There are a surprising number of things to see and do in Chiang Rai, a quirky, artistic city in northern Thailand. Close to the borders of both Laos and Myanmar, it’s a great base for visiting hill tribes and for scenic mountain trekking (one of the most adventurous things to do in Chiang Mai!).
Chiang Rai is also home to an incredible number of beautiful temples — from historic jewelled monuments to unusual contemporary artworks.
I stayed in Chiang Rai for over a week during my recent trip to Thailand, and I still didn’t manage to see everything. I think it’s an amazing city that deserves to be included on every northern Thailand travel itinerary.
21 Awesome Things to Do in Chiang Rai, Thailand
There are numerous interesting things to do in Chiang Rai. This is definitely one of the top places to visit in Thailand.
It’s possible to visit Chiang Rai for just a couple of hours on a day trip from Chiang Mai, which is the bigger and better-known city in northern Thailand. It’s a 3-4 hour bus ride from Chiang Mai on winding mountain roads.
Many people who visit either come for the day or stay for only one night, and they try to pack in as many Chiang Rai activities as possible on a 1-day group tour.
Tours can be a good idea if you’re short on time. But if you’re not, there are so many cool things to do in Chiang Rai that it’s definitely worth staying a few days. Or stay a full week, like I did.
Here are my top 21 things to do in Chiang Rai.
1. Visit the White Temple
The epic White Temple, also known as Wat Rong Khun, had to be first on the list. It’s definitely one of the most famous things to do in Chiang Rai, and in this case, its iconic status is deserved.
The White Temple is a sparkling-white modern temple with a huge number of surreal touches. It’s a genuinely breathtaking sight, and I was surprised by just how much I loved it.
The White Temple was designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. Apart from the famous temple itself, there are other buildings and interesting objects you can walk around, plus a gallery of unusual paintings by the same artist. It’s actually a work in progress, with surrounding buildings still being constructed.
You could easily spend a couple of hours taking in the small, surprising details that make up this beautiful temple complex — such as the most beautiful and disturbing No Smoking sign I’ve ever seen, or Keanu Reeves in his Matrix outfit painted onto the wall inside the temple.
I’ve read a lot of negative comments about the White Temple. The biggest complaint is that this famous temple has become too crowded and touristy, which is true, but it’s still one of the best Chiang Rai attractions.
You’ll have to negotiate the crowds and wait for a gap in the hordes of tourists crowding every inch of the temple to snap the perfect photo.
The White Temple is definitely still worth visiting, despite the number of tourists. You can avoid some of the worst times by visiting early in the day. A lot of people visit later in the day on a day trip from Chiang Mai. So if you stay overnight in Chiang Rai and make it to the temple first thing in the morning you’ll have the best chance of having a great experience.
💵There’s an entrance fee of 50 baht ($1.60) for foreigners to visit the White Temple.
✓ It’s important to note that this is a Buddhist temple, so dress accordingly (covering shoulders and knees).
📍Address: 60 หมู่ที่ 1 Phahonyothin Rd, Pa O Don Chai, Mueang Chiang Rai District. Find the temple on the map here.
🕰 Hours: 8am – 5pm Monday to Friday. Saturday and Sunday 8am – 5:30pm.
2. Explore the Black House
Also called the Baan Dam, the Black House has a similar surreal and modern vibe as the White Temple. Some of the buildings do look very much like black temples, but there are several other bizarre buildings dotted around. Some resemble igloos, while there’s one giant construction that looks like a beached submarine.
After the pure glory of the White Temple, I have to admit that the Black House didn’t quite match up for me, but it was still an incredible Chiang Rai attraction and I definitely recommend visiting. But, seeing it straight after the mesmerizing White Temple probably didn’t do it any favours. It was also more crowded than the White Temple.
💵The entrance fee is 80 baht ($2.50).
🕰 Hours: Monday – Sunday 9am – 5pm.
3. Visit the Blue Temple
Visiting the Blue Temple was one of my absolute favourite things to do in Chiang Rai.
Before visiting Chiang Rai, I’d heard plenty about the wonders of the White Temple and the Black House, but for some reason, I’d never heard of the Blue Temple.
