Chiang Rai, Thailand – How to Arrive, Where to Stay and What to Visit ? – Page 1

Note : You are on Page 1 of Chiang Rai.

Maps – Orientation

Map 1 – From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

Map 2 – Chiang Rai – Town Center

Map 3 – Chiang Rai – Attractions in the Suburbs

Map 4 – Chiang Rai – Attractions far from the city

Map 5 – Chiang Rai – Interactive Map

How is Chiang Rai ?

I would rate the city itself as less attractive than Chiang Mai and less cute than Pai, but there are very nice attractions around Chiang Rai (in the suburbs) and that makes the all difference (see the next page, for the attractions). The city itself is relatively small, but not as small as Pai. There is even a big modern commercial center. There is a small nightlife scene in Chiang Rai. Some foreigners choose to live here instead of Chiang Mai, so it means the city is still attractive.

Chiang Rai vs Pai

If you are contemplating to which of the two destinations to travel for a few days :
Around Chiang Rai, there is a lot to see, also 50 Km away. Attractions like tea plantations and the Golden triangle. Pai has less attractions but may be more suitable for a relaxed week-end in a green environment with a river. Another difference is that in Pai, the tourists are mainly young backpackers. You can visit the page about Pai.

How many days dedicate to a visit in Chiang Rai ?

There are attractions  :

  1. Attractions in the suburbs of Chiang Rai (page 2) – Up to 15 Km away (white temple, blue temple…)
  2. Attractions inside the city of Chiang Rai (page 3) – Up to 1 Km away, depending on the position of your hotel.
  3. Attractions far from the city (pages 4 to 6) – Up to 70 Km away (golden triangle…)

Most of the interesting attractions are in the suburbs of Chiang Rai

If you have a motorbike and you can easily move from one place to another, you need :

  • 2 days – In order to visit the attractions in the suburbs.
  • 3 days – In order to visit the attractions far away (1 day for the Golden Triangle, 1 day for the Tea Plantations, 1 day for Doi-Tung area).
  • 1 day – In order to visit the attractions inside the city.

In total, you may need 6 days. Maybe just 5 days if you return early from the far away “day trips” and  visit the city in the afternoon.

If you have only 2 days, then just visit the attractions in the suburbs.

Attractions far from the City of Chiang Rai – One day Trips

The places to visit (mentioned on pages 4 to 6) are 40 to 70 Km away from Chiang Rai. It is totally possible to make one day trips from Chiang Rai with a motorbike (that is what I did). Each day to another zone. In total 3 days. You can also find an hotel in the north and not return to Chiang Rai. You can also join an organized trip and then you don’t need to drive and don’t need to navigate.

How to Arrive to Chiang Rai ?

Look at Map number 1, above. The road distance between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is about 185 Km.

Option 1 : By Bus

From Chiang Mai, it takes 4 hours with a bus.

The central bus station in Chiang Mai is located to the right of the city. See location on a Google Map. The central bus station in Chiang Rai is located in the center of the city, exactly near the night bazaar. See location on a Google Map (this is terminal 1, there is also Terminal 2 in the suburbs).

You can buy a ticket at the bus station or in one of the travel agencies in town or online with12GoAsia. There is a bus every hour. If you arrive at the bus station without a ticket, you may need to wait at the station 2 to 3 hours (because the next bus is already fully booked). It happened to me on both directions. The bus is slow and doesn’t make a pause, but it has a toilet inside. There are VIP seats and normal seats (separate buses).

Option 2 : By Motorbike

I would have preferred to ride on a motorbike instead of being inside a bus for 4 hours, but for most people the 185 Km are too much for a motorbike. Many are riding to Pai (130 Km) on a motorbike but prefer to take a bus to Chiang Rai. One reason is the distance and another reason is that you usually stay more days in Chiang Rai (for visiting the remote attractions) and you need a bigger bag.
You can travel by bus and rent a motorbike once you are in Chiang Rai.

Option 3 : By Car or Taxi

You can rent a car and drive it on your own. You can rent a  car with a driver for a few days. You can use a regular Taxi between the 2 cities. At the central bus stations, there are taxi drivers proposing you to travel with them instead of waiting for the bus.

Option 4 : By Flight

There is an airport in Chiang Rai. See location on a Google Map or on Map 3, above. It is located about 10 Km north to the city.

From what I saw at the airport, there are flights only to Bangkok. The distance between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is too short for a flight. If you are willing to pay for a flight, then just take a taxi between the 2 cities, you will arrive in less than 3 hours.
Theoretically the airport is adapted to receive international flights, but you need to find one.
You can buy a flight ticket, inside Thailand with 12GoAsia.

Where to Stay in Chiang Rai ? – Hotels

Let’s look again at Map number 2 :

Option 1 – Town Center

The town center is small. Most tourists choose to stay here and most hotels are here. Many of the hotels are at a walking distance to the Night Bazaar which is the center of gravity of Chiang Rai.
Take note of the hotel Hop Inn Chiang Rai Clock Tower. It is an economic hotel chain.

Usually these hotels are located in the suburbs of the cities but In the case of Chiang Rai, it is located at a walking distance to the night Bazaar, the bars area and the central bus station. The hotel is modern and the rooms are simple and well organized (all the rooms are identical). Everything works well, including the air conditioning. There is a tiny terrace for each room from which you can get fresh air. I stayed here and was very satisfied. The rooms are small, excellent for 1 person and OK for 2 persons. There is another branch of this hotel in Chiang Rai Hop Inn Chiang Rai, also at a walking distance to the night bazaar.

