Chiang Rai is a diverse paradise in Northern Thailand which is filled with lush green mountains, hill tribes, national parks, local rice fields, lots of temples, and national parks. Chiang Rai is often compared to what Chiang Mai used to be a 20 or 30 years ago before the buzz and booming of tourism.
Now Chiang has everything that Bangkok and Chiang Mai have, ranking from local franchise shops to international fast food and restaurant chains, from local cafe to world’s top brand coffeehouses. Chiang Rai also has several groups of interests of expats that meet regularly.
What Bangkok and Chiang Mai don’t have is large part of Chiang Rai has still remained unspoiled by influx of tourism. You can still find a slice of slow local life almost every village not too far from city center. When compre to Chiang Rai is smaller, quieter, and the traffic is still not as bad as Chiang Mai.
Is Chiang Rai worth seeing after visiting Chiang Mai?
Yes. After Chiang Mai it is worth visiting Chiang Rai. There many similarities between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai but there are many differences. Chiang Mai city is much more developed and established as a tourist center. The city itself become more like a large municipality.
Chiang Mai has much more to offer in the way restaurants, coffee shops, shopping and entertainment. The countryside outside city is still green, lush and gorgeous but you have to travel quite far from city center. There are full activities available but mostly aimed for tourists while authentic local tradition start to fade away.
Chiang Rai is a sleepier town, far less busy than Chiang Mai. It still remains in many ways about 20-30 years behind Chiang Mai. Not far out the city center, you can still see slow life pace of local people in city itself, while in Chiang Mai it seems everybody is in hurry like they do in Bangkok.
Brief History of Chiang Rai
Based on various findings, the ancestors of people in northern Thailand, which include Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lam Pang, Lamphoon, Phrae and Nan Province) migrated from China several thousand year ago and formed a new kingdom called. Chiang Saen is believed to be the very first city of this new-formed “Yonok Chaiburi Sri Chiang Saen Kingdom”, later became Lanna Kingdom.
Several kings had been throned and capital city had been moved to a few locations for several hundred years until 1259 AD when King Mang Rai ascended the throne and established the new capital city on the Kok River called “Chiang Rai” which is the name after himself, when Chiang mean “a city”, and Rai is the king name. Chiang Rai become the latest capital city of the kingdom at that time.
As soon as he became a king, King Mang Rai conquered Chiang Tung (part of Myanmar in present day), Phang (Chiang Mai in the present day) and some part of lower Northern Thailand today. At that time, Lanna Kingdom covered small part of lower China, west part of Myanmar, Laos, and spread to upper part of central Thailand, the country that didn’t exist that time.
In 1292 AD, 33 years after his throne, King Mang Rai established a new and bigger capital city of his kingdom called Nopburi Sri Nakornping Chiang Mai and later is had been shorten to Chiang Mai which mean “the New City”. This is the start of the new Kingdom called “Lanna Kingdom”.
King Mang Rai lived in Chiang Mai until his death. Later Chiang Mai became more and more prosperous while Chiang Rai start to diminish into one of a minor city of the kingdom.
So far many people think that Chiang Rai was the second capital city behind Chiang Mai, however, from the study it is the first capital city of Lanna Kingdom, and according to history finding Chiang Saen is the oldest cities of Thailand (but was not the capital city at that time) which is dated more than 700 years old.
Why you should go to Chiang Rai
There are probably thirty reasons why you should visit Chiang Rai, however I will just give you about 5 reason.
1) It’s Cheap
Many westerners find that Thailand is cheap, and Bangkok where more than 20 million people visit each year, is cheap. Chiang Rai is a lot cheaper than Bangkok for which, it is about 40-50% cheaper. Food and drink is around 60% cheaper. For 35 Baht ($1), you can buy one-dish menu which is enough for one meal. Of course, the price may increase to 40 or 45 Baht per dish but it’s still cheap. For a proper dinner of 2 persons, it is around 400 Baht while it is about 1,000 Baht in Bangkok.
Hotels with the same standard as in Bangkok are about 30-40% cheaper as well. If consider all the cost together, the cost of living for Thai people in Chiang Rai is about one third of Bangkok, and about about two third in case of expats.
However, beer and whiskey have almost the same price no matter what part in the country.
2) Great local food
Thailand doesn’t have only Tom Yum Koong, Som Tam or Green curry. There are a number of exotic food that is hard to find in Bangkok. Northern Thailand food has unique taste, normally a bit hot from fired chills, spicy from spices, sour from local lime but not sweet.
