What are the best things to do in Chiang Rai and the surrounding area?
If you’re planning a trip to Thailand and wondering if Chiang Rai is worth a visit, come with us…
We spent a lot of time planning our 2-day itinerary and choosing the best things to do in Chiang Rai. We wanted to see the top attractions, including the White and Blue Temples, without rushing from place to place.
In this guide, we’ll share our 2-day itinerary and information on the best places to visit in Chiang Rai. We’ll let you know how to get to each location and recommend an amazing hotel to stay.
Contents: click to jump to a section
Getting to Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is a city in the Mueang Chiang Rai District in Northern Thailand. It is about 487 miles (785 km) north of Bangkok.
We flew directly from Bangkok Airport to Chiang Rai with Vietjet. The flight took 1.5 hours, arriving late afternoon. If you book in advance, you can get a good price on flights.
If you’re coming from Chiang Mai, it’s 115 miles (185 km) and takes 3 hours by road.
Many people opt to do a 1-day tour from Chiang Mai, including the White Temple, Baan Dam Museum and Blue Temple. However, you must bear in mind the transfer is 3 hours each way, so you’ll spend a lot of time in the bus.
Accommodation in Chiang Rai
We stayed at the Laluna Hotel and Resort, which I’d highly recommend. We had small, Thai-style bungalows, which were clean and modern. One of the highlights of the Laluna resort is the beautiful grounds. The bungalows are set in tropical gardens, with lush plants and palm trees.
Laluna has a swimming pool and is about 15 minutes’ walk from the town. There are several restaurants and bars on the way. A buffet-style breakfast was included.
Best things to do in Chiang Rai in 2 days
Our 2-day itinerary in Chiang Rai - Day One
On day one of our 2-day Chiang Rai itinerary, we headed to Wat Rong Khun (better known as the White Temple).
Day one - morning
Chiang Rai’s most iconic building is the stunning White Temple, located 8 miles (13 km) from the town centre. We took a grab taxi, which is the easiest way to get to there. If you’re looking for the cheapest way to get the White Temple, take a Songthaew (from Uttarakit Road) or local bus from bus terminal 1.
The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
Not only is the White Temple the best attraction in Chiang Rai, but it’s also one of the top places to visit in all of Thailand. It’s amazing!
The White Temple was built by local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat and opened to visitors in 1997. He built the temple on the site of the original Wat Rong Khun, which had fallen into disrepair. Although it looks like a temple, it is actually a privately-owned art exhibit on the site of a former Buddhist temple.
As the name suggests, the temple is all white. It is extremely elaborate and ornate, and designed with meticulous attention to detail.
However, it’s not until you get up close to the White Temple that you’ll appreciate the bizarre nature of the design. You’ll see skulls, snakes, and hands reaching out from the depths of hell!
Every detail is included to show how Buddhist teachings can lead us away from the evils of the modern world. The outstretched hands symbolise unrestrained desire.
Inside the temple the murals depict characters from western society representing good and evil. It’s not every day you see a picture of Elvis, Harry Potter, and a minion on the walls of a Buddhist Temple. (Unfortunately, you cannot take photos inside the building.)
The Cave of Art
Afterwards, allow time to visit the rest of the Wat Rung Khun complex.
One of the must-see places is the Cave of Art. Inside the man-made cave, you can enjoy more sculptures and art by the artist Kositpipat. The lighting and sound effects make it very atmospheric. There is a small admission fee of 50 tbh, but it’s worth it.
Other things to see at the White Temple complex include the Ganesha Exhibition Hall, Tarkhun Art Gallery and various mythical sculptures around the grounds.
Before you leave, make sure you use the toilet facilities, which you’ll find in the magnificent golden toilet block. I think it’s the fanciest toilet block I’ve ever seen.
Day one - afternoon
Next on our list of things to do in Chiang Rai, is a visit to Singha Park. The park is only 6 km from the White Temple, so we travelled by tuk tuk. It’s fairly easy to pick up some local transport from outside the White Temple.
Singha Park is a large outdoor recreational space, with activities for all ages. It offers plenty of family attractions, so is a good place to visit in you’re looking for things to do in Chiang Rai with kids. It’s easy to spend half a day here.
The best way to get round Singha Park is on the hop-on hop-off shuttle bus, which stops at various points round the site. Alternatively, you could hire bikes, but it looks a bit hilly in places.
