Everything you need to know about the best things to do in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Although sometimes overlooked by travellers heading to Northern Thailand, Chiang Rai is certainly not worth crossing off your Thailand itinerary.
Located 190km and a 3-hour bus journey from Chiang Mai, it’s a city full of a vibrant culture that is guaranteed to have you wishing you could stay longer.
Some people visit Chiang Rai as a day trip from Chiang Mai, but we recommend spending at least a few days here to fully soak in all the activities and natural beauty in this part of northern Thailand.
Explore temples, visit waterfalls, or shop and eat local Thai food at the Chiang Rai night bazaar. There are so many amazing Chiang Rai attractions to fill your time, so get ready for an amazing trip!
Table of Contents
- Epic Things to Do in Chiang Rai
- 1) Join the Tourist Buzz at the White Temple
- 2) Answer Nature’s Call in the Most Beautiful Public Toilet
- 3) Admire 50 Shades of Blue at Wat Rong Suea Ten
- 4) Explore the Bizarre Grounds of Baan Dam
- 5) ‘All Along the Clock Tower’
- 6) Check Out the Local Bars in Chiang Rai
- 7) Make Friends with the Locals
- 8) Be a Part of Recent History at Tham Luang Cave
- 9) Watch the Sun Rise at Phu Chee Fah
- 10) Sample the Local Organic Tea at a Choui Fong Tea Plantation
- 11) Eat Your Way Through the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
- 12) Enjoy the Weekend Walking Streets
- 13) Discover Chiang Rai’s Waterfalls
- 14) Warm Up in a Hot Spring
- 15) Overlook Everything the Light Touches at the Golden Triangle
- 16) ‘Monkey Around’ at Wat Thlam Pla
- 17) Wander Through the Doi Tung Palace and Mae Fah Luang Gardens
- 18) Visit Doi Mae Salong
- 19) Sail along the Mae Kok River
- 20) Visit Wat Phra Kaew
Epic Things to Do in Chiang Rai
The list of things to do could be endless, but here are the top 20 things to do in Chiang Rai during your visit. From cliff jumping into Huay Mae Sai Waterfall, to visiting local museums, here are the top attractions in Chiang Mai you shouldn’t miss!
1) Join the Tourist Buzz at the White Temple
The White Temple is possibly the most popular attraction in Chiang Rai, but there’s a reason for that.
The incredible architecture of Wat Rong Khun is like something out of a beautiful Thai fairy tale, and the details could keep you mesmerized for hours.
It’s always at the top of any list of the top things to do in Chiang Rai, so don’t miss it. If people take a day trip from Chiang Mai up to Chiang Rai, this is usually the first attraction they come to see.
The best way to check it out is by joining a tour, and this one on Klook includes the White Temple and a visit to a local tea farm.
- Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm
- Price: 50 baht
READ MORE: For all the best advice and information for travel to Thailand make sure you’ve read through our Thailand travel guide!
2) Answer Nature’s Call in the Most Beautiful Public Toilet
As you leave the White Temple and make your way to the exit, make sure you look to your right.
You’ll see the most stunning building which would be easily mistaken for another temple altogether, but in actual fact, it’s just the world’s most majestic public bathroom.
3) Admire 50 Shades of Blue at Wat Rong Suea Ten
Also known as the Blue Temple, Wat Rong Suea Ten is one of Thailand’s newer and less established temples amongst tourists.
But I’m sure it won’t stay that way for long – its unique and modern design decorated with gold embellishments is truly breathtaking and will soon start attracting even more visitors.
So, make sure you add the Blue Temple to your what to do in Chiang Rai itinerary ASAP!
Only opened to the public in 2016, the Blue Temple is full of kaleidoscopic imagery depicting the life of Buddha, with a huge ceramic Buddha shrine at the far end.
Unlike the White Temple, you are allowed to take photos inside the Blue Temple, but make sure you’re respectful.
To make the most of all the temples in the Chiang Rai province, book a guided tour.
- Opening hours: 7 am – 8 pm
- Price: Free
4) Explore the Bizarre Grounds of Baan Dam
Chiang Rai certainly has a thing for colour themes, and here’s another – Baan Dam translates to Black House.
Often mistaken as a temple, Baan Dam is a series of modern buildings created by artist Thawan Duchanee.
The interpretive taxidermy and occasional phallic statue may not be your cup of tea, but it’s definitely popular with tourists in Chiang Rai and makes for some interesting photos!
- Opening hours: 9 am – 5 pm
- Price: 80 baht
5) ‘All Along the Clock Tower’
Situated in the middle of a traffic intersection in central Chiang Rai is an eye-catching golden structure, created by the same mind behind the White Temple.