I have absolutely no idea why, because this incredible modern temple completely blew me away! It’s vibrantly coloured, contemporary and kitsch (but in a good way). The inside is also painted in incredibly bright patterns and colours.
Also known as Wat Rong Seua Ten, the temple was only completed in 2016 and I think that’s why it isn’t as well-known as some of the more famous Chiang Rai attractions. I’m pretty certain that’s about to change.
🕰 Hours: Monday – Sunday: 7am to 8pm
4. Have an Iced Drink at Betty Coffee – a great pit stop when checking out all the things to do in Chiang Rai
I fell in love with Betty Coffee, a small, unassuming coffee shop, because of its great iced coffees and even better decor.
The colourful cafe is basically a shrine to the cartoon character Betty Boop. Betty-themed posters and dolls cover every inch of the space. It’s just down the road from Wat Klang Wieng, which makes it an ideal quirky rest stop while temple hopping. Click here for directions.
Address: WR6M+45W, Tambon Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai, 57000, Thailand
5. Dodge Monkeys at the Monkey Temple
The monkey temple, also known as the Fish Cave Temple or Wat Tham Pla, is protected by a dramatic staircase with 7-headed Nagas (mythical serpents).
It’s absolutely overrun with monkeys. They’re actually quite menacing and are known to jump on unsuspecting tourists to snatch their things, so visit at your own risk!
The monkey cave is a short drive from Chiang Rai and you’ll need a car or scooter to visit. I didn’t rent a motorbike in Chiang Rai but there are several motorcycle rental shops near the central clock tower.
The cost depends on the type of bike you’re looking for. Typically it’s about 200 baht ($6 USD) per day. Although plenty of travellers ride scooters and motorbikes in Thailand, be aware that traffic can be extremely hectic. If you’re in an accident your travel insurance may not cover you if you don’t have a motorbike license.
Alternatively, you can negotiate a price for a return trip with a car or motorbike taxi driver, or join a group tour – more on this below.
💵 Free entrance.
Address: ถ้ำลิง วัด ถ้ำปลา Pong Ngam, Mae Sai District, Chiang Rai, 57130, Thailand
See Also: Cost of Living in Thailand – A Guide for Expats, Travellers & Digital Nomads
6. Feast on Thai Treats at the Night Market
The Chiang Rai night market isn’t the biggest I’ve seen, but there are lots of incredible food stalls serving up northern Thai specialities.
One of my favorites is Khao Soi, an absolutely delicious curried noodle dish with a distinctive flavour you can’t find anywhere else. This is one of the top foods in Thailand.
The night market in Chiang Rai is quieter and more relaxing than any other Thai night market I’ve experienced (and I’ve been to a lot!) so this is a great place for stocking up on souvenirs. And of course, a visit here is one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai for foodies.
🕰 Hours: Saturday from 4:30pm to 12:30am
7. Go Temple Hopping in Chiang Rai’s Town Centre
While the famous modern temples are on Chiang Rai’s outskirts, the old city itself is also home to a number of impressive older temples, some of which are famous in their own right and have a far more sacred place in Thai history than the surrealist contemporary upstarts mentioned above.
If temple hopping is your thing, you could spend hours walking through Chiang Rai’s city centre, taking in some incredible architecture. Two of my favourites are Wat Klang Wieng and Wat Ming Meuang, a 13th-century temple covered in iridescent crystals, and Wat Phra Singh with its impressive golden spires.
8. Visit Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew is probably the most famous historic temple in Chiang Rai. This beautiful but small temple once housed the revered Emerald Buddha, which is now in the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
Legend has it that the Emerald Buddha was hidden in a chedi (dome-shaped shrine) and was discovered after the chedi was struck by lightning. Although the statue has been moved to Bangkok, you can see a replica in Wat Phra Kaew in Chiang Rai.
9. Watch the Clock Tower Light Show
Chiang Rai’s ornate clock tower was designed by the same artist who created the famous White Temple. It’s set in a busy and not-very-attractive traffic intersection.
