Updated as of July 2019
Summary: This blog shares a budget travel guide for Chiang Rai, Thailand with a DIY itinerary that is good for 3 to 5 days; estimated budget is 4,788+THB per person which covers expenses for tour and entrance, food and transportation only. All needed details for each Chiang Rai top attraction are laid out in the post including operating hours, entrance fee, location and information on how to get there. Further, the Chiang Rai blog is intended for first-time backpackers and budget travelers, either solo, family or traveling in group.
CHIANG RAI AT A GLANCE
If Chiang Mai echoes the greatness of old Thailand, CHIANG RAI trumpets the prominence of the new. Such is how stark a contrast these adjacent provinces located north of the country.
While it’s worth noting that Chiang Rai shares the very characteristic of Chiang Mai as being a good jump-off point to visit the breathtaking highlands and the mountain hill tribes of the north, it rather differs on its contemporary artworks and unimaginable temple designs that lineup at its tourism forefront – from the Black House, and Blue Temple to the most sought-after White Temple.
Most of the time, tourists and backpackers take Chiang Rai only as a side trip after spending days in Chiang Mai – a mistake repeated by many, for Chiang Rai is a destination more than worthy of a week-long travel. It’s a quirky, artistic travel destination thumping on a laid-back atmosphere of good food choices and right synergy of people.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT CHIANG RAI
Here are few things you need to know about Chiang Rai:
- Chiang Rai is considerably the northernmost large city of Thailand with a distance of 534 miles from Bangkok and 124 miles from Chiang Mai; it neighbors Burma on its east and Laos on its southwest.
- Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 as part of the Lao–Thai Lanna kingdom and had since prevailed as the capital of the north for 30 years until its court was moved to Chiang Mai.
- Chiang Rai has the most number of national born artists in all of Thailand. Presumably, going to the province is a treat to a quirky and hip art scene.
- Chiang Rai has malls common to large cities however, most of its area remains provincial and untouched.
- Chiang Rai is an all-year-round destination but the best time to visit is during its cool months from October to February when the weather is most pleasant.
CHIANG RAI FAQs
How many days to spend in Chiang Rai? – To explore the best offerings in Chiang Rai, you need at least a full 3-day itinerary. Two days to spend on its art and local scene – from the Clocktower and the temples to its night bazaar and food attractions. The remaining day can be allotted on trekking the highlands of Phu Chi Fa or visiting the mountain hill tribes.
How is the mobile data and signal strength? – Network and internet connectivity from all local carriers in Thailand are not a problem while at the town proper in Chiang Rai. Going outside, AIS proves to have the best signal strength.
Is it safe to travel? – Chiang Rai is relatively a safe city and an easy place to travel, even to a female traveler. However, it is still recommended to know the areas you are heading and the company you will be with for security purposes.
What is the power socket used in Chiang Rai? – All of Thailand uses types A and C socket which have two holes that can support flat and round prongs.
How to get Around Chiang Rai? – The city of Chiang Rai can be explored through traditional mode of transport in Thailand such as rickshaw, tuk-tuk, taxis and songthaew. For most of its tourist attractions that are at its countryside, you would need to get on local buses or rent a motorbike for around 200 to 300THB (which would require your passport).
USEFUL PHRASES WHILE IN CHIANG RAI
Unlike Chiang Mai, only few of the locals in Chiang Rai understand English especially at its countryside. To help you communicate, here are basic Thai phrases that might prove useful while interacting with them.
Hello – Sawatdii
How are you? – Sabaaidii mai?
Thank you – Khop kun
Can you speak English? – Kun pood paasaa anggrit dai mai?
How much? – Taorai?
Where is – Yoo tee-nai
Do you have wifi? – Mee wifi mai?
I’m vegan – Gin jay
To sound more polite, males should add ‘khap’ at the end of a sentence and females ‘kha’. Example: when you are a male saying “Hello.” – “Sawatdii khap.”
HOW TO GET TO CHIANG RAI
Options to get to Chiang Rai are by plane and land:
Getting to Chiang Rai By Plane: There is no direct flight outside Thailand that service to Chiang Rai. To get to the city, you can take a plane from your destination to Bangkok or Chiang Mai. From both destinations, you may take a bus or another plane via Thai Airways or Thai AirAsia in Bangkok and Thai Airways and Nok Air in Chiang Mai.