As if this golden tower didn’t stand out enough amongst the very ordinary streets of Chiang Rai’s central district, every night at 7 pm, 8 pm, and 9 pm, the clock comes alive with a programmed light show.
There are plenty of restaurants and cafés with the clock tower in perfect sight,
To find this, head over to the intersection of Thanon Jet Yot and Thanon Baanpa Pragarn.
READ MORE: Check out the ultimate list of the best places to visit in Thailand!
6) Check Out the Local Bars in Chiang Rai
One of the streets leading to the Clock Tower in Chiang Rai is Jetyod Road. It boasts a succession of bars run by friendly locals, such as Peace House Bar and Smile Bar.
Fully equipped with pool tables and local drafts on tap, it’s the perfect place to meet new people and socialise with travellers and natives alike.
People may not always think of nightlife when they visit Chiang Rai, but if you’re looking for a good time, there are plenty of places to have some fun!
7) Make Friends with the Locals
Chiang Rai was one of my first stops on my 2-month solo trip around Southeast Asia, so it was the perfect chance for me to practice starting up a conversation with people with whom I crossed paths.
I was lucky enough to meet a friendly young Thai man who was insistent on showing me around – it turned out he was a qualified tour guide and I came away with the most cultural and off-the-beaten-path experiences.
While seated at a local restaurant for dinner, I got chatting with a lovely man from California who had moved to Thailand a decade or so ago.
He’d lived around Chiang Rai for a few years and recommended some sights that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
Remember in 2017 when the Thai boys’ football team got stuck in a cave for 10 days?
Well it turns out it’s not far from Chiang Rai, and this local informed us that they had just recently been filming a documentary about it, so he advised it would be worth visiting.
He wasn’t wrong.
8) Be a Part of Recent History at Tham Luang Cave
‘BREAKING NEWS: All 12 boys and coach successfully rescued from Thai cave’.
The world watched as a group of 12 to 17-year-old boys and their football coach were trapped in a waterlogged cave near Chiang Rai for 18 days in June 2018.
Even with the death of an ex-Thai Navy Seal attempting to get to the group, the rescue mission was still dubbed as a miracle.
Little did I know that 12 months later I would be walking in the footsteps of the boys, their coach, and all of the 2,000 soldiers and 200 divers involved in the rescue.
For obvious reasons, the cave is still closed.
But a small museum and statue in tribute to Saman Kunan, the diver who died due to lack of oxygen, have already been erected.
9) Watch the Sun Rise at Phu Chee Fah
Possibly an excursion to miss out on if you’re tight on time, but the 2-hour drive to the mountains from Chiang Rai is so incredibly worth it.
Wherever you decide to stay in Chiang Rai, it’s possible that you might be able to book a tour to Phu Chee Fah with the hotel or hostel.
But in the case of wanting your own freedom, it might be worth hiring a private driver to take you – you’ll have to leave Chiang Rai at about 3 am to make the sunrise.
Watching the sunrise and the clouds float above the Laos border is an incredible view – one absolutely worth waking up at an ungodly hour.
10) Sample the Local Organic Tea at a Choui Fong Tea Plantation
Choui Fong Corporation is the largest tea supplier in Chiang Rai, and its two plantations are the perfect location to sit back and relax, sipping a fresh cup of tea.
The Mae Chan plantation houses a modern restaurant, café, gift shop, and terrace looking out over the 1 million square meters of tea fields.
It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai!
11) Eat Your Way Through the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
Near the main Chiang Rai Bus Terminal is a daily market open in the evenings, whatever the weather.
Here you can find handmade souvenirs, cheap food, and live music performed by local musicians.
It’s separated into two courtyards, one with a restaurant and stage, the other acting as more of a food court.
The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar provides an evening of entertainment as well as opportunities to give back to local communities, as some of the vendors even sell products on behalf of the hill tribes.
If you’ve experienced night markets in Chiang Mai, you’ll enjoy the markets in Chiang Rai because they are smaller and have fewer tourists, which is always a bonus.
12) Enjoy the Weekend Walking Streets
Saturday nights are when Thanalai Road in Chiang Rai comes alive. By closing the road off for pedestrians for a few hours (usually between 5pm and 11pm), Chiang Rai’s Saturday Walking Street becomes a hub for street food, locally made clothes, and other souvenirs.
Going to miss the Saturday Chiang Rai night market? Have no fear; San Khong Noi Road is open to shoppers on Sunday nights with a huge selection of food stalls, a stage for performers, and a buzzing atmosphere. It’s another must-see when you explore Chiang Rai and it’s open from 4pm – 11pm.
READ MORE: Be sure to look into the best things to do in Koh Phangan when you’re in town!