Basically there are 4 different style of Thai food, central, southern, northern (or just call “Isaan”) and Northern Thailand food. Northern Thailand food is probably the most difficult to make because it required local ingredients that not easy to find in other part of the country with too much time for the preparation.
Unlike central Thailand and Isaan food, young people nowadays don’t like to learn cooking Northern Thailand food because of its massive preparation. This is one the reason why you don’t find a lot of Northern Thailand food in Bangkok.
So in Chiang Rai, you will be able to taste very authentic Northern Thailand food cooked by local people. Northern Pork Curry (Kaeng Hang Lei), Northern Thai Sausage, Nam Prik Ong and Nam Prik Noom, Northern Noodle Curry and Khanom Jeen Nam Ngiao are top menus you should try.
3) Friendly people
Chiang Rai is exceptionally foreigner-friendly and generally very safe for female solo travelers. Even it became rare city center, you can still see people smile and greet to you when you walk on local street in country side. Thai people in other region, local people don’t normally start conversation with foreigners first.
4) Most comfortable climate in Thailand
Bangkok is too hot to live. Chiang Rai is located at a higher altitude than Bangkok, so it has cooler temperatures and less humidity. There are still some area of forests in preserved areas in Northern Thailand, and also in Laso and Myanmar. These forests have some effect in cool temperatures nearby. However, during summer it is still very hot but still far less humid than Bangkok.
5) Decent expat community network
The expat community in Chiang Rai is not as big as in Chiang Mai, Samui, Pattaya and Phuket. Sometimes you don’t know a place that is crowded with foreigners like Pattaya and Phuket. Chiang Rai is one of the best cities for expat who like to travel or live here.
The expat community here is not large but is very decent in the size. Expat and travelers are able to enjoy living among locals while having comfort with international interest groups that meet monthly. There is a guy name Marty, he form a friendly expat community in Chiang Rai both online and offline that meets monthly. Check Chiang Rai expat community at www.chiangraities.com
Best time to visit Chiang Rai
The best time to visit Chiang Rai (and other parts of Northern Thailand) is winter. normally starts from the beginning of November to middle of February. During this period, the price of most (but not all) of the accommodations increases between 30% – 50% from the original price, airfares increase around 30%. However, the price of food and drinks doesn’t change much.
Can I travel there in other seasons? Absolutely! Chiang Rai in one of a few provinces in Thailand that nice weather all year round and many places are good to visit outside winter. The top most famous places like White Temple, all other temples, Doi Mae Salong, Doi Tung and Golden Triangle in summer or rainy season.
A few things you will gain from visiting Chiang Rai during summer are it’s cooler during the day and cold at night, and you can see mist covered mountains (local people usually called it “sea of mist”). Most of Thai people like sold weather and that’s why there are full of local travelers up north every year.
How to get to Chiang Rai
If you are in Bangkok, there are 4 options. By private car, by bus, by train and by airplane.
For buses, you can take a bus from the Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) and choose either a non-aircon (about 500-600 Baht) or an air-con bus (between 700 and 950 Baht). If choose this route, it will take about 10-12 hours to reach Chiang Rai.
For train, you can get a train at Hua Lampong staion with is the terminal station. It has both non-aircon car and aircon sleeper car, and travel time is around 12 to 16 hours to Chiang Mai. There you can enjoy Chiang Mai for a few days.
From Chiang Mai, you can take a Greenbus from Chiang Mai Bus Station to Chiang Rai station. Travel time took around 3 hours. You can also book via their website www.greenbusthailand.com or buy ticket a in Greenbus office in Chiang Mai itself.
The most convenient way and not expensive as many expected is travel by planes. There 4 budget airline flying to Chiang Rai daily – Air Asia, Nok Air, Lion Air and Thai Smile Air which take only 1 hour to reach the destination.
Air Asian is considered to be the best and most economical airline among the four. The one-way air fare during low season is normally around 700 Baht (excluding taxes) and around 1,500 Baht during high season. If you plan well in advance, it’s even less than 1,000 Baht per leg. If you miss Air Asia, Nok Air and Lion Air are another good choice. Their prices are a little bit higher but not more than 300 Baht per leg.
Bangkok Airways is an upper class of airline but the airfare is still not too high. Normal ticket price from Bangkok to Chiang Rai is normally between 1,200 – 1,800 Baht per leg which is a very decent price.