Getting to Chiang Rai By Land: There are buses or trains that service to Chiang Rai from Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand and Luang Prabang in Laos.
If you are required of a VISA, gather details or get assisted with your VISA application online using the search box.
Check bus, train or plain availability using the search box.
TOP ATTRACTIONS IN CHIANG RAI
Here are some of the major sights and top tourist spots that you can visit in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
BAAN DAM MUSEUM (BLACK HOUSE)
The Black House or locally known as Baan Dam Museum is a large property that consolidates a studio, a house, and a museum with outlandish exhibits that speak of death, which provocatively makes up the universal theme of its art pieces.
The museum is owned and designed by Thai artist Thawan Duchanee whose work intrigues the traditional art lovers for his bizarre collection of animal skins, bones, skulls and teeth that often constitutes its masterpiece.
Baan Dam Museum is located at Tambon Nang Lae, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Rai, outside the city proper. To get there, you can hire a round-trip tuktuk which costs for about 300THB (including waiting time). If you are on a budget, a cheaper option is to go to the old Chiang Rai bus terminal at Platform 5 near the night bazaar (look for the Black House sign) to catch for the Green bus going to Mae Sai. Bus fare is 20THB, travel time is close to 30 minutes. At your drop off, the entrance is about 700 meters away. Walk to where the signs lead.
To get back from the Black House to the city proper, you can either take a Grab car or go back to the drop off area to catch a bus. There is a good chance of long waiting time so make sure you are properly covered from the searing heat of the sun.
The Black House is open daily from 9:00AM to 5:00PM (close during lunch time from 12:00PM to 1:00PM). Entrance fee is 80THB.
CHIANG RAI CLOCKTOWER
The golden Clock Tower of Chiang Rai is arguably the most splendid roundabout in all of Thailand. Located in the heart of the city, the Clock Tower is an attraction that stuns new tourists with its well-ornated body and head that mimics certain patterns of the White Temple; that is so because both are designed by the same artist.
The Clock Tower showcases a light and musical performance every night at 7PM, 8PM and 9PM. It’s spectacularly beautiful as it turns into different flashing colors from green, red, violet, blue to pink.
The Clock Tower is specifically located at the junction of Thanon Jet Yot and Thanon Baanpa Pragarn; only a walk away from any place at the city proper.
HALL OF OPIUM
Chiang Rai has a long history on the opium trade and all of these are featured at the Hall of Opium located next to the Golden Triangle.
The Hall of Opium is only a small museum but entails a very rich detail on how the opium trade originated and eventually concluded. Inside the museum are series of exhibits that would help you understand the ill-effects that opium can bring.
From the Golden Triangle, the Hall of Opium is only about 20 minutes away on foot. Opening hours is from Tuesday to Sunday, 8:30AM to 4:00PM. Entrance fee for adults is 200THB, for other ages is 50THB.
FISH CAVE (WAT THAM PLA)
The Monkey temple or Fish cave as it is known to tourists is located 10 kilometers from Mai Sai and makes a good stop over going to the Golden Triangle. There is no public transport that takes directly to the temple, and tourists mostly include the tourist spot in their Golden Triangle tour.
Wat Tham Pla is unique among the temples in Chiang Rai as it features a cave temple with hundred steps and a handful of monkeys that freely run around at the entrance of the compound.
The Golden Triangle is the very junction where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet separated only by the Mekong river. The junction which was once the center of Opium trade among the three countries offers a spectacular vista of the nearby river and hills.
To get to the Golden Triangle by public transport, take a bus from Chiang Rai city proper to Mae Sai, then a blue songthaew that would take you to the triangle. Total travel time is roughly 2 hours.
PHU CHI FA
Sightseeing in Chiang Rai will never be the same once you get to Phu Chi Fa, a highland that extends its reach to a maximum of 1,628 meters to the sky. At its top are viewpoints which provide access to a scintillating landscape of the nearby terrain that is filled with sprawling meadows underneath a cold, oscillating sea of clouds.
Getting to the peak of Phu Chi Fa from the campground is easy as the path is well drawn-out and moderately steep. On a normal pace, it will take for about 10 minutes to get to its top. Most of the tourists get to the peak at dawn to catch the sunrise and at dusk for the sundown.