13) Discover Chiang Rai’s Waterfalls
Chiang Rai is the perfect place to take a refreshing dip after a long hike through the humid jungle. Some are more accessible than others, with some not having any public transport access.
Khun Korn Waterfall is the most well-known waterfall in the Chiang Rai region, and Huay Mae Sai Waterfall is known for cliff jumping and swimming.
But here is a list of all the best waterfalls in the area. We’ll also include the distance from the Chiang Rai centre for each one.
- Khun Korn Waterfall – 32km
- Huay Mae Sai Waterfall – 21km
- Huay Kaew Waterfall – 25km
- Pu Kaeng Waterfall – 65km
- Pong Phrabat Waterfall – 14km
14) Warm Up in a Hot Spring
The closest hot spring to Chiang Rai’s town centre is Pong Phrabat Hot Spring.
It’s recommended that you could combine this with a visit to Pong Phrabat Waterfall as these aren’t far from each other.
You also have Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring which is located in a beautiful picturesque forest. Unfortunately far too hot to swim in, with a temperature of 65 degrees Celsius!
There are other hot springs situated further outside of Chiang Rai, such as Fang Hot Spring which is around a 2-hour drive from the city centre.
15) Overlook Everything the Light Touches at the Golden Triangle
An hour north of Chiang Rai is the border where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos all meet.
The Golden Triangle is definitely popular with tourists. But if you have a local taxi driver like I did, he might take you up to the higher viewpoint that has fewer people and (in my opinion) better views.
As Myanmar and Laos didn’t feature on my trip, at least I could say that I caught a glimpse of them on this excursion from Chiang Rai.
Another good option is to take a tour that includes the White Temple and exploring the Golden Triangle. This one on Klook is the best available on the market.
16) ‘Monkey Around’ at Wat Thlam Pla
A great stop-off on your way back from the Golden Triangle is the Wat Thlam Pla (translating to FishTail Temple).
Don’t let the name fool you – yes, there is a large pond with plenty of fish swimming around.
But these temple grounds around Chiang Rai are also home to hundreds of monkeys.
You can spot these mischievous creatures climbing the rooves of the temples and food stalls as they try to sneakily steal any scraps of food that they can manage to get their hands on.
(The locals aren’t scared to use their brooms to scare them off – but the monkeys are stubborn!)
Don’t let the monkeys distract you too much.
If you head to the left and climb around 300 steps, you’ll make it to Fish Tail Cave (where the name actually comes from).
There’s also Turtle Cave which is nearer the main entrance but often missed.
17) Wander Through the Doi Tung Palace and Mae Fah Luang Gardens
This another one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai.
The royal mother of King Bhumibol, Princess Srinagarindra, had this Swiss Chalet-style palace built in 1987.
It’s open to the public and tour guides are available, although photography is prohibited inside.
The grounds of the palace include the Mae Fah Luang Garden, a gorgeous array of colourful flowers spread across 16,000 square metres.
- Opening hours: 7 am – 5:30 pm
- Entry: 220 Baht
18) Visit Doi Mae Salong
Another one of the coolest things to do when you visit Chiang Rai is take a day trip out into the rural mountain areas and visit a local hill tribe.
Doi Mae Salong is home to various hill tribes, predominantly the Akha and Yao communities, each offering a unique insight into their traditional way of life.
The village itself is a charming enclave, adorned with traditional wooden houses, vibrant market stalls, and the inviting aroma of freshly brewed tea.
Exploring the hill tribe area around Chiang Mai provides an opportunity to engage with the friendly locals, savor delicious regional cuisine, and witness age-old customs.
After you get to Chiang Rai, you can take the public bus to Mae Salong and hire a songthaew to take you around once you arrive.
19) Sail along the Mae Kok River
Thailand is known for its famous longtail boats, so what better way to get from A to B?
The 130km long Mae Kok River runs all the way from Chiang Mai through Chiang Rai and up to Tha Thorn in Northern Thailand.
You can catch a long tail boat from the Chiang Rai pier.
Prices will vary depending on how far along the river you’d like to be taken, and what you’d like to see. But this is a super cool thing to do while exploring Chiang Rai.
20) Visit Wat Phra Kaew
Last on our list of the best things to do in Chiang Rai is seeing Wat Phra Kaew. Even if you’ve explored all the previous temples in Chiang Rai mentioned, don’t leave without seeing this last one.
Wat Phra Kaew is one of the oldest temples in Chiang Rai. No one knows how old it is, but it was discovered in 1434.
Wat Phra Kaew is famous for housing the Emerald Buddha, which has since been moved to the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
Even without the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew is still a temple worth visiting in Chiang Rai.
- Address: 1 Trairat Rd, Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai
- Hours: 9 am – 5 pm
- Cost: Free
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