15 Best Things to Do in Chiang Rai Thailand (2024)

Olly gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler & adventure photographer for 6 years with 700+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

Planning on visiting Chiang Rai? Then make sure to check out my first-timers guide to the best things to do in the city and its surroundings.

From soaking up the sun at the unique Chiang Rai beach to tea tasting on a local plantation– Chiang Ra’s tourist attractions have plenty to offer travelers.

Chiang Rai is Thailand’s northernmost province, located about five hours north of Chiang Mai and bordering both Laos and Myanmar. It’s home to some of the country’s most breathtaking temples which are some of the most intricate in the country.  Its rugged landscapes are breathtaking and it’s also a great region for mountain trekking and waterfall swimming.

After spending two weeks exploring the region, I’ve created this list of the best things to do in Chiang Rai Province to help you make the most of your time in one of my favorite spots in Thailand.

Visit the Waterfalls near Chiang Rai 

The countryside surrounding Chiang Rai is nothing short of epic, and there are some fantastic waterfalls within a close distance of the city. I really recommend hiring a motorbike or moped for the day and visiting a few different waterfalls– there are a handful of bike shops in the center of town around Jed Yod Temple, and prices usually cost around 200 baht for a full day’s rental. 

My three top recommendations for waterfalls in Chiang Rai are: 

  • Mae Sai Waterfall, a two-level waterfall located about half an hour’s drive from the center of town and is great for swimming and cliff jumping. 
  • Khun Korn Waterfall is probably the most popular waterfall in Chiang Rai but for good reason; it’s a whopping 70 meters tall and is one of the most impressive waterfalls in Thailand. 
  • Huay Kaew Waterfall attracts less attention than the other two, so it’s nice and quiet. This is definitely the most relaxing waterfall in Chiang Rai, and you can tie a visit in with the areas nearby hot springs as well.
Cliff jumping at awaterfall near chiang raiCliff jumping at awaterfall near chiang raiCliff jumping at awaterfall near chiang rai
Cliff Jumping at Mae Sai Waterfall

Enjoy Chiang Rai Beach

Location: Chiang Rai River Beach

When you think of Thai beaches, you probably imagine palm-tree-lined white sandy shores, and bright blue water dotted with longtail boats. Chiang Rai Beach is far from a typical Thai beach; it’s a river beach with a relaxed atmosphere and is the perfect place to cool off during the warmer months. 

My favorite thing about Chiang Rai beach is how peaceful it is– it hasn’t been commercialized at all, and there’s never more than a handful of people here so it feels like a real hidden gem. There are a couple of small local restaurants and bamboo huts lining the river selling some great local Thai food, so definitely plan to visit over lunchtime. 

If you’re in Chiang Rai during the rainy season, it’s probably not worth visiting– when the water level is high the beach pretty much disappears, plus the current is too strong to swim in.

Admire Wat Rong Khun, the Chiang Rai White Temple

Location: Lahaul-Spiti Pa O Don Chai Subdistrict

The white temple is probably Chiang Rai’s most famous attraction, and it’s the reason many travelers visit the area. The temple was designed by local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1997, and his aim was to honor Buddha’s purity which is why he opted for the unconventional color white. 

Chalermchai continues to add to the temple, and the level of detail in this place is insane. It’s one of those places that seems to get better the longer you look; different figures and sculptures are embedded into every part of the temple’s design, so definitely take your time here. 

Wat Rong Khun is also home to what might be Thailand’s most beautiful bathroom. The toilets are housed in an ornate building covered in gold leaf– it’s pretty impressive!

Wat rong khun, white temple of chiang raiWat rong khun, white temple of chiang raiWat rong khun, white temple of chiang rai

Tip: if you’re visiting the temple on a sunny day, make sure to bring sunglasses! The bright white color temple is covered in glass fragments and the temple reflects a lot of light, which can be quite harsh on the eyes.

Watch a Mind-blowing sunrise at Phu Chi Fa Viewpoint

One of the best places to visit during my trip to Chiang Rai was to watch the sunrise in Phu Chi Fa National Park. The viewpoint is located on a cliff ledge bordering Laos at an altitude of 1,442 meters, with stretching views of rugged mountain peaks and valleys.

