Things to do in Chiang Rai
Buddhist temples of Chiang Rai
Wat Rong Khun
Since the opening in 1997 Wat Rong Khun has become the most famous tourist attraction of Chiang Rai. Wat Rong Khun is known as the “White Temple”. Wat Rong Khun is not a temple. It is an art object in the style of a Buddhist temple. There used to be another temple, called Wat Rong Khun, at this location and that temple was in a bad state. Local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat bought the property and designed and constructed the current building. Over time many building have been put up around the building. There are restaurants and several parking lots now around Wat Rong Khun to cater to the thousands who visit it on a daily basis. We recommend to visit Wat Rong Khun in the early morning or late afternoon. Wat Rong Khun features in our Chiang Rai Explorer.
Elephant Valley is the best venue to observe elephants in Chiang Rai. About three years ago Briton Jack Highwood founded Elephant Valley. Jack had been active in elephant conservation and responsible tourism in Cambodia since 2007. Elephant Valley is a unique place. We highly recommend a visit.
Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew is one of the oldest temples of Chiang Rai. It is located in the centre of the city, not far from the Central Market and the Clock Tower. It dates back to at least the end of the 14th century. In 1434 the highly revered Emerald Buddha statue (aka Phra Kaew Morakot) was discovered in this temple. It was hidden in the chedi of the temple until the chedi was hit by lightning. The chedi was damaged which revealed the statue that is now at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.
Wat Sangkaew Photiyan
Wat Sang Kaew Photiyan is located in Mae Suay district, about 50 kms south of Chiang Rai. This temple was recently constructed. The location is nothing less than spectacular. The view over the countryside is lovely. There are many statues at this temple which covers about 4,5 ha. The most striking is a huge sitting statue of Kruba Srivichai, the engineer monk. Kruba Srivichai’s followers reconstructed more than 200 temples in North Thailand. They also constructed the road to Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai in 1935.
Cycling in Chiang Rai
The countryside around Chiang Rai is perfect for cycling. It is very traditional and there are many nice country roads, villages and local temples. The city is less interesting to ride a bicycle. Spending half a day or a full day cycling is really a great experience.
Trekking in Chiang Rai
One of the great activities in Chiang Rai is trekking. Chiang Rai province has an enormous diversity when it comes to tribal villages. There are some fantastic trekking areas north and northwest of the city. There are waterfalls and magnificent views. We can take you to areas where it is very unlikely you will meet other trekkers or really anyone. Give it a try.
Santikhiri on Doi Mae Salong
Santikhiri is a town on the mountain Doi Mae Salong, northwest of Chiang Rai. Everyone knows the town as Doi Mae Salong. It is here that Chinese Nationalist troops settled after having been ousted from Burma. After they were beaten by communist troops under Mao in 1949 they fled to Burma and ended up in this part of Thailand. They are now Thai citizens but being in Doi Mae Salong feels like being in China. The landscapes around Doi Mae Salong are spectacular. The town is surrounded by tea plantations and Akha villages. This is certainly one of the most scenic and fascinating destinations in North Thailand. Doi Mae Salong can be visited out of Chiang Rai on a day tour but we recommend at least one overnight there.
Boat Trip on the Kok River
The Kok River is a tributary of the Mekong River. It originates in Shan State, Myanmar, and flows from Thaton to Chiang Rai and onwards towards the Mekong. The boat trip from Thaton to Chiang Rai has always been one of the great activities in Chiang Rai. The trip takes 2,5 to 3 hours in a local boat. It is still a great adventure. If you don’t want to do the full trip it is also possible to make shorter trips, get off the boat and continue by car.
Things to see in Chiang Rai
Oub Kham Museum
The Oub Kham Museum is a small private museum not far from the center of Chiang Rai. It exhibits artefacts and pictures of the former Lanna Kingdom and areas that are now part of Laos and Myanmar. Entrance fee is 300THB for foreigners. You will get a guided tour for that. If you are interested in the history of North Thailand this museum is worth a visit. It is open every day from 0800 until 1700.
The Black House
The Black House (aka Ban Dam or Baan Dam Museum) is just off the road from Chiang Rai to Mae Sai, about 15 mins drive from the center of Chiang Rai. It is the former residence of national artist Tawan Duchanee. It is a collection of buildings and structures that exhibit rather morbid objects such as skeletons and buffalo skulls. It’s all pretty dark and gloomy. Baan Dam is not everyone. Entrance fee is 80THB. Open daily from 0900 until 1700.
Chiang Saen Historical Park
Chiang Saen is a lovely and quiet town on the Mekong River. It has a rich history though that goes back to the 7th century. It is about an hour drive from Chiang Rai. Chiang Saen has been independent prinicipality that was under Lanna and Burmese rule in the past. In the late 19th century it became part of Siam, now Thailand. There are some impressive ruins, Buddha statues and leftovers of city walls that are really worth visiting. The city walls are the best preserved in the country.