Chiang Rai Travel Guide: Amazing Things to Do and Where to Go in North Thailand

Finding a reliable Chiang Rai travel guide is a little bit tricky, because even the most iconic landmarks of the city: the famous White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) and the Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten), are often listed on the list of places to visit from Chiang Mai instead of Chiang Rai.

While technically it's correct that you can visit Chiang Rai on a day trip from Chiang Mai, I feel like the city got less credit than it deserves when it comes to being one of the must-visit places in Thailand. Chiang Rai is the capital city of the province under the same name in North Thailand, so politically speaking, Chiang Rai is not even under the same province as Chiang Mai.

There are a lot of tour options from Chiang Mai that offer a package for a day trip to Chiang Rai, but here's a disclaimer… The whole day trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is not suitable if you're a slow traveler. The trip is doable, but it will be a full-day trip since it will take around 3 hours by bus each way.

I may be biased, but now that I've been to both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, I have to say that I like Chiang Rai better. So, in this Chiang Rai travel guide, I'm going to share everything you need to know about traveling to Chiang Rai. From things to do, where to go, and even renting a car in North Thailand. So, here we go!

Why You Should Visit Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chiang Rai is home to some amazing temples with their captivating architecture. The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun in Thai) is probably the most famous in Chiang Rai among tourists. It is a modern temple designed by a well-known Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, offering some unconventional yet unique sculptures in its design. 

The second one is Wat Rong Suea Ten, better known as the Blue Temple for English-speaking visitors. Built in the area where an ancient temple used to stand, the modern-look temple that stands right now is striking with its beautiful blue sapphire and gold colors. If your aim to visit Thailand is just so you can explore some Thai temples and admire their architecture, Chiang Rai is a perfect place to go. 

As a mountainous region in North Thailand, Chiang Rai is also blessed with milder weather than other cities in the central or southern part of the country. Compared to the capital city in Bangkok or Hat Yai in Songkhla province, Chiang Rai's weather is definitely the best if you're not a fan of hot, tropical weather. 

Chiang Rai night bazaar in North Thailand.
Chiang Rai night bazaar in North Thailand.

Other than that, Chiang Rai is also home to several hill tribes, including the famous long-neck Karen. While visiting the latter village doesn't seem ethical for me personally, I'm happy that I can learn more about many hill tribes in North Thailand and how they are distinct from the others with each culture and tradition.

Like most cities in Thailand, you can also visit the Chiang Rai night bazaar. So, what makes it better than the other night bazaar in Thailand? As a home to these hill tribes, Chiang Rai night bazaar is where you can get the traditional handicrafts from these communities for more affordable prices.

Compared to the night bazaar in Chiang Mai, I can guarantee that the price is better so Chiang Rai is definitely a great place to visit if you love shopping for traditional crafts in your travel, whether it's for souvenirs or for your personal use!

However, the main reason why I want to visit Chiang Rai is actually because I want to visit the Golden Triangle. I was actually scheduled to visit Chiang Rai a few years ago before the pandemic until I fell sick in Laos so I had to reroute my trip and headed back to Bangkok from Vientiane.

Chiang Rai is a perfect blend of cultural attractions and the natural beauty the city has to offer. It's also a compelling destination for travelers seeking unique and authentic experiences in Thailand, whether you prefer to go temple-hopping or go to the outskirt of the town to visit the hills tribe villages, or even go to the elephant sanctuary and enjoy the beautiful view in the surroundings.

How to Visit Chiang Rai, Thailand

A lot of travelers usually get on a day trip to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai. However, I personally think that the city is worth visiting for more than just a day trip. There are a few ways to travel to Chiang Rai, whether you travel from any other cities in Thailand or you plan to cross the border from either Laos or Myanmar.

My boyfriend and I took a direct flight from Bangkok with Thai Vietjet Air, as we found out that there's no train service available from Bangkok to Chiang Rai. I can be wrong, but I didn't see any railway around the city at all so I don't think there's any train service passing around the city.

