15+ Best Things to Do in Chiang Rai for an EPIC Trip

When planning your trip to Northern Thailand, you might be wondering about the things to do in Chiang Rai beyond its famous temples. 

So many people think Chiang Rai just has temples, and that’s it—I thought that for a long time, too, which is probably why I put off visiting for so long!

Chiang Rai offers so much more, though, and is worth visiting as more than just a day trip from Chiang Mai. You’ll find waterfall hikes, a big Saturday Night Market, tea plantations, cafes, and incredible viewpoints. 

I live in Chiang Mai and just visited Chiang Rai for the first time. I spent 4 days exploring on my scooter and left wishing I had more time.

If you’re planning a trip to Chiang Rai, this guide will help you make the most of your visit and show you there’s plenty to do besides temples.

🔥 Explore Chiang Rai’s best attractions, including the White Temple, Blue Temple, and Choui Fong Tea Plantation, on this top-rated full-day tour from Chiang Rai, with stops at Union Hilltribe Villages, the Golden Triangle, and the House of Opium. Book Now!

Solo female traveler (me!) standing on the bdige of the White Temple in Chiang Rai, surrounded by intricate white sculptures. I'm wearing vibrant red pants. Visiting the White Temple is one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai!
I got to the White Temple right when it opened at 8 AM to get pics without the crowds.

1. Visit the Iconic White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

The White Temple, or Wat Rong Khun, is Chiang Rai’s most iconic monument, designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat and opened in 1997. It’s a stunning, photogenic temple that looks like it’s made of porcelain from far away. 

The bridge of outreaching hands symbolizes desire, urging visitors to find happiness by forgoing temptation and greed. This is ironic because a loudspeaker telling visitors to keep walking and not to stop is playing on repeat, killing the vibe.

Don’t miss the golden temple next to it, too!

To avoid crowds, visit as soon as it opens at 8 AM or close to the 5 PM closing time. I arrived at 8 AM and found just a few tourists, allowing me to get great shots with my little tripod. 

The entrance fee is 100 baht ($2.75 USD). 

The White Temple bus schedule sign showing all the bus times going to and from the White Temple in Chiang Rai.
If you’re on a budget, you can get to the White Temple by bus!

Get here by Grab, scooter, or take the bus for 25 baht. The bus leaves Chiang Rai Bus Terminal every 40-45 minutes from 7:20 AM to 4:30 PM. 

I rented my scooter in town from Nice Rental for 210 baht ($5.73 USD) per day.

😴 I stayed at the highly-rated Mora Boutique Hotel in Chiang Rai and loved it! Comfortable, clean, with exceptional staff and a newly renovated pool. Just a 15-minute walk from town and an amazing breakfast. Book Now!

Statue of Buddha at the stunning Blue Temple in Chiang Rai, adorned with intricate golden details.
I’m not usually that interested in temples (I’m a tad templed out), but the temples in Chiang Rai are extremely photogenic!

2. Get Great Pics at the Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten)

The Blue Temple, or Wat Rong Suea Ten, is a modern and stunning temple completed in 2016. 

Known for its vivid blue and gold colors, it’s incredibly photogenic and close to town, making it easy to visit. 

I drove here from the White Temple and found it still not too crowded around 9:30 AM. Granted, I was there during the rainy season, so maybe it gets more crowded during peak season. 

The temple is free to enter (for now) and is open from 7 AM to 8 PM. For a quick break, check out Bike Coffee across the street.

Take a Grab or ride your scooter here.

🚙 I recommend using Discover Cars to compare costs and get the best deal.

Traditional black houses surrounded by greenery at the Black House (Baan Dam) in Chiang Rai, a must-visit museum featuring eclectic architecture and art.
Art isn’t really my thing, but I still enjoyed a quick visit to explore the grounds at Baan Dam.
Artistic painting of an elephant at the Black House in Chiang Rai, showcasing unique local artwork.

3. Admire Art at Black House (Baan Dam Museum)

Some people think this is another temple since it’s often combined with the White and Blue temples on tours, but it’s not!

The Black House, or Baan Dam Museum, is an eccentric art museum just outside Chiang Rai city. Created by the late Thai artist Thawan Duchanee, it showcases a collection of animal skins, horns, paintings, sculptures, and unique furniture. 

The entrance fee is 80 baht ($2.20 USD). I visited after the Blue Temple and found the art and grounds interesting for a quick visit, though I’m not a huge art enthusiast and didn’t spend a lot of time admiring the art. 

If you enjoy art, you’ll enjoy it, but I wouldn’t say it’s a must-visit thing to do in Chiang Rai. Personally, I was just as excited to see the grazing water buffalo on the grounds. 