To get to Phu Chi Fa from Chiang Rai city proper on a DIY, you take a van at the bus terminal platform 3 which leaves at 1:00PM. Be there early as the line can become too crowded. Fare is 150THB, travel time is close to 3 hours. If you pay for a roundtrip fare for 300THB, the same van will take you back to the city around 9:00AM the following day. While waiting, you can stay overnight at the nearby village which has lodging and bungalow houses with a price range from 500 to 800THB. I suggest that you go to the village to look for an accommodation rather than booking it online as information are limited and the locals hardly understand English. Another option is to camp out at the base if you have a tent.
Singha Park which extends to an area of 8,000 acres features the best finds of a countryside surrounding – from lakes and meadows, farm and zoo, to the beautiful rows and columns of fruits, vegetables and tea plantation. It is a fascinating attraction away from the city proper most suited for a traveling family.
Apart from being a picturesque farm and park, Singha also caters to travelers who love the outdoor fun as it provides an area for zip line, wall climbing, cycling and adventure rope course.
Singha Park is located at Mae Kon, Mueang Chiang Rai District, 12 kilometers away from the city. Of late, there is no public transport that travels directly to Singha Park. To get there, guests would need to charter a songthaew, tuk-tuk or taxi which costs at around 300THB including waiting time.
Operating hours is from 9:00AM to 5:00PM. Singha Park is free of admission.
WAT RONG SEAR TEAN (BLUE TEMPLE)
Among the exquisite lineup of impressive temples in Chiang Rai is Wat Rong Sear Tean or the Blue Temple. A relatively new temple designed in full Buddhist imagery with intriguing murals, pillars and statues tinted in blue.
The Blue temple is located at Mae Kok road in Chiang Rai, 10 minutes away from the night bazaar area. To get there on a DIY, you can charter a tuktuk which would cost at around 50THB or go on a Grab car. The temple is free of admission. Operating hours is from 8:00AM to 8:00PM.
WAT HUAI PLA KUNG
The outskirts of Chiang Rai prove to be the most promising for tourists as it nestles Wat Huai Pla Kung, a vast temple complex which exhibits an enormous statue of Guan Yin at its left atop a hill, a stunning white temple at its center and a 9-tier Chinese pagoda on its right.
Tourists can get inside the Giant Buddha, all the way from its eyes using a lift that runs for about 25 floors. Literally, seeing through the eyes of the Buddha makes for a one-of-a-kind experience as it provides a picturesque view of Chiang Rai’s countryside.
Wat Huai Pla Kung is situated at Amphoe Mueang Chiang Rai. There is no public transport that services directly to the temple complex. To get there, you can charter a taxi which would cost around 150THB, or include it in your Chiang Rai temple tour.
Timings is from 8:00AM to 5:00PM. There is no entrance fee.
WAT RONG KHUN (WHITE TEMPLE)
Wat Rong Khun or the White temple is the very flagship of Chiang Rai as far as tourism goes. Designed by Thai national artist Chalermchai Kositpipat who also crafted the Clock Tower, the White Temple is a visual treat of a union of classic and contemporary artworks that reflect a journey from hell to heaven.
Wat Rong Khun was opened in 1997 and has been continually improved to cater to tourists’ delight. Among the major attractions in White Temple are the “Gate of Heaven”, “Cycle of Rebirth”, and a golden gallery serving some quirky paintings and Marvel figures.
The White temple can be reached by public transport. To get there, catch the blue minibus at Chiang Rai bus station which costs for about 30THB, travel time is around 20 minutes. You can also charter a tuktuk or taxi for round trip. Fare is 300THB and 500THB respectively, including waiting time.
Operating hours is from 8:00AM to 5:00PM. Entrance fee is 50THB.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN CHIANG RAI
Here are some of the awesome things and the best activities to do while in Chiang Rai.
Go on a full temple hopping day tour around the beautifully-embellished temples of Chiang Rai – from the Black House, Blue Temple, White Temple and Wat Huai Pla Kung. You can also include the Fish cave or Monkey temple and Wat Phra Kaew which would require for another day to cover.
A trip to the Golden Triangle, with a stopover at the Hall of Opium, is another top activity to do while in Chiang Rai. Take a peek at the nearby countries of Laos and Myanmar from the Golden Triangle’s viewpoint.
A trek to Phu Chi Fa or at the mountain hill tribes is another satisfying pursuit that you should not miss while in the province. Chiang Rai simply offers one of the best scenic landscapes in Thailand.
