15 Best Things to Do in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai
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A city in the North of Thailand known for its natural beauty and breathtaking attractions, Chiang Rai also offers you an experience to meet the most annoyingly cute monkeys and its friendly, gentle giants - the majestic elephants!

So if you're traveling to Chiang Rai, expect to have a wonderful time!

This city only takes three several hours and a bus ride away from the more popular tourist destinations of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Rai's vibrant culture presents an opportunity to discover the various facets that make this country unique.

You will have access to several lush national parks if you want to relax, and it's also surprisingly close to the Laos border, where you'll be able to meet hill tribes and learn about their traditions (and some even offer homestays!).

Even better for travelers, you can find Chiang Rai near hills and mountains, making it a scenic location perfect for those wishing to go on an adventurous hill trekking tour.

There's so much to do in Chiang Rai that you'll struggle to fit it all into your itinerary, but these fifteen experiences are absolute must-dos if you're visiting!

Take a Tour Around Wat Rong Khun

Outside view of Around Wat Rong Khun
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One of the most sought-after things to do in Chiang Rai is to visit the eccentric, futuristic-looking Buddhist temple known as the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun.

The artful design and elaborate structures make it a unique stop for any visitor to Chiang Rai.

Architecturally, its massive white stupas are impressive and beautiful to behold.

Artistically, they have paintings that depict a colorful—if bizarre—range of subjects: tropical fruits mixed with mythological creatures and characters from popular movies such as Avatar.

Outside view of Wat Rong Khun
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Spiritually, its murals reflect Vajrayana Buddhism principles, which promote a balance between people and nature through godlike imagery (in contrast to Theravada Buddhism).

Touring Wat Rong Khun with one of its friendly monks makes for a fun half-day excursion from central Chiang Rai.

Visitors can enter the White Temple for 50 baht ($1.50) per person, and it opens from 8 am to 5 pm.

This one is genuinely unforgettable; make sure you don't miss it!

Visit the Baan Dam Museum

Outside view of Baan Dam Museum
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A visit to the Black Temple is one of the most memorable things to do in Chiang Rai!

Baan Dam ("Black House"), otherwise known as the "Black Temple," is a place of cultural pilgrimage located in North Chiang Rai, northern Thailand.

On-site, you will find forty black houses carved with small scales of crocodiles and decorated with different types of bones such as deer carcasses or antlers.

Thai artist Thawan Duchanee created Baan Dam as his response to Chalermchai Kositpipat's "White Temple."

Inside Baan Dam Museum
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They both have an interest in creating expressions of Buddhist metaphysics through Western art styles, including Cubism.

You'll enjoy visiting this place because it has an original and new design overall that will make you want to come inside.

You can see the insides of each house by looking through the windows if not otherwise allowed, but it will be nicer if you go in because the entrance costs 80 Bahts at least.

Tourists can get around quickly as plenty of tourist tuk-tuks drive them to Baan Dam, but it would be better to go there with your own car accompanied by a guide.

Taste Local Cuisine

Many tourists limit their stay in Chiang Rai to dining at restaurants that serve Western comfort food or Thai dishes.

While there’s nothing wrong with a standard meal at one of these restaurants, you can go much further by trying local cuisine at one of many cafés and restaurants.

The traditional cuisine of northern Thailand is known as Isan food.

Although it’s essentially Thai, you’ll find that some dishes have a distinct Burmese influence (the border isn’t far from here).

You can sample Khanom Tom (rice balls topped with minced pork) or khao soi (noodles in a hearty curry broth).

Unlike southern curries, which usually come with coconut milk, Isan curries are either spicy or sour and almost always thickened with egg.

More adventurous palates might enjoy Tokay – a local variation on beef jerky dried in spices for weeks at a time.

You may find such a dining experience somewhat adventurous, but you’ll get to know locals and support small businesses.

Plus, you never know—you might find something new that you love!

Explore Wat Rong Suea Ten

Outside view of Wat Rong Suea Ten
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If you're in Chiang Rai, then you absolutely must check out the Wat Rong Suea Ten, or as some call it - the "Blue Temple."

This recent popular addition to the city's skyline is perhaps one of the most surprising attractions in all of Thailand.

If you want to go there, you have to go across the Mae Kok River outside of town.

Once you see Wat Rong Suea Ten, you'll realize how it is far from being just a simple blue-painted structure.

Inside view of Wat Rong Suea Ten
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When you go inside, you get to admire the giant white sitting Buddha statue, tinted with a beautiful blue hue that changes slightly depending on your location within the temple.

Also, make sure to check out the many other unique statues painted in shades of vivid blue throughout, like dragons or guards that grace your entrance into this wonderfully colorful destination.

You'll find that a tour to the Blue Temple is undoubtedly worth dropping by to see why it's one of the most thrilling things to do in Chiang Rai!

Play with Monkeys at the Monkey Temple

Beautiful view of Monkey Temple
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Letting mischievous monkeys steal some of your stuff and trying to get them back can be one of the craziest things to do in Chiang Rai!

You might be familiar with Wat Tham Pla because it sometimes goes by the name 'The Fish Cave Temple' - but there are actually no fish inside.