As the sun begins to rise, a sea of mist covering the countryside below becomes visible– it’s an incredible sight, and I think it’s one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai. Whilst the viewpoint is quite popular with locals, not many international travelers seem to make the journey, and there’s plenty of space for everyone to spread out and watch the sunrise.    

Phu Chi Fa takes about two hours to reach from Chiang Rai, and the best way to get there is by motorbike or hiring a driver for the morning. To catch the sunrise you’ll need to leave Chiang Rai at around 3:00 am– if you fancy an extra few hours in bed, you could stay overnight in a village nearby. 

Travel Tip: Make sure to layer up as it gets pretty chilly at this altitude before the sun rises.

Stop by the Chiang Rai Clock Tower for the Evening Light Show

Location: Roundabout at Banphaprakan Road, Suk Sathit Road & Chet Yot Road

Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat didn’t just build the White Temple– he’s also responsible for Chiang Rai’s elaborate golden clock tower. Built in 2008 to honor the King, the ornate statue is designed in the same distinctive style as Wat Rong Khun and also doubles up as a traffic roundabout. 

Every evening as the clock chimes the hours of 7, 8, and 9 pm, there’s a laser light show accompanied by music. It’s a bit wacky, but it feels very Thai and is a fun little show to watch. 

The light show usually gathers a little crowd, and you can watch it from the roundabout or from one of the cafes overlooking the clock tower, like Fika Cafe which is right next to the tower and has a good view.

Learn about Northern Thailand’s History with the Opium Trade at the Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle area in the district of Chiang Saen is located on the border with both Myanmar and Laos, and visiting it is one of the most interesting things to do in Chiang Rai. 

For a period of time, this region was the largest producer of opium in Southeast Asia. As you can imagine, the area has a really dramatic history which travelers can learn about at the two opium museums in the town of Sop Ruak; the House of Opium and the Hall of Opium. I found learning about this part of Thailand’s history really interesting, and I definitely recommend it if you’re a fan of history.

While you’re in the area, make a stop at the Golden Triangle viewpoint where you can see all three countries (Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar) meet, at the point where the Mekong and Ruak rivers join.

Take a day trip to Chiang Mai 

While you’re in Chiang Rai, why not explore more of northern Thailand on a day trip to Chiang Mai? The cities are around a three-hour drive from one another, and the roads are easy to navigate yourself with a hired motorbike or rental car.

There’s a lot of things to do in Chiang Mai, but you can definitely tick some of the top spots off on a day trip. Spend the morning exploring the old town (using my guide to find the best things to see and do), and make sure to stop at Chiang Mai’s most iconic temples like Wat Chiang Man and Wat Phra Singh. 

Before heading back to Chiang Rai, make sure to stop at an ethical elephant sanctuary and spend the afternoon learning about and appreciating Thailand’s national animal. 

A lot of travelers also choose to visit Chiang Rai on a day trip from Chiang Mai, and some even skip it completely– but I think it’s one of Thailand’s most unique and underrated destinations, so it warrants spending at least a few days in!

Girl walking through chiang mai old town temples in thailandGirl walking through chiang mai old town temples in thailandGirl walking through chiang mai old town temples in thailand

Marvel at Chiang Rai’s Blue Temple, Wat Rong Suea Ten

Location: Rong Suea Ten, Rim Kok

Wat Rong Suea Ten is the newest addition to Chiang Rai’s unique temple scene, as it was only built in 2016. You might recognize the style– it was designed by artist Phuttha Kabkaew, who was a student of Chalermchai Kositpipat, the creator of the white temple and the clock tower. 

The whole Buddhist temple is clad in an exquisite shade of blue with gilded accents, both inside and out. The interior is home to a large white Buddha and mesmerizing murals, and no matter how many temples you’ve visited in Thailand, this one definitely feels unique. 

Wat Rong Suea Ten is about a 20-minute drive from the white temple, so the two can be visited pretty easily together. Alternatively, you could join a temple day tour, which stops at all of Chiang Rai’s top three temples as well as Baan Dam Museum (black house museum).