If you are on a budget, indulge on local food at the night bazaar, take a walk around the city proper or catch the Clock Tower light show every night from 7:00PM to 9:00PM.
If you are looking for a cool place to chill, you can stay at the Cat n A Cup Cat Cafe at the city proper or taste the best teas that Singha Park can offer, after enjoying its outdoor activities and nice-looking garden.
CHIANG RAI SAMPLE ITINERARY
Here is a sample Chiang Rai DIY itinerary good for 3 days which assumes a party of two and comes with an estimated budget of 4,788.00THB per person that includes expenses for food, transportation, tour and entrance fee. The allocated budget does not cover cost for airfare, accommodation, souvenir items and other incidentals.
DAY ONE (budget per person: 1,588THB)
|Hotel Pick Up||9:00AM||–|
|Full Day Tour (Klook)||–||1,108THB|
|Hotel Drop Off||5:00PM||–|
|Dinner at Night Bazaar||9:00PM||150THB|
|Back to Hotel||11:00PM||–|
Look for more Klook discounted tours for Chiang Rai and other major destinations in Thailand using the search box below. Type the destination and click “search”.
DAY TWO (budget per person: 1,650THB)
|To Phu Chi Fa||4:00AM||1,000THB|
|Arrive at Phu Chi Fa||6:00AM||–|
|Phu Chi Fa Trek (Sunrise)||6:30AM||–|
|Back to Guesthouse||11:00AM||–|
|Wat Huai Pla Kung||3:00PM||150THB|
|Back to Guesthouse||5:00PM||150THB|
|Dinner and Socials||6:00PM||150THB|
DAY THREE (budget per person: 1,550THB)
|Full Day Tour||8:00AM||1,000THB|
|To Monkey Temple||8:30AM||–|
|To Golden Triangle||10:00AM||–|
|Hall of Opium||2:00PM||200THB|
|Back to Guesthouse||4:00PM||–|
|Dinner at Cat N A Cup Cat Cafe||6:00PM||150THB|
Things to note for this Chiang Rai itinerary:
- The full day tour on the first day covers Blue temple, Black House, White temple and Singha Park based on the package offered by Klook. Check this link for booking and other details: Chiang Rai Full Day Private Tour with White Temple, Blue Temple, Black House, and Singha Park
- I stayed at Baan Bua Guesthouse which offers tours to Phu Chi Fa for half day and Golden Triangle with Hall of Opium and Monkey temple for full day. Tour price is 1,000THB for each.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHIANG RAI
Here are top-value accommodations in Chiang Rai that are within the city center:
More best-seller hostels at the city center suitable for budget travelers and backpackers:
- Mercy Hostel. Click here for rate and availability.
- House of Garden (suitable for traveling family). Click here for rate and availability.
- Soundsleep Hostel. Click here for rate and availability.
EXTEND YOUR TRIP
Check out other major destinations in Thailand:
- Baguio Budget Travel Guide
- Balabac Budget Travel Guide
- Baler Budget Travel Guide
- Batanes Budget Travel Guide
- Cordillera Budget Travel Guide
- El Nido Budget Travel Guide
- Laoag Budget Travel Guide
- Manila Budget Travel Guide
- Pagudpud Budget Travel Guide
- Palaui Island Budget Travel Guide
- Pangasinan Budget Travel Guide
- Puerto Princesa Budget Travel Guide
- San Vicente Budget Travel Guide
- Sagada Budget Travel Guide
- Vigan Budget Travel Guide
- Zambales Budget Travel Guide
- Apo Island Budget Travel Guide
- Bacolod Budget Travel Guide
- Boracay Budget Travel Guide
- Cebu Budget Travel Guide
- Dumaguete Budget Travel Guide
- Gigantes Islands Budget Travel Guide
- Iloilo Budget Travel Guide
- Negros Budget Travel Guide
- Sipalay Budget Travel Guide
- Siquijor Budget Travel Guide
- Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Budget Travel Guide
- Johor Bahru, Malaysia Budget Travel Guide
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Budget Travel Guide
- Penang, Malaysia Budget Travel Guide
- Phnom Penh, Cambodia Budget Travel Guide
- Siem Reap, Cambodia Budget Travel Guide
- Singapore Budget Travel Guide
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