While Chiang Mai is more well-known on the world stage, its neighbor Chiang Rai has a plethora of nature and culture that you should definitely check out. Many of you might already know the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun, but there are equally stunning temples and architectures that are prominent in this magical northern city. Naturewise, Chiang Rai’s unique mountainous landscape and vast tea plantations will take your breath away. You’ll definitely find something different in Chiang Rai while avoiding tourist crowds.
Accessing Chiang Rai has never been easier, as you can catch one of the numerous direct flights from various cities in Thailand (including Bangkok and Phuket). If you happen to be already in Chiang Mai, then you can take a three-hour bus ride straight to Chiang Rai.
With all of this in mind, check out these top 5 things to do in Chiang Rai, Thailand. We recommend you all to enjoy these authentic local experiences before the rest of the world catches on!
Chiang Rai is renowned among us Thais as the birthplace of some of Thailand’s most revered artists. Various temples and other Buddhist architectures in the city are prime examples of their proud masterpieces. These mystical works of art actually represent some truths about life
1.) White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
Like Yin and Yang, White Temple is the opposite of Black House (number 3 in this list), but the temple has its own amazing history. Wat Rong Khun was once an old, deteriorated temple until national artist and Chiang Rai native Chalermchai Kositpipat renovated it in an entirely new style. Apart from its heaven-like all-white exterior and intricate carvings, the artist mixes in pop culture in the White Temple design. Also, don’t forget to visit Chalermchai Kositpipat’s art gallery in the temple complex. The gallery houses a large collection of the national artist’s paintings.
2.) Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten)
Mystical, right? Designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat’s student, Salanok, the Blue Temple is the latest addition to Chiang Rai’s color-coded architecture. Painted sapphire blue inside and out, Wat Rong Suea Ten isn’t as big as the Black House and the White Temple, but your journey into fantasy won’t be complete without visiting it.
3.) Black House (Baan Dam Museum)
Born in Chiang Rai, late national artist Thawan Duchanee left many marks in Thai art scene. One of his most impressive (and eeriest) works is Black House, which was also his home and studio. The complex consists of 40 Northern Thai temple-like buildings, each one adorned with animal remains that the modern Buddhist artist collected. Black House isn’t just about its dark color scheme but also the dark yet true concepts. Skins, skulls, horns, bones and other animal parts represent the inevitable end that everyone must face and can be interpreted in many more ways.
In Chiang Rai, you can shop without worrying about midday heat! Chiang Rai Night Bazaar in the old city area opens daily, so you can always buy local handicrafts for souvenirs. The night bazaar is also a cultural experience with local food and traditional shows.
If you prefer walking street, Chiang Rai Walking Street opens every Saturday from 4pm to midnight. Of course, traditional arts and crafts and Northern-style street food are to be expected, but where else can you join traditional Thai dance with locals? Foreigners are more than welcome to try Thai dancing with Chiang Rai locals on Chiang Rai Walking Street.
Doi Pha Tang
Few people have been there, even Thai locals. This makes Doi Pha Tang a great destination for explorers. Apart from panoramic views of mist and clouds from Hill 101, Hill 102 and Hill 103 (the peak that rises 1,653 meters into the sky), Doi Pha Tang is unique with rock cliffs that look as if they were torn apart or Chong Pha Kad. Look through the cliff gate and when the waves of mist dissipate, you can see the Mekong River and Laotian valleys down below.
While you can enjoy the sea of mist at Doi Pha Tang all year round, visit in December or January for wild Himalayan cherry blossoms.
Phu Chi Fa
Two hours away from Chiang Rai city center is Phu Chi Fa, one of the most popular spot to view the sea of mist and sunrise among Thai travelers that remains somewhat under the radar among foreign visitors. Pointing to the sky as its name says, the silhouette of Phu Chi Fa peak against the sunrise is a stunningly unique sight.
Once you catch the sunrise at over 1,600 meters above sea level, don’t leave right after. Phu Chi Fa straddles the border of Thailand and Laos, so you can see the Mekong River, forests and mountains in the other side after the mist is gone. Like Doi Pha Tang, Phu Chi Fa is painted in pink from December to January with wild Himalayan cherry blossoms.
Chiang Rai has some of Thailand’s most beautiful tea plantations and highest-quality tea. Each one has its own charms and offers different kinds of tea, so take your time:
1) Choui Fong Tea Plantation
When you look for something to quench your thirst at 7-Eleven or supermarkets in Thailand, you’ll find a vast array of tea brands such as Oishi, Ichitan, Lipton, Unif and Malee. The tea leaves behind all these famous brands come from Choui Fong Tea Plantation.
Going strong for over 40 years, Choui Fong Tea Plantation is the biggest and arguably the most beautiful tea plantation in Chiang Rai. There are two branches, one in Mae Fah Luang and the other in Mae Chan, the latter being over 1 square meters large. The tea plants are grown on descending hills and if you visit the Mae Chan branch, don’t miss its on-site restaurant. Sit on the terrace overlooking the tea lots, slurp green tea smoothie and savor other tea-based desserts like green tea tiramisu.
2) 101 Tea Plantation
Doi Mae Salong is home to some tea plantations and all of them offer top-notch tea. However, the tea that hit the world’s stage and also won the first place came from 101 Tea Plantation. Having placed first at the World Tea Festival in 2004 for their oolong tea no. 12 and no. 17, 101 Tea Plantation is rightfully famous. Fortunately, the mountain remains blissfully calm. Sipping hot tea in such a dreamy location… Heavenly. Their Four Season tea and herbal tea are also well-known.
101 Tea Plantation has an interesting history. The family of the founder is Taiwanese and they have been harvesting tea for generations. The company also involves in the royal initiative to help the hill tribes. Previously growing and trading opiums, the hill tribes in the area are now working in the tea plantation and have a better quality of life.
3) Wawee Tea Plantation
Over 30 years ago, Wawee Tea Plantation was the first Thai tea plantation to grow oolong tea. Located on picturesque Doi Wawee, the plantation produces Taiwanese tea like Ching Ching no. 12 and no. 13 and also Assam tea and local tea. Apart from tracing the origin of Thai oolong tea, you can see the local life of Chin Haw people (Chinese who migrated from Yunnan to Thailand via Myanmar and Laos). Their village is on Doi Wawee and tea planting is their way of life.
While the Golden Triangle has a dark history of drug trafficking, the area is now safe and has become one of the most popular destinations in Chiang Rai. The Golden Triangle is where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos (the Mekong River and the Ruak River) meet, so don’t miss the viewpoint. There is also the golden Big Buddha enshrined on a boat. If you plan a longer stay, you can even take a cruise to Laos or Xishuangbanna in China.
That’s it for things to do in Chiang Rai, Thailand. However, that’s not all you can do on your journey. Tourism Authority of Thailand and partners are offering exclusive deals and rewards for Singaporean visitors to Thailand this year. Check out Thanks A Million for more information, and make your visit to Chiang Rai a one to remember!