Some of Thailand’s most distinctive and picturesque temples can be found in Chiang Rai. Especially noteworthy is the astonishingly gorgeous White Temple! Chiang Rai is still less traveled than Chiang Mai and many other major cities in Thailand, despite being an increasingly popular tourist destination and one that has been firmly on the backpacker route for years.
The main goal of this Chiang Rai itinerary is to help you maximize your time by including some of the city’s top activities to do while minimizing congestion.
ITINERARY FOR CHIANG RAI
A visit according to the Chiang Rai Times is a must on any vacation to Thailand. Although not technically a secret, it is most likely one of Thailand’s best-kept secrets. It is in the north of Thailand, where there are still fewer tourists than in many other places, yet it has a lot to offer.
It’s worthwhile to budget a day or two to visit Chiang Rai, regardless of whether you have a three-week itinerary for Thailand or less (or even more!). It’s one of my favorite locations in Thailand and ought to be on your list of must-see destinations.
This two-day itinerary for Chiang Rai is intended. You’ll have plenty of time to tour some of Southeast Asia’s best temples if you stay in Chiang Rai for a few days.
On the other hand, Chiang Rai is reachable as a day excursion from Chiang Mai. This alternative is not recommended because it requires a 3- to 4-hour round-trip travel on winding roads. In light of this, if your schedule permits, I’d advise staying in Chiang Rai for at least one night.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW PRIOR TO VISITING CHIANG RAI
CHIANG RAI VISITATION TIMES
Compared to the rest of Thailand, Chiang Rai is normally a little colder and less humid. There are three distinct seasons there: the cool, the hot, and the rainy. Both the mild and hot seasons are included in the dry season. Year-round travel to Chiang Rai is possible, but there are advantages and disadvantages to each season.
The best time to visit Chiang Rai is typically regarded to be during the cool season, which runs from November to February. The coldest months are December and January when daytime temperatures typically range from 21°C (70°F) to a frigid 10-15°C (50-59°F) at night.
Pros: After the rainy season, the weather is cooler and less humid, and the landscape is lush and green.
Cons: Because it is Thailand’s busiest travel season, you can encounter more tourists and higher rates.
March until May is the hot season. Typically, April is the hottest month of the year, with average highs of 36 °C (97 °F).
The low season means there is less activity and prices are frequently lowered.
Cons: It could be rather warm. Additionally, this is the time of year when farmers burn their fields, contributing to some of the world’s worst air pollution. If you’re going to travel during these months, especially if you have any respiratory issues, it’s important to keep this in mind. At the end of April, the air quality was almost back to normal when we went there.
The Wet Season
The wetter months are normally mid-July to mid-August during the rainy season, which lasts from May through October.
Positives: The lush green scenery and lack of tourists.
Cons: You’ll probably get wet! It is important to remember that even during the rainy season, you will probably see mostly sunny skies throughout the morning and an afternoon deluge that lasts for about an hour.
HOW TO GET FROM CHIANG MAI TO CHIANG RAI
Chiang Rai can be reached by bus (or even boat!) from Northern Laos, Myanmar, and other places in Thailand, but the most popular way to get there is from Chiang Mai.
If you’d like to fly in, there are direct flights from Chiang Rai’s international airport to Bangkok, Phuket, China, Macau, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
We chose to ride the Greenbush from Chiang Mai since we had been residing there before traveling to Chiang Rai. Depending on the ticket class you purchase and traffic, the bus travels from Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 3 to the center of Chiang Rai’s ancient town in 3–4.5 hours. Tickets start at 140 baht ($4.50) and depart multiple times daily (click here for ticket prices and times). You may wish to get tickets in advance if you’re traveling during a busy time of year. Tickets may be purchased online or at the bus terminal up to 60 days in advance.
Private vehicle from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
Another alternative is to hire a private driver for the day, although as you might expect, this is a much more expensive one. Prices are probably going to start at around 48 USD or 1500 baht.
How to Travel by Motorcycle to Chiang Rai
If you feel comfortable driving a motorcycle, renting one would also be a terrific way to have complete freedom. Since there were four of us and I am a complete wuss when it comes to motorcycles, taking the bus made more sense. To legally ride a motorcycle in Thailand, you must possess an International driver’s Permit. While the majority (if not all!) rental shops for motorcycles will let you rent a bike without one, the police may stop you and issue you a fine if you don’t have one. Please make sure you have enough travel insurance if you intend to ride a motorcycle in Southeast Asia, as motorcycle accidents involving tourists are sadly all-too-common.
TRAVELING TO CHIANG RAI
Since Chiang Rai is a compact city, getting around on foot is simple. But the majority of the top sights are located outside the city. Your transportation in the city is arranged if you had the guts to ride a motorcycle to Chiang Rai. If not, you have a few choices:
To get around, we utilized Grab, which functions much like Uber. It was a cost-effective choice as there were four of us (our friends Greta and Hanna joined us!). We combined a few of these discounts together to further reduce the cost because Grab offers new users 70 baht off their first four trips! Additionally, it spared us from navigating the public transportation system, and we typically found a driver shortly after booking (except for one incident where we ended up hitchhiking, but more on that later!). The majority of our Grab rides cost 150–200 baht ($5–$6) each way.
The White Temple may be reached by local buses in Chiang Rai, although some of the other sights are inaccessible via public transportation. In Chiang Rai, you have the option of renting a motorcycle, giving you the freedom to travel when you choose. and will run you about $300 (USD $10) per day. If not, you can hire a cab or tuk-tuk to move around.