There is also the hotel Hi Chiangrai Hotel. Most guests give a positive note, at least for the quality of the room (less for the swimming pool). The location is very central.

See Hotels in the center of Chiang Rai. After you Click, use the Map to find the desired location. Read opinion of travelers for each hotel.

Option 2 – Far from the Center

If you have a way of transport, like a motorbike, you may choose to live in the suburbs of Chiang Rai. For example near the river. I would recommend to sleep in the center of Chiang Rai, on a first visit.

See Hotels around Chiang Rai. After you Click, use the Map to find the desired location. Read opinion of travelers for each hotel.

How to Move inside and around Chiang Rai (and reach the attractions) ?

The main attractions of Chiang Rai are located in the suburbs, 5 to 15 Km away.

Option 1 : Walking

You can walk from your hotel to the night bazaar, you can walk to the day market and to the temples near the market. You can make a long walk and arrive to the river on the north. Walking is not an option for visiting the main attractions in the suburbs.

Option 2 : Motorbike

The best way to move around Chiang Rai. The rental shops have motorbikes in good state. A 125 cc motorbike usually costs 250 Baht a day.

Option 3 : Organized Excursions

You can join an organized tour in order to visit the blue temple and the white temple and other attractions in the suburbs. You can join an organized tour for a day trip to the golden triangle. You will see publicity in town.

Option 4 : Car

You can rent a car and drive it on your own. You can rent a car with a driver for a few days.

Option 5 : Taxi

There are weird taxis in Chiang Rai, sort of Tuk-Tuks.

They are waiting at the central bus station, near the night bazaar.

Option 6 : Grab (like Uber)

Grab is the Application for private rides. It is an excellent solution for transport. In Thailand it is half legal (at the time of writing). You can call a car or a motorbike.

How is the Climate in Chiang Rai ?

Like in all Thailand, also in Chiang Rai, there is a rainy season between May and October. The peak of the rain is in August, about 365 mm.
As for the temperatures : At day time, between 27 to 35 degree Celsius. At night between 13 to 23 degree Celsius. The coldest months are : December, January and February.

Where is the Nightlife in Chiang Rai ?

Let’s look again at Map number 2 :

The Night Bazaar is the main focus of Chiang Rai at night. The market is small, there are only a few stands selling clothes and souvenirs. See location on the Map above or on a Google Map.

At the night Bazaar, there are 2 areas with live music. One area is a food court, with a lot of Thai food. At the food court there are 2 stands selling alcohol. The beer is relatively expensive, they sell only big bottles of beer (so if you are one person, that’s a little weird). The singers are quite talented, they sound better than at the night market in Chiang Mai.

The food court is less fun when it rains a lot

There is another area at the night bazaar, with live music. It is a restaurant in open air :

The night bazaar closes early at night. This is not Bangkok.

2. The Bars area

Not far from the night bazaar, is an area with bars. These bars are open till late. They serve also food. See location on the Map above.

3. The Walking street

It operates only on Saturdays, evenings. A long street is converted into a market. It is like the night market in Chiang Mai on Sundays. You can find here also some fast food, like hot corn.
See location on the Map above or on a Google Map.

4. The Clock tower area

It is close to the bars area. Take a look at the clock tower and at the temple Wat Ming Muang. They are both very nicely illuminated at night.

What to Eat in Chiang Rai ?

Compared to Chiang Mai, there is less choice for good western cuisine. There are no expatriates who have opened a good foreign restaurant. Thai food is always available in many places.

Three excellent restaurants that I have personally experienced and I can recommend :

1. The Hungry Nest – located in the bars area, in town.

They have excellent breakfasts, excellent salads and they are great for vegetarians like me. The expatriates adore this place, it is a meeting point, in the mornings. They are closed in the evenings.

2. Polar Boulangerie and Patisserie – Not exactly a restaurant. It is a boulangerie with excellent cakes and croissants.

They have breakfasts with omelette (if you insist to eat here instead of taking a cake with coffee).

They are situated far from the center of Chiang Rai, near the river, an area with green fields. A very nice area. If you have a way of transport, visit the place.

3. Cat ‘n’ a Cup Cat Cafe – There is no food here, just cakes and cats. Many cute cats. Located very close to the night Bazaar.

In the area of the bars, there is Heaven Burger that serves burgers, including vegetarian ones. Sometimes I had too much salt in my burger, other times it was fine.

The bars, in the area of the bars, serve some western food.

There is La gatta Restaurant that serves Italian food. Pasta, Pizza, Risotto and more.

If you are vegetarian, take note of Tamachat Vegetarian restaurant. They are located not far from the clock tower. It is a typical Thai vegan buffet with Buddhist origin.

Very cheap prices. In addition to the food at the buffet, they also have soups, like this excellent “Kao Soi” soup.  Kao Soi is the famous noodle soup from Chiang Mai region, with a certain taste of creamy peanuts.

There is an Indian restaurant, not far from the night bazaar, called Accha Authentic Indian Cuisine.

In addition, you can visit the huge commercial center Central Chiang Rai, there is food there, including a Sizzler restaurant.

Continue to Page 2 – What to Visit around Chiang Rai

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