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Chiang Mai vs Chiang Rai: Which to Visit (Differences & Similarities)

Chiang Mai vs Chiang Rai: Which to Visit (Differences & Similarities)

By Chris QuanUpdated Dec. 19, 2022

You may be confused by Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, as they are have similar-sounding names. But they are indeed two different cities in Thailand. Our article will tell you more about them.

Is Chiang Mai the Same as Chiang Rai?

Chiang Mai vs Chiang Rai

No. Although Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have some similarities, such as they are both in northern Thailand, are full of beautiful temples, and have similar-sounding names, however, these two cities are different in several aspects.

Chiang Mai is close to Chiang Rai at 3½ hours' drive away, and Chiang Rai is further north, near the borders of Laos and Myanmar. >>>How to Get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai

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What Are the Differences between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai?

Chiang Mai Chiang Rai
Feature The largest city in northern Thailand Smaller, more natural, and wilder
Location Northern Thailand Further north than Chiang Mai
Recommended stay 3–5 days 2–3 days
Top activities Yi Peng Lantern Festival
Elephant Sanctuary
Thai cooking class
Temple visiting
The Golden Triangle
Visiting rural villages
Travel advice A must-stop for a Thailand trip, especially for first-timers Depending on your travel time, we may recommend a visit

Is Chiang Rai Worth Visiting?

Chiang Rai, the White Temple The White Temple, Chiang Rai

Yes. Chiang Rai is close to Chiang Mai, so a trip to Chiang Mai is usually combined with Chiang Rai.

The landscape, ethnic villages, and interesting temples in Chiang Rai will show you what northern Thailand is really like.

Chiang Rai has three biggest highlights that you cannot experience in other cities in Thailand:

  • The Golden Triangle: You will see the border of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, which used to be the chaotic opium trade area, but now is a peaceful place with green mountains and rivers.
  • Hill tribe villages: You will discover the lifestyle of northern rural Thai people
  • Unique temples: Chiang Rai has many special and interesting temples, like the White Temple, Black Temple, and Blue Temple.

Here is our sample itinerary of a 6-day Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai tour:

  • Day 1: Bangkok to Chiang Rai flight. Free time to explore.
  • Day 2: The Golden Triangle
  • Day 3: Temple visits, private transfer to Chiang Mai
  • Day 4: Temple visits
  • Day 5: Elephant experience
  • Day 6: Departure

If you are interested in the itinerary, you can get more details here. We also have a 8-Day Bangkok, Chiang Rai, and Chiang Mai tour for your reference. All our tours can be customized based on your needs and preferences.

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Chiang Mai vs Chiang Rai: Things to Do

Chiang Mai offers a more diverse selection of activities, which makes it perfect both for families, young people, and seniors. Chiang Rai on the other hand, is more suitable for rural traveling in its surrounding areas.

Things to Do in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Yi Peng Festival Chiang Mai Yi Peng Festival

>>>Top 20 Attractions in Chiang Mai

Things to Do in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai Mekong River Chiang Rai Mekong River
  • Visit temples
  • Trips on the side: the Golden Triangle, visit ethnic villages

>>>Top 7 Attractions in Chiang Rai

Chiang Mai vs Chiang Rai: Length of Stay

Chiang Mai Elephant Rescue Park Chiang Mai Elephant Rescue Park

Chiang Mai: 3–5 days is recommended to cover the most famous attractions in Chiang Mai, including the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Doi Suthep Mountain, Three Kings Monument area (food streets), and Yi Peng Festival celebration (in November). >>>An Ultimate 5-Day Itinerary for Chiang Mai (Cost, Best Times, Tips)

Here is a 5-Day Chiang Mai highlights tour itinerary including Yi Peng Festival for reference. All our tours can be adjusted based on your needs.

Chiang Rai: 2–3 days would be enough to cover the most famous attractions in Chiang Rai, including various temples (the White Temple, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong, etc.), the Golden Triangle, and Mekong River.

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Chiang Mai vs Chiang Rai: Weather

Chiang Rai Ethnic village in Chiang Rai

Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are close to each other, so they have similar weather conditions. Chiang Rai is further north, so it's 2-3 degrees colder than Chiang Mai.

March to June is Thailand's "hot season", but they are cooler than Bangkok due their northerly location.

July to early October is the rainy season. Chiang Mai's rains are heaviest in September, while Chiang Rai's are in August.

November to February is the dry and cool-to-warm season, and also the peak season for tourism. The temperature average for the season in Chiang Mai is 23°C (73°F). Chiang Rai is cooler averaging 21°C (70°F). At night time the temperatures can drop to 10–15°C (50–59°F).

Chiang Mai vs Chiang Rai: Travel Costs

Chiang Mai Doi Inthanon National Park

Chiang Mai will cost more than Chiang Rai.

Chiang Mai has more attractions and more shopping, food, and hotel choices, thus, it costs more compared with Chiang Rai.

Most activities in Chiang Rai are based on landscape and countryside visits, which need a lower budget. Hotels, shopping, and food also have cheaper choices.

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Chiang Mai vs Chiang Rai: Accommodation

You will find more accommodation options in Chiang Mai, but overall Chiang Rai offers the cheaper rates.

Chiang Mai: As the second-largest city in Thailand, so you can expect plenty of accommodation options for all budgets. >>>How to Choose Hotels in Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai has a good number of hostels and hotels but there are fewer than you will find in the larger city of Chiang Mai. Hotels in Chiang Rai may have a lower standard than Chiang Mai for the same star rating. >>>How to Choose a Hotel in Chiang Rai

Chiang Mai vs Chiang Rai: Nightlife

Chiang Mai nightlife Night market in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is by far the best option for nightlife, but Chiang Rai is better for those that prefer to relax.

Chiang Mai: As a large city, you will find a bustling nightlife in Chiang Mai. Pubs, bars, and specialty nights can be found throughout Chiang Mai. >>Nightlife in Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai: Nightlife is not one of the strong points of Chiang Rai, but you will always find something to do. >>Nightlife in Chiang Rai

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Just use the Contact Us button and tell us your interests, group size, travel ideas, or anything you have a question about, and we will create a trip based on that. Or you can see our popular Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai tours for inspiration:

All the itineraries can be adjusted. Feel free to contact us.

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