Alternatively, you can also take a bus from other cities in Thailand. Not sure if they have a sleeper bus for the longer distance trip from the central or southern part of Thailand, but when we traveled from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai, we traveled by a big bus instead of just a regular minivan that we often used when we traveled inter-city in Thailand.

Alternatively, I heard you should be able to cross the border in Mae-Sai if you travel from Myanmar. If you go from Laos, you can also take a scenic trip with a slow boat from Luang Prabang to Pakbeng, followed by another boat from Pakbeng to Huay Xai before taking a direct bus to Chiang Rai from the border.

I'm not sure about the practicality of this travel plan. But if the process is similar to crossing the border from Cambodia to Laos by land, I have to say that the journey is definitely not for the faint of heart. You'll definitely need lots of energy and patience if you decide to take this kind of trip!

How to Get Around in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Getting around in Chiang Rai is pretty easy, because like many cities in Thailand, you can use the Grab app to hail a cab. Some Grab drivers also offer Chiang Rai travel guide tours, providing full-day services to take you to some of the best places to visit around Chiang Rai.

Or else, as a scooter-friendly country, you'll find it easy to rent a motorbike or scooter in Chiang Rai so it can be an alternative way to get around the city in North Thailand.

Grab App in Chiang Rai, Thailand

My boyfriend and I relied on Grab app to get around Chiang Rai on the first day we arrived in the city. They have so many fleets, so getting a cab in Chiang Rai was relatively easy for us.

You can install Grab app on your phone, and you can connect your credit or debit card for online payment. I remember when I went to Hat Yai a few years ago, they also had the option to connect your Grab account to Paypal in Thailand. Unfortunately, this feature doesn't seem to be available these days.

Car Rental in Chiang Rai, Thailand

On the second day, since we planned to go to the Golden Triangle and it's quite distanced from Chiang Rai city center, we decided to rent a car instead. We figured it might be easier to get around that way, since the car rental was valid for 24 hours.

Another reason why we decided to rent a car in Chiang Rai is that the area is more like the countryside compared to the bigger cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai. In addition, Thailand drives on the left-hand side of the road, the same as where we come from, Indonesia and the UK.

My boyfriend and I can drive, but I don't have a valid driving license. We're not that crazy to even consider renting a car in Bangkok, but considering Chiang Rai is one of the off-the-beaten-path destinations in Thailand and we assumed the traffic wouldn't be as busy, we then booked a car rental online through Traveloka.

We paid IDR 391,307 (around $26 USD) for a 24-hour rental car in Chiang Rai. We got Mazda 2 car, the same type of car that I took when I had a private transfer from Ho Chi Minh City to Chau Doc in Vietnam. However, our experience wasn't entirely positive after the online booking for renting a car on Traveloka. We didn't get any confirmation from the car rental company even when it was 24 hours before our confirmed date for the rental.

I had to wake up early in the morning to call customer service on Traveloka again just to make sure that our booking was still on, as we booked the car rental from 8 AM. As it turned out, my boyfriend got a call at 7.45 AM from the car rental company to inform that their staff already arrived at our hotel to drop off the car.

They asked for a deposit of 3,000 THB (around $87 USD) in cash. However, since we weren't aware of how much deposit we should give them and we only had around 2,500 THB combined, they were okay with that. I mean, we didn't expect they would come to begin with, since we didn't hear from them until the staff was already waiting with the car in our accommodation at Pimanninn Hotel.

Other than that, the procedure to rent a car in Thailand seems to be quite straightforward. My boyfriend just had to show his valid driving license, and the staff just told him to refuel the car into full-tanked before returning the next day. He forgot to ask about the car's fuel type, but he managed to text him on Whatsapp before going out for the gas at night. Our car ran on diesel, and the price was around 35 THB (around $1 USD) per liter.

