Located in the far north of Thailand, Chiang Rai is more laidback than other more famous destinations in the country and is well worth visiting for its amazing historical attractions, delicious local cuisine, and beautiful scenery. Once a hub for the opium trade, the city is not far from the Golden Triangle; wonderful countryside borders Chiang Rai, with beautiful mountains and waterfalls nearby.
Stunning temples abound in its streets and exploring the city is a lovely experience – there is so much to do in Chiang Rai. In recent years, the city has become an increasingly popular tourist destination, and with good reason, so head there now and see what all the fuss is about!
In this post, we'll cover:
12. Khun Korn Waterfall
Hidden away amongst the mountains and hills of Northern Thailand are several beautiful waterfalls, with those of Khun Korn being easily the most spectacular and indeed popular of them all.
Located within Nam Tok Khun Korn National Forest Park, the falls plunge down dramatically from up high and are the tallest in the region. Delightful to behold, the falls are wonderful to visit and the trek through the lush forest to reach them is an experience in itself.
11. Wat Huai Pla Kung
Lying about half an hour from the center of the city, Wat Huai Pla Kung is well worth visiting for the humongous white Buddha that sits benevolently atop of the hill, smiling down upon the world.
There is a nine-tiered Chinese pagoda on site in addition to the beautiful statue. The temple is wonderfully serene to visit, although it may be less stunning visually than other temples around town. Together, however, they definitely make Wat Huat Pla Kung a place that you don’t want to miss out on.
10. Hill Tribe Museum
The north of Thailand and the area surrounding Chiang Rai, in particular, is home to numerous hill tribes, each with their own unique history, culture, and traditions. This wonderful museum highlights six of the tribes’ clothing, folklore and harvest equipment, among other things, and also offers a look at any ongoing community projects.
A living institution in many respects, the Hill Tribe Museum will definitely give you a better understanding of the rich and diverse cultural heritage that abounds in Thailand.
9. Sop Ruak
Sop Ruak is the point at which the borders of Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos meet. As such, it is at the center of the Golden Triangle, which is so named because it lies at the heart at what was once a huge opium-growing area. While the fields surrounding the area are now filled with coffee, rice, and other crops, Sop Ruak has a couple of interesting museums concerning the opium trade for you to check out.
As the Ruak and Mekong Rivers converge in the town, you can also take a delightful cruise upon their waters or simply take a picture with one of the ‘Golden Triangle’ signs, which are everywhere you look. While the town does lie around 70 kilometers from Chiang Rai, the history and scenery on hand makes for a great day.
8. Clock Tower
Located in the heart of the city, this golden Clock Tower is simply spectacular and is probably the most majestic roundabout you’ll see in Thailand. While traffic does shoot around it at all hours of the day, the clock is a splendid work of art and is rightfully one of the main tourist attractions in Chiang Rai.
Designed by the same artist who created the incredible White Temple, the Clock Tower is even more incredible in the evening, when a light and sound show makes it stand out even more against the night sky.
7. Blue Temple
Mesmerizing to behold, the vivid blue of Wat Rong Sear Tean is alluring in its richness, and the bright yellow touches on the roof and eaves only make it stand out even more. A wonderful piece of architecture, the temple is exquisitely designed and full of Buddhist imagery, with the gigantic white Buddha being particularly magnificent.
Lovely murals coat the walls inside, while motifs delightfully wind their way around blue pillars. If you’re looking for a spot for some quiet and peaceful reflection, then the Blue Temple is the place for you.
6. Baan Dam Museum
With over 40 interesting and impressive structures, the Baan Dam Museum is often mistaken for a temple and is definitely worth visiting if you’re in Chiang Rai. Designed by Thai artist Thawan Duchanee, the displays are an intriguing mix of traditional and contemporary styles, with many of them being provocative yet thought-provoking.
Bizarre to gaze upon, the interiors are full of animal skins, bones, and skulls. Duchanee’s work is often considered to be controversial by conservative Thais, and death features prominently throughout the museum.
While thrones made of antlers and full skeletons of elephants can be found here and there, the architecture is actually quite elegant; exploring the complex is surprisingly peaceful despite the vivid images and motifs. While it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, the Baan Dam Museum is a unique place that is worth checking out if you’re not too squeamish.
