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Chiang Rai Rundown

What a difference one letter makes. While indeed folly to allege that Chiang Rai has the inherent cachet of Chiang Mai, this is no rebuff of the former. Advocates of small-batch tourism rather enjoy the mini-platform to the Golden Triangle, which nestles on the doorstep of both Laos and Burma. As a result, it helps to think of Chiang Rai in different terms, either as a chill-out day trip from Chiang Mai or as a gateway to a more intrepid style of holiday in the extreme northern recess of Thailand.

The Gate of Siam is a good place to start in Chiang Rai. On one side, Laos. On the other, the formidable Mekong River. Like so many other bellwether attractions in this vital intersection of Southeast Asia, the stellar photo op is a magnificent vantage point from which to survey the incomparable tri-border area from a distance. Back in Chiang Rai proper, make time for telltale landmarks like Doi Tung Royal Villa, Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong, Wat Rong Khun, Wat Klang Wiang, Wat Jet Yot, Wat Phra Sing and Wat Rong Khun. While elegant Buddhist temples dominate the tourist agenda, the city (and province) has another side that plays out vibrantly in night markets, hawker back streets, museums and hill tribe villages.

Chiang Rai's Top 10

10. Oub Kham Museum is a first-rate depot for royal court bric-a-brac.

5. Wat Rong Khun, or White Temple, is a modern, avant-garde take on Buddhist architecture.

9. Wat Jet Yot unfurls remarkable details under seven conspicuous spires!

4. Wat Klang Wiang dates back to the 16th century and underwent a thorough restoration in the 1990s.

8. Wat Phra Kaeo was the 14th century home of the famous Emerald Buddha.

3. Hilltribe Museum provides a refreshing, unadulterated perspective of what life is like for the indigenous peoples of northern Thailand.

7. Wat Phra Sing is a brilliant showcase for age-old, local craftsmanship.

2. Royal Villa and Mae Fah Luang Gardens grace the summit and slope of Doi Tung, a small mountain close to the border of Burma.

6. Black House is the clandestine atelier of the avant-garde painter Thawan Duchanee.

1. Gate of Siam is a grand perch with phenomenal views of Chiang Rai and Laos.

Chiang Rai History

  • Mae Salong - This quiet village atop a hill offers a glimpse into the past.
  • Chiang Saen - A small town located on the Mekong, it is actually much older than Chiang Rai.
  • Doi Tung Royal Villa - This former royal residence is now open to the public.
  • Lahu Village - This ancient village near Chiang Rai operates much as it did in ancient times.
  • Mae Fah Luang Flower Garden - A garden created by the royal family to illustrate new ways of income that did not involve opium.

Chiang Rai Art & Culture

  • Hilltribe Museum and Education Centre - This museum shows the history of the indigenous people of the area.
  • Cultural Hall Museum - This small Chiang Rai museum is a great place to learn about the history of the region.
  • Goh Loi Library - This popular library houses works of Thai literature and history.
  • House of Opium - A unique museum that shows the turbulent history of the drug trade.
  • Haw Shan Art Gallery - For great examples of indigenous art, this gallery is a great place to start.

Chiang Rai Shopping

  • Chiang Rai Night Bazaar - Held nightly, this market is the best place to buy handcrafted items made in Chiang Rai.
  • Kaat Jiang Hai Ramleuk - This Saturday evening street market focuses on everything and anything you can imagine.
  • MZ Collection - This small shop focuses on handmade jewellery using precious stones from around the area.
  • Orn’s Bookshop - If you are looking for reading material, this is the best place to find it.
  • Gare Garon - Mostly dealing with new books, this shop also features handcrafted items from around the area.

Gay & Lesbian Chiang Rai

  • Regency Bar - This small gay bar is a favourite place for a smart cocktail and relaxed atmosphere.
  • Banrao Massage - This gay-owned massage parlour offers a brilliant way to relax after a day of sightseeing.
  • JJ Sauna - A new arrival on the gay sauna scene, this popular spot also features a bar.
  • The North - This gay-friendly hotel in Chiang Rai has a friendly, small staff.
  • The Living Room - This trendy nightspot is open to everyone but is especially popular among gays.