I’d recommend this option to travelers interested in learning more about Chiang Rai’s artists, as a tour guide can give you information that is harder to learn when visiting the attractions alone.

Hike Through the Chiang Rai Countryside

If you’re into hiking, you’re in luck in Chiang Rai– the countryside surrounding the city has some great trails. Some hikes I recommend in the area are: 

  • Huay Kaew Waterfall Nature Trail – a great hike to one of Chiang Rai’s best waterfalls. The trail is 10.9km long and is a fairly gentle hike. Both the waterfall and this trail can get pretty busy, so it’s worth heading there early in the morning. 
  • Mae Salong Tea Trail – this is a moderate intensity 3.1 km out-and-back trail through tea plantations, with some great views. The trail is located about an hour outside of town, and it can be hiked easily without a guide.  
  • Doi San Yao – Doi Pha Ngom – if you’re looking for a more challenging hike, this 15.9 km route is a great choice. It’s located in the Khun Chae National Park and takes about two hours to get to from Chiang Rai; it’s well worth the journey as it passes through some of the best scenery in northern Thailand.

Visit Huay Mark Liam Hot Spring in Lam Nam Kok National Park

Location: Tambon Doi Hang

Thailand’s northern mountainous regions are home to a handful of natural hot springs due to the underground geothermal activity in the area, and the Huay Mark Liam Spring is a great example of this. 

Sadly, the hot springs are actually too hot for swimming during most points of the year. I would still recommend a quick visit though– especially if you’ve never visited a hot spring before, as you can really feel the heat coming off the water and it’s a pretty cool natural phenomenon. 

You can find the hot spring about 40 minutes outside of Chiang Rai, and there are a few other points of interest nearby like the Huay Kaew Waterfall and the more commercialized Pong Phra Soet Hot Spring.

Take in the best view of Chiang Rai from Wat Huay Pla Kang

Location: 553 Moo 3 Rim Kok

The Wat Huay Pla Kang Temple Complex is another surreal religious monument in Chiang Rai. It was built in the early 2000’s by a local monk in an effort to restore an abandoned temple, and it’s a fascinating blend of Chinese and Lanna architecture.

The complex contains a nine-story pagoda, a big Buddha, a dragon staircase, plus the large Guanyin Statue, and they’ve all been designed with incredible attention to detail. 

The Wat Huay Pla Kang Temple Complex sits on top of a tall hill overlooking Chiang Rai and its surroundings, so make sure to climb to the 25th floor inside the Guanyin Statue for some epic views of the area.

Wat huay pla kang white buddha attraction in chiang rai, thailandWat huay pla kang white buddha attraction in chiang rai, thailandWat huay pla kang white buddha attraction in chiang rai, thailand
Wat huay pla kang – 9 step temple

Explore the Chiang Rai Night Markets 

The night markets in Chiang Rai might not be as big or famous than the ones in neighboring Chiang Mai– but they are a lot more laid-back and enjoyable. There are four main night markets in Chiang Rai: 

  • Chiang Rai Saturday Night Market takes place every week on Thana Lai Road. Here you’ll find work from local artisans, a selection of clothing and souvenirs, and some great street food. There’s a good atmosphere here with live music performances.
  • Sunday Happy Street can be found on Sankhongnoi Road every Sunday. It’s super laid back, and most of the vendors sell food and drinks rather than crafts. 
  • Chiang Rai Night Bazaar happens every evening near Chiang Rai Bus Station. This one is more touristy with a lot of the same souvenirs and products being sold, but there’s a great food section here and it gets quite lively as the night goes on. 
  • The Chiang Rai Municipal Market Food Court is a covered food market, open every evening between 7:00 and 11:00 pm. You’ll find some great authentic dishes here and a really local feel.

Stay with a Local Akha Hill Tribe Group on an Overnight Trekking Tour

The Akha people are a minority ethnic hill tribe group who live across various parts of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Southwest China, and some parts of Northern Vietnam. Although the Akha people live in Thailand, they follow a completely different way of life from the Thai majority. 

