Sitting at the northern tip of Thailand, Chiang Rai is not too far from the borders of both Laos and Myanmar. The city is therefore the perfect jumping-off point to the neighbouring countries, but is also strewn with history itself.
For centuries Chiang Rai was captured and recaptured by Myanmar and Thailand, creating a dynamic fusion of the two countries’ histories.
A new addition to its history is the iconic White Temple. The temple alone entices many travellers to Chiang Rai because it breaks the mould when it comes to traditional Thai temples.
Besides visiting the famous White Temple, you can go hiking (it is a mountainous region after all), visit hot springs, go for a dip in the river and explore waterfalls.
What to expect in Chiang Rai
Located only 3-4 hours from the lively Chiang Mai, you’ll experience a slower pace of life in Chiang Rai, due to fewer tourists and attractions centred around nature.
Don’t expect to experience the same level of culture and activities as Chiang Mai can offer. This is why a lot of travellers use Chiang Rai as a short stop on their way to the Laos border.
If you’re not planning to cross the Thai-Laos border, you may just want to visit Chiang Rai as a day trip from Chiang Mai. Alternatively, you could stay there for one or two nights if you love to get off the beaten track.
When it comes to deciding where to stay in Chiang Rai, the choice is pretty simple!
Unlike other Thai cities, the city centre isn’t big enough to be broken down into different neighbourhoods. This means that wherever you pick within the city centre, you’re within walking distance of most things.
Your other option is to escape the city and stay in the more mountainous surrounding area, where it’s less compact and nature starts to take over.
Here are our top 3 location choices both inside and outside of the city centre:
Location #1: Chiang Rai City Centre – a few moments from all the city’s attractions
By ‘city centre’, we mean anywhere near Chiang Rai’s Clock Tower. This will put you close to other attractions such as the Walking Street, Night Bazaar and a number of temples.
Staying around this area will mean that you’ll be able to spend less time travelling to the attractions and have more time to admire them. You’ll also save money on transport costs. Who doesn’t love that!
Bear in mind that although Chiang Rai is a lot more laid-back than other Thai cities, staying in the city centre does almost always come with more noise and traffic.
What’s different in Chiang Rai compared to other cities though, is that staying in the city centre doesn’t mean you’ll be paying higher prices. There are plenty of reasonably priced, even cheap, resorts and guesthouses.
Location #2: Kok Rong Riverside – a water-side retreat
Alternatively, you can stay slightly outside of the gentle hustle and bustle, along the banks of the Kok Rong River. If you’re missing waking up to the sight of water after beach bumming on Thailand’s southern islands, this could be the perfect compromise.
Lots of the accommodation along the river is still only a short walk or drive into the centre. Similar to the city centre, you’re also spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation. There’s something available for everyone.
Location #3: Doi Mae Salong – mountainside village, away from it all
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track, tranquil retreat, then you should consider staying in Doi Mae Salong.
About 64 km away from the city centre, Mae Salong is still within the Chiang Rai province but gives you a glimpse at Thai life in a traditional mountain settlement.
You can choose to escape the world in either a reasonably priced mountain-top resort, a quaint boutique hotel or a welcoming guesthouse.
Centrally located in Chiang Rai, within walking distance or a short drive to the sights, the Backpack Hostel is a great choice for all types of travelers. Walking street and the night market are also just a few minutes away on foot.
The hostel is very clean and comfortable and the owners are well known to be very welcoming and friendly. The rooftop patio is the perfect place to relax with a cold drink at the end of a long day exploring and soak in the sights!
Set just a few kilometers from the main sights, this location is ideal for those looking for some quiet and relaxation.
Take advantage of the bike rentals to get out and explore the town and sights and enjoy the lovely terrace area for guests in the evenings. The resort is extremely clean, the beds are very comfortable and the staff is wonderful.
Just a 1-minute walk to the Clock Tower and a 2-minute walk to the Night Market, this hotel is all about location!
Breakfast is included with your stay and the rooms are equipped with air conditioning, satellite TV and a refrigerator. Near Walking Street, bars, restaurants, and all amenities. The staff is known to be very friendly and welcoming.
Getting around Chiang Rai is a relatively simple task due to the number of attractions being concentrated in the centre.
Exploring these can be done on foot, or you can make things more exciting by hiring a bicycle or a motorbike.
Rent a motorbike
Jetyond Road is the ideal place to look for the best deal when it comes to hiring a bicycle or motorbike. A bicycle will cost you between 80-150 baht/day, whilst a motorbike will be around 200-300 baht/day.
The advantage of hiring a motorbike is the freedom and convenience it provides you to explore some of the sites further out of the city, such as the famous White Temple.
Tuk-tuk or taxi
If you don’t know how to ride a bike, there’s no need to worry, you can hop in a tuk-tuk or taxi. The short trips around the city centre are the perfect length for a tuk-tuk and should cost between 60-80 baht.
The taxis in use a metre, with the standard rate beginning at 35 baht and then go up 2 baht per kilometre, a fair price. Taxis are great for longer distances as they offer comfort and convenience. To give you a rough idea of the price, a round trip to the Black House will cost around 300-400 baht.
There are two bus stations in Chiang Rai: Terminal 1 (old) and Terminal 2 (new) which both serve a number of routes across Thailand.
The bus is a cheap option when it comes to both adventuring further afield and closer attractions like the White Temple (15 minutes).
The bus ride to the White Temple, for example, only costs 20 baht each way.