Is it worth visiting Chiang Rai?
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.
Where to stay in Chiang Rai
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.
Also, check out the Top 13 Things to Do in Chiang Rai
How to get around Chiang Rai
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.
How to get to Chiang Rai
MORA Boutique Hotel - Treating Yourself
If you really want to treat yourself, Mora Boutique Hotel is the place to do that. You can go for a relaxing swim in the beautiful swimming pool or chill in the huge bathtub in your own room. This is where we’d spend most of our time!
There’s a great onsite gym, free bicycles and a complimentary breakfast — essentially anything you could possibly need from a hotel. And if you need something else, the staff are more than willing to help.
- Beautiful rooms and grounds
- Outdoor swimming pool
- Amazing bathtubs
- Delicious free breakfast
Private rooms start from $111 per night.
Sooknirund Hotel - Treating Yourself
A day of temple hopping can be exhausting, and there’s nothing better than coming back to a comfortable and luxurious room. Sooknirund Hotel is the epitome of luxury. The uniquely designed clock-themed rooms come with robes and incredibly comfortable beds.
There’s also a wonderful courtyard surrounded by plants for you to relax in too. But you won’t have to walk far to get back to the hotel, as it’s situated in the perfect location in Chiang Rai.
- Delicious free breakfast
- Beautifully designed rooms
- Perfect location
- Great staff
Private rooms start from $74 per night.
Sleepy House - Mid Range
Sleepy House is simply beautiful. Stepping into one of their rooms instantly puts you at ease just because of the way they’re designed. They’re clean, modern and spacious, with a cat theme.
The house has resident cats that are super friendly and loving. It’s hard to beat the location of Sleepy House. You’ll be within walking distance of a number of Chiang Rai’s top sites. Plus, their cutely packaged free breakfasts are great at filling you up for a day of exploring.
- Beautiful design
- Perfect location
- Amazing staff
- Exceptional free breakfast
Private rooms start from $38 per night.
Na Na Doo Homestay - Budget Friendly
Not many budget accommodations in Chiang Rai come with a swimming pool, but Na Na Doo Homestay has a small but beautiful outdoor pool. This is a great place to stay if you’re a family. There’s plenty of space for the kids to run around and even rabbits to play with.
The rooms are clean and spacious, and the staff are always there to help. It’s impossible not to smile when you see their smiling faces! A delicious free breakfast is served every morning.
- Beautiful gardens
- Plunge pool
- Great staff
- Free delicious breakfast
Private rooms start from $28 per night.
Kanlaya Place - Budget Friendly
Just a 1-minute walk to the Clock Tower and a 2-minute walk to the Night Market, Kanlaya Place is all about location!
The rooms are spacious and very clean, offering a good night’s sleep after a day of temple hopping. The staff are very friendly and there to help with anything you could need. There is a 2-night minimum stay.
- Perfect location
- Friendly staff
- Extremely clean and comfortable
- 2-night minimum stay
Private rooms start at $20 per night.
We are sorry that this post didn't meet your expectations.
Your feedback is very valueable to us
What was missing in this post? (TIP: If you want us to reply to your feedback, you can leave your email in this text box.)
Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.
Based in Bali, Maarten’s passion for travel is undeniable. In 2016, he decided to quit his job as a stock analyst and started doing what he always dreamed of: travelling through South East Asia and helping other people plan their trips. When he is not working on Gecko Routes, you’ll find him surfing in the ocean or exploring the best gems of Indonesia.