Staying with a hill tribe group in a small village is one of the best ways to learn about their way of life, and it’s a really unique thing to do in Chiang Rai. It’s also a way of supporting the Akha people financially– many ethnic minorities within Thailand haven’t been granted citizenship, so their income options are limited. 

This tour on Viator is a great way to stay with the Akha people as it’s a small group tour offering a truly authentic experience.

Take the Slow Boat to Laos

If you aren’t limited in time, one of the most adventurous things to do in Chiang Rai is to take the slow boat to Luang Prabang in Laos– it’s one of the most unique journeys I’ve ever done in South East Asia.

The long wooden boat spends two days drifting along the Mekong River, passing rural communities that live along the banks of the river. You can expect to see everything from fisherman cleaning their nets to children splashing around on their way home from school, all set into a backdrop of rolling hills and lush jungles. It gives you a real snapshot of life along the Mekong.

This slow boat option includes pick up from your hotel in Chiang Rai, and helps with all of the border crossing formalities.

Tea Tasting Session at Choui Fong Tea Plantation

Location: 157 Moo 6 Srikham

The mountainous landscape of Chiang Rai is perfect for growing tea, and it’s a popular crop in the area. Choui Fong Tea Plantation is the largest in the region, and they allow travelers to visit to learn about the process of producing tea.

Wander the grounds and watch farmers harvesting tea, before sampling the different varieties in the cafe on site. It’s some of the best tea in Thailand, and it’s pretty cool to see how it’s made.

Choui Fong Tea Plantation is located about an hour north of Chiang Rai, and is easily accessible by motorbike. There’s no entrance fee to visit, but you can purchase a guided tour which costs 100 baht per person.

Where to Stay in Chiang Rai

Looking for a great accommodation pick near Chiang Rai? Here are three options for every budget.

1. The Riverie Luxury

Nestled on the island in the middle of the Kok River, The Riverie by Katathani offers luxurious rooms surrounded by lush gardens and amazing views.

2. SuanTung Guest House Top-Reviews

This is one of the highest-rated budget guest houses in Chiang Rai. It’s super central, only a few minutes walk to the night market and the clocktower and the bus station.

3. Baan Mai Kradan Budget

With a 9.2/10 rating with hundreds of reviews, this might be the top-rated hostel in Thailand. Get Hi is a great social hostel in Chiang Rai for young adult travelers who want to meet people and have fun.

My Review: Is Chiang Rai Worth Visiting?

Reflecting on my two weeks in Chiang Rai, I must say that this place is a gem for those who cherish a blend of serene landscapes, rich culture, and local flavors. From hiking to jungle waterfalls like Khun Korn Waterfall to relaxing on the peaceful banks of Chiang Rai Beach, each location offered a unique atmosphere that felt genuinely Thai, untouched by the overwhelming commercialization seen in more tourist-heavy areas like neighboring Chiang Mai.

However, what truly captivated me were the ancient temples. Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple), with its intricate designs and unconventional white hue, is the most beautiful temple I’ve seen in Thailand. The lesser-known but equally stunning Blue Temple and the majestic views from Wat Huay Pla Kang made the trip to Chiang Rai worth it for me.

However, travelers looking for bustling city life or those who prefer typical sandy beaches might find Chiang Rai’s laid-back and rustic charm a bit too quiet. Additionally, the rainy season can limit access to some natural sites and make the river beach less enjoyable.

In conclusion, if you’re the type of traveler who loves to delve into the heart of local life, explore rich historical sites, and revel in nature, Chiang Rai offers an authentic slice of Northern Thai culture without the usual crowds. Its calm, beauty, and friendly, smiling people make it a worthwhile stop in Northern Thailand.

Olly gaspar and haylea brown at a viewpoint in chiang rai, thailandOlly gaspar and haylea brown at a viewpoint in chiang rai, thailandOlly gaspar and haylea brown at a viewpoint in chiang rai, thailand
We had a blast in chiang rai!

I hope this Chiang Rai travel guide has helped you plan your trip to Thailand’s North. Before you head off, check out some of my other blog posts below for more travel tips and ideas.