Top Destination in Chiang Rai
1. Wat Rong Khun
There is no introduction required for Wat Rong Khun or White Temple by now. Almost everybody who visit Thailand must have heard or read about it at some point. Wat Rong Khun is probably the second most famous temple in Thailand, just behind Wat Prakaew (Gran Palace).
The White Temple is design and built by Mr. Chalermchai Kositpipat, a Chiang Rai-born artist who became wealthy by selling his painting to high-end customers. Almost 100% of the fund for the construction and materials of White Temple came from his own money.
Mr. Chalermchai claims that he built the White Temple to honor King Rama IV (King Bhumibol Adulyadej) who died October 2016. There is no real monks and very little Buddhism rituals in the temple.
Based on his interviews the White Temple cost roughly 1.1 billion Baht ($32 million at current exchange rate). Besides the main building, there is still a plan build totally 9 smaller building with different style but so far still hasn’t finished and many part of temple are still under construction.
Since the opening in 1997, there was no admission fee but in 2016 the temple started to collect 50 Baht from foreign visitors as for the housekeeping expenses.
i) After visiting the White Temple, you can head to Ryokan Chiang Rai
ii) Singha Park is about 6 kms away on the local lies in front the White Temple. You can continue to Singha Park on the same trip, and from Singha Park, there is pavement road leading to city center without coming back to the main road.
2. Singha Park (Boon Rawd farm)
Originally aimed to be an 3100-acre barley farm for Singha Brewery some 30 years ago but the quality of production didn’t meet the expectation. Later barley had been teared down and the farm was turned in to tea and fruit plantation and open for public to visit various areas inside.
There are 7 areas you can enjoy inside the park. The first point is Singha hill & floura garden and coffee shop at the entrance of the park. Second area is the lake with Jujube farm and another flower garden.
Third point is tea plantation and small hill covered with flowers. There is 400 acres of tea plantation of various fruits. In this area, you can visit strawberry farm, passion fruit and others here. They have small section for visitor to look it closer and used to allow visitor to pick a few strawberry but small kid often caused damages. So now they prohibit visitors to pick the fruits from most of the areas.
The fourth area is a animal farm which is like a mini safari where you can see and play with animals like giraffe, goats, ostriches and sheep. The fifth area is a bicycle park and festival farm. In this area, you can rent a bicycle and ride along the bicycle path to view magnificent view of the farm in the afternoon. This area also where festival are held.
Ziplining and wall climbing are both available here and the price is very high for these short activities. The price for ziplining is 800 Baht per person a short flight to take in some of the panoramic views from above the tea plantation. The climbing wall costs 150 Baht per person.
Sixth point is a hill in the middle of the park covered with another tea plantation. It is a spot to view the whole area 360 degrees. There is a restaurant in an elevated level here call “Phupirom”. It is a lovely place to dine and relax with delicious Thai food but the price is as high as in Bangkok. And the seventh area is green houses for winter vegetables and herbs grown in control temperature.
The park is huge but you don’t have to walk all the way to each area because there are electric trams with a tour guide available to carry visitors to various points, leaving every 15 minutes from 8.00 am to 7.00 pm and the cost is 50 Baht per adult and 25 for child.
3. Black House
Black House or Baan Dam Museum is built by Thawan Datchanee, another well-known artist in Chiang Rai. His controversial art works were not that popular until time of his death several years ago. Black house used to be a studio and a house of Thawan while he was still alive and later becomes a museum of his dar-art which is representing the darkness in humanity mixed with traditional northern Thai architecture.
There are about 40 various architectural styles housing in black scattered across the area. The houses contain strange objects that some people call “arts” such as red and black hues, snake skins, skulls, a whole elephant skeleton and various other animal parts. There are also survivors such as post card, printed photos, t-shirt, hand back made from lenin, Mr. Thawan’s funny-shape miniature and some collectibles.
The Black House far from the Chiang Rai city center about 10 kilometers. From the city of Chiang Rai, drive up to the airport, pass Chiang Rai Airport and go straight to Singha Brewery Company Limited on the left hand and turn left at Soi 1. Straight ahead about 3 kilometers to reach the Black House.
Black house is open for everyone from 9.00 to 12.00 and 13.00 to 17.00 hrs daily, and no entrance fee.