However, its unique structure is a sight to behold.

Unlike other temples that you can find in northern Thailand, this place has an enormous staircase (with 7-headed Nagas), which leads up to a vast temple surrounded by meandering monkeys known for their bad temper.

A monkey drinking water in the Monkey Temple
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Monkeys and tourists interact in unique ways here because this landmark is well-known for monkeys stealing anything they can get their hands on - so make sure you don't sneak quietly in with your expensive camera!

Its location is not so far from Chiang Rai and accessible by car or motorcycle through ongoing construction on what seems like a never-ending series of new roads that have opened up to help connect northern Thailand with the rest of the country.

The price to get to the Monkey Temple depends on what kind of bike you're looking to rent - typically, it's about $6 per day.

Although many people travel to Thailand and prefer renting their own bikes, remember that accidents are common, and the insurance may not cover you if you don't have a motorbike license.

See the Bamboo Temple

Outside view of Wat Phra Kaew
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Don't look past Wat Phra Kaew if you're looking for more incredible temples in Chiang Rai!

Fans of the two temples I mentioned above, Wat Rong Khun and Baan Dam, should also visit this historical site dating back to the 14th century.

You'll find the Bamboo Temple opposite Overbrook Hospital, and if you're a guest in Chiang Rai, it's possible to walk here.

The main attraction is, of course, the revered jade Buddha image.

The Emerald Buddha Statue in Wat Phra Kaew
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There are holy shrines at the bottom of the steps to the statue and several other Buddha figures - each with their significance.

Though many claims that the relic is now in Bangkok, many devotees still believe it is a sacred object and continue to worship at its location through merit-making ceremonies.

If you happen to visit, they will likely encourage you to do so as well!

Although there's no entrance fee, donations are very welcome.

Trek through Burmese Villages

Akha tribe Villages in North Thailand.
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There's no question about it: the best way to explore Northern Thailand is on foot.

For a true taste of life in the hill-tribe country, set off for a trek through a Burmese village, passing by water buffalo and rice fields en route to your destination.

Several ethnic minority tribes live in northern Thailand, including Karen, Lahu, Akha, and Lisu.

Many of these have their own villages within an hour's drive of Chiang Rai; there are over 500 unique hill tribe villages to explore in northern Thailand.

Trekking through one of these villages is also one of the best ways to experience and appreciate Thai nature—hiking through lush forests with rolling hills for as far as you can see.

You might not find the scenery as striking as in other areas of Thailand, as lush forests cover large parts of northern Thailand rather than rugged mountains.

Still, you'll come across more traditional rural life than anywhere else in Chiang Rai.

And you'll also see villages that few tourists ever get to visit.

Go Swimming at Khun Korn’s Waterfall

The beautiful view of Khun Korn’s Waterfall
Kern Bangkok, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to go on a scenic hike in Chiang Rai, the waterfall Khun Korn right by Singha Park is a pleasant option.

The popular local attraction is only 15 km west of the park itself, and parking is available at Singha Park's Western car park.

It's going to be worth it if you make the stop by car - there's a lot of beauty in store for visitors ready to spend some time exploring what'd otherwise be well hidden.

Half an hour hike will take you through a bamboo forest beginning behind the building of a small toilet with access to the river bank for those looking to get close to the water after seeing how massive it turns out to be!

Khun Korn's waterfall is pretty magnificent, and at 70 meters high, it's one of the tallest in Thailand.

When visiting this natural beauty, it's a good idea to allow about two hours for the total experience, including travel time via motorbike, admiring the waterfall, as well as taking photos.

The freshwater in this location is enjoyable during the warmer months when you can go for a cool swim!

It would be best if you arrived early not to miss admission closing time which is 4:30 pm, and as for the entrance, it’s free.

Meet the Elephants!

Elephant Valley in Chiang Rai, Thailand
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When it comes to visiting Thailand, it's hard not to conjure up the image of the country's national animal: the elephant.

And for a good reason!

The "Land of Smiles" is home to more than 70 elephant sanctuaries where travelers can meet these majestic creatures and learn about their lifestyles and habits.

In places like Chiang Rai, you can find ethical elephant sanctuaries that provide responsible care for non-working elephants.

The Elephant Valley in Chiang Rai, Thailand, offers people the chance to observe the sensitive and nurturing care these magnificent beings require daily.

This particular elephant valley still allows them ample room to roam and play with each other freely, as well as enjoy plenty of food!

After being rescued from the entertainment and logging industries, where they were subject to abusive treatment by their handlers, these elephants found refuge here.

Remember to visit Chiang Rai's Elephant Valley to admire our gentle four-legged giants!

Experience Local Craftsmanship

One of Chiang Rai's unique attractions is its rich craft tradition.

You'll see streets lined with colorful fabric stalls, workshops where you can see some locals weaving silk, and craft houses where you can observe woodcarvers at work.

A small number makes the intricate basketry and fabrics you see in and around the town of remaining weaving families who, for centuries, have passed their knowledge down through generations.

Your explorations will also lead you through other art galleries and showrooms selling souvenirs of every shape and size.

