My original plan for my stay in Thailand was to essentially go to Krabi, with 3 days in Chiang Mai at the beginning and 3 days in Bangkok at the end of my holiday. But, because of bad weather in Krabi, I changed my plans and went to Chiang Rai instead. When I planned this holiday, I wanted to include Chiang Rai in the itinerary, but there was not enough time. I preferred to be on the beach, thus I left Chiang Rai for another time.
What’s really very good about Thailand is that, despite the fact that I made some very last minute bookings, I ended up paying the same prices that I paid months before, for both – the newly booked hotel in Chiang Rai and the flight from Chiang Rai to Bangkok. I was sad because I was going to miss Krabi, but it really made no sense to go there. The weather was absolutely superb in the northern part of Thailand.
Chiang Rai is 860km north of Bangkok and around 200km north-east of Chiang Mai. The Golden Triangle, the point where borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet, is 55km north-east of the city. Chiang Rai was established in 1262, as the capital city in the reign of King Mangrai. The Mae Kok river runs along Chiang Rai’s north side and joins the Mekong river some 40km north-east of the city.
Chiang Rai is much smaller than Chiang Mai and less popular as a tourist destination. In fact, there were foreign tourists in Chiang Rai too, but nowhere near in numbers in which their presence was visible in totally invaded Chiang Mai. In Chiang Mai, the highly developed tourist industry is right in your face. There are tourist agencies in every street and on every corner. Restaurants, bars, massage salons, souvenirs shops and huge crowds of tourists are everywhere.
There was nothing like that in Chiang Rai or, at least, not at that level. Chiang Rai seemed like a regular and authentic Thai city and I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect.
From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, I travelled by bus. The distance between these two cities is not big, nevertheless it took over 4 hours to arrive to Chiang Rai. There is no rail connecting these two cities.
I bought my bus ticket at the Chiang Mai bus station, several days before my travel date. You can also buy bus tickets in tourist agencies in the old town in Chiang Mai. The bus station is not far from the city centre, however be careful and allow plenty of time to get there. That day when I went to purchase my ticket, it took over an hour to get to the station, because of a nearly static traffic. Otherwise, it took less than 10 minutes to get back to the centre, as there was almost no traffic coming back from the station.
The bus arrived to the Chiang Rai’s main bus station, close to the Night Bazaar. From there, I took a tuk-tuk to the Nak Nakara hotel. It was a very good hotel, with a swimming pool. Also, I paid a very reasonable price, especially as I booked it only 2 days earlier. If you plan to stay in Chiang Rai for several day only, I would suggest that you check this hotel. It was comfortable and in a good location and the breakfast was excellent, additionally I walked from the hotel to the city centre.
I started my tour of the city by first visiting:
– The Old Clock Tower and the adjacent Kad Luang Market – the market sells fruit and vegetable products. There were also food stalls, where they were preparing and cooking some deliciously looking dishes, including various sea food products.
– Wat Mung Muang – constructed in 1839, is immediately next to the market and belongs to the Maha Nikai Buddhist Monastic Order.
You can see a very big fat sitting Buddha in the courtyard.
– The Chiang Rai Clock Tower – the Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, designed it and unveiled it in 2008, in honour of His Majesty the King. The golden clock tower is, at the same time, the work of art and a traffic roundabout.
It is also the city’s landmark and a tourist attraction, especially in the evening with its beautiful illumination.
– Wat Rong Khun or The White Temple – is the most magnificent structure that I saw in Chiang Rai. It is also the most impressive of everything that I saw in Thailand.
The White Temple is an art exhibit, in the style of a Buddhist temple. The artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, designed it and constructed it in 1997. By the end of the 20th century, there were no available funds for the repair of the original, dilapidated Wat Rong Khun. Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to completely rebuild the temple with his own money. This beautiful temple is a must see for everyone that visits Chiang Rai. You can also book a daily excursion to the White Temple from Chiang Mai.
The White Temple is approximately 15km south-west from Chiang Rai. To get there, I took a tuk-tuk from my hotel. The driver waited for me for 1 hour and then he took me to my next destination. The entrance is free for the Thais, but foreigners have to pay 50 baht to get in.
– Wat Rong Suea Ten or The Blue Temple – is a new temple built in 2005, just north of the Mae Kok river. Its blue and gold colours and artistically decorated walls and ceilings make this temple unique.
There is no public transport that can take you to this temple. To get there, take a tuk-tuk or a taxi, it is only a short ride from the city centre.
Also, arrange with the driver to wait for you. There is almost nothing around the temple and it may be hard to find transport back to the city. However, if that happens, don’t despair! It is also possible to walk from the temple, although it would probably take around an hour to arrive back to the centre.
The temple complex is not big and 20-30 minutes are sufficient to see everything properly.
– Wat Phra Kaew – is a royal temple, famous throughout Thailand. The Emerald Buddha was discovered in this temple in 1434, after the lightning struck a chedi where it was kept.
The King of Thailand elevated the temple to the royal status in 1978. It is one of the main centres of the Buddhist education and the most important temple in the province.
– Wat Klang Wiang – is one of the most ornate temples in Chiang Rai. Every structure in the temple complex is richly decorated. The temple probably dates back to the 15th century, however most structures were built during the 20th century.
– Chiang Rai’s Night Market – is not far from the city centre. To get there, look for Phaholyothin Road where you will easily find the market entrance. This market is much smaller than the market in Chiang Mai. There were not huge crowds of people everywhere and it was much easier to see what’s on offer. You will find the stalls selling the usual souvenirs. In fact, after a while, you realise that the same stuff is sold in all markets across Thailand.
There is a large, open space eating area. The front part is a stage, where local artists play and sing Thai songs. Two long rows of food stalls occupy the right and the left side of the square. There, you can buy delicious and cheap northern Thai dishes. Tables and chairs are in the central part of the square and there you can sit down and eat.
In my opinion, this is the best place for an evening meal in Chiang Rai, if it is OK for you to eat street food. The food I had was excellent. I tried many different things. They were all freshly cooked in front of me. There was also a kiosk selling beer, water and other non-alcoholic drinks.
If you travel to north Thailand, make a stop in Chiang Rai, at least for a day or two. I am sure that you will enjoy it. You will also have the opportunity to see the White Temple which, in my opinion, was the the most memorable site that I saw in Thailand. You will also be able to try some exquisitely delicious Thai food.