Based on our experience renting a car in Chiang Rai, you don't need an international driving license to rent a car in Thailand. All you need is a valid driving license from your home country, and make sure to confirm the amount of money you need to put in for a deposit when you pick up the car.

If you plan to go to Chiang Rai by flight, I'd also recommend booking the car rental online using Chiang Rai International Airport as the pick-up location. The airport transfer in Chiang Rai was quite pricey, and it's probably the best way to go if you need a rental car in North Thailand.

Chiang Rai Travel Guide: Things to Do and Where to Go in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Finally, I'm going to share some ultimate tips for visiting the city in this Chiang Rai travel guide section. So, what are the things you should do in Chiang Rai? Where are the best places to visit in Chiang Rai? Let's dive deep into it!

Top 3 Things to Do in Chiang Rai

Situated in a mountainous region of northern Thailand, you'll be spoiled by many activities around nature in Chiang Rai. But in short, here are some of the best things to do when visiting Chiang Rai in North Thailand!

#1 Enjoying nature around Chiang Rai

You'll never run out of ideas to enjoy nature in Chiang Rai. One of the significant rivers that flow through Chiang Rai, the Kok River, not only plays a crucial role in the region's history, culture, and economy, you can also get on a boat trip through the river to explore the picturesque landscapes around the city and stop by some villages to experience the local lives.

If you have enough time to explore beyond the city, you can also stop by some tea plantations in the area, such as the Choui Fong tea plantation. A great place to visit if you're a tea lover, as you can take a sip of your favorite brewed tea while enjoying the scenery in Chiang Rai.

Boat trip in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Boat trip in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

#2 Temple-hopping in Chiang Rai

Although Thailand will never run out of Thai temples to visit wherever you go in the country, temples in Chiang Rai have distinguished architecture compared to some regular temples in Thailand. 

The white temple, Wat Rong Khun, offers a contemporary design that showcases intricate details and stunning colors with some hints of modern touch. I mean, where else can you see a glimpse of random characters from franchises like Marvel or the Lord of the Rings in a Thai temple?! 

It doesn't stop there, because you can also visit the blue temple, Wat Rong Suea Ten, which is more suitable for prayer while also providing stunning electric blue design in its surroundings, making it an excellent spot for beautiful photographs. 

#3 Buying handmade crafts from the local hill tribe communities

While the option is there if you want to visit the village where the hill tribe communities live in Chiang Rai, if you're pretty much like me and feeling uncomfortable visiting the villages like a human zoo, then here's an alternative way to support the local communities: purchasing goods from the homemade crafts that you can take home as a souvenir.

A lot of these hill tribe communities are known for their unique woven products, and you can find various goods from purses, bags, and clothing with beautiful designs.

If you can't buy it directly from their communities in the village where they live, most likely you'll be able to find some of their products at the Chiang Rai night bazaar. Alternatively, you can also buy some homemade crafts from the communities at places like the Hilltribe Museum and Education Center in Chiang Rai.

Top 9 Places to Visit in Chiang Rai

In this section, I'm going to list some of the must-visit places in Chiang Rai so you can include them in your Chiang Rai itinerary the next time you plan to visit the city for holiday!

#1 Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple)

The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) was the first place that we visited in Chiang Rai. We arrived in Chiang Rai early in the morning, and we had to wait until we got to check in at our hotel so we decided to explore the city early on our first day in Chiang Rai. 

It's located a bit further away from the city center, approximately around 30 minutes drive from our hotel. You could tell that it's probably the most popular touristic spot in Chiang Rai, because we arrived at around 8 AM and the temple was already crowded with visitors. 

An entrance ticket fee to enter the White Temple in Chiang Rai costs 100 THB (around $2.8 USD) per person. 