Although it’s intricate and impressive as far as clock towers go, I wasn’t blown away when I first saw it, surrounded by honking traffic under a cloudy sky.
That said, after dark the clock tower becomes the site of a colourful light show, flashing different colours in time to music. It feels as though the whole town (and certainly all of the tourists) turn out to watch the spectacle, and it’s actually a fun experience. This is one of the most popular things to do in Chiang Mai when the sun goes down.
✓ I recommend having a snack or drink at one of the restaurants or cafes that line the streets in this area. Several have outdoor tables with front row seats.
🕰 Hours: Daily at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm.
See Also: Mae Hong Son Loop – A Guide for Travellers
10. Have a Drink at Cat Bar
The Cat Bar is a good old fashioned dive bar, with a pool table, low lighting and rock tunes.
Chiang Rai isn’t a huge party town — in fact, I found it pretty quiet, even though I visited in January, in peak tourist season. Even so, there was a great vibe at Cat Bar. Click here for directions.
Address: WR4J+JH3, Thanon Baanpa Pragarn Road, Tambon Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai, 57000, Thailand
11. Visit the Northernmost Point of Thailand
Thailand’s northernmost point is just a short 20-mile drive from Chiang Rai. You can actually visit this spot — it’s marked with an ornate sign next to the Myanmar border.
There’s a bridge joining the two countries and you can watch people crossing into Myanmar. There are also lots of restaurants and shops selling jewellery and ornaments made (allegedly) from Myanmar jade.
12. Visit the Tree Top Adventure Park
The Doi Tung Tree Top Walk and Zipline is the place to take a treetop canopy walk 30 metres above the ground. It has rope bridges, swings and giant ziplines, all in beautiful natural surroundings.
It’s part of the large Mae Fah Luang Garden, which is full of tropical flowers. I really enjoyed strolling around the garden after all the excitement of the ropes and ziplines.
The garden is in the northern part of the Chiang Rai region, near the border with Myanmar, so it’s a great attraction to pair with the next few things to do in Chiang Rai.
📍 Address: Huai Khrai, Mae Sai District, Chiang Rai
💵 Tickets cost 150 Thai baht (around $4.50 USD) for both adults and children.
13. Survey Three Countries from the Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers, though it’s better known as the spot where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.
You can stand on a balcony high on a hilltop, looking out at breathtaking views of the rivers and land below.
Down below the lookout point is a giant golden Buddha statue overlooking the Mekong River, and an ancient ruined temple is up the hill above it.
The Golden Triangle is around 50km from Chiang Rai, and there are several other places of interest in the vicinity, so it’s a popular stop on a day trip taking in the best things to do in and around Chiang Rai.
See Also: Things to Do in Koh Tao – Top 21 Things You Don’t Want to Miss
14. Learn About Opium’s Turbulent History at the Hall of Opium Museum
Located next to the Golden Triangle, the Hall of Opium is a small museum with an exhibition about the opium trade.
The Golden Triangle area was historically known for poppy cultivation and opium trade and smuggling, and the Hall of Opium traces this history, along with the trade’s ill effects on the region.
📍 Address: Wiang, Chiang Saen District, Chiang Rai
🕰 Hours: 8:30am – 5pm, Monday – Saturday
💵 200 baht ($6.40)
15. Visit a Hill Tribe Village
Hill tribe villages are found all over the hills and mountains surrounding Chiang Rai. The people in these villages are often part of nomadic tribes from outside Thailand and include the famous “long neck” Karen hilltop tribes. These groups historically came to Thailand from Myanmar, and the women may wear brass rings around their necks.
In my opinion, if you decide to visit a hill tribe village, it’s important to carefully consider the experience you’re booking and make sure it’s ethical. Some of the hill tribe visits, especially those included as an “attraction” on cheap whistle-stop day trips, could be seen as exploitative.
A good, non-disruptive option is to avoid a group tour and go with just a guide. On this private tour you’ll visit several small towns in the Golden Triangle and the Akha hill tribe. It also makes a stop at the Hall of Opium. It’s a great way to get off the beaten path in northern Thailand.
