chiang rai travel guide itinerary white temple

Chiang Rai Travel Guide and Sample Itinerary

Located in the northernmost mountainous region of Thailand, Chiang Rai is usually known to backpackers of the Banana Pancake Trail as the jump-off point for the Golden Triangle. For many travelers, it is still unknown. If you’re going to Chiang Mai though, I highly encourage you not to skip Chiang Rai and the other northern Thailand provinces. Here’s my Chiang Rai travel guide and sample itinerary during my 2 days in the province last year.

Chiang Rai: background

The ancient city was founded by King Mengrai in the 13th century as the second capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Nowadays, Chiang Rai is inhabited by a diverse population of city dwellers, hill tribes and migrants from nearby Myanmar and China resulting in a mishmash of cultures, traditions, and way of life.

The province’s highlight is its proximity to the borders of Myanmar and Laos as well as the access to the mountains in the west and the Mekong River. The more relaxed atmosphere in Chiang Rai is why some travelers label it as a sleepy town. There is hardly nightlife here and if there is, it no way compares to Chiang Mai or Bangkok.

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Chiang Rai Travel Guide

How to Get to Chiang Rai

Coming from Chiang Mai, I took a Greenbus from Chiang Mai Bus Station. Travel time took around 3 hours. Tickets can be bought 60 days in advance but since I was traveling during the low season (September 2015), I bought it on the day I was traveling.

BOOK HERE & CHECK BUS SCHEDULEChiang Mai to Chiang Rai by bus

From Bangkok, you can take a bus from the Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) and choose either a non-airconditioned or an air-conditioned bus. Travel time is around 9 to 11 hours so take the sleeper bus to save up on accommodation too.

BOOK HERE & CHECK BUS SCHEDULEBangkok to Chiang Rai by bus

You can take a domestic flight from Bangkok via AirAsia, Nok Air, Thai Smile Airways, Bangkok Airways, and Lion Air.

BOOK HERE & CHECK FLIGHT SCHEDULEBangkok to Chiang Rai by flight

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How to Get Around Chiang Rai

There are plenty of buses that can you ride to nearby provinces and points of interest. You can also rent a bicycle or motorbike to go around. There are also tuk-tuks and songthaews that you can ride.

Where to Stay in Chiang Rai

I booked an overnight stay in a hostel within walking distance from the Old Bus Terminal. Mercy Hostel was one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in.

mercy hostel chiang rai

READ: Mercy Hostel Chiang Mai Review

Check here to see Mercy Hostel’s updated pricing and availability

What to see in Chiang Rai

1. White Temple

Also called as Wat Rong Khun, the famous White Temple is as mesmerizing as it is in pictures. It was built and designed by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. If you’re lucky, you might even see him walking around.

I took a 20 baht local bus from the Old Bus Terminal which dropped me off the highway. You still have to cross the road and walk a few meters to get to the White Temple. Photos are not allowed inside the central temple so make sure you take it all in and notice all the small details on the murals.

white temple chiang rai

Don’t take the other buildings for granted too. They are also a must-see especially the other structures as well as the famous golden toilet building!

From the highway, I waited for the bus that goes back to the Old Bus Terminal.

Visitor Notes: Standard dress code for temples applies. No smoking, food, and drinks allowed inside the temple grounds. Shoes are also removed before entering the central temple. Entrance fee of 50 THB.

white temple chiang rai panorama

wat rong khun golden toilet chiang rai

Behold, the golden toilet (see the signage on the sides?)


2. Black House Museum (Baan Dam)

In contrast to the White Temple are the black houses by Thawan Duchanee, a national artist of Thailand. The biggest house is the museum and displays a plethora of curio. Animal skin, human hair, animal bones, and lots of other surprises if you care to take a look.

chiang rai inside baan dam museum

some of the obscurities inside Baan Dam Museum

There are other black houses in the area but not all are open to the public. The artist also showcases Balinese, Burmese, and Ayutthaya architecture. The whole area lends off that dark vibe that is even made more creepy by the little things found inside the black houses. Definitely a must-see for art lovers and those who like obscure and weird things.

You can get there by bus (from the Old Bus Terminal) and just walk from the main road all the way to the museum. We were waiting for a bus to get back to the Old Bus terminal but it took a long time so we just hailed a songthaew to take us back to town.

Entrance fee: 80 THB

chiang rai black house museum

some of the black houses in the compound

Other museums to see: Hill-Tribes Museum and Education Centre, Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park, Oub Kham Museum

3. Wat Jed Yod

Meaning Seven Peaks, Wat Jed Yod got its name from the chedi with seven peaks which can be found behind the main temple. A temple of the same name can also be found in Chiang Mai. Aside from the famous White Temple, there are other temples worth checking out in Chiang Rai. This one is nearest from the hostel where I stayed.

chiang rai wat jed yod

Other temples you can see: Wat Klang Wieng, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong, Wat Srin Bun Ruang

4. Chiang Rai Clock Tower

Bearing the same design as the White Temple, Chiang Rai’s Clock Tower is an awesome find in the downtown area. This ornate structure serves as an important landmark in the capital of Chiang Rai province. Built in 2008 to honor His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the golden clock tower becomes an attraction at night. When the clock strikes at 7:00 PM, 8:00 PM, and 9:00 PM, a light, and sound show appear. Drop by before or after going to the night market!