Overall, the best activities for families at Singha Park are the petting zoo, zip-line, climbing wall, and tea plantation. Plus, they also have a large lake with pedalos. Admission to the park is free, but there’s a small charge for some of the activities.
Day one - evening
Chiang Rai Clock Tower
One of Chiang Rai’s most famous landmarks is the golden Clock Tower, which stands in the middle of a traffic roundabout. It was designed by the same artist who built the White Temple.
If you’re staying in Chiang Rai for two days, try to visit the Clock Tower on your way out in the evening. It’s best to be there at 7, 8 or 9pm, for the light and sound show. The clock tower lights up each night and changes through a sequence of colours to the sound of Thai music.
Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
One of the best things to do in the evenings in Chiang Rai is visit the Night Bazaar. They have undercover dining area and evening local performers on stage.
You can also visit the Weekend Walking Street, Chiang Rai’s night market. They have a selection of stalls with clothes and street food. It was ok, but fairly uninspiring compared to the street markets in Chiang Mai.
Our 2-day itinerary in Chiang Rai - Day Two
Day Two - morning
The Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten)
Our first visit on day 2 of our Chiang Rai itinerary was to The Blue Temple (Watt Rong Suea Ten). Although not as well-known as the White Temple, the Blue Temple is another of the best places to visit in Chiang Rai.
The easiest way to get to the Blue Temple is by grab taxi. However, as it’s only 2km you could easily take a tuk tuk or songthaew.
The Blue Temple has an impressive entrance with two blue dragons. It is a relatively new Buddhist temple, built on the site of an ancient temple.
Its name means Temple of the Dancing Tiger, as they believe that tigers used to roam the disused grounds.
Everything at the complex is a rich blue and gold colour. Blue is associated with wisdom and purity
Inside the Blue Temple, the décor is stunning. The walls, pillars and ceiling are indigo blue, with gold trim. You can see paintings and statues of mythological characters. An enormous white Buddha holds court at the far end of the room.
Admission to the Blue Temple is free. However, the complex isn’t as extensive as at the White Temple, so a visit only takes about 30 minutes.
Day Two - afternoon
The Big Buddha of Chiang Rai (Wat Huay Pla Klang)
The next stop on our 2-day Chiang Rai itinerary is at Wat Huay Pla Klang, home to the Big Buddha of Chiang Rai. The temple is about 6km (4 miles) away, so we took a taxi.
The Big Buddha is one of the must-see attractions in Chiang Rai. Sitting 90 metres high on a bed of Lotus flowers, the statue is so big you’ll see it when you fly in.
The enormous white statue represents Guanyin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy. An impressive staircase, flanked by dragons, leads up to the temple.
Admission to the ground floor is free, but it’s worth spending 40 tbh to ascend 25 floors in the lift. The lift takes visitors up to the inside of Big Buddha’s head. You’ll step out into a room filled with carvings and statues of mythical creatures and animals.
Afterwards, you can peer out her mouth for amazing views over the 9-tier pagoda and Chiang Rai countryside.
The 9-tier pagoda
There are two other buildings at the Wat Huay Pla Klang Complex, the 9-tier pagoda and a traditional white temple.
Two dragons sit either side of the stairs leading to the pagoda. Inside the pagoda, you’ll see wooden statues of Guanyin, Buddha, and monks at each of the 9 levels
Before leaving, we stopped to eat at the restaurant by the car park. It was very basic, but incredibly cheap.
Day Two - evening
In the evening, we went swimming in the lovely pool at Laluna Hotel. Afterwards, we headed to Bella Pizza, which was a short walk from the hotel.
The following day, we left early for a transfer by car to Chiang Mai. The transfer by car is about 3 hours, but its a very scenic route.
Our 2-day itinerary in Chiang Rai - an Overview
Here’s an overview of our 2-day itinerary in Chiang Rai:
- Day 1 – The White Temple, Singha Park and Clock Tower
- Day 2 – The Blue Temple and the Big Buddha
Other things to do in Chiang Rai
As you can see our 2-day itinerary is fairly relaxed, choosing to visit a couple of places each day. If you’re looking to fill your days, include a visit to the Baan Dam Museum (the Black Temple) or Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha).
Another of the best things to do in Chiang Rai is book a tour to the Golden Triangle. This is where you’ll find the confluence of 3 countries, Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos. It’s an hour away by road. You could get a tour that includes visits to the White and Blue Temples too.
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