Apart from the main area where the White Temple is located, you can also visit the Golden Building next to it where you can see the exhibition and… As odd as it sounds, you can visit the most fancy-looking toilets that I've ever been. Everything is all golden in this toilet, making it worth stopping for even when you don't really want to pee. LOL

You can also visit the souvenir shops where they sell merchandise with some of the artworks from the artists that built the temple: Chalermchai Kositpipat.

At the back of the White Temple, you can also see some artificial caves and waterfalls filled with many easter eggs from some modern franchise. Growing up with the Chinese series Monkey King, I could easily spot some characters like Cut Pat Kai. But other than that, you can possibly spot some characters from Western series too since even my boyfriend got excited to see some odd easter eggs here and there.

Not too far from the White Temple area, you can also visit the gallery, where you can see various artworks made by Chalermchai Kositpipat. Visiting this gallery is free, but taking photos of the artwork is prohibited.

I was amazed that they even exhibited some of the artwork he made as a kid. Not that I could tell that he's talented from how he built the White Temple, but after visiting the gallery I realized how big of an artist he is because it seems like he could nail all the platforms to turn them into an artwork.

His sculpting capability is obvious as you see the White Temple and its architecture, but he's also a great painter. And it's amazing to see how much he could do beyond the White Temple!

#2 Singha Park

If you're a beer lover traveling to Thailand, chances are you'll be familiar with Singha beer in Thailand. Well, Singha Park is owned by the company that owns the brand, but don't expect to enjoy endless supplies of beer here because Singha Park is a family-friendly park you can visit in Chiang Rai.

Singha Park is the second place we visited in Chiang Rai, since our hotel receptionist suggested we visit it after the White Temple before going back to check in to our hotel room since it's located in between the temple and our hotel at Pimanninn.

Singha Park Farm Tour in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Singha Park Farm Tour in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

While it's free to visit Singha Park itself, the park covers an area of over 8,000 acres that unless you have your own vehicle, you may need to join the tour or rent vehicles, whether it's a bike or golf cart to stroll around the area.

We visited Singha Park on the first day when we didn't rent a car then, so after trying to walk around the park (wrong decision when it was getting hot in Chiang Rai! LOL), we decided to join the farm tour with a tram instead. The tour costs 150 THB (around $4.5 USD) per adult visitor, but only 50 THB (around $1.5) for kids.

Our tour started at 12.30 PM, so we got a chance to stop by for coffee and cheesecake at Farm Design Cafe near the entrance. In addition, we also got a chance to take some fun photos around the area before starting our farm tour.

While they typically have to wait until they fulfill the visitors' quota when they start the tour, the tram for the farm tour is more like a hop-on-and-off vehicle to explore the Singha Park area. Almost every 15 minutes, a new tram will come so you can hop on and off as you like.

The first area we visited was the lake, where you can also buy some food to feed the fish. Across the lake, you can also find a gigantic bunny-shaped haystack where you can take some photos around the greeneries as well. This first stop was a tad bit boring, but things got better afterward.

The next stop after the lake was the flower field. There's a big lavender field in the area, and you can also make DIY tea in a hut nearby. Not a good option to enjoy on a hot sunny day, but it was great for the experience. LOL.

After the flower field, we'd stop at the petting zoo, where you could also buy some food for the animals in the area. And the last stop would be the Barnhouse Pizzeria, and I think this is also where we could do ATV or ziplining. We didn't do anything other than just stop by for coffee here before going back to the hotel.

#3 Wat Rong Suea Ten (The Blue Temple)

The Blue Temple (Wat Ruong Suea Ten) in Chiang Rai is known for its combination of blue sapphire and gold colors. It's another temple with contemporary design you should visit in North Thailand.

Designed by Putha Kabkaew, the artist was a student of Chalermchai Kositpipat, the artist that built the White Temple in Chiang Rai. The area where the Blue Temple now stands in Rim Kok subdistrict was the place where there was an ancient temple that had been abandoned for years.

