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Chiang Rai Guide - All you need to know

As a peaceful neighbor of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is a land of outstanding natural beauty, where visitors come to forget the hustle and bustle of the city. Here, you can visit remote mountain hill tribes, see exotic wildlife and check-in at one of the spectacular temples in the world. Interestingly, this is also the center of opium trading in the world.

Clock tower on Chiang Rai street

Clock tower on Chiang Rai street


Today, Chiang Rai is a tourist paradise, blessed with abundant attractions, plus ancient historical sites. Tourist attractions are diverse, from the ruins of ancient settlements and Buddhist temples, to the beautiful mountains and villages. For those who love the natural scenery of Chiang Rai, trekking through the forest is a magical experience to explore the northern mountains through the various trekking trails. Many of these roads lead to the villages of diverse tribal groups, where many still maintain their traditional lifestyles. Chiang Rai, which has been rated as a "more relaxed" tourist destination than its neighbor, Chiang Mai, is now competing with Chiang Mai for tourism and is quickly becoming a "place to escape" for tourists who want to leave hardships behind.

Doi Mae Salong, Chiang Rai

Tourist walking in Doi Mae Salong


Chiang Rai History:

The city of Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 by King Meng Rai. Chiang Rai has existed since the 7th century, but it was not until 1262 that King Meng Rai established it as the first capital of the Lanna kingdom. Later, the capital Chang Rai merged with Chiang Mai and since then, Chiang Rai has lived under the shadow of its neighboring province.


Main tourist attractions in Chiang Mai:

  • Wat Rong Khun: When Wat Rong Khun (Later White Temple) was abandoned, the famous Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat bought and rebuilt it into a work of art and made its public debut in 1997. The temple was a perfect combination between classical Thai architecture and surreal style. The temple has an area not too large, only about 12,000 m2 but offers a very attractive art space. The first impression that caught the eye when setting foot in the temple was the white architectural scenery. In the light of the morning or sunset, the temple appears brilliantly or yellowish according to the moment of the day. Outside the temple, there are sculptures with tall figures rising to the blue sky. The deeper you go inside, the more you discover a different world. With works drawn by Chalermchai in cartoon style, characters such as Spiderman, Angry Birds or Minions are set into action. The temple also houses a Buddhist image of unique form. Because according to Chalermchai, a very sincere Buddhist, he wanted to convey the closeness of religion to the culture, the nation and the people not just sticking to tradition.

Wat Rong Khun - white temple in Chiang Rai

Wat Rong Khun - white temple in Chiang Rai


  • Wat Rong Suea Ten: Wat Rong Sue Ten was also renovated, based on the ruins of an ancient temple abandoned about 100 years ago. To this day Wat Rong Seua Ten (roughly translated as "the house of a dancing tiger") is still being made over to become a religious and artistic building in Chiang Rai. Thanks to the white Buddha statue that stands in front of the hall, the pagoda has a clear religious halo. Wat Rong Suea Ten impresses visitors with the sapphire blue background and gold-plated details on the outside. According to Buddhist legends, the blue color represents the virtue of the Buddha spread everywhere in the world, becoming the natural teaching of Buddhism. Visitors can easily see many pictures of the Naga serpent on the grounds of the Green Pagoda, which is very popular in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Although the temple’s architecture is influenced by Thai Buddhism, the space in the hall is not the style of any ordinary temples.

Wat Rong Seua Ten - blue temple in Chiang Rai

Wat Rong Seua Ten - blue temple in Chiang Rai


Chiang Rai Culture:

Chiang Rai is an old city famous for countless of ancient temples. Remember to wear appropriate dressing attire and speak softly at the temples to respect the poise and serenity of the sacred sites. Coming to Chiang Rai, not only the beautiful scenery amazes you; but also the festivals are the main factors that pull tourists closer towards the beautiful Chiang Rai city. One prominent festival is the sky lantern drop activities held in November. During the Lantern Festival (Yi Peng) Thailand, thousands of paper lanterns are released into the sky, adorned with written messages, prayers and wishes. Lanterns in the sky are called khom loi, which can be purchased at temples. Each lantern is a symbol of letting go of unhappiness and receiving merit, an important concept in Buddhism. According to the notion that if your temple fly high and disappear, you will receive luck, your prayers will reach the Buddha. The sky lantern drop festival is celebrated on the 12th lunar month.

Lantern Festival in Chiang Rai

Lantern Festival in Chiang Rai


Weather in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai has 2 seasons: the dry and rainy season. The rainy season usually takes place during the summer. The best time to visit Chiang Rai is from late November to early February, when festivals are carried out mostly and the climate is favorable. Chiang Rai’s weather is relatively cool with not much rain during the peak tourist seasons. Therefore, tourists are recommended to bring along some sweaters to avoid getting cold.


Transportation in Chiang Rai

There are many ways to get to Chiang Rai

  • By bus: From Bangkok, there are two types of buses, air-conditioned and non-departing from the Northern Bus Terminal in Bangkok (Mo Chit 2). The journey can take 9-11 hours, so if you take a bed, you will more comfortable. From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, buses run daily, departing from the Chiang Mai arched bus stop. The distance is about 182 km which takes 3 hours to arrive.
  • By train: There is no direct train to Chiang Rai. Guests must take a train from Bangkok to Lampang (takes 9 hours), or to Chiang Mai (11 hours.) And then take a bus to Chiang Rai. From Lampang, it takes 2 more hours and from Chiang Mai it takes about an hour and a half. For more information, call the Thai state rail number.
  • By plane: Thai Airways and Thai AirAsia have daily flights connecting Bangkok with Chiang Rai. From Chiang Mai, both airlines, Thai Airways and Nok Air, have flights only a few days a week.


Travel Tips

To save some expenses, tourists are recommended to rent a bike or motorbike to travel around in Chiang Rai. This is very convenient as you get to save money, enjoy the fresh air and get to your intended destinations quickly at the same time.

Local currency in Chiang Rai is Baht. If you start your trip from Bangkok, you should exchange spare money before heading to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. However, there are some money exchange stations in the Old City of Chiang Mai as well.

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