Don't pass up the chance to buy hand-crafted goods during your travels because you could come across authentic art pieces and souvenirs that will make you remember a trip for years afterward.

Besides, buying handicrafts in Chiang Rai is a great way to support local culture and not just take photos of it.

What should you buy?

That depends on your tastes!

Set Foot in the Famous Golden Triangle

Outside view of Golden Triangle
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Golden Triangle Park is a very scenic spot with plenty to look at.

You will find a giant statue of a boat with a sitting Buddha, an archway representing the three countries that border there (Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar), and several other statues, rides, or souvenir shops.

Boat excursions are available, leaving the park to cross the river into Laos or Don Sao island in Laos.

As these trips do not require passports or visas, taking day trips into Laos without dealing with border checkpoints or mandatory paperwork is possible.

A walkway in Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai
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These boat tours may or may not be available, depending on how touristy your particular holiday destination is (the most popular being Vientiane City).

Many consider visiting the Golden Triangle as a must-do during any visit to Chiang Rai.

Still, some travelers would feel disappointed as they are so close to two other countries but can't go to either.

It gives anyone coming here the opportunity to explore Chiang Saen (outside of the triangle) with its many stone cabins or historical temples like Wat Phra That Pha Ngao in Chiang Saen city, Wat Phra That Doi Pu Khao, and others in the area.

Witness the Clock Tower Light Show

Lights in the Clock Tower Light Show
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The same artist who created Chiang Rai's famous White Temple designed the intricate detailed-looking clock tower.

It takes the traditional art of Thai design and combines it with modern techniques to create a unique work of art.

Although it isn't necessarily interesting from an architectural point of view, it becomes much more appealing if you can see through its purpose.

It serves as a traffic light and landmark to welcome new visitors to the town, a truly classic case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder!

After dark, the clock tower lights up with a dazzling display of color which is analogous to an experience you might have at Disneyland.

Tourists come from far away to see this spectacle, and it's one of the most popular things to do in Chiang Rai when the sun sets.

Visit during this time not only for the spectacle of lights but also for exploring a bit more of local culture on your vacation too!

Relax in Hot Springs

View of the Phra Soet Hot Spring
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The City of Chiang Rai is well known for having several hot springs where locals and tourists alike have been coming to relax for centuries.

In Thailand, there's a saying that there are two types of people: those who can cook their eggs on hot water and those who can't.

If you plan on visiting any of Chiang Rai's hot springs anytime soon, I highly recommend purchasing enough of these small baskets to give the egg-boiling experience a try!

Water in Phra Soet Hot Spring
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You'll find the well-known Pha Soet springs just 20 km from Chiang Rai along the road to Ban Ruam Mit.

While you're in that area, I also recommend checking out the popular Ban Huay Zai Kao pool.

We've also got a terrific spring in Lam Nam Kok National Park.

Wieng Pa Pao is 11 km North of the city, so why don't you pop by?

You can also even take your pick from the copious numbers of pools at Pong Phrabat Hot Spring!

Witness the Sun Rise at Phu Chee Fah

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Perhaps not a must-see for time-sensitive travelers.

But if a quick trip in the mountains of Chiang Rai to see the sunrise and a phenomenal view unveiled sounds like your kind of thing - don't let the distance stop you from hitting the slopes!

You can arrange all the details upon arrival with a reliable and well-recommended hotel or hostel.

However, when you want to make your way through Laos, it may be a good idea to get a private driver to take you.

Leaving Chiang Rai at around 3 am should give you enough time to watch the sunrise over the mountains and see the clouds float above the mountains on the border with Laos.

Watching the sunrise and letting it warm your face as the clouds float across the sky is truly an extraordinary sight.

The view over the Laos border at sunrise is the most spectacular sight in all of Chiang Rai – and it's one that everyone should have the chance to catch.

Visit Singha Park

Sunset in Singha Park
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One of the most sought-after things to do in Chiang Rai is to come to Singha Park.

The park got its name from a popular Thai beer.

It’s a short 6 km drive from the ever-popular White Temple to get to Singha Park.

You can reach the park by what I can only describe as a temple-shaped gateway in glorious golden color, and inside awaits natives, foreigners, dining options galore, and animal encounters.

Hot Air Balloons in Singha Park
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You will also find yourself amidst food courts and other shops where visitors can get all their shopping needs taken care of in one convenient location.

Once inside, it will take you on a beautiful journey that finishes with a lovely vista overlooking some tea plantations as well as lakes.

At this point, many people also stop to take pictures with colorful birds perched on their shoulders and all kinds of animals like zebras and giraffes roaming around freely in their mini zoo!

Although the admission is free, there are some fees for activities (such as renting bikes or taking the zipline).

Final Thoughts

The Chiang Rai area of Thailand is bustling with fun things to do, not the least of which include connecting with nature.

Here, you can play at leisure with monkeys and elephants, swim in water as cold as ice, and explore breath-taking temples all day if you like.

You can also find never-before-seen handicrafts made by local artisans and trek through unique villages with breath-taking flora and fauna in a seemingly endless array of natural beauty.

And you're free to make noises under the stars as loud as you want – all just steps from your accommodation!