16. Go Mountain Trekking (one of the most adventurous things to do in Chiang Rai)
Chiang Rai is one of the most famous areas of Thailand for trekking, and many routes take in the forests, waterfalls and rivers of the Lum Nam Kok National Park. Most treks take at least a couple of days to complete and involve a rustic homestay in a hilltop village.
It’s easy to book day treks or multi-night treks with overnight homestays through several of the travel agencies that line the central tourist streets of Chiang Rai. Unfortunately, though, some of the packages include elephant riding, so check this before you book.
Note: Goats On The Road does not condone animal tourism or any activities to do with animals in captivity. Do your part to be a responsible traveller and say “no” to elephant riding.
Another option is to book a trekking tour online. On this tour, you’ll hike 15 kilometres in the jungle, seeing waterfalls, hot springs, and a tea plantation. You’ll also have a delicious lunch cooked in bamboo.
Travellers also highly recommend Lanna Trek. The cost for a 2-day, 1-night trek is 2,800 Thai baht ($84 USD) per person for groups of 2-3 people. A private tour costs more and bigger groups are slightly cheaper.
17. Get Close to Nature at Singha Park
Singha Park is a picturesque park in the Chiang Rai countryside, several parts of which are a working farm.
It’s owned by the Singha Beer company, but the focus is on nature and sustainability, not drinking beer. There are walking and cycling routes, tea plantations, fruit orchards, ziplines and an adventure rope course.
There’s a good restaurant too, which I spent a while in, relaxing after all of those activities. Click here for directions.
Address: 99 Moo 1, Mae Korn, Amphoe Chiang Rai, Chiang Rai, 57000, Thailand
18. Go Stalactite-Spotting at the Chiang Dao Cave
Chiang Dao Cave is a couple of hours’ drive from Chiang Rai, but it’s still close enough for an easy day trip.
The main attraction is the mountain of Doi Chiang Dao, with Chiang Dao Cave at its base. One of the deepest limestone caves in Thailand, the Chiang Dao Cave features stalactites and crystal formations.
💵 Entrance to the caves costs 40 Thai baht ($1.20 USD) but since the caves are vast and poorly lit, you will probably need to hire a local guide and rent a flashlight to properly explore them, which will be another 150-200 baht ($4.50-6).
Address: 273 หมู่ 5 Chiang Dao, Chiang Dao District, Chiang Mai, 50170, Thailand
19. Go Chasing Waterfalls
At 70 metres, the Khun Korn Waterfall is the highest waterfall in the region. Swimming under its powerful water is one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai. I spent what felt like hours in the water there.
It’s around a 30-minute walk through a forest to get to the base of the waterfall, and you can swim when you get there. Make sure you bring comfortable walking shoes and swimming clothes, plus waterproof gear for your phone and camera to protect them from the spray.
Address: Highway 1208, Mae Kon, Mueang Chiang Rai, 57000, Thailand
20. Take a Dip in a Hot Spring
The Chiang Rai region is home to a number of natural hot springs set in beautiful scenic surroundings. Check out Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring, Pong Phra Bat Hot Spring and Fang Hot Spring (although this one is about a 2-hour drive from Chiang Rai).
Soaking in a hot spring is definitely one of the top things to do in Chiang Rai during the cooler winter months. Entry costs from around 20-50 baht ($0.60 – $1.50) depending on the spring.
21. Take the Slow Boat to Laos
Ok, so perhaps this isn’t exactly one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai, but the city is the jumping-off point for travelling by land or boat from northern Thailand to Laos.
To experience the slow boat to Luang Prabang from Thailand, you first need to take a bus from Chiang Rai to the border, then catch a boat that sails along the Mekong River and eventually takes you to Luang Prabang. The journey takes two days, including an overnight stay at the halfway point.
You can book a travel package through a travel agency in Chiang Rai, some of which include the bus trip to the border and an overnight stay in Chiang Khong (the Thai border town), as well as the boat cruise.
Alternatively, you can take a bus to Chiang Khong yourself, cross the border into Laos and buy tickets for the boat trip there. This is the cheaper but less smooth option. Mekong Smile Cruise offers a package including pick-up from Chiang Rai, hotel and a stop at the Pak Ou Caves for 200 USD. Learn more about the journey in this post.
