Destination Travel Guide Chiang Rai province

Welcome to Chiang Rai province in North Thailand, bordering both Laos and Myanmar. And home to the (in)famous Golden Triangle where in the old days "gold" was made with the opium business. The capital town is Chiang Rai town along the Kok River, a laid-back town that serves as a great base to explore the most northern part of Thailand. The main attraction in Chiang Rai town is of course the famous White Temple (Wat Rung Khun) and the Night Market. But Chiang Rai town is much more as that with in the centre a few more beautiful temples and musea. And nearby the famous Clock Tower is also the original daily fresh market where you sometimes will still see hill-tribes selling vegetables from the nearby mountains. Upcountry Chiang Rai province is surrounded by mountains where many villages of minorities are like Mae Salong that was once home to the ex-KMT army and the poppy fields for production of opium. A great area for a motorbike trip along the Myanmar border.

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White Temple in Chiang Rai, North Thailand

The highlights of Chiang Rai

When people think of Chiang Rai they mostly think about the White Temple (also called the Wat Rung Khun) and the Golden Triangle as the border between Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. But there is much more in this province of mountains & rivers. North-West of Chiang Rai town is a mountains range with tea plantations and East of Chiang Rai town you can wander along the Mekong River and even cross the river to Laos.

Popular destinations in Chiang Rai

Besides the provincial capital town of Chiang Rai, the province offers many destinations that have become popular in the past years. 

When to go to Chiang Rai?

Of course you can travel to Chiang Rai the all year around, the weather is as hot as everywhere in Thailand during the hot season of April and May. Then the monsoon season begins that lasts until end October with chance of heavy rains and some local flooding. From November to March the cool season hits the North of Thailand and temperatures in Chiang Rai province may go down to about 5℃ during night time (December-February). Chiang Rai is an attractive destination all year around, but for outdoor activities it is recommended to visit during the cool season, from September to February.

When traveling to North Thailand, Chiang Rai province included, in March & April be aware of the so called "burning season". During this months (and sometimes a bit longer and/or earlier) is smog haze in North Thailand due to burning of farm fields & garbage. Known area's are Chiang Mai, Lampang, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Rai and Nan. But make no mistake also the air in Bangkok or some places in North-East Thailand can be unhealthy for sensitive people. Check the air quality at World Air Quality Index. 

Where to sleep in Chiang Rai?

In Chiang Rai town is a good range of accommodation ranging from simple Guesthouses / Homestay's to comfortable hotels. If staying in Chiang Rai town then I would recommend to stay in Chiang Rai city center, lets say near the Night Market. My personal favourite is Le Patta Boutique Hotel (not cheap) but have a look at the other hotels where I have stayed at Accommodation in Chiang RaiIf you do not want to stay in Chiang Rai town then I would recommend to stay somewhere totally out civilisation in the mountains. There are many nice resorts or homestay's to be found.

Where to eat & drink in Chiang Rai?

In Chiang Rai town are many restaurants from simple Thai noodle shops to fine dinning. A popular area for street food & restaurants is near the round-about with the famous Golden Clock Tower. Or at the main street at the entrance to the Night Market, here are also 2 International restaurants and a good Italian restaurant. My personal favourite is Aye's Restaurant, serving Dutch, Thai and International food, but have a look at the restaurants where I did eat at Restaurants in Chiang Rai.

Just outside Chiang Rai town is the famous Singha Park with a fantastic restaurant in the middle of the park. And just 20 km north of Chiang Rai town is PB Valley along the Kok River, a vine-yard & winery with an award winning restaurant.

What to do in Chiang Rai?

In Chiang Rai town you could visit the famous Night Market and the Golden Clock Tower. Just nearby Chiang Rai town you could visit the over famous White Temple or the Singha Park.