A traveler enjoying a refreshing drink with a view of lush tea plantations in Chiang Rai.
So glad I got to visit the tea plantations near Chiang Rai!

4. Visit a Tea Plantation in Mae Salong

I’ve visited beautiful tea plantations in Sri Lanka and Taiwan, and I knew I wanted to visit one in Thailand!

Choui Fong Tea Plantation is about an hour’s drive from Chiang Rai, and the last 15 minutes on back roads through trees were the best part for me. 

The location is stunning, with a large outdoor area and plenty of tables. I wished I had brought my laptop to work while I enjoyed an iced honey lemon oolong tea and a green tea crepe cake. I also had a free tea tasting inside the gift shop. 

The plantation is free to enter and open daily from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. You can rent a car or scooter or hire a driver to get there. There’s also a highly-rated tour that includes a stop at Choui Fong Tea Plantation.

If you want to stay overnight nearby, this hotel is 2 minutes away and looks gorgeous.
Other popular tea plantations are Tea Plantation 101, which is just 20 minutes from Doi Mae Salong Village, and Wang Put Tan Tea Plantation, a lesser-known but just as beautiful spot.

🔥 Explore Chiang Rai’s best attractions, including the White Temple, Blue Temple, and Choui Fong Tea Plantation, on this top-rated full-day tour from Chiang Rai, with stops at Union Hilltribe Villages, the Golden Triangle, and the House of Opium. Book Now!

Workers harvesting tea leaves at a tea plantation in Chiang Rai, with lush green fields and distant hills under a partly cloudy sky, offering a glimpse into the region's agricultural practices.
After visiting the tea plantations, head over to the village for lunch.

5. Doi Mae Salong Village

Since you’re already visiting tea plantations, you may as well visit Doi Mae Salong Village, too! Doi Mae Salong, now known as Santikhiri, is a picturesque village in the mountains near Myanmar. 

Founded by soldiers who fled China in 1949, they eventually settled here in 1961. Once infamous for its opium trade and armed militants, the Thai government transformed it in the 70s by teaching the soldiers to grow tea. 

Today, it’s a beautiful destination with rich Chinese cultural influences and stunning tea plantations.

The village is small but offers several restaurants and souvenir stalls. Try Yunnanese food at Wang Put Tan Yunnanese Restaurant and another great spot, Imm Pochana, where you can enjoy Yunnan-style braised pork leg and fried noodles.

Explore the town, temple, and market. Then, watch the sunset from this viewpoint

You can take a series of buses and local pickup trucks (songthaews) to Mae Salong, but the easiest way is by scooter or car.

Close-up of the white Big Buddha statue with a detailed dragon sculpture in the foreground at Wat Huay Pla Kang in Chiang Rai, a notable spiritual and architectural site.
She’s a lot bigger than she looks!

6. Take the Elevator Up the “Big Buddha of Chiang Rai” (Wat Huay Pla Kang)

Wat Huay Pla Kang, also known as the Temple of Mercy, is another of Chiang Rai’s most famous temples. Constructed in 2007, it features the largest Guanyin Buddha statue in Thailand, standing at 90 meters high! This striking statue represents Guanyin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy.

You can take an elevator to the 25th floor for an inside view of the statue. The temple grounds are free to enter, but the elevator ride costs 40 baht ($1.09 USD). Don’t miss the nine-tiered pagoda, Phop Chock Dhamma Chedi, guarded by Chinese dragons.

There is no public transport to this site, so plan accordingly. Remember to dress modestly, covering your shoulders and knees as you would at any temple. 

I was pretty tired when I visited, so I just snapped a few pictures and left (plus, I’ve seen quite a few giant Buddhas throughout my Asia travels!). 

⛑️ My number one safety tip for travelers, no matter where you’re going or how long your trip is, is to buy SafetyWing insurance to protect your trip.

7. Hike to Khun Korn Waterfall

Khun Korn Waterfall is the highest and most popular waterfall in the Chiang Rai region, only a 40-minute drive from town, making it one of the best things to do in Chiang Rai for nature lovers. 

The 3.1 km (1.9 miles) out-and-back trail takes about an hour to complete and offers a chance to swim in the refreshing (and cold) falls. It’s a 40-minute drive from town, and the hike is well-marked. However, it can get muddy during the rainy season, so wear proper shoes.

This trail is relatively easy but has some slippery parts. There are also snakes and lots of mosquitoes, so go early to avoid the heat and bring insect repellent. It can be tough to get a taxi back to town, so make sure you have a plan for returning if you don’t drive yourself.