4. Doi Mae Salong
Doi Mae Salong is located in Mae Fah Luang District which is right along the border of Myanmar, about 70 kms from Chiang Rai city center. Mae Salong is village on the top of the mountain and it is home of a Yunannese who are children of Chinese military Kuomintang (KMT) division that settled here since 1961 who later have been given Thai citizenship not long after that.
Doi Mae Salong is also home of numerous hill tribes such as Lisu and Lahu living along side with Thai-Yunnanese. Near the peak of the mountain you will magnificent view of several tea plantations. Mae Salong is famous for its oolong – Taiwanese tea that has been grown and sold successfully in Thailand.
There are a number of activities you can enjoy in this small town which include visiting the local hilltribe villages and markets; visiting the unusual Chinese Martyr’s Memorial; hiking to The Phra Boromathat Chedi on the peak of the mountain; climbing up to the pagoda on the west side of town.
Morning market in town is the best place to start a new day. You will see hill tribe people and Thai-Yunannese sell fruit and vegetable in the market which sometimes covered with thing fog. In every corner of the town you can find a shop for rice porridge with Thai herbs, fried noodles, deep-fried Chinese dough drink with soy milk as breakfast. In town, don’t forget to try excellent Yunnanese cuisine which is very hard to find elsewhere.
During the day, just relax in a lovely cafe name “Sweet Mae Salong Cafe” and enjoy the view of lush green mountains. Outside the town, there are many spots you can see the magnificent views over the surrounding landscape. Unlike Singh Park, 101 Tea plantation farm focuses mainly on producing and selling various kinds of tea but it is open for anybody to visit. Here you can enjoy your tea while admiring the tea plantation with a mountain backdrop
As for accommodations, Doi Mae Salong was not initially set up to be tourist destinations. The communities there have heavy influence from China. As a result the decoration style and accommodation standards are more indicative of China than Thailand. It is quite hard to see Thai-style modern resort there, but what you will get is the feeling of the distinctly Chinese vibe, being in hilltop setting, and exploring the abundance of hill tribes in the peak of the mountain.
Doi Mae Salong has cool temperature all year round and it is particularly busy during winter – from November through February, when temperatures drop below 20 degrees and tourists from the rest of Thailand flock here for a touch of cold weather. It is great place to kick back and relax for a day or two.
5. Doi Tung
Many tourists mistakenly understand that Doi Tung is just a name of Doi Tung Development Project or name of a royal palace or even name of coffee. In fact, Doi Tung a mountain in Mae Fa Luang District, Chiang Rai, with the elevation of 1,400 meters above sea level and there is a palace in it.
Doi Tung is the fourth highest mountain in Chiang Rai, behind Doi Lungka Noi, Khun Chae peak in Khun Chae National Park and Doi Chaang. Doi Tung is also known by the locals as Flag Mountain.
As a legend goes, a king of Yokok Nakapan (Mae Chan District now) about 1900 years ago, received part of Śarīra (Buddha’s relics) to enshrined in one of the holy temples in there. He decided to build a temple with a big pagoda for the relics but the temple should have a known boundary..
So the king had his people stick a flag with 2,000 meters (some people said 1,000 meters) in length on the peak of the mountain. Whatever area reached by the end of this flag, he would called it part of the temple. Then he built a temple on the top and give people who live nearby some pieces of land and jewelry to protect the temple and area around. People started to call this mountain as mountain of flag or Doi Tung in Thai and call the temple at the peak as “Wat Phra That Doi Tung” or Doi Tung Temple in English. I personally don’t believe in this legend but found it is clever to have interesting story to backup sacred places.
Several hundred years later King Meng Rai, King of Chiang Rai that time build new pagoda new to the old one and that is why there are 2 pagodas until today. The legend doesn’t make much of sense but the temple in the Doi Tung peak is sure to be one of the oldest intact construction in Chiang Rai.
Many years ago this area had been occupied by hill tribes depended mainly on growing and dealing in narcotic drugs which is the product of opium grown in Mae Sai and the area nearby.
It was Her Royal Highness Princess Srinakarindra (King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s mother) or Princess Mother in short, who saw the danger of this narcotic drugs and traveled to Chiang Rai several times a year to supervise royal projects to reduce production of opium in the province. At some point Chiang Rai became her second home and she wished to build a summer palace there.
The Forest Department planned to present the land for the construction of the Royal Villa to the Princess Mother to stay while being in Chiang Rai. However, she refused their offer because she think it is not right to take a land from the government.