When traveling in Chiang Rai province one could visit the formerly chinese village Mae Salong high in the moutains or little town Mae Sai at the International border to Myanmar with a famous Indo-China market. Going a bit more east wards along the Thai border you will find the infamous Golden Triangle with the Opium Museum and a bit further Chiang Seang along the mighty Mekong River. And again a bit more east wards along the Thai border you will find along the Mekong River the small town Chiang Khong as gate-way to Laos via the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge over the Mekong River. And along the Thai-Lao border you will find the high mountain range with Phu Chi Fa where you can see a stunning sunrise over Laos. Read my postings about Chiang Rai to see what to Do & See in Chiang Rai.

How to get there & around?

In Chiang Rai town are Songtheauws for fixed routes that can also be hired for specific destinations. But make a price before starting the trip. There are also TukTuk's, mostly waiting opposite the entrance of the Night Market. In Chiang Rai province are inter-regional busses going to other places in the province like Mae Sai or Chiang Khong.
  • By Air : The airport of Chiang Rai is called Mae Fah Luang Chiang Rai International Airport (CEI) and connects Chiang Rai with Bangkok (both Don Muang Airport as Suvarnabhumi Airport), Hat Yai, Hong Kong, Chengdu, Phuket, Shenzhen and Kunming. Chiang Rai Airport is located 10 km north of Chiang Rai town. Chiang Rai Airport is served by Air AsiaNok Air, Bangkok Airways, Thai Smile, Thai Lion Air and China Eastern Airlines. 
  • By Train : Chiang Rai has no train station, nearest train station is in Lampang or Chiang Mai.
  • By Car or Motorbike :  Chiang Rai is easily reached by road from Chiang Mai, Lampang, Phayao, Phrae or Nan. And with that actually from any major city in Thailand. All major roads leading to Chiang Rai go thru mountains and are of good & safe quality to drive or ride. For motorbike riding the area of Chiang Rai is motorbike riding heaven with stunning routes along the Thai-Burmese border or Thai-Lao border.
    • From Bangkok follow route 32 and route 1 to Nakhon Sawan, Tak, Lampang and Phayao.
    • From Chiang Mai follow route 107 or route 118 (shorter).
    • From Nan follow route 101 to Phrae and Den Chai. Then route 11 to Lampang and Chiang Mai.
  • By Bus : Chiang Rai can be reached from any major city in Thailand. The bus station is located in the center of town (behind the Night Market).
  • By Boat : Chiang Rai can still be reached by boat over the Kok River from Tha Ton.

Where to go next from Chiang Rai?

  • Phrae is about 239 km south-east from Chiang Rai and is an small town with colonial history of the logging industry in North Thailand. A great place to stay overnight and from there continue to Uttaradit.
  • Phayao about 90 km south of Chiang Rai and located along the beautiful Kwan Phayao lake. A great place to stay overnight and from there to continue to Chiang Mai or Lampang. A great route for riding motorbike or scooter.
  • Nan is about 220 km south-east of Chiang Rai and an truly off the beaten path province where slow life still goes on in the mountains and small villages. A great route for motorbike riding. For more information about Nan province have a look at Destination Travel Guide Nan.
  • Chiang Mai is about 190 km south-west of Chiang Rai and is called the rose of the north. 
  • Lampang is about 240 km south of Chiang Rai and is famous for its old wooden Thai houses and beautiful Lanna style temples.

Geographical location of Chiang Rai province

Chiang Rai province borders in the north-west with Myanmar and in the North and East with Laos, partly divided by the mighty Mekong River. To the west and south Chiang Rai province borders to Chiang Mai province and in the south-east to Phayao province. Chiang Rai town is along the Kok River and Chiang Rai province is a gate-way to Myanmar (at Mae Sai) and to Laos (at Chiang Khong).

Map of Chiang Rai town

Disclaimer : All information is created in good faith and is an expression of fair comment.


One night in Bangkok and the world is your oyster

The journey of Traveling 2 Thailand did begin with One Night in Bangkok in 1985 and since 2009 it became a personal non-commercial travel blog as inspiration for traveling & motorbike riding in Thailand. Made just for the sheer love of traveling and sharing experience about traveling in South-East Asia. To travel beyond the beaten track & highlights. Enjoy!