How to See and Do Everything When You’re Short on Time
A lot of people who visit Chiang Rai stay only for a couple of days. Even though I stayed for longer than that, I was still overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to do in Chiang Rai.
I wasn’t sure how I could fit everything in, especially since almost all of the best Chiang Rai attractions are quite far-flung. The White Temple, Blue Temple and Black House are all on the outskirts of Chiang Rai, and most of the other attractions are even farther away.
If you want to travel independently, it’s entirely possible to see all of the best Chiang Rai attractions on your own. You can catch a bus to some of the closer sights such as the White Temple, hire a driver for a day, or ride a scooter.
But since the best things to do in Chiang Rai cover such a wide area, if you really want to do it all in just a couple of days, this is one destination where joining a group tour really does make sense.
Apart from hill tribe trekking and visiting a homestay in the mountains, which can take a few days and needs to be arranged separately, most of the other Chiang Rai attractions are easy to see as part of a (very busy!) day trip. If you choose to book a day tour with a group in a shared minibus, this is also the cheapest way to get around Chiang Rai and see its main sights in a short time.
When you walk down Chiang Rai’s main streets, you’ll see numerous travel agencies offering day trips, each cramming an absolutely crazy number of attractions into one day. These whistle-stop tours are really easy to find and book, and are a great value. Most of the ones I saw included transport, pick up and drop off at your hotel, plus lunch. They all cost around 1000 baht ($30).
Pay attention to the tours for Chiang Rai activities you book to ensure you get an experience you’re comfortable with. Some travel agencies in Chiang Rai don’t approach the tours they provide ethically — such as the hill tribe visit where people are treated very much like animals in a zoo. And unfortunately, many companies still offer elephant rides as well.
That said, overall I had an incredible time and will definitely return to experience more of the amazing things to do in Chiang Rai.
How to Get to Chiang Rai
Otherwise, you’ll take a bus to get to Chiang Rai. From Chiang Mai it’s about 3.5 hours and from Bangkok the trip takes about 13 hours.
There’s no train to Chiang Rai, but there is a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and from there you can take a bus onward to Chiang Rai.
To Luang Prabang in Laos, you’ll take buses and boats, first to the border town Chiang Khong in Thailand or Huay Xai in Laos, where there are plenty of boats waiting. The journey takes two days.
A good site for checking bus and train schedules in Thailand and the rest of Asia is 123go.asia.
FAQs About What to Do in Chiang Rai
Still have a question about all the great Chiang Rai activities? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about what to do in Chiang Rai.
I think Chiang Rai is definitely worth visiting. I stayed for a week! Some people come for only one day, but there are so many things to do in Chiang Rai that the city deserves more time.
Chiang Rai is known for its temples, and two of the most famous are named after colors: the White Temple and the Blue Temple. Chiang Rai is also known for being Thailand’s gateway to the Golden Triangle and the many hill tribes in nearby villages.
Both are nice, and if you visit Chiang Rai, you’ll probably end up visiting Chiang Mai anyway. To compare them, simply put, Chiang Mai has more cultural attractions (temples, history, food), and Chiang Rai has more natural attractions (with plenty of culture as well).
I’d suggest a mix of all the best Chiang Rai attractions: visit a temple or two, go to hot springs or a cave, make a trip north to the Golden Triangle, and end the day with a drink at the Cat Bar.
I spent a week and loved every minute of it. If you don’t have that much time, however, you can see a lot in two days.
Now You Know What to Do in Chiang Rai!
For me, the most exciting part about visiting Chiang Rai was the city’s artistic spirit — the fact that in such a small city, so many incredible contemporary temples have sprung up in just a few years.
I especially enjoyed the way these surreal artworks stood next to amazing historic monuments. Make sure you also experience more of the region’s natural beauty with some waterfall hopping and hill treks! For such a small place, there are numerous fun things to do in Chiang Rai. Happy travels!
Note: Images in this article are provided by Shutterstock, a website for sourcing royalty-free images and videos.
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