5. Doi Mae Salong
Lying just six kilometers from the border with Myanmar, this lofty peak towers above the countryside surrounding it and the views from the top are stupendous. The nature on offer is fantastic and the best time to visit is between December and February when the hills are alive with blossoms.
The surrounding hills are full of coffee plantations and scenic little villages are tucked away here and there. Driving up to Doe Mae Salong is an experience in itself, as picturesque countryside passes you by on either side. Once you arrive, there are lots of lovely little hikes for you to explore.
4. Singha Park
A great day out for all the family, Singha Park is a huge place that is full of nature and lovely to wander around. Set in the countryside surrounding Chiang Rai, the park has lots of lakes and meadows for you to explore; there is even a working farm which has a petting zoo where you can feed zebras and giraffes.
Beautifully landscaped, it is a picturesque place with loads of bike paths and trails which nature lovers will absolutely adore. In addition to the beautiful natural bounties, there is a zip line and wall climbing if you are into more adrenaline-filled activities. At the entrance to the park stands a huge Singha statue providing visitors with the obligatory selfie opportunity.
3. Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
Chiang Rai’s Night Bazaar is a lively and intoxicating place that is located in the heart of the city. Here you will find row upon row of colorful stalls and loads of delicious local cuisine to try.
It is a great place to pick up cheap and authentic souvenirs and there is also entertainment on offer at both of the dining areas. Here, singers and dancers pack the stage and put on a show while you eat. Always great fun, you will inevitably end up at the Night Bazaar at least a couple of times during your stay in Chiang Rai.
2. Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
Wat Phra Kaeo is famous throughout the country as the temple in which the legendary Emerald Buddha statue was discovered when lightning destroyed its chedi in 1434. While the original Buddha is now located in Bangkok, there is a lovely replica here and some fantastic murals that coat the inside of the temple.
One of the most amazing religious artifacts on show is the ancient Phra Jao Lan Thong image of the Buddha – one of the most beautiful and renowned in the whole of Thailand. On-site, there is also a great museum that showcases some of the lovely religious artworks from Chiang Rai and the surrounding area.
A beautiful building drenched in history, Wat Phra Kaeo is one of the most important temples in the region and is definitely worth stopping by.
1. White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
Absolutely stunning, the White Temple – as it is known in English – is the undoubted highlight of what Chiang Rai has to offer, and is the main reason many people visit the city. While many temples in the country are brightly-colored affairs, this incredible edifice is dazzlingly white – if you hadn’t gathered from its name.
Designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, it is intricately carved and the ornamentation of absolutely everything is simply breathtaking for the level of detail.
A very unique place, Wat Rong Khun showcases numerous symbols and motifs relating to Buddhism. The entrance in front of the ubosot, for example, is beset by outreaching, desperate hands, which symbolize mankind’s unrelenting greed, and the bridge over the pond proclaims that one must refrain from being greedy and shake off temptations and desire if we are to attain happiness.
Opened in 1997, contemporary elements intertwine delightfully with the classic Thai architecture of the building, making the White Temple a place that you just can’t miss out on seeing.
Best Time to Visit Chiang Rai
Very hot all year round, Chiang Rai is the most popular and comfortable to visit from November to February. This is when temperatures are slightly cooler, the humidity is lower and some of the city’s biggest festivals are taking place.
In these months, temperatures drop to between 26 and 31°C (79 to 88°F) while the nights are cool and fresh. The dry, warm weather is perfect for hiking about the scenic landscapes, visiting remote hill tribes and cruising about the Golden Triangle. As a result, the prices and crowds are also at their highest.
In November and January, you can also see cultural performances during the King Meng Rai and Loi Krathong festivals. December is the most popular month though due to the national holidays going on.
Although they are by far the hottest, most humid months of the year, some still visit in April and May for the Songkran celebrations and Lychee Fair. As the oppressive heat makes it very hard to enjoy outdoor activities, most people stay away or cool off by its waterfalls.
After this, the monsoon season sees torrential downpours strike Chang Rai until October. Many Europeans still spend their summer holidays here though, exploring temples and museums when it’s raining too much.