streets, small residential back roads, and busy main streets, which seemed almost rural after driving on the streets of Bangkok.
I certainly wouldn’t be navigating the streets of Bangkok in a purple tricycle.
But here in Chiang Rai, where the pace is much slower and freer it seemed as if there was no better way to do it.
2. Visit the White Temple
The White Temple, also known as Wat Rong Khun, is widely considered the most beautiful temple in Thailand and a must-visit attraction in Chiang Rai.
Unlike traditional temples, the White Temple was designed by a contemporary artist and features an all-white exterior adorned with intricate carvings and mirrored glass that reflects the sunlight.
The temple’s interior is just as impressive, with ornate murals depicting traditional Buddhist teachings alongside modern pop culture references (there’s a Star Wars mural in the main part of the temple, randomly).
Visiting the White Temple is not only a cool place to get stunning photos, but it’s a truly immersive cultural experience that offers a glimpse into the fusion of old and new in Thailand.
Plus, the temple’s beautiful grounds and serene atmosphere make it a perfect spot for reflection and relaxation.
3. Check out the Blue Temple
The Blue Temple, also known as Wat Rong Suea Ten, is another top attraction in Chiang Rai.
This stunning temple features a rich blue color scheme and intricate gold detailing, making it a unique and visually striking attraction.
Inside the temple, you will find a beautiful Buddha statue and ornate murals that tell the story of the Buddha’s life.
Unlike the more well-known White Temple, the Blue Temple is still relatively undiscovered by tourists, making it a peaceful and tranquil spot to explore without the crowds.
Whether you’re a fan of architecture, art, or religion, the Blue Temple is definitely worth a visit for its beauty, cultural significance, and serene atmosphere.
4. Visit the Black House Museum
The Black House Museum, also known as Baan Dam Museum, is a unique and fascinating place in Chiang Rai that’s definitely worth a visit.
Unlike the traditional temples and museums in the city, the Black House Museum is actually a collection of over a dozen individual buildings that showcase a dark and often macabre style of art and design, mostly by artist Thawan Duchanee.
The black color scheme and use of animal bones and skins throughout the museum give it an eerie and otherworldly atmosphere that’s unlike anything else in Thailand.
You can also find a wide range of art and artifacts from various cultures and time periods, including ancient Thai ceramics, modern sculptures, and contemporary paintings.
There are also temporary exhibits showcasing displays of modern art that is both innovative and exciting.
Fair warning, there are a lot of wooden pieces throughout the museum that showcase a rather “phallic” display…
5. Eat Street Food at Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
One of the best things to do in Chiang Rai is to visit the night bazaar, an open-air market that takes place every evening in the heart of the city.
The night bazaar is a vibrant and bustling hub of activity, with stalls selling everything from clothing and souvenirs to handmade crafts and jewelry.
But perhaps the main attraction at the night bazaar is the street food. There are countless food vendors selling a wide range of delicious and authentic Thai dishes from their food stalls, including pad thai, green curry, sticky rice, and grilled meats and seafood.
Many of these vendors have been serving their specialties for generations, so you can be sure you’re getting an authentic taste of Thai cuisine.
6. Visit Wat Tham Pla (Monkey Temple & Fish Cave)
Wat Tham Pla, also known as the Fish Cave Temple, is a unique and fascinating attraction in Chiang Rai that’s definitely worth a visit.
Located amidst lush forests and mountains, this temple complex offers visitors the chance to explore a beautiful cave system filled with crystal-clear water and hundreds of fish.
Visitors can feed the fish and venture into the depths of the cave on a bamboo raft.
But the real stars of the show at Wat Tham Pla are the monkeys. The temple is home to a large troop of friendly macaques who are used to interacting with humans and often come down from the trees to greet visitors.
Just be sure to lock up your valuables and don’t have any food or drinks on you, as they are known to take them!