We went at 7:00 PM and my dormmates said that they saw a different show when they went at 9:00 PM.

chiang rai clock tower

Location: Intersection of Phaholyotin, Banphaprakan, and Jed Yod roads

5. Chiang Rai Night Bazaar

What makes this night market unique compared to the night markets in Chiang Mai, are the items made by the hill-tribes. Most of them are even handmade! Although you can see some of it sold elsewhere, the prices are mostly cheaper here. The market area is quite organized and there is a separate area for the food stalls and dining area. The food has a good variety but there are still some stalls that sell the same food. Bestseller is the hot pot! An entertainment stage can be seen in the center where local artists perform. When we were there, though, much focus was on the television showing the football finals.

chiang rai night bazaar

Other places you should see in Chiang Rai:

Phu Chi Fah in Amphoe Thoeng is for mountain lovers and is very popular during winter time. Those wanting to see the Golden Triangle can head to Chiang Saen. Most backpackers I’ve talked to told me that it was too overrated and not really worth the boat ride. The House of Opium was more interesting since opium used to pass freely in between the three countries. Coffee aficionados, as well as agriculture buffs, will enjoy Doi Chang.

Another agri-tourism destination is Singha Park where there are different attractions to choose from – from the farm tours, zip line, gardens, and many more.

singha park chiang rai

*Updated June 2017:

Another temple getting popular with travelers is the Blue Temple (Rong Suea Ten) built by a student of Mr. Kositpipat (maker of White Temple). It was completed last 2016. No entrance fee but donations are always welcome.

Check here to know how to get to Blue Temple.

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Additional Reading: Chiang Mai’s Hill Tribe Royal Project

Sample Itinerary: Chiang Rai

Day 1

11:00 AM Chiang Mai Bus Terminal: Bus to Chiang Rai

2:00 PM Arrival in Chiang Rai Old Bus Terminal

2:10 PM Check-in Mercy Hostel


4:00 PM Walk around the city

Visit temples/Find a spot for sunset viewing

6:00 PM Head to Chiang Rai Night Bazaar

9:00 PM Chiang Rai Clock Tower

Day 2

8:00 AM Breakfast

Check out. Leave things at Reception

9:00 AM Walk to Old Bus Terminal

10:00 AM White Temple

12:00 PM Lunch in the food court in front of White Temple

1:00 PM Head back to Old Bus Terminal

2:00 PM Bus to Black House Museum

3:00 PM Black House Museum

5:00 PM Bus back to Chiang Mai

Best time to visit Chiang Rai

Like Chiang Mai, the best time to visit Chiang Rai is during the “winter” season from November to February. Temperatures are in the 27 to 30 C range during the day and can go as low as 13 to 17 C at night or even lower.

Hottest months are from March to May while June to October are the wettest months which can have 10 to 20 days of rain.

Festivals include Songkran which is celebrated nationwide in Thailand during April, food festival during the month of December, and flower festival from December to January. Around Valentine’s day, the blossoming of Dok Sieo flowers is celebrated at Pu Chi Fah. You can also catch the cherry blossoms blooming during December to January in Chiang Rai. They also have a dedicated festival (Tea and Sakura festival) for it in Doi Mae Salong near the end of December.

What to eat in Chiang Rai

Food in Northern Thailand, known as Lanna food, is slightly different from what can be usually eaten in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand. The most popular is Khao Soi, which is egg noodles in coconut milk curry and can be eaten in restaurants or as street food. The spiced pork sausage, Sai Oua, is also not to be missed. Sticky rice is also more common in the north.

Lap Moo is not for the faint-hearted as it includes pork skin, offal, and even blood.

khao soi

Have you been to Chiang Rai? What can you add to the guide? 


Darlene is currently on the road again and traveling full-time after being an expat/overseas Filipino worker in Qatar. She's rediscovering what it means to travel solo and in her 30s while working on her blogs.


  • This place is incredible. I’m always fascinated by the
    Asian style building. Definately on my to go to list. Grteat post.

  • I would have loved to visit Chaing Rai on my trip to Thailand a few years back, but I simply didn’t have the time. The white temple looks fabulous, but I didn’t know there were other surrounding buildings there as well, since everything always focuses on the white temple itself. And I’d never even heard of the Golden Toilet building, but it looks just as intricate and beautiful as the White Temple!

  • I’ve always wanted to visit the White Temple! The golden toilet building looks pretty, as well. I love all the detail on all the buildings there–I would definitely be interested in heading to Chiang Rai soon. Thanks for the great tips!

  • The details of the structures of the temples are awe inspiring! Really want to see them now, will be sure to make use of this itinerary, thanks 🙂

  • Laura Lynch

    I will always be amazed by the White Temple. I’m glad to hear that it’s just as beautiful in person as in pictures. I think most people overlook Chiang Rai for the more usual traveler favorites in Thailand and that’s clearly a mistake.

  • Thanks for the itinerary! The White Temple has been on my radar for a while now – such stunning architecture! But I wasn’t aware of what else there was to do in Chiang Rai. Thanks!

  • This is the post I need. I am traveling to Thailand in Feb 2017. I am still finalizing places I need to visit. I will shortlist Chiang Rai as well now.

  • Wow, all those methodically built temples are incredible. True eye candy for all travelers. There are so many things to draw you into this area I don’t think 2 weeks would do it justice.

  • wow, those are pretty amazing point and shoot photos! I love the black temple and the black houses. What a stunning place

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