Another popular trail in the area is the Huay Kaew Waterfall extended loop, an 11 km (6.8 miles) trail that takes about 3.5 hours to complete. It starts from the car park at Lam Nam Kok National Park and offers a beautiful long stretch of road and a stunning waterfall.

A plate of colorful fresh ingredients that will be used in a Chiang Mai cooking class.
I loved my Thai cooking class!

8. Take a Thai Cooking Class

A Thai cooking class is a fantastic way to dive into the local cuisine. One highly-rated option is the Half-Day Thai Cooking Class, which uses organic ingredients and has a perfect 5/5 rating from 70+ reviews. 

You’ll make authentic Thai dishes like papaya salad, tom yum soup, green curry, and banana dessert. The experience also includes a market tour to shop for fresh ingredients, making it a fun and social experience with an amazing host.

For a more personalized experience, consider the Chiang Rai Private Cooking Class With Ann. This class offers a private instructor and a trip to the local market to pick out ingredients before heading to the kitchen to make four authentic Thai dishes. You can help choose the menu, ensuring a tailored experience.

I took an amazing Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai that I still think about—some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, and it was so much fun to do as a solo traveler. I met several other travelers and had a great time. I highly recommend trying a cooking class in Chiang Rai!

🌶️ My pick for the best cooking class in Chiang Rai is this Half-Day Thai Cooking Class with Organic Ingredients–it includes a tour of a local market and has a 5-star rating!

Cafe patrons sitting on cushions on the floor next to low tables with cats in their laps or nearby at Cat 'n' A Cup Cafe in Chiang Rai. Spending time in cafes is one of the top things to do in Chiang Rai!
Cuddle some kitties at the Cat ‘n’ A Cup Cafe in Chiang Rai.

9. Enjoy Incredible Cafes

Chiang Rai boasts some amazing cafes, perfect for relaxing with a book or journal while enjoying delicious Thai coffee. 

One standout is Lalitta Cafe, which looks like something out of Fern Gully with its man-made waterfall and enchanted forest vibe. It’s an Instagram-worthy spot that’s very popular among visitors.

Other popular cafes in Chiang Rai include Cat ‘n’ A Cup Cafe, Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House, and Akha Farmville. These cafes offer a peaceful atmosphere and are great places to unwind.

Like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai has a vibrant cafe scene, so take your time exploring and finding your favorite spot to caffeinate.

Shoppers at Chiang Rai's Saturday Night Market carrying plastic bags of their purchases, walking down the walking street between the food stalls.
I was really impressed by Chaing Rai’s Saturday Night Market! It was a lot bigger than I expected.

10. Explore the Vibrant Night Markets

The Saturday Night Market on Thanalai Road makes Saturday the best night to visit Chiang Rai. The road is closed to traffic, transforming into a walking street with hundreds of stalls. Performances are held in the main square, and the locals dance their hearts out when the music plays! 

The market offers a mix of familiar dishes from Chiang Mai’s markets and unique items I haven’t seen before, including skewers, insects, and seafood. You can even get haircuts and massages here. It’s open from about 6 PM to 11 PM.

The Sunday Night Market, known as San Khong Happy Street, is on San Khong Noi Road. It’s slightly smaller and less crowded than the Saturday market but still offers a great selection of goods and a lively atmosphere.

The Night Bazaar is open from 6 PM to 11 PM, right in the center by the bus station. It features live music and popular hot pot dishes where you cook your own veggies and meats in boiling soup—a favorite in northern Thailand.

Although I found the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar underwhelming compared to Chiang Mai’s, the Saturday Night Market in Chiang Rai was amazing and definitely worth a visit.

Colorful hot air balloon flying over Chiang Rai Singha Park, offering scenic views and a memorable experience.
Image: Note Thanun/Unsplash

11. Visit Singha Park

Owned by the Singha Beer Company, this expansive agricultural park on the outskirts of Chiang Rai features beautiful landscapes with tea plantations, flower gardens, and serene lakes. 

It’s a great place for outdoor activities, including cycling, zip-lining, and guided tours of the tea plantations. The park also has a petting zoo and a playground, making it family-friendly.

The park offers walking and cycling routes, and you can rent a golf cart or scooter at the entrance to explore more comfortably. 

Enjoy a meal at the park’s restaurant, which uses fresh, local ingredients. 

Singha Park hosts events and festivals throughout the year, making it a vibrant place to visit in Chiang Rai. 

While the park is free to enter, some activities may have additional costs. It’s a perfect place to unwind and enjoy the natural beauty of northern Thailand.