7. Take the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang, Laos
The Chiang Rai province sits on the border between Northern Thailand and Laos, and one of the most unique ways to enter the quaint city of Luang Prabang in Laos is to take the slow boat along the Mekong River.
The slow boat takes 2 days (hence the name slow boat) and travels along the quiet Mekong, stopping off at a small local village where you spent the night.
The boat itself is a wooden long boat with basic amenities (a toilet and only a few snacks on sale). You should pack plenty of snacks, food and water as there isn’t much on the boat.
It’s a great way to see the scenery and kick back and enjoy quiet time on the boat.
8. Take a day trip to Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park
Another great day trip from Chiang Rai is to Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park, to experience the cultural heritage and natural beauty of northern Thailand.
This stunning park features lush gardens, serene lakes, and a wide range of art and cultural exhibits that showcase the history and traditions of the region.
One of the main attractions at Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park is the Haw Kham, a beautiful teakwood temple that was once used as a royal residence.
Visitors can explore the temple’s intricate carvings, paintings, and artifacts, which provide a fascinating glimpse into the history and culture of northern Thailand.
The park also features several art galleries and museums, including the Hall of Opium, which explores the history and impact of the drug trade in Southeast Asia.
There is also a traditional Thai village on-site, where you can learn about local customs and traditions of the surrounding hill tribes from knowledgeable guides.
9. Visit Khun Korn’s Waterfall
Khun Korn’s Waterfall is a beautiful and peaceful attraction in Chiang Rai that’s definitely worth a visit for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
Located in the heart of the Doi Luang National Park, this stunning waterfall features multiple tiers and cascades that flow down the mountainside, creating a cool and refreshing mist in the air.
You can hike through the lush forest to reach the waterfall, passing by scenic viewpoints and natural pools along the way.
Once at the falls, you can swim in the crystal-clear water or relax on the rocks, surrounded by the peaceful sounds of nature.
One of the main draws of Khun Korn’s Waterfall is its secluded location and the sense of tranquility it offers.
Because it’s situated deep in the national park, away from the tourist crowds, visitors can experience a true sense of peace and serenity in this breathtaking natural setting.
10. Dip in a nearby natural hot spring
Chiang Rai is home to several natural hot springs, which are a popular attraction among tourists and locals alike.
The hot springs allows you the chance to relax in natural mineral-rich water that’s heated by geothermal activity deep beneath the earth’s surface.
Not only do the hot springs provide a soothing and rejuvenating experience for the body, but they’re also believed to have several health benefits, such as improving circulation and easing muscle tension.
Some of the most popular hot springs in Chiang Rai include Pong Phra Bat Hot Springs, Mae Kachan Hot Springs, and Pha Soet Hot Springs, each with their own unique set of features and attractions.
11. Visit the Choui Fong Tea Plantation
Choui Fong Tea Plantation is a scenic and picturesque place in Chiang Rai. This beautiful tea plantation is one of the largest in Thailand, covering over 1,000 acres of rolling hills and scenic mountain vistas.
You can take a tour of the plantation and learn about the history and process of tea production, from the picking and processing of the leaves to the packaging and distribution of the final product.
You can also taste a variety of teas and purchase your favorite blends to take home with you.
But the main draw of Choui Fong Tea Plantation is its stunning natural beauty. The plantation’s lush greenery and stunning views make it a perfect spot for a peaceful and relaxing spot to sit back and enjoy the views from.
12. Check out the Golden Triangle Park
The Golden Triangle Park is located at the convergence of three countries: Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, and is named after the infamous Golden Triangle drug trade that once took place here.
The park has a museum that showcases the history of the Golden Triangle and the opium trade, as well as a giant golden Buddha statue that overlooks the Mekong River and provides stunning views of the surrounding mountains and countryside.
One of the most popular activities at the park is taking a boat ride on the Mekong River, where you can see the borders of all three countries and take in the natural beauty of the area.
You can also visit nearby hill tribe villages to learn about the local cultures and traditions of the people living in the region.