It wasn't until 1996 when the local community finally decided to rebuild the temple, and the construction began in 2005. While the construction is almost finished, there are still some areas that seem to be in their finishing stage.

The Blue Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
The Blue Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Situated not too far from the city center, you definitely shouldn't miss the Blue Temple in your Chiang Rai itinerary. Unlike the White Temple, there is no entrance fee to visit the Blue Temple, and the surroundings are full of delightful architecture and masterpieces. 

We visited Wat Ruong Suea Ten in the morning on our second day in Chiang Rai, so we drove our rented car to the temple as our first destination on the day. They have a spacious parking lot, but given the idea it's a popular place to visit in Chiang Rai, I think our decision to come early in the morning was good cause we could find a parking spot pretty easily that day. 

The vibes at the Blue Temple were more serene than the more touristic White Temple, so if you may want to take a few minutes to pray at this temple before you leave if you're Buddhist. Make sure to wear appropriate clothes, as pretty much like regular temples, you can't enter the building without covering your knee and shoulder. 

The Blue Temple is only around 20 minutes drive from our hotel in the city center, and it was a great way to start the day. However, since the temple is located in the residence area, you may want to slow down around 100 meters from the location since the turning point to the temple was a bit odd.

I said this because we missed the turning point on the first try, and we had to go further away to find the U-turn to go back.

#4 The Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle of Asia is the nickname given to the intersection where the border of three countries: Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos, meet between the Ruak and Mekong Rivers. The nickname given was due to its reputation as one of the largest opium producers in the world since the 1950s.

Between the three countries located in the Golden Triangle of Asia, Myanmar has become the world's second-largest opium-producing country behind Afghanistan. And this is the reason why the Golden Triangle is worth visiting from Chiang Rai.

This area has become one of the top places on my bucket list in Southeast Asia for as long as I can remember, and I almost checked it before the pandemic when I was planning to celebrate my 31st birthday there until I ended up having to do self-quarantine in Vientiane and reroute to head back home sooner than I was planning to at the time.

The Golden Triangle of Asia.
The Golden Triangle of Asia.

This was also the reason why my boyfriend and I decided to rent a car in Chiang Rai, because this time I wanted to go there to celebrate my 34th birthday to make up for the lost time when I got sick in Laos a few years ago. Plus, most tours to the Golden Triangle are only available from Chiang Mai, and the information about how to take the bus from Chiang Rai to the Golden Triangle seems pretty complicated.

The Golden Triangle is located in Chiang Saen, around an hour drive from Chiang Rai, but you mostly drive on the highway to get there so I would say it was quite an easy drive. When we arrived there, we were a bit surprised because it was less crowded than expected but we could see some big buses coming with tourists that seemed to bring tourists from Chiang Mai.

The highlight of this trip is probably the boat trip to explore the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak Rivers in the Golden Triangle areas. We didn't book anything, so we did everything go-show.

We rented a boat for 800 THB (around $23 USD) for 30-minute stroll around the Golden Triangle, and the lady who assisted us said that the price was supposed to be for a small boat since we were nice, she got us upgraded for a bigger boat. 😀

When we saw the boat, it was huge… LOL. If we took our whole family, it would still fit. And I imagine this trip would be super cheap if we brought the whole family with us, because the boat trip was much cheaper than the price we paid at Damnoen Saduak floating market in Bangkok.

While unfortunately we can't visit the border of each country on this boat trip, we could still see the border of Myanmar and Laos from the boat. The boat captain showed us the opium plantation around the Myanmar border, and the Laos border seems like a government building although I'm not quite sure what it was.

On the Thailand side, we could see the big Buddha statue from afar. It's basically where we rented our car, so in case you asked what I did for my 34th birthday, that's what I did… Traveling to the three countries at the same time!