12. Watch the Sunset from Wat Phrathat Doi Khao Kwai

If you’re not templed-out yet, Wat Phrathat Doi Khao Kwai offers some of the most beautiful sunset views in Chiang Rai. 

This unique temple provides panoramic vistas of the city and surrounding mountains, with a clear view all the way to the Big Buddha statue. 

It’s about an 18-minute drive from town and a bit of a walk from the main road, so make sure your driver waits for you if you don’t have your own transportation. 

Allow about an hour to fully enjoy the experience. The temple is free to enter, not very busy, and has many steps, but the breathtaking layers of mountains in the distance make it worth the effort.

The sunrise view from Phu Chi Fa with a sea of mist surrounding the mountain viewpoint.
A quick hike up Phu Chi Fa to see the “sea of fog” at sunrise.

13. Sunrise Hike at Mount Phu Chi Fa

Mount Phu Chi Fa, standing at 1,450 meters, is famous for its sunrise views over the “sea of fog.” 

It’s a popular spot among locals but less known to tourists. The hike from the parking area takes about 20-40 minutes to reach the top, depending on your fitness level, where you can unofficially cross into Laos and take a picture with the border marker. 

The mountain offers cooler weather and dramatic views of jagged mountains. The trail can be slippery, especially in the morning mist, so wear proper shoes. Remember to bring warm clothes as it gets chilly at the top, and wait for the mist to clear for the best views.

There are options to go glamping nearby at places like Happy Camp Phu Chi Fa, where you can enjoy a grilled dinner by your tent. A great option if you want more time in the area!

You can get there by car or scooter from Chiang Rai, about a 1.5-hour drive. Keep an eye out for scenic stops along the way!

I'm standing in the corner of a cave with my hands touching the ceiling.
I still get the chills thinking about the Tham Luang Cave rescue.

14. Explore Tham Luang Cave

Tham Luang Cave, about an hour’s drive from Chiang Rai, gained worldwide fame in 2018 after the harrowing rescue of 12 soccer players and their coach, who were trapped for 18 days during heavy rains. 

You can visit the cave (the first 100 meters or so) and see displays of bikes and dive gear used in the rescue. Entrance is free, but there’s a shuttle for a fee.

For a more adventurous experience, guided tours to Chamber 3 of the cave are available for 1,500 baht ($40 USD). This requires a reservation and safety gear, including a helmet and headlamp (provided), knee pads, elbow pads, wrist protection, gloves, and hiking boots (which are not provided). 

The cave is closed during the rainy season for obvious safety reasons. Wear sturdy shoes, as the cave can be slippery.

You can learn more about the incredible rescue effort through documentaries and movies, such as The Rescue or Thirteen Lives. I had just learned to scuba dive when I watched the movie and I’m not gonna lie, it was stressful to watch!

If you’re looking for a cave closer to Chiang Mai, check out the cave temple in Chiang Dao.

A smiling selfie of me in front of the Choui Fong tea plantation, wearing my scooter helmet.
I love exploring Thailand on my scooter!

15. Explore Mae Sai Village

If you’re visiting Tham Luang Cave, you should also explore Mae Sai Village, which is just 20 minutes away.

Mae Sai Village, the northernmost town in Thailand, is 61 km north of Chiang Rai, about 1 hour and 8 minutes away by car. It used to serve as a major border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar. Sadly, it had been closed for a while when this article was written. 

The village is known for its vibrant Mae Sai Market, where you can find local crafts and Burmese souvenirs.

Don’t miss the Wat Pha That Doi Wao temple for stunning views of the surrounding mountains, caves, and lakes. 

Selfie of me holding a half-eaten bao bun, wearing an orange lifejacket, on a boat in one of the Floating Markets in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. My tour guide sits behind me.
Eating breakfast in the Mekong Delta floating market in Vietnam.

16. Discover the Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle, about an hour’s drive north of Chiang Rai, is where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. 

Historically notorious for its opium trade, the area is now an interesting spot to explore, although tour companies tend to overhype it. The best viewpoint is at Sop Ruak, where the Ruak River merges with the Mekong River.

You can visit the Hall of Opium and the smaller House of Opium Museum to learn about the region’s history. 

Take a boat tour on the Mekong River, which often includes a quick stop in Laos to explore a local market. 

Speedboat tours cost about 500 baht ($13.64 USD) for up to four passengers, while a more enjoyable covered slow boat costs 1,000 baht ($27.29 USD) for up to ten passengers. I did a boat ride on the Mekong River in Vietnam and it was incredible!

Although some tour companies exaggerate the Golden Triangle’s excitement, the drive is beautiful, and the region’s history is intriguing, earning the Golden Triangle a spot on the list of best things to do in Chiang Rai.

