Chiang Rai is the most northern province in
Thailand. It is about 2 hours north of Chiang Mai. That’s right, there are two
Chiangs and they are both different places. Chiang Rai shares borders with Laos
and Myanmar. All three countries meet together at the point known as The Golden
Triangle… more on that soon. Chiang Rai refers to the province, while Muang
Chiang Rai is the largest town in this province.
Chiang Rai Walking Street
The most lively attractions in Chiang Rai on the weekends are the walking streets. Chiang Rai’s walking streets are much like those in Chiang Mai. They are large open-air markets which sprawl all over the road. You will find a wide range of food and clothing for sale. It is a fun place to hang out at night and an easy place to meet other travelers.
The Saturday night walking street is located on Thanalai Road and opens from 5pm to just after midnight. The Sunday night walking street is located just behind Chaing Rai hospital and is open from 5pm to about 11pm. If you can’t decide which of Chiang Rai’s walking streets to visit, just do both!
Chiang Rai Clocktower
The Chiang Rai clock tower is a popular monument and artwork to visit right in the center of town. It is probably the most intricately designed round-a-bout in the world. The Chiang Rai clocktower was designed by the same artist who built the famous White Temple.
If you want to see the clock tower in all its glory, be sure to visit for the light show which kicks off every night at 7, 8, and 9 o’clock – bang on the hour. Don’t’ be late, you will miss it.
King Mengrai Monument
Another popular attraction near the center of Chiang Rai is the King Mengrai Monument. This monument is dedicated to King Mengrai who established the Lanna Kingdom of northern Thailand (inclusive of Chiang Rai and Chaing Mai) back in 1296. It is a good way to learn a bit about the history of Northern Thailand, and an easy stop on a walking tour of Chiang Rai.
Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar is a popular place to hang out at night for good food, cold beer, and live shows. Some nights there is live music, other nights there may be live theatre or Thai comedy shows. You won’t always understand what they’re on about, but it’s entertainment.
The stalls around the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar offer a wide range of handmade goods from the surrounding ethnic villages. You can also find other typical market type goods such as clothing, food, and painting by local artists.
The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar is open daily from 6pm to midnight.
Chiang Rai Beach
Going to the beach sounds odd but it is actually one of the fun things to do in Chiang Rai right by the town center. This beach is not by the ocean obviously. Chiang Rai beach is located 4km outside of town along the banks of the Kok River.
Chaing Rai beach is a great place to have a traditional style Thai lunch out in a bamboo hut. After lunch, go for a refreshing swim in the river. Be careful swimming during the rainy season as the current can get dangerously strong. However, it is fairly safe to swim or tube down the river in the dry season from October to March.
Getting to Chiang Rai beach from town is very easy. A motorbike or songtaew will take about 10 minutes. It is also possible to walk however this could take 45 minutes to an hour.
Waterfalls in Chiang Rai
One of my favorite things to do in Chiang Rai is to visit a waterfall in the jungle. There is really no better way to appreciate the beauty of northern Thailand. You will understand once you hike through the jungle for an hour to find a 70-meter waterfall pouring over the edge of a cliff. Adventure travelers, this list is for you.
Chiang Rai has some of the best waterfalls in Thailand. In fact, there are so many waterfalls in Chiang Rai that it is impossible to cover them all here, so I’ve just included the best of the best.
Khun Korn Waterfall
Khun Korn Waterfall is one of the tallest and definitely one of the best waterfalls in Chiang Rai. It is located in the Namtok Khun Korn Forest Park about 30km east of Chiang Rai. The waterfall is reached by a 1.5km trek through the forest. It is a great place to experience Thailand’s nature and take a strong shower under a waterfall.
A word of warning, the force of the water is strong, especially during the wet season. I went for a shower here and lost my sunglasses, never to be seen again.
Huay Mae Sai Waterfall
Huay Mae Sai Waterfall (location) is one of my favorite waterfalls in Chiang Rai because as beautiful as it is, no one knows about it. This small two-tiered waterfall is located 19km from the town in the middle of the forest, nearby a nice Lahu Ethnic Hill Tribe.
There is a short 15-20 minute walk from the lower parking area to the Huay Mae Sai Waterfall, quite slippery when wet. At the end, you will find two levels Huay Mae Sai waterfall. The lower level has a deeper pool of water and is great for swimming. The upper level has a taller waterfall and a good place to sunbake on the rocks.
Huay Mae Sai waterfall is not known to many western tourists and is not offered on tour packages. The best way of getting to Huay Mae Sai waterfall is by motorbike or to arrange private transport. There is no public transport servicing this waterfall.
Huay Kaew Waterfall
The Huay Kaew Waterfall (location) is a beautiful two-tiered waterfall, located far out int the forest. Hardly any tourists make it out this far, and most that do are on long hiking tours to the Pha Soet Village, an Akha Hill Tribe. Do not confuse this with the Huay Kaew Waterfall in Chiang Mai.
The road to Huay Kaew Waterfall in Chiang Rai is a steep and badly potholed dirt/concrete trail. The route follows the Kok River before heading deep into the forest. Near the end, you will pass tea plantations surrounding the Pha Soet Village and come across a sign for the waterfall. From here it is a bit of walking up the hill, but not far. I advise only taking your own transport out to the Huay Kaew Waterfall if you are feeling quite adventurous – and seriously have travel insurance. Otherwise, arrange for some private transport.
Combine the Huay Kaew Waterfall, the Pha Soet Akha Village and the Huay Mak Lium Hot Spring for a great day trip from Chiang Rai. If you’re interested send me an email and I’ll personally help you arrange.
Pu Kaeng Waterfall
Pu Kaeng Waterfall (also spelled Phu Kaeng Waterfall) (location) is one of the best waterfalls in Chiang Rai and all of Thailand. This waterfall consists of 9 levels flowing through the dense jungle. You will hike through the jungle for about 45 minutes from the starting point up to level 9. The trail is slippery, and overgrown as not many people visit. Pu Kaeng Waterfall is a great destination to get out into wild Thailand.
Pong Phrabat Waterfall
The Pong Phrabat waterfall is located 14km north of Chiang Rai in the Lam Nam Kok National Park. The entrance to the waterfall is at the end of a long road veering off to the mountains behind the Rajabhat University. You will find the National Park HQ at the end of the road. From there it is an easy walk to to the Phong Phrabat Waterfall itself.
The waterfall is only a small cascading stream, nothing like the huge Khun Korn Waterfall. There are a couple of pools deep enough for swimming in, and some grass to lay back an relax in the forest.
The area nearby the National Park HQ makes for a great picnic location. You may see many locals hanging out here, especially students from the nearby Rajabhat University. The Phong Phrabat Waterfall is not visited by many western tourists or tour groups.
Art in Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai seems to be the art capital of Thailand. There is a huge range of talented artists living here turning out some amazing artwork from landscape painting to modern sculptures. There are a few great galleries to view both these traditional and contemporary artworks near the town.
Art Bridge Chiang Rai
The Art Bridge gallery is located at the turnoff to Chiang Rai International Airport (Mae Fah Luang Airport) and hosts the works of many local Chiang Rai artists. The collection changes every few months. Expect to find huge panorama paintings of the northern Thailand landscape, modern art and a collection of sculptures.
White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
One of the most iconic things to do in Chiang Rai is to visit the White Temple. Read my full article on this amazing work of art.
The art on both the interior and exterior of the White Temple has taken local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat many years to create. In 2014 a huge earthquake shook Chiang Rai and damaged some of the work inside. Chalermchai said it has taken him to long to create his masterpieces and that he would not focus on repairing the damage done. However, before long he was already back inside the temple working on the art again.
Black House (Baan Dam)
Many people refer to the Black House as the Black Temple thereby drawing a similarity to the White Temple. The Black House (Baan Dam) is actually not a temple but the house of the creative artist Thawan Duchanee. There are a few buildings to explore in the grounds of the Black House each hosting an odd collection of artifacts.
Hiking Chiang Rai’s Mountains
Getting out of the city and exploring the mountain ranges is among the best things to do in Chiang Rai. The province is flanked by mountains on both the east bordering Laos and the west bordering Myanmar. The mountains are the perfect place to do some trekking in Chiang Rai while visiting the hill tribes in the area.
Phu Chi Fa
One of Chiang Rai’s most scenic locations lies tucked away in the northeastern corner. The jagged rocky summit of Phu Chi Fa allows you to stand way above the clouds where you can watch the sunrise. Down below in the valley is a small village along the border of Laos.
Phu Chi Fa is definitely the top sunrise location in all of Thailand, and the most scenic hike in Chiang Rai.
Phu Chi Fa Lookout
The 1-kilometer hike to the peak of Phu Chi Fa is best done early in the morning (around 5am) so you can watch the sunrise from the top. Afterward, you can explore the small hiking trails on the mountain ridge which let you wander along the Thai-Laos border a little farther. You will get a great view of the valley all the way along. Just follow the small dirt trails.
The area surrounding Phu Chi Fa is filled with winding mountain roads, hill tribes, and waterfalls. For more on this check out my guest article Standing Above the Clouds at Phu Chi Fah.