After the boat trip, it's time to explore a little bit more of the Golden Triangle in Thailand. There's actually the Hall of Opium Museum where you can learn more about opium producing in the area, but we didn't visit it because we were too hangry and we decided to just leave after our lunch at the restaurant nearby. But I'm writing this just to let you know that there's this museum you can visit if you're not like us. LOL

Other than that, there are some photo spots that you shouldn't miss when visiting the Golden Triangle of Asia from Chiang Rai. These include the Golden Triangle monument, and also some life-sized elephant statues where you can climb the stairs and take pictures. So yeah, instead of riding the real elephant, you might as well just take a picture here.

#5 Lalitta Cafe

Lalitta Cafe is a viral restaurant in Chiang Rai that it's so popular to the point that there's an entrance fee to enter this beautifully designed cafe. To be fair, I expected to be disappointed because if there's anything I've learned about visiting an overhyped touristic place like this, this type of place is usually disappointing and overrated.

We went to Lalitta Cafe on the way back to our hotel from the Golden Triangle. Situated at 392 Rim Kok, it's located on the main road but pay attention around 10 minutes before the location since just like most main roads in Chiang Rai, when you pass the location it will take a longer route to find a spot for a U-turn.

Designed to portray a little bit of paradise with the famous instagrammable cascading waterfall, each visitor must pay 60 THB ($1.7 USD), redeemable for a complimentary beverage at the cafe. Since we already had our lunch at the Golden Triangle, we also ordered dessert for the side. My boyfriend had an orange cake, and I had coconut ice cream.

To my surprise, my coconut ice cream was basically the whole coconut with ice cream. I should've known this since the ice cream was a little bit too pricey for just a scoop of ice cream. It was okay, but honestly the coconut ice cream that cost me just 20 THB that I bought across the White Temple was better. 😛

So, here's my take on Lalitta cafe… You basically pay for ambiance because neither their dessert nor beverage tasted that special. It was okay, but I wouldn't pay that much money if it wasn't for the hype. LOL.

Expect the crowd, because so many tourists come to this cafe too. While technically you could just get your complimentary beverage, I personally felt pressured to buy some more at the cashier when I redeemed my entrance ticket.

But other than that, I have to say the cafe is beautifully designed. The statue of ladies taking a shower under the cascading waterfall kinda reminded me of an Indonesian folklore I read growing up, Joko Tarub and the Seven Angels. But yeah, other than the ambiance and its popularity as one of those viral restaurants in Chiang Rai, there is nothing special about this cafe if you're looking for some good food.

#6 Chiang Rai Night Bazaar

Visiting cities in Thailand isn't complete without exploring the night bazaar there. Compared to the night bazaar in Kanchanaburi, Chiang Rai Night Bazaar is much bigger. And it has everything you need to spoil your night!

Whether you're looking for shops to get new clothes or you need to buy some local handicrafts from the hilltribe communities in Chiang Rai, you can find anything at this night bazaar. Plus, it's also a great spot for dinner as there's a big restaurant in the center of the night bazaar where you can also enjoy live music and even some traditional Thai dances.

My boyfriend got some nice t-shirts for only 80 THB (around $2.5 USD) a piece, and I also got some sarongs that I bought for 125 THB (around $3.6 USD).

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar.
Chiang Rai Night Bazaar.

#7 Garden of Reeds

We went to visit the Garden of Reeds as we had time to explore Chiang Rai last minute before our bus departed at 1.30 PM. Not sure how the garden usually looks like all year round, but we visited it in February not too long after Chiang Rai Flower Festival 2023 and it was such a great place to stroll around to the point that I wish I had a longer time to stay in Chiang Rai.

Situated along the waterfront of the Kok River in Chiang Rai, you could see various flowers blossoming throughout the garden and I have to say, it's one of the best landscaping that I've ever seen in Southeast Asia!

Even better, because it's free entrance so you can just relax and kill the time to enjoy the flowers and even take some pictures around the nice decorations, from some baby statues with the hill tribe costumes to some Barbie-like houses!

