A Chiang Rai Travel Guide – All The Information Centralised!
In this Chiang Rai travel guide you will be able to find out all about Chiang Rai. I will explain where it is, how to get there, where to eat and briefly cover what to do in Chiang Rai.
I thought Chiang Rai was one of the more relaxing places I had been to in the north of Thailand. Probably less entertaining than Pai, and far less busy than Chiang Mai.
Chiang Rai is definitely worthy of a visit, as this Chiang Rai travel guide may very well convince you of.
To best navigate the Chiang Rai travel guide, use the table of contents above to move to the relevant section, otherwise read from top to bottom and comment if you feel some information is wrong or needs updating.
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“How you doin’?”
(Shot using the Sony A7R III with the Sony 16-35mm f/4).
Chiang Rai Travel Guide Part 1 – Things To Know Before You Go
What is a Chiang Rai?
Chiang Rai means basically “the city of Rai”. First founded in 1262 by the King of Mangrai and later came under Burmese rule until 1786. It then became a vassal of Chiang Mai and a part of Thailand.
Where is Chiang Rai?
Chiang Rai is in the northernmost part of Thailand, only 57 kilometres in a straight line to the golden triangle (the meeting point of the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos).
See below for a more in depth look into how close Chiang Rai is to the borders of Myanman and Laos.
What’s The Weather Like in Chiang Rai?
Chiang Rai can still be extremely hot, like the majority of Southeast Asia. The difference is that unlike the south of Thailand, there is some respite for 4 or 5 months of the year during the night time.
Temperatures can drop to average as low as 14°C, with minimums being even cooler at elevation. This can make for some very cold mornings or nights if you do ride a scooter or motorbike.
It is generally considered that the best months to visit Chiang Rai are from November – January.
You can definitely visit outside of these times, but be warned that from late January to April the air quality is very poor in Chiang Rai due to the burning season.
I have visited during the burning season, and it can hurt your eyes a bit, it would be irritating for those with asthma, but it is still worth a visit. Just don’t expect great sunrise or sunset photos
For a rough guide of all the months combined;
Average Rainy Days:
9 days per month.
Dec – Feb only averages 1 day per month of rain fall.
August averages the most with 23 days of the month.
How Long Should I Stay in Chiang Rai?
If you have a 60 day tourist visa then I would stay 4-5 nights in Chiang Rai. It does not have as many things to do as Pai, but is still worth a good look around.
If you want to come in and out, without relaxing and just do the most fun activities you can probably get away with 3 nights. This will also be my recommendation for those on a 30 day visa who want to see southern Thailand but are short on time.
Alternatively, if you are on a long backpacking trip through Southeast Asia then you can have two separate trips through Thailand.
On one visit you can visit the south, places like: Ao Nang, Koh Lanta, Railay Beach, Khao Sok National Park, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui etc.
The second visit you can see the north of Thailand such as: Pai, Chiang Mai and of course Chiang Rai.
For most people, Chiang Rai will come third to Pai and Chiang Mai when it comes to exploring the north of Thailand. There are lots of natural wonders in the areas surrounding Chiang Rai, even if the town itself isn’t jam packed with adventure.
How to Get to Chiang Rai?
Chiang Rai is home to an international airport. However it only flies directly to/from 4 provinces of China and Hong Kong.
All other major flight routes will be connecting in either of Chiang Mai or Bangkok. If you are however in Thailand already, then you can catch direct domestic flights to Chiang Rai.
Prices vary largely and your own research will be needed here.
The bus into Chiang Rai is quite simple to catch. You will be catching the bus from Chiang Mai in all likelihood, due to it being the main city and therefore gateway to the north.
The map below shows the location of the bus terminals in Chiang Mai. The bus terminal is very easy to get to via a Songthaew.
Once you are at the bus terminal then you will want to approach the Greenbus Thailand ticket counter, which will then give you the following options of transport.
You can book a ticket on the day, but the more popular the time period, as well as the time of year can lead to certain buses filling up and selling out.
To avoid risk, I would purchase tickets in advance, despite the fact that it is rarely needed. The bus terminal in Chiang Mai is easily accessible and it can be booked online if you don’t want to venture out that way on your scooter.
Websites such as busonline ticket and 12go can be used to book tickets.
Arriving into Chiang Rai, make sure you get off at Chiang Rai bus terminal 1, which is in the centre of town. Don’t get off at the bus station just outside of town, despite how it may look like the last stop due to lots of locals disembarking here.
From this bus terminal 1 you will be able to walk to any hostel that is centrally located, alternatively there will be transport at the bus terminal to carry those too weary to walk.
BOOK YOUR TICKET TO CHIANG RAI HERE
How Expensive is Chiang Rai?
Chiang Rai is quite a cheap place to travel through in comparison to the south of Thailand. Cheap Thai food can be had for as little as ฿40-70.
A stay at a hostel rated as “very good” on booking.com will cost ฿200/night.
Scooter rental can be more expensive than what is found in Chiang Mai and Pai, but some cheap options can still be found.
A lot of the rental options are bigger motors for those wishing to ride up through the neighbouring mountains and towards the border towns.
What Is The Currency?
As part of Thailand, you will be using the Thai Baht here (฿).
At the time of writing the conversion rate is;
- $0.03 US
- $0.05 AUD
Alternatively, 1 of each of the above currencies respectively will give you;
A great place to watch girls bathe without being a creep, if ever a place existed…
(Shot using the Sony A7R III with the Sony 16-35mm f/4).
Chiang Rai Travel Guide Part 2 – Things To Know Once You Arrive
How to Get Around in Chiang Rai?
So you have arrived into Chiang Rai and you need to get to your hostel?
