Chiang Rai City has a relaxed atmosphere with great local food and good-value guesthouses that make it a place to visit on the well-organized Thailand tours holidays. Plus, it makes a perfect layout point for the tourists that are planning an excursion into some of the more remote regions of the province.
Founded back in 1262, this city is never short of cultural and historical attractions and is blessed with a great collection of cuisine, language, art and temples.
In contrast to its sister town of Chiang Mai, this city is more down-to-earth and relaxed, while not having the greatest diversity of shopping, entertainment and nightlife.
The tourist sector in Chiang Rai is slowly starting to develop – although the riverside is still quite limited with minimal on offer except for a few high-end hotels. A great place to visit is Mae Kok which is best appreciated by hiring a long-tail boat for the day to see the stunning scenery on the two banks. Chiang Rai City is the type of destination that will appeal to the travellers wanting to chill out and relax while taking things slowly.
The preferred time to travel to Chiang Rai on the Thailand tour holiday packages is during the cool season that lasts from November to January with average temperatures in the region of 28° C. The months with the most rainfall is May to October with August getting the most and the time of year to avoid for those that want to avoid sightseeing in the rain. Also, the hottest month is April when the temperature can reach 34° C or more.
How to get there
Chiang Rai is located approx 825 km from Bangkok and therefore makes flight the most convenient and quickest travel option. But there are still alternative choices like bus and train that are likely to be more cost-effective.
Using public transport such as bus from Bangkok to Chiang Rai takes in the region of 11 to 12 hours to complete and costs about $12.50 to $25 which varies with the type of bus (first class, VIP, 2nd class air-con or standard). Also, the bus is likely to leave Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal once every two or three hours.
Travelling by train from Bangkok to Chiang Rai is possible with the closest train station to be found in Chiang Mai. For the onward travel it is possible to take a bus which takes about 4 hours and costs in the region of $8.50-$11.50.
Flying to Chiang Rai from Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok) is of course the most expensive option which prices in the region of $42.50 to $57.50. The flight time is quite short at 1 hour and 25 minutes.
Chiang Rai is relatively small and compact which makes it pretty easy to explore on the Holidays to Thailand by foot, bicycle or motorbike. But, for the longer journeys, there is the option to flag down the songtaew or tuk-tuk on most of the roads. A simple tour of the local town can include the Night Bazaar or central market (Kaad Luang), as well as the low-cost eateries and stores trading in local snacks.
The songtaews can vary from the fixed route to those that travel to the outlying destinations or popular tourist destinations. The fixed route songtaews travelling to a specific destination are the least expensive.
Where to stay
A visit to Chiang Rai makes it possible to stay in a guest house or hotel that matches all budget ranges. The preferred area for low-cost accommodation is near Jedyod Road, while the mid-range choices are more concentrated around Soi Sunpanad.
The large hotels like Wangcome and Wiang Inn are located near Phaholyothin while there are plenty of other places to stay that are scattered around the different roads in town. Most of the guesthouses and hotels offer a motorbike or bicycle hire services, as well as information and maps for ease in getting around.
Eat and drink
Most of the best places to eat and drink in Chiang Rai are located in a concentrated area near Phaholyothin road, Jedyod road and the Night Bazaar. But, there are still several eateries throughout town that offer a varied menu and inexpensive prices.
A visit to the Baan Chivit Mai bakery-cafe makes it possible to try the local freshly baked cookies and an espresso. The counter inside the cafe offers a great selection of pastries, baguettes, cookies and cakes. There is plenty of wooden furniture in the cafe to give a homey feel and is well located close to the Night Bazaar and the main bus terminal. Other items on the menu at Bann Chivit Mai include a few sandwiches, set breakfasts, and Thai and western dishes.
The open-air eatery Chiang Rai Nam Ngeow has the ability to serve up the tastiest meals, but is quite limited in regard to the number of items on the menu. One of the popular dishes is Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeow (noodles in a spicy northern style pork broth). Other great choices include Khao Soy (egg noodles in a spicy soup curry) and Khao Kriep Pak Mo (steamed rice-skin dumplings). The prices are inexpensive and the portions are quite small.
Shopping in Chiang Rai on the Indochina tour packages is quite limited, but there are a few natural-born craftsmen and artists that produce a variety of items for sale. The Saturday Walking Street and the Night Bazaar are preferred when it comes to finding something to buy. Some of the popular crafts produced by the locals include tribal items, textiles, health food, herbal teas and spa products.
The Chiang Rai Herbs Shop is great for herbal supplements and products. This long list of items includes fruit wines, spa products, exfoliation masks, dried Linzhi mushrooms, herbal capsules, slimming tea and Oolong tea. Even though this shop may appear quite basic, it is still a great one-stop shop for the herbs and spices.
A visit to the Chiang Rai Walking Street gives tourists a 1.5 km stretch of road to explore with plenty of food carts and shopping stalls, as well as live music. Walk this street for its tribal crafts, spa products, clothing and handicrafts. With the choice of goods on offer, this is a great place to bag some gifts and souvenirs for friends and family.
Things to see and do
Even though Chiang Rai city is quite small it is still a worthwhile destination for those travelling on the Thailand travel packages. While the city is relatively small it is the surrounding countryside that is vast in size and popular to explore. Many of the package tours include a day or two in this city, mostly for the local mountains and countryside.
Wat Rong Khun
One of the most famous and well known sights in Chiang Rai is the Wat Rong Khun (also referred to as the White Temple) which is nearly 10 km from town (costs about $8.50 by taxi). This temple has a lot to see and has a feel that is quite similar to a museum. There is often a queue to enter this temple because it is rated among the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand. The temple is a work-in-progress and self-funded and built by Chaloemchai Khositphiphat who is a Thai artist.
Black House (Baan Dam Museum)
A further cultural complex that was created by a local artist is the Black House, which is based on a variety of Thai architectural styles, including Lanna and spans nearly 40 structures. Many of the interior features are quite unique with woodwork, paintings, shells and buffalo horns. Entry fee to this museum is free.
Mae Fa Luang Cultural Park
A visit to the Mae Fa Luang Cultural Park is a very picturesque and serene destination that is only a short walk from the centre of town (approx 2 km). The park has several Lanna-style pavilions and a large lake as its focal feature, and a great place to visit for travellers that really want to relax after a sightseeing trip. A great feature is the Haw Kaew pavilion, which costs about $5.50 to enter.
A temple tour of Chiang Rai is certain to appeal to the tourists interested in the culture and history of this city. Most are within a short walk of each other, but not as impressive as the temples located in Chiang Mai. Some of the popular temples that are worth a visit include Wat Phra Kaew (home of the Emerald Buddha), the Wat Phra Singh, Wat Klang Wiang (great sculpted elephant statues and ornate white chedi), and Wat Jet Yot.
Saturday Walking Street
A fascinating place to visit on the weekend is the Saturday Walking Street, which is located on Thanalai Road. The market opens at about 6 pm and is quite expensive with a varied choice of stalls selling items like clothes, hill tribe handicrafts and pretty exotic snacks.
Other places in Chiang Rai that are worth a visit include Mae Fa Luang Gardens, Doi Tung for its great scenery, the hill tribe villages, and Golden Triangle (where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar).