Chiang Rai is best known for its eccentric and lavish white temple. Most visitors will only make time for a day trip from Chiang Mai and while that is an option, Thailand’s northern province has so much more to offer. Even though the town is small, this 2 day Chiang Rai itinerary is jam packed with the best things to do in the area. Chiang Rai has many free and affordable attractions making it a perfect stop off on your Northern Thailand itinerary.
This guide will help you discover the underrated “sleepy” town of Chiang Rai.
HOW TO SPEND 2 DAYS IN CHIANG RAI
This budget-friendly travel plan will uncover the hidden gems that Chiang Rai has to offer from huge waterfalls, extravagant temples, to the best smoothies in town. We will go into detail of how to get there, where to stay, how to get around and so much more.
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HOW TO GET TO CHIANG RAI
Before we get into the itinerary, let me quickly share with you how best to get to Chiang Rai. The best route to Chiang Rai is through its sister town Chiang Mai. Depending on your budget and location these are the paths to follow:
From Chiang Mai:
Your best option is by bus. This takes 3 hours 55 minutes and regularly goes from 7am to 5.30pm. The price ranges from £5-£9 (200-400 THB) depending on how “VIP” you want your vehicle. I recommend going to 12asia.go to search for all possible transport on the day you wish to travel. Chiang Mai does have an airport but no flights go directly to Chiang Rai.
Your best option is by bus. This will take around 7 hours and will be broken down into 3 and 4 hour buses. You will need to transfer in Chiang Mai. There are morning minivans going from 7am which will give you enough time to catch the second bus or you can break the journey up by staying the night. Pai buses are every hour from 7am to 5pm and cost between £11-£15 (487-663 THB) for the whole trip. Unfortunately there are no flights. Alternatively you could get a taxi but this will cost around £115 (5083 THB). The link for transport from Pai to Chiang Mai is here and Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is here.
The quickest and best way would be by plane for around (1326 THB) (not including baggage) and would take an hour. For a similar price you can also get a 13 hour sleeper train to Chiang Mai and then the 4 hour bus up to Chiang Rai. The sleeper train is quite an experience!
HOW TO GET AROUND CHIANG RAI
Grab taxis are the best way of getting around Thailand, if you aren’t a confident moped driver. The app is similar to Uber and calculates the price of the journey before even disembarking. Paying in advance means you don’t have the awkward conversation of “can I have change please”. What I love about this app is that it tracks your journey, meaning if you go off track/stop for too long it will ping you a notification to check you are safe and what is holding up the journey.
I found the rides to be about 20% more expensive than normal taxis, however as a solo female traveller I felt safer and that was worth the extra. What you need to keep in mind is sometimes you can not get them and may have to make alternative arrangements.
TukTuks and Taxis
On every street corner of Thailand there is someone asking if you need transportation. This makes getting around super easy but there are things to consider before saying yes.
For 1. If it is a taxi, always ask to use the metre and keep google maps on so you can see if they are going off track and raking up the bill. As a foreigner you are a price tag and we don’t want to be taken advantage of so keep this insider info in mind. With TukTuks negotiate the price before getting in and repeat the price a few times to make sure you are both on the same page.
You can also arrange to use the same driver all day to take you to different locations. The drivers will then wait for you to finish your sightseeing and then carry on. This is the best way if you want to get a few places ticked off.
Motorbike or Moped
A fun and spontaneous way to get around Chiang Rai is to hire bikes. Once you are out of the town the roads are less chaotic and easier to navigate. The price for 24 hours is anything from 100-300 THB (£2.50-£7.50) plus a tank of petrol which will be around the 100 THB (£2.50) mark. Make sure to take pictures of the exterior to avoid any unsuspecting extras at the end.
WHERE TO STAY FOR 2 DAYS IN CHIANG RAI
I found a lovely hostel in the heart of the city. Baan Mai Kradan Hostel is located a couple of minutes from the walking street and 10 minutes from the bus station. This modern loft style house comes with a few different private and dorm options, the biggest being an 8 bed. Some rooms have balconies which allow you to dry towels and wet gear. Each bed comes with a table, light and power socket. The beds are super comfortable and breakfast is included.