Chiang Rai Outdoor

  • Clock Tower - Stop by this clock tower each night for a beautiful outdoor display of light and colour that should not be missed.
  • Phu Chi Fa Forest Park - Locals and tourists alike flock here for some of the most beautiful natural settings.
  • Tham Khao Luang Cave - This nearby cave offers a chance for underground adventure.
  • Sop Ruak - Many people come to this centre of the Golden Triangle to ride bicycles.
  • Chiang Dao Elephant Trek - Just outside of Chiang Rai, this popular activity brings one closer to the sacred animal of Thailand.

Chiang Rai Sports

  • Catch a wave with Planete Wakeboard.
  • Climb a cliff in Chiang Rai at Boomerang Rock Climbing and Adventure Park.
  • Ride the rapids with Ping River Rafting Tour.
  • Sail around the beautiful waters of Chiang Saen Lake.
  • Hike the shores of the beautiful Mae Kok River.

Chiang Rai Events

Wai Sa Phaya Mengrai or Phokhun Mengrai Maharat Festival takes place at the end of Janaury.

Dok Siao Ban or Blooming Siao Flower Festival is held in mid-February in Thoeng District and eatures sports competitions and cultural performances from hilltribes.

Songkran, the most popular of all festivals in Thailand, occurs in mid-April.

Lichi Fair features parades, beauty contests and other events at Chiang Rai provincial stadium in May.

Chiang Rai Flower Festival is a celebration with flower processions, gardens and an agricultural fair in late December and early January.

When To Go

Chiang Rai has a tropical monsoon climate with heavy rainfall from May to October and average summer temperatures in the 72°F (22°C) to 91°F (33°C) range.

The most comfortable time to visit the province is from December to February, when temperatures waver between 54°F (12°C) and 88°F (31°C) and precipitation is minimal.

Getting Around

Chiang Mai is the most popular gateway to Chiang Rai. A one-way bus ride takes about three hours. For a more scenic and casual pace, many prefer to charter a long boat upriver.

The city operates a small airport with daily service to and from Bangkok. Route 1 runs through Chiang Rai from the capital and on a good day, the drive takes somewhere in the vicinity of fourteen hours.

Public transport in Chiang Rai is a typical combo of tuk-tuks and baht bus share taxis. The number of meter taxis in the city has gone up over the last decade but is far off the pace of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Rai Information

Though not quite the draw as Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is a wonderful destination in Thailand. Home to many fine points of interest, the small city also serves as a perfect base to discover the exotic Golden Triangle region. With Laos and Burma on the doorstep, Chiang Rai offers the promise of extraordinary exploration.

The Gate of Siam is where many begin in Chiang Rai. From a mountain summit that rises above the Mekong River on the border of Laos, one has access to a phenomal panorama. Doi Tung Royal Villa is the residence of the mother of the King of Thailand and features ornate architectural details from an idyllic hillside perch. No visit to Chiang Rai however, would be complete without a tour of the five Buddhist temples in and around the city of 62,000 people. Set within exquisite countryside, from Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong to Wat Rong Khun, they provide a sense of spiritual escape.


  • Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong
  • Wat Rong Khun
  • Doi Tung Royal Villa
  • Doi Tung Zoo
  • Gate of Siam
  • Activities

  • King Meng Rai Festival
  • Lichi Fair
  • Songkran Festival
  • Loi Krathong Festival
  • Phu Chi Fa
  • Restaurant & Nightlife

  • Night Markets/Food Stalls
  • Baan Nattawadee
  • Rattanakosin
  • Po Sai
  • Sala Mae Naam

  • Nightlife
  • Rasta Bar
  • Turntable Jazz Bar
  • Easy Bar
  • Reggae Bar
  • Cat Bar

  • Climate

    Chiang Rai has a tropical monsoon climate, with heavy rainfall and average temperatures between 22°C and 34°C from May to October. The most comfortable time to visit is from December to February, when temperatures waver between 14°C and 30°C.

    Hotels in Chiang Rai