It was actually a shame that I only got to visit the Garden of Reef on my last few hours in Chiang Rai, because I think the garden is worth visiting even more than the flower field at Singha Park. I suppose it also has something to do with the fact that we strolled around the garden under the shade while at Singha Park, we got exposed directly to the sun.

And when we visited the Garden of Reef, almost no one else was there that we could actually just walk through the flower fields and just sit on the bench while having a casual chit-chat before moving to our next destination.

Now, I'm not sure what the Garden of Reef looks like at different times of the year, but the garden is so well-maintained that I think this kind of view can't be achieved overnight. And you don't even have to pay anything to enjoy the hybrid of beautiful landscaping and modern sculpture among the fresh flowers in the surroundings.

#8 Hill Tribe Museum and Education Center

Since we decided not to go to the village where the hill tribe communities live in Chiang Rai, we decided to go to the Hill Tribe Museum and Education Center instead. Situated in the city center, it's actually not too far from the Garden of Reef in Chiang Rai.

Located on the 3rd floor of the building, you can take an elevator to get to the museum. It's a small museum and pretty old-fashioned, so don't expect anything fancy to see around here. When we arrived, there was no one at the receptionist desk, but when we started wandering around the museum suddenly someone came and said that there was an entrance fee of 50 THB (around $1.5 USD) per person.

I have to say, it was a bit confusing to visit the museum because not only was the building quite hidden, but also it looked super quiet as if it wasn't even closed in the first place. After paying for the entrance ticket, the receptionist told us to watch the introductory video in the small auditorium there.

I could tell that the video probably was created back in the 2000s, and I'm almost certain that the video was played on a Window XP device because of the background. But, the video gave us detailed information about the hill tribe communities living in northern Thailand.

The Hill Tribe Museum and Education Center in Chiang Rai contain all the information you need about the culture of each tribal group in North Thailand, including Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu, and Yao.

They also showcase some timelines about the opium production around the Golden Triangle of Asia, that I feel like I didn't miss out on anything as I didn't get a chance to visit the Hall of Opium Museum in Chiang Saen.

Each section also showcases the culture of all the tribal groups living around Chiang Rai, so we can see the major occupation of each tribe, including the tools they use along with their traditional clothes and some explanation about their culture in general. On the other side of the museum, you can also see some mannequins wearing the traditional clothes of each tribe.

At this museum, you can also support the hill tribe communities by purchasing their handmade goods. I'm not sure about the price since I bought the mine at the bazaar, but it looks like the stuff they sell at the museum has been there for so long so maybe it's not that cheap?

In this museum, you can also see one section with a brief introduction of Cabbages & Condoms, the initiative run by PDA. This Thai-based non-governmental organization promotes the family planning concept in Thailand to reduce the population growth rate in the country.

The NGO is tremendously involved in some social projects run by the Hilltribe Museum in Chiang Rai, and you can also stop for meals at the next place we'd recommend visiting in Chiang Rai.

#9 Cabbages & Condoms

As the pioneer of community-based family planning promotion, PDA also runs Condoms & Cabbages restaurant, whose profit is used to promote their initiatives and HIV/AIDS prevention in Thailand. Good job for them, because even the restaurant's name definitely attracted us enough to stop by the restaurant for lunch after visiting the Hill Tribe Museum and Education Center.

In fact, if you're planning to visit the museum, chances are you'll see the restaurant first. If you're not sure which direction you should take to get to the museum, just ask someone at the restaurant since the museum and the restaurant are practically located in the same building.

This quirky restaurant is not just a name, because they also offer delicious meals with generous portions. It's quite pricey, but it's worth it! Especially knowing that the profit goes back to the community as well.

Cabbages & Condoms restaurant in Chiang Rai isn't the only restaurant they have in Thailand, as you can find some of their branches in other cities in Thailand, including Bangkok and Pattaya.