Prices in an 8 bed dorm are around £6 (265 THB) per night. The location and spacious bunks make this the perfect choice for a 2 day stay in Chiang Rai.
DAY 1 CHIANG RAI ITINERARY
- Coffee Bright cafe
- White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
- Big Buddha (Wat Huay Pla Kung)
- Blue Temple (Wat Rong Seur Ten)
- Clock tower
- Rooftop bar
- Cat bar
While it looks like this is a jam packed itinerary there is plenty of time to explore and chill without feeling rushed. If you take the bus from Chiang Mai at 7am you will arrive roughly by 11am. Drop your bags off at your chosen accommodation and head to the first location.
This place had my favourite smoothie of the whole Thailand trip! This cute little café is located around the corner of the hostel and a few minutes walk from the walking street, the perfect way to start the day. There are around 5/6 tables to choose from, aircon, a friendly cat and free WIFI. Make sure when you enter you walk around to the other side of the counter to find the cakes. I highly recommend the Mango and Passionfruit smoothie that comes on top of vanilla yoghurt and a banana muffin.
To go to the next locations you will need to organise a Grab or a Tuktuk. We paid 600 THB for the whole day, £14 (Split between 3 of us). Make sure this is agreed before committing and reiterate the price several times to ensure you are both on the same page. Also try and give correct money unless you want to leave a tip.
Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)
This is one of the “must see” temples in Thailand, located 20 minutes outside of Chiang Rai town. This eccentric temple is a privately owned art exhibition that mixes traditional Buddhist beliefs with modern art. This weird and wonderful place is constantly under construction, with the overall project consisting of 9 areas (4 are currently open to the public). Each piece of mirror mosaic is glued on individually by local workers and the detail of these buildings are incredible. Be sure to keep a look out for Angry Birds, Pokémon and Marvel references.
The entrance fee to visit this eclectic temple is 100 THB (£2.50) and operates with a one way system. Make sure to take your photos and appreciate the architecture before you move on because they will not allow you to circle back. Since the White temple is the main reason people visit, the rest of the buildings can be overlooked. Therefore to avoid missing anything make sure to go around to the right of the toilets and pop art trees. There you will see a gold temple and further down a cave like sculpture and a waterfall.
I recommend spending at least an hour here to cover all the different areas. The Tuktuk/grab driver will give you the same time frame and will wait until you are ready to move on to the next destination.
If this is your first time visiting a Thailand Temple here are a few basics to help you stay respectful in the houses of worship:
- Please cover your shoulders and knees
- Please be quiet in the inside of the temples as people will be there to worship
- Please take your shoes off before entering the inside of the temple
- Please no public displays of affection
Wat Huay Pla Kung (Big Buddha)
A 20 minute drive from the White temple is Wat Huay Pla Kung, often called the Big Buddha. However the statue isn’t actually a Buddha. The figure is Guanyin, a representation of the goddess of mercy. This temple is unique because you can climb to the top of the goddess and have a birdseye view of the surrounding areas. There is no entrance fee to look around but there is a fee of 40 THB (90p) to see from the top.
Next to the Big Buddha is the 9 Tiered Pagoda, the stairs are framed by two colourful dragons and house wooden sculptures of Buddha, Guanyin and the monks. You can also visit the hall of assembly (Viharn) where you will see the principle Buddha and stories of Buddhism on the walls of the temple.
I recommend spending at least 40 minutes here to explore the 3 areas. If you are planning on going up Guanyin allow some extra time. The Tuktuk/grab driver will wait for as long as you need but it is good to give them a rough idea of your timeframe.
Wat Rong Suea Ten (Blue Temple)
Located 10 minutes from the Big Buddha is Wat Rong Suea Ten the Blue temple. While this isn’t the typical traditional temple because of its vibrant colour, creator Putha Kabkaew has captured contemporary Buddhist art in a modern way. When comparing the Blue and White temple you may notice some similarities. This is because Putha was a student of Chalermchai Kositpipat, the designer of the famous white temple.
The blue temple is the newest addition to Chiang Rai and smaller than surrounding temples. I recommend around 20 minutes for this temple as it is considerably smaller than the other 2 sites visited.
Doubling up as a roundabout, the clock tower stands proudly in the centre of town. Although created by the extraordinary artist Chalermchai Kositpipat (who designed the White Temple) this masterpiece isn’t that special. However, saying that, the best time to visit is 7pm, 8pm or 9pm. This is when the light show begins. For 5 or so minutes the tower comes alive with the magic of laser lights and bright colours. As we were warned it wasn’t worth going out of the way for, we decided to watch the light show on route to the Rooftop bar.
Roof Top Bar and Cat Bar
Directly opposite the clock tower is a little café called Oji Bubble tea, on the 4th floor of that building is where you will find a cosy rooftop bar overlooking the town. From memory the prices are reasonable and there are a variety of beers and vodka cocktails. They have created a lovely chilled atmosphere that is perfect for watching the sun go down.
For a more lively vibe, 5 minutes up the road is the Cat Bar. This bar offers live music every night from 8pm, with the unique experience of joining the band with a variety of different instruments. With a free pool table and friendly staff this place is definitely worth a visit. The prices are slightly higher than usual however do not let that put you off as they make up for it in character.
DAY 2 CHIANG RAI ITINERARY
- Khun Korn Waterfalls
- Cat ‘N’ A Cup Café
- Night Market
Day 2 is slightly more relaxed, with wriggle room to add other excursions in.
Khun Korn Waterfall
Located 40 minutes from Chiang Rai town is Khun Korn waterfall. Like yesterday you will need to organise transport. Make sure you agree on a price beforehand before commiting and reiterate the price several times. We agreed upon 600 THB again for the whole day, £14 (Split between 3 of us). The Tuktuk tried to charge us an extra 200 THB (£5) as he said it was further away but due to having the exact change and 3 of us all saying no we agreed on this he backed down.
The waterfall is free to visit and a half an hour walk from the drop off point. The path is well marked and a relatively easy walk. There are 2 pathways from the toilets leading to the waterfall. From vague memory I believe we went right, over the bamboo bridge and through the jungle and then came back the other way. Both trails provide beautiful tropical scenery. When approaching the waterfall you will hear it before you see it due to its sheer size of 70m.
This jungle shower will be exactly what you need after walking in the stickiness of the Thai heat. The pool at the base of the falls is relatively shallow with the deepest point being waist height nearest the gushing water (I am 4’10). Getting into the water is a little sharp on your feet to start, however once you are further from the shore line you will feel a soft sand texture.
We arrived just before 2pm and stayed for 2 hours. We enjoyed the waterfall with only 4 other people making it really special.
Cat ‘N’ A Cup Café
Although visiting a Cat café isn’t your typical “must see”, The staff at Cat ‘N’ A Cup make the experience well worth an hour or two of your time. Unlike other “cat cafes”, your general admission is the purchase of your food and drink. The prices for food are very reasonable, with drinks starting at 60 THB (£1.40), and for 40 THB (90p) you can buy the cats a treat. There is no time limit for being in the café and there is no booking system, so simply turn up and wait your turn. The café is very spacious giving tables a quick turnover ensuring you do not have to wait for a lengthy amount of time. The cats are well looked after with plenty of hiding spots and shaded areas if they do not want to be disturbed.
This was the PURR-fect way to spend the afternoon!
There are a variety of different markets to discover in Chiang Rai, but the biggest one takes place every Saturday. So if your two days in Chiang Rai happen to fall on a Saturday, then you’re in luck! The Walking Street is filled with local vendors selling everything from traditional cuisine to sunglasses.
Have a plan of what you want to eat or you will be spoilt for choice! This market also provides entertainment with a dance group and a live band. The dancing is all inclusive and passersby are encouraged to join in. This experience was so wholesome. There were only a handful of tourists at this market making us feel like we had a true Thai experience.