She established Doi Tung Development Project and a foundation called Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage in order to fight opium production in Chiang Rai. Later she has the Royal Villa built in Doi Tung with her private funds not very far from Phra That Doi Tung. The land of Royal villa was leased from the Forest Department to the foundation for 30 years which is the same period as the project’s time frame.
Now Royal Villa is preserved as a museum, used as a base to oversee the works of the Doi Tung development project and is open to the public and can be visited along with Mae Fah Luang garden. Normally a trip to Doi Tung is often combined with a visit to Chui Fong Plantation, Doi Ma Salong and Mai Sai.
Admission to the Royal Palace and the gardens is 100 Baht per person. Both open from 7:30am to 5:30pm daily. However, you don’t have to go inside the Rayal Palace if you don’t want to. There are several rest areas, coffee shops, view points and the house of Royal project that you can enjoy browsing items inside without going inside the palace area. You can even go up straight to Doi Tung temple at the peak.
Not far from Mae Fah Luang Garden there is Tree Top Walk, a steel bridge 20 meter above the ground that allows visitors to see the jungle from a bird’s-eye view. The cost is 150 Baht per person entrance fee.
6. Chiang Saen & Hall of Opium
Based on archaeological studies, Chiang Saen could be the oldest city in modern Thailand, dated back to more than 5,000 years ago before Thailand even existed. It was the first known for Lanna Kingdom before it diluted into later kingdoms and become Siam and Thailand later on.
About 60 kms from Chiang Rai city center, Chiang Saen is probably the least visited famous city in Chiang Rai as it is far and not many activities to do. Most tourists know Chiang Saen for a popular Golden Triangle day tour which is only one among many activities you can do there.
During 50s to 70s, the Golden Triangle used to be infamous as one of the largest producers of opium. Large amount of narcotic drug came to Thailand via Chiang Saen. The Royal Projects by King Rama IV and Doi Tung Development Project, have spent and a lot of time and a lot of resources to battle with this trade.
Of course, Chiang Saen is not for everyone, especially if you have a short trip. There is almost none of magnificent scenery or stunning mountain view in Chiang Rai. However if you like laidback atmosphere, or you want to get in touch closer to locals and learn more about cultures of people in Mekong basin, Chiang Saen the city that you should visit.
Besides, the Golden Triangle, there are more you can see and do, such as local markets, museums, city ruins and old temples, opium museums, elephant riding, bamboo rafting, boat trip, mountain hiking, etc. The below are where you can go and what you can do in Chiang Saen.
Chiang Saen National Museum.
The museum, located near the old city walls, is famous for its invaluable Buddha images and artefacts of the Chiang Saen Kingdom which flourished in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Wat Phra That Chedi Luang
Located next to the museum, this ancient temple features the tallest pagoda in Chiang Rai. The 88-metre high brick pagoda is in the bell shape of the classic Lanna style.
Wat Phra That Chom Kitti
This temple ruin, situated on a hilltop a few kilometers north of Wat Pa Sak, has a pagoda containing a Buddha relic. While on the hilltop, visitors can enjoy a good view of Chiang Saen and the Mekong River.
Separated by Mekong River, this is where the border of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. To get a wider view of the banks of Myanmar and Laos, you can climb up Doi Chiang Miang on the riverside. Just enjoy the natural beauty and be proud that you have been to a widely-known locality. There are boat services for tourists to enjoy the scenery and to cruise to Chiang Saen county.
The Hall of Opium
Located 10 km north of Chiang Saen Town (near the Golden Triangle), it was established in cooperation by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) with initial funding from the Japanese Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund. Visitors will journey through more than 5,000 years history of the use and abuse this narcotic drug.
There are displays of the origins of the opium poppy, the medical and ritual use of opium in ancient civilizations, its spread throughout the world, the Opium Wars and their impact on China, the century of legal opium use in Thailand, the role of opium and other narcotics in modern medicine, and international efforts to control narcotics. Vivid and thought provoking presentations of the effects of drug abuse and case studies help visitors to understand the severity of addiction and choices available to fight the temptation of drugs.
7. Choui Fong Tea Plantation
Located 40 kms from Chiang Rai city center, Choui Fong Plantation in Chiang Rai is a popular landmark for travelers recently, especially among young adult who come here for selfie. Besides the beautiful tea field landscape spreading as far as the eye can see, you’ll also find a chic Choui Fong Tea Café which opened in 2016.
Choui Fong tea plantation is owned by Choui Fong Tea Company limited which produces and exports tea from Thailand for more than 40 years. Originally, the tea plantation was Mr. Taveewan Pibulsakul who started planting tea in a small farm 1979 in Mae Chan District, Chiang Rai Province. For 40 years, his farm was supported by the Royal Project and also received help from a foundation from Taiwan until he establish Choui Fong Tea Company limited.
Now Choui Fong tea plantation is one the Thailand’s top quality tea plantations surrounding with great green atmosphere and series of mountains. The tea plantation is located on a hill planted gradient down like stairs. You can enjoying walking around tea plantations and can also visit the various tea drinks menu in a small restaurant of the farm as well.In addition to stunning views of the tea plantations and also restaurants. Beverage and Bakery serves delicious favorites such as tuna salad, spaghetti Yunnan. Steamed Bread, cakes, tea and soft green tea iced tea, green tea and chocolate cake modulating, which will promote tourists to come and visit this farm over. Directions to the farm is relatively easy road paved all the way.
Honestly, despite the hype and its popularity among local travelers, there is not much to do or see at the plantation. It’s good for a short sitting enjoying gorgeous view of tea plantation with mountain in the backgroud for 30-40 minutes. After that you might get bored.
So, Choui Fong tea plantation should NOT be classified as a must-see in Chiang Rai if it had not been located in the middle of the way between Chiang Rai city center and Doi Mae Salong, and middle way to Doi Tung or Mae Sai. To make a trip worthwhile, a visit to Choui Fong tea plantation should be combined with a visit to Doi Mae Salong or Doi Tung.
8. Phu Chi Fah & Doi Pha Tung
Phu Chi Fah is probably the most famous uphill destination in Chiang Rai and one of the most crowded tourist destination during winter. In Thai, Phu Chi Fa means “hill pointing to the sky,” which is exactly what it looks like – a cliff pointing to the sky.
Phu Chi Fah is a perfect spot for photos especially at the peak as you see the sunrise coming out from the top of the mountain with the sea fog. With the incredibly beautiful scenery, the cool weather and beautiful local flowers it attract thousands of visitors each day.
Phu Chi Fah is also a home of ethnic groups the Chinese Haw, the Hmong and Yao hill tribes. You will meet these hill tribes all the way to a village where most hotels are located. There are plenty of hotels not too far from the peak. Most hotels are operated by non-hill tribe local people but located inside the market area which are around 800 meters to 1.4 kms from the car park near the peak.
There are local pickup service available at the main market which cost 60 Baht per person to reach to the car park. From the car park, you will need to hike for another 600 meters to reach the peak.The best time to enjoy magnificent view from the peak of Phu Chi Fah is from 5.00 am to 8.00 am. That means you’d better wake up around 4.00 am, then prepare yourself for a short journey to the peak which will take around 30 minutes.
Around some 40 years ago, this place used to be classified as red zone for terrorist movement from Thai communist activists. Besides local hill tribes, not many people liked to go into this area because locals and solders were killed in that area from time to time. The military had spent more than a decade to clear up the area from terrorist and found the area to have many spots with stunning view.
After it was sure that the area was safe, Tourism Authority of Thailand had opened Fu Chi Fah officially as a tourist destination in 1990. In the very first years, it was not quite popular until some a few products started to shoot TV commercial. Since then it became of the top destinations in Chiang Rai. During peak season (between 20 Dec to 10 Jan) it is estimated about 20,000 people in Fah Chi Fah a day.
After Phu Chi Fah, you should take this opportunity to go to Doi Pha Tung which also has beautiful scenery. At elevated position of 1638 meters from the sea level, Doi Pha Tung is about 25 kilometers north from Phu Chi Fah. There is local pickup service that will carry travelers from Phu Chi Fah daily.
From the hilltop of Doi Pha Tung, you can see panoramic views between Thailand and Laos with the delightful scene for the Mekong river from Laos, up there you will chill out the sea of mist throughout the year in the cool season and can also see the top of Phu Che Fah.
Looking beyond Doi Pha Tang, you can gaze far into Laos and take in views of rocky cliffs, lush green mountains, and the Mekong River cut through the mountains. There are several viewpoint that you can see cherries blossom with morning mist cover all area of cool breeze, green cauliflowers fields.