One of my favorite menu that we ordered at Cabbages & Condoms in Chiang Rai was actually for dessert… Pineapples and cheese! Who would've thought that a slice of pineapples actually goes well with cheddar? I know, it's something that we can make on our own if we have both pineapples and cheese, but we never knew it went well together until we had it at Cabbages & Condoms.

Plus, they serve faster than Lalitta Cafe, even with the main courses we ordered at Cabbages & Condoms restaurant!

FAQs About Traveling to Chiang Rai

In this section, I'm going to list some of the frequently asked questions about traveling to Chiang Rai so you can consider whether Chiang Rai is a great destination for your next vacation!

Is Chiang Rai worth visiting?

Absolutely! As mentioned before, I personally enjoy Chiang Rai better than Chiang Mai as the small city offers a more authentic experience in addition to its beautiful nature.

Chiang Rai is probably not the kind of city that you want to visit on a long-term basis, but it definitely offers some great activities if you plan for a short getaway in North Thailand. Whether you want to venture to the temples or explore the ethnic villages, there are plenty of things to do for everyone in Chiang Rai!

The White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
The White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

How many days should I spend in Chiang Rai?

We stayed in Chiang Rai for 3 days and 2 nights, and we managed to visit all the places we could go in Chiang Rai.

If you plan to fly from Bangkok to Chiang Rai like we did, we'd recommend taking the morning flight so that you can start exploring Chiang Rai early on the first day after you arrive in the city. It will give you plenty of time to explore the places you want to visit in Chiang Rai, and even better if your hotel also offers concierge service so you can leave your belongings until you check into your hotel room.

During the three days we spent in Chiang Rai, we skipped some places in Chiang Rai, including the Black House. But it wasn't because we didn't have enough time. Well, the only reason why we skipped some places there was because we got exhausted after the Golden Triangle that we didn't go anywhere after Lalitta Cafe. If we still had the energy to go to some other places in Chiang Rai, I think we would.

Can you travel to Chiang Rai on a day trip?

While technically you can, traveling to Chiang Rai on a day trip is only recommended if you plan to join a tour from Chiang Mai.

The reason why I said this was because most of the day trip from Chiang Mai makes it sound like Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai is super close. Well, it is not THAT close.

The distance between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai is similar to the distance between Bandung and Jakarta in Indonesia. Just like a day trip from Bangkok to Hua Hin, although it's doable to go back and forth on a day trip, you'll get super exhausted after the trip. If you're an introvert who isn't very outdoorsy like me and my boyfriend, chances are you'll need to recharge the whole day after the trip.

Doing a DIY tour for a day trip from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai would be tedious, but at least if you join the tour all the way from Chiang Mai you don't have to worry about punctuality and comfort.


My stance on Chiang Rai is that it's worth visiting more than just being a day trip destination from Chiang Mai. Especially if you have your own vehicle to explore the region, Chiang Rai has so much more to offer. In fact, most of the places you read on the internet that are worth visiting from Chiang Mai are actually located in Chiang Rai province.

While the temples are probably the most popular touristic spots to visit in Chiang Rai, the city also offers some family-friendly activities that are suitable if you travel with kids. Places like Singha Park or Garden of Reefs are not only affordable, but they're also suitable for picnics with your beloved ones.

So, have you been to Chiang Rai? Or are you planning to visit Chiang Rai but you're not sure whether it's worth staying longer in the city instead of joining a day trip tour from Chiang Mai? I hope this Chiang Rai travel guide could help you make your decision.

Meanwhile, drop a comment if you have any favorite spot you have visited in Chiang Rai, and cheerio! 🙂

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Marya The BeauTraveler

I am the founder and main editor at The BeauTraveler. I spent 4 years working in the aviation industry but ironically got to travel more right after quitting the industry in 2015. Born and raised in Indonesia, I started working remotely in 2017, and while I stay at home most of the time, I also regularly spend 2-3 months living a semi-digital nomad life elsewhere every year.


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