If you are visiting in the week the Night Bazaar market is open everyday from 6pm – 11pm giving you the same variety but on a smaller scale.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN CHIANG RAI (IN 2 DAYS)
Baan Dam Museum (Black House)
The Black House was recommended to me by some girls I met in Chiang Rai, they described it as gothic and somewhat disturbing. The museum/art exhibition is made up of 40 different buildings, most are open to the public but some are off limits. The artist Thawan Duchanee was a devout Buddhist and his artwork is said to portray the cycles of life, death and rebirth. Please be aware this is not a place of rainbows and butterflies but elephant skeletons, snake skins and hundreds of other animal remains. The opening times are 9am – 5pm with a closure between 12pm-1pm for lunch. The entrance fee is 80 THB (£1.80) and a 20 minute drive from Chiang Rai town Centre.
Where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) meet, the Golden Triangle has become a popular tourist attraction. Located an hour and twenty minutes up from Chiang Rai, you will see the point where the Mekong and Ruak river meet. This meeting not only creates a triangle but a natural border between the countries.
Only 8 minutes from the famous White Temple is Singh Park. This attraction has something for everyone, from cycling (hour and a half 200 THB £4.50) to ziplining (300 THB £6.80). The park is full of scenic trails, lakes and orchards to pick fresh fruit. This sustainable tourism project still has areas of working farm including barley fields and a tea plantation. They also have a petting zoo with Giraffes and Zebras. The park is open from 9am – 6pm and is free to visit.
Hill Tribe Museum and Education Centre
If you are interested in learning about the hill tribes of Northern Thailand then in the centre of Chiang Rai is a museum filled with information on the tribes: Akha, Lahu, Karen, Yao, Lisu and Hmong. The opening times are 9am-6pm weekdays and 10am-6pm weekends. The admission fee for foreigners is 50 THB (£1.10).
Choui Fong Tea Plantation
An hour away from the town centre is Choui Fong tea plantation. This plantation is surrounded by the views of rolling hills and distant mountains. There is a café on site that offers over 30 different teas along with traditional dishes and sweet treats. The opening hours are 8.30am-5.30am with free admission.
Cabbages and Condoms
Don’t let the name put you off. This safe sex charity run restaurant helps people learn about family planning and all other things around that topic. Part of the money from your meal is contributed to supporting development programmers by Population and Community Development Association (PDA).
HOW MUCH TO BUDGET FOR 2 DAYS IN CHIANG RAI
Chiang Rai is a very affordable destination with the main attractions being around £2.50 per person (100 THB). The most expensive part of this visit will be the transportation. If you are comfortable driving a moped the cost will be cheaper than renting a TukTuk for the day.
Here is how much I spent in two days visiting Chiang Rai:
- Accommodation – £12 breakfast included
- TUKTUK – £21
- Attractions – £2.50 (The White Temple, the rest were free!)
- Food and drink (including alcohol) – £15
I would budget at roughly £25 a day however if you are sharing that transport cost like me, you could budget down to £11 a day.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How many days is enough to visit Chiang Rai?
Personally I think 2 days is the perfect amount of time to see Chiang Rai. If you had more time then 3/4 days would allow you to see all the “other things to do in Chiang Rai” and could also allow you time to go trekking in Chiang Rai Forest and see the tribe villages.
Is Chiang Rai worth visiting?
Absolutely! Chiang Rai is worth the visit, I loved my time there exploring the temples and markets, and taking a dip into refreshing waterfall pools!
How do you travel round Chiang Rai?
Travelling around Chiang Rai is so easy. Simply hire a moped, book a Grab via the app or stand on the corner of a street looking “lost” and a Tuktuk will find you.
Can you do a day trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai?
Yes you can do a day trip from Chiang Mai. Chiang Rai tours can be booked at most hostels or online via Viator or Get your guide. The tours usually include; transport, the White Temple, The Blue Temple and the Black House.
In summary, Chiang Rai is a place of outstanding architecture, beautiful scenery and a bit of a hidden gem. I would highly recommend adding this destination to your Northern Thailand Itinerary as it will not disappoint you.
As always, Happy Exploring!