As a point of reference for distances and costs, I will be using the Chiang Rai clock tower as the centre of Chiang Rai. With that in mind let’s look at some expected costs.
Arriving at the airport
After you land and gather your possessions you can simply walk outside and you will find the following options;
The songthaew will cost you ฿20 to jump in the back. It is a shared ride with other passengers, hence the cheap prices. They may not take you directly to your accommodation depending on where other passengers are going, you could be the last stop
The shuttle bus departs every half an hour between 06:20 – 21:50 and will cost ฿15. It is very cheap but also rarely worth waiting around for. The shuttle bus is also the slowest and least direct mode of transport.
You may still have to walk a small distance after you get off at the nearest stop to your accommodation.
TAXI / GRAB
The most direct and efficient way of getting to your accommodation is with a taxi or Grab. They will cost you about ฿150.
Arriving at the bus terminal
If you arrive by bus then you might be lucky. The bus stop is much more central and you can walk to the centre of town (the clock tower for this example) with it being 1.5 kms away.
If you don’t want to walk, or your accommodation is not central then you will always have the option of Songthaews, Tuk Tuks and Taxis.
A Grab will only cost about ฿60 from the bus terminal to the centre of town.
How to get around after settling in?
The two best ways of getting around Chiang Rai are by either walking, or riding your scooter. Walking applies to things around town, then a scooter ride for everything else.
The attractions of Chiang Rai are a little bit spread out so it will be necessary to get a scooter so that you can go exploring without needing to catch a Grab everywhere you go.
Where to Stay in Chiang Rai?
I recommend staying central in Chiang Rai. Somewhere near the clock tower. This is the main hub, this will give you the ability to walk for food instead of needing to start up the scooter just to go eat.
It will have the added benefit of giving you an even distance to a number of the best attractions which are scattered all around Chiang Rai in every direction.
I personally stayed at Mercy Hostel which was walking distance to a lot of restaurants and close to scooter rental shops as well.
As they say in Canada, “Peace ooot!”
Shot using the Sony A7R III with the Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6).
Where to Eat in Chiang Rai?
Chiang Rai has a good number of restaurants surrounding the clock tower and the central part of the city where all of the hostels are located.
This map is not necessarily my recommendations, just where I ate, with little notes that hint at the stuff on the menu and the costs when clicked on.
My favourites of the above can be broken down into a few sections.
BEST CHEAP THAI FOOD;
Honestly didn’t find any that I really liked.
However if you are willing to pay a little more for some really good quality Thai food then I would recommend Barrab Restaurant.
A super pad thai for ฿150 that was arguably the best I had on my entire trip (pre-COVID) through Thailand.
BEST PLACE FOR BREAKFAST;
I did not find any great places for breakfast in my short stay in Chiang Rai. I needed more time to try a few different options, but due to COVID-19 there were many restaurants not opening due to a lack of business.
BEST WESTERN FOOD
Heaven Burger is a restaurant that you will want to visit when you’re here. It might not be healthy but it will hopefully fill you up and leave you satisfied. I went there about 4 times just to try all of the different burgers on offer.
I Love Coffee More Than Life Itself! Where Should I go!?
The one place that I went that did really good coffee was called The Roast Chiang Rai.
Their coffee was great by anyone’s standards and for ฿70 to sit down and have a double shot flat white and rest your feet for a a while was awesome.
Most of the coffee in Chiang Rai at restaurants was quite poor.
Where to do Laundry in Chiang Rai?
There is a service in Chiang Rai which does not have a website, but it can be found on Google, with great reviews. The lady washes everything and will line dry your clothes.
To me this is important, with some of my shirts being merino wool and a lot of my shorts also advising against tumble drying it is always good to see a service with line drying clothes.
The service is 100m south-east of Mercy Hostel on Jedyod road.
฿30/kg is as cheap as you can hope to find anywhere and the service is good.
I Need to Lift Weights, Any Good Gyms?
Pro Gym is an old school gym in the heart of Chiang Rai that is far cheaper than the competition for a day pass. Pay ฿50 for a day pass and then ฿40 for a protein shake afterwards.
I also checked out Gorilla Gym, but the price was way too much just for a day pass so I walked out. If price is not an issue, the equipment at Gorilla gym was in better condition, but they also had less of it.
Things to do in Chiang Rai
In the interest of keeping this Chiang Rai travel guide short and to the point, I have made a separate post showing some of the things I did with 4 days in Chiang Rai.
Alternatively, check out this quick video!
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most popular tourist attractions in Chiang Rai which are covered in the above linked post;
- White temple (Wat Rong Khun).
- Blue temple (Wat Rong Suea).
- Black house (Baandam Museum).
- Big Buddha temple (Huay Pla Kang).
- Khun Korn Waterfall.
These are the main attractions around Chiang Rai but it is by no means an extensive list of all of the things to do in Chiang Rai. The area is abundant in waterfalls and hiking trails.
It is also a good base for those wishing to ride motorbikes through the mountains towards the borders of Myanmar and Laos. You can rent the bikes from Chiang Rai and then return on a loop.
There are elephant sanctuaries, cooking classes, muay thai gyms and all of those generic Thai activities still on offer as well
The Chiang Rai clock tower is often considered a good reference point for those seeking directions. It is also sadly the only clock in town, with people gathering here to see the time of day.
- Avoid Chef Sasa Italian restaurant. Overpriced garbage meal that failed to remotely fill me up despite being one of the more expensive things I ordered during my time in Chiang Rai.
- Wear a jacket or something with very good insulation if you plan on riding a scooter early in the morning to see the sunrise. Once you get above 30km/h it is freezing cold.
That is the end of the Chiang Rai travel guide, all questions are welcome. Except those that paint me as an imbecile. Leave those in your pocket.
The Browne Town.