In addition to its cultural and historical significance, the Golden Triangle Park is also known for its stunning natural beauty.
The park is surrounded by lush greenery and scenic mountains, making it a great destination for a peaceful and relaxing day trip.
13. Visit Chiang Rai Walking Street on Weekends
If you’re looking for things to do in Chiang Rai on the weekend, then head to the Walking Street to experience the vibrant and lively atmosphere of one of the city’s most popular attractions.
This open-air market takes place every Saturday and Sunday evening and features hundreds of vendors selling everything from clothing and souvenirs to handmade crafts and delicious street food.
The Walking Street offers a wide range of shopping opportunities. You can browse stalls selling handmade jewelry, clothing, and other unique souvenirs that you won’t find anywhere else.
But perhaps the best part about the Chiang Rai Walking Street is its festive and lively atmosphere.
Visitors can mingle with locals and tourists alike while enjoying live music, street performers, and other entertainment. This creates a sense of community and connection that’s hard to find in other tourist destinations.
14. Watch the Sunset from the Big Buddha
The Wat Huay Pla Kang temple complex in Chiang Rai is home to a huge Big Buddha statue that overlooks the mountains. It’s an ideal spot for sunset to experience the beauty and serenity of the area.
This stunning temple complex not only features a towering white statue of the Bodhisattva Guan Yin Buddha, which at 70 meters tall, is visible from miles around, but is also home to a museum that showcases Buddhist art and history.
The temple’s location on top of a hill also offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and mountains, making it a great spot for photography and taking in the stunning natural scenery.
15. Visit the Doi Tung Project & Royal Villa
While in Chiang Rai, it’s worth visiting the Royal Villa to learn about the Doi Tung Project and see a beautiful example of how government and private sector can work together to raise people up by their own hands.
This area was once ravaged by the opium industry – not just the land that employed slash and burn techniques for growing the opium but entire communities affected by the trade and the drug.
In 1987 the Doi Tung Development Project was established according to the King’s Mother – the Princess Mother’s -initiative.
She saw the root of the problem, poverty and lack of opportunity, and decided to improve the conditions of Doi Tung, socially, economically, and environmentally. Opium cultivation has been virtually eliminated following a Royal Crop Substitution Project.
I thoroughly enjoyed a visit here and would recommend it as one of the best things to do in Chaing Rai for an insight into the challenges many of the hill tribes in this area faced and how they overcame them.
The path to a solution starts with a small step, and that small step can be effective enough to “Pull people out of hell, restore land, community and balance to the earth.”
You can read more in this post on Doi Tung and the Royal Villa here.
This Doi Tung tour will take you to and from your Chiang Rai hotel to the Royal Villa and includes a guided tour while there.
Best Time to Visit Chiang Rai
The best time to visit Chiang Rai is during the cool and dry season, which typically runs from November to February.
During this time, temperatures are pleasant and comfortable, with cool breezes in the evenings making it a great time to explore the city’s outdoor attractions like national parks and temples.
From March to May, temperatures in Chiang Rai can soar, with hot and humid weather making outdoor activities less enjoyable.
It is also the time when farmers burn their fields, which can cause harmful pollution.
The rainy season in Chiang Rai runs from June to October, with frequent downpours and occasional flooding.
While this season can be less ideal for outdoor activities, it can also be a great time to experience the lush greenery and waterfalls that the region is known for.
Ultimately, the best time to visit Chiang Rai depends on your interests and priorities.
However, if you’re looking for comfortable weather and optimal conditions for outdoor exploration, the cool and dry season from November to February is the best time to plan your trip.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is a destination that should be on every traveler’s bucket list. With its rich cultural heritage, and unique attractions, Chiang Rai has so much to see and do, it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience for anyone who visits.
We hope this guide helped you plan your trip to Chiang Rai and gave you some inspiration for what to do there.
Have you visited Chiang Rai? What do you recommend to do in Chiang Rai? Let us know in the comments!