Doi Pha Tang is a perfect place for camping. In the morning after enjoy beautiful view, just a few minutes walk from the peak, there are a few Yunanese Chinese restaurants that you can use for you breakfast. Along the roadside, you will see a lot of stalls selling fresh fruits such as apricots, peaches, red cherries, and Chinese pears. This region has the cool climate needed to produce these fruits that are really hard to get from other cities.
9. Saturday Walking Street & Night Bazaar
Chiang Rai Saturday Walking Street Market is open every Saturday on Thanalai road (one block from the Clock Tower) from 17.00 – 00.00 hours. Every Saturday evening the authority will Thanaland road for local people to bring out their handicraft products for sales.
Saturday night market with everything from food, clothes, survinior local products to traditional Thai dance. There are a lot of local products and northern food, along with all the Thai favorites, even Thai liquor. Whenever you plan to be in Chiang Rai, try to have plan one Saturday night here.
10. Doi Chaang & Doi Wawee
About 70 kms from Chiang Rai city center, there is little known mountain called Doi Chaang, which is located in Mae Suai district about 1,700 meters above sea level, covered by 20,000 Rai (8,000 acres) the coffee plantations, stretching out over several villages. Doi Chaang is a home to the the best quality Arabica coffee in Thailand, called Doi Chaang coffee. Surprisingly, Doi Chaang Coffee is better known than its home.
In Doi Chaang, there is a small village called “Wawee” and the mountain there is village is set on is called “Doi Wawee”. Basically Doi Chaang is the name of whole mountain while Doi Wawee is name of a village there. Since Doi Chaang and Doi Wawee are basically the same area, most people call these two places together as Doi Chaang Doi Wawee.
Doi Wawee is a small Chinese village of the Kuomintang (KMT) 93rd Division, which evacuated the war refugees to settle in Thailand, Just like Doi Mae Salong. Beside a Chinese village, there are several small villages along side to road to Wawee, the main village is Hoi Krai. You can take a road further to Hoi Kra another village that is nestled in the mountains 5 km off the main Wawee road.
During the way up to Doi Chaang, you can see two mountains with shape like two elephants. The path is quite rough, but there are spectacular views of several lakes and really stunning area along both sides of the road. Green tree, yellow, reddish trees and grass can be seen all the way to Doi Chaang. Plenty of scenes to see, rivers, waterfalls, ethnic tribes, tiered rice fields can be seen.
In addition to tasting the tea shop. Doi Wawee offer tea to visitors, which are plant-lined tea plantation residents. Cascaded down the hillside and then Fun video also features the “tea millennium” at its new home development is one of the tourist attractions. Tea tree this millennium Measure the circumference of 150 cm, the stem is up to 20 meters Assam tea varieties.
Doi Chaang and Doi Wawee is good to visit all year round. November to February is probably the most suitable for travel when the weather is cold. During these month, winter flowers are in full bloom. Cherry blossoms began to escalate in December. Strawberry and berry are ripe and sold in local market.
the weather can conveniently travel by truck or pink flowering cherry peach plum pear Phuping plums are blossoming strawberry berry fruit. And harvesting. Green tea and Chinese tea. Winter flowers are in full bloom. Buy vegetables, fruit winter.
March to April is Thailand’s summer but the weather up there is cool and comfortable. The road is quite convenient to commute. Cars and motorbikes can go up to the top of mountains quite easily. This period is probably not a good time to visit as the area sometimes is covered by smoke from forest burnt in Myanmar. Full of dry grass can be seen during this period which is not quite pleasant to see. May to October is the period of rainy season and usually the roads are slippery but the air is fresh.
These are only well-known places where most tourists visit, and they get crowded and start to lose charm lately. There are more than twenty or thirty more places most foreign tourists don’t know or heard before, for example Phu Soi Dao, Doi Kad Phee, Doi Chang Moop, and many more. They can even be the real charm of local Chiang Rai life. I will publish them in another post.
Places you can avoid
When time is limited, not every tourist attraction is worth a visit. Chiang Rai has no exception. So far you know some of nice place to go in Chiang Rai and now let’s see where you can skip to safe your time and money.
If you have limited time for your travel, you can skip some of tourist destinations promoted by package tour or travel agents. The list below is the the famous places that are normally include in tour packages or recommended by tour agents, and based on my personal experience and feedback from travelers I know, the advice I can give is you can exclude them from your list.