If you plan to stay longer, consider Chiang Saen, a quiet town along the Mekong River with ruins of over 100 temples from centuries ago. The Sin Sombun Market is also worth a visit. 

🇹🇭 Explore Chiang Rai in a Day! Discover Chiang Rai’s highlights on this full-day guided tour featuring the White Temple, Blue Temple, Black House, Long Neck Karen Village, and Opium House Museum. Book Now!

The Chiang Rai clock tower is lit up in red lights.
The Chiang Rai Clock Tower lights up at 7, 8, and 9 PM.

17. Chiang Rai Clock Tower

Everyone seems obsessed with the Chiang Rai Clock Tower, and honestly, I’m not sure why! But it didn’t feel right to leave it off my list of top things to do in Chiang Rai.

You’ll likely pass the Chiang Rai Clock Tower multiple times while in town. It’s famous for its nightly light show at 7 PM, 8 PM, and 9 PM, lasting about 6 minutes. While many people rave about it, I found it underwhelming and wouldn’t go out of my way to see it.

Grab a gelato at Papa Uno Cafe, or have dinner at Chakrapad Chicken Rice or La Ola Mediterranean Restaurant for a good view of the clock. The clock tower is at a main roundabout, so you’ll see it without trying.

Just a few minutes from the clock tower is Wat Phra Kaew, an old and revered Buddhist temple dating back centuries, and where the Emerald Buddha was found (it’s now housed at Bangkok’s Grand Palace). The temple is free to visit.

😴 I stayed at the highly-rated Mora Boutique Hotel in Chiang Rai and loved it! Comfortable, clean, with exceptional staff and a newly renovated pool. Just a 15-minute walk from town and an amazing breakfast. Book Now!

I'm standing in front of the impressive White Temple with my hands out, wearing vibrant red pants.

Wrap Up: What to Do in Chiang Rai

The temples in Chaing Rai are some of the most photogenic ones I’ve been to––and I’ve been to MANY.

But Chiang Rai is more than just its famous temples—it’s a beautiful destination with much to offer, and worth spending a night or more if you have the time. 

You’ll find stunning waterfall hikes like Khun Korn, lively night markets, serene tea plantations such as Choui Fong, cozy cafes like Lalitta Cafe, and incredible viewpoints like Mount Phu Chi Fa.

While day trips from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai can show you the highlights, staying longer allows you to fully experience the local culture and nature of the area.
Don’t miss out on everything Chiang Rai has to offer! Now that you know the best things to do in Chiang Rai, make sure you know where to stay, where to eat, and more tips for an unforgettable trip.

Read More About Chiang Rai:

📝 Thailand Travel Planning Guide 🇹🇭🌟

Before you embark on your unforgettable journey to Thailand here are the essential tips every traveler should know:

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Thailand?

✅ 100% YES! — My #1 Safety Tip for all travelers is to buy travel insurance for every trip in case anything happens on their visit. I recommend and use SafetyWing – it’s cheap and comprehensive.

💧Can you drink the water in Thailand?

🚱 No — It’s recommended to drink filtered or bottled water in Thailand (but using tap water to brush your teeth is usually fine). I recommend this reusable water bottle! It works great, turning tap water into safe-to-drink water that tastes good.

🚙💨 Is it safe to rent a car in Thailand?

Yes — Renting a car in Thailand is one of the best ways to see the countryside! I recommend Discover Cars, which checks both international companies and local companies, so you get the best rates.

🏩 What’s the best way to book my Thailand accommodations?

My go-to for Thailand hotels is Booking.com. For hostels, I use HostelWorld. Or get free accommodations with Trusted Housesitters!

✈️ What’s the best site to book Thailand flights?

For finding cheap Thailand flights, I recommend CheapOAir.

🎫 Do I need a visa for Thailand?

🙅🏻‍♀️ Likely Not — US, UK, and EU passport holders don’t need visas for stays of up to 30 days in Thailand.

💰 𝗖𝘂𝗿𝗿𝗲𝗻𝗰𝘆: The currency here is the Thai baht, and there are plenty of ATMs if you need cash. I always withdraw from ATMs to get the best rates (select “no” when it asks you if you accept the conversion rate).

🚕 𝗧𝗿𝗮𝗻𝘀𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻: Getting around Thailand is a breeze! Grab is safe and cheap in major cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Bangkok has a modern metro. It’s easy to use local transport such as songthaews, too.

📶 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝗻𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗶𝘁𝘆: Thailand has reliable internet connectivity. SIM cards are easy to find and cheap.