The list might be beneficial to you if you only have a day trip or a trip shorter than 2 days in Chiang Rai.
However, if you have a lot of time to spend in Chiang Rai (for example more than 3-4 days) or you’re an expat who live in Chiang Rai, the following places are great for experiencing Northern Thailand’s nature and local life, and probably you should not miss at all.
Hot springs are nice. In some countries hot springs are very therapeutic. People go to hot spring to bath and get good health. However, it is not that nice if you pay several hundred bath to get there. Some package tours offer the trip to hot spring in Mae Khachan for 600 Baht and hot spring near the city for about 300 Baht a trip. The best advice is just skip any trip to hot spring in Chiang rai. They are nothing more than a spot where hot water coming out of the ground and local people just set up large area of shops around the place.
It is okay to stop by at Hot Spring at Mae Kha Chan for a few minutes on the way from Chiang Mai. The surrounding areas are not beautiful and not many activities to do, just a bunch of shops. There are hot spring spa, cost around 400 Baht an hour.
Besides Mae Kha Chan Hot Spring, there are a few more hot springs new city such as Prabat Hot spring, Sai Khao Hot spring in Phan district, Hauy Mak Leam Hot Sprin and Pha Sert Hotspring.
Based on Department of Mineral Resources of Thailand, there are 9 hot springs in Chiang Rai with the total of 112 throughout Thailand. Judging from cost of travel, none of them is beautiful enough to worth your travel time. It is a waste of time to include this hot spring in your day trip in Chiang Rai.
What if you want to go to for a bath in hot spring to get a good health? In that case, you can check a few hot springs in Kanchanaburi province when you have a chance, for example Hin Dat Hot Spring i, and Rock Valley Hot Spring. In Northern Thailand, Chae Son Waterfall in Lampang province, Pong Kwaw Hot Springs in Samoeng Distruct, Chiang Mai are quite nice to visit.
Chiang Rai Beach (Pattaya Noi, or Pattaya II)
This place isn’t not a real beach. It’s just a sandy brown shore of Mae Kok river where local people set up picnic. There are a few shops nearby with bamboo hut along Mae Kok river. The sit in one the hut, it is charged 50 Baht, also the price of food and drink here is expensive compared to standard of living in Chiang Rai. Sellers at Chiang Rai beach has very bad reputation among Thai travelers. It a great place to hang out by the river, but only when you have a lot of time to kill.
The funny thing about Chiang Rai beach is the area is supposed to be belong to public where everybody can come and enjoy it freely. What happens here is a few shop owners set up bamboo huts there and make profits out of it while generate waste into river and surrounding area every.
The price of food here is very expensive compared to local standard, for example many people complained that during Song Kran festiva the price of a bottle of drinking water 60 Baht and 100 Bath for just a dish of plain rice. If you come here often and try different restaurants in different day, you will notice that each of them don’t have the same price. Even the same restaurant sometimes doesn’t have the same price for the same menu.
It’s even worst when some people, who claim that they are the authority or own the area, show up from time to time to collect 100-150 Baht from people who come and set up picnic there. There were complaints to local authority but the don’t know what happen after that. I’ve heard about this for some times and never face those guys Luckily, this didn’t happen to foreigners.
Khun Korn Waterfall
Khun Korn Waterfall is the highest and most beautiful (judging from reviews from local visitors) waterfall in Chiang Rai. It’s about 30 kms from city center, and you know to hike for another 1.5 kms. It’s good place to experience Chiang Rai’s nature but if you trip is short, you will loose opportunity to visit other places. If you like waterfalls, visit them in Kanchanaburi, or Nakorn Nayok or Mae Hong Son province instead. They have far more beautiful waterfalls.
Yes, Mae Sai is one of the most famous places in Chiang Rai. You can skip it if you don’t have a lot of time to spend or don’t have plan to do some shopping there. Almost all travel agents and articles suggest Mae Sai as one of destinations to visit in Chiang Rai. Being Chiang Rai born, I don’t recommend this place to tourists if they don’t have a plan for shopping or doing visa-run. Mae Sai is a border city between Thailand and Myanmar where local people exchange local goods such as cloths, electronic items and food. Most consumer products sold here are Chinese duplicates with very low quality.
There is nothing much inside the city itself, however along the road the mountain views are quite stunning. It’s good for a road trip but heading to Mae Sai exclusively and expect something interesting there might worth your time.
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