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Plan A Trip to Chiang Rai - Things to Do

Plan A Trip to Chiang Rai - Things to Do

By Chris QuanUpdated Sep. 6, 2023

Chiang Rai once was the national capital of the Kingdom of Lanna in the 13th century. Now it is a capital city of the most northern part of Thailand. It's near the border to Myanmar and Laos.

Chiang Rai is a quiet city with culture and tradition, featuring mountain villages, the romantic Mekong River, and the mysterious Golden Triangle. You can get up to the mountain tops to see Myanmar and Laos at the other side, or enjoy a boat trip along the river, or hike to the distant tribes.

Why visit Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is a small and quiet rural city where you can get close to the local culture and tradition. Compared to the busy and prosperous Bangkok, Chiang Rai is a more relaxed city.

As there are many hill tribes and mountains, trekking is one of the most popular activities in Chiang Rai. You can enjoy hiking through forests and visit the hill tribes or just have a rest.

You can also enjoy the natural scenery at Doi Mae Salong, a beautiful village with terraced tea, coffee and fruit tree plantations, or you can learn about many rare plants in Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park & Botanic Garden.

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What to explore in Chiang Rai

Modern style temples (Baan Dam Museum and Wat Rong Khun)

You can visit the unique Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) and Baan Dam Museum (Black Temple).

The White Temple is an amazing, unique temple, featuring exquisite white roofs, white walls, and a white base. The Black Temple is a museum that consists of black wooden buildings that exhibit collections of black items like hunting tools and animal skulls and bones.

Minorities in Thailand and trekking

The Hill Tribe Museum is a nice choice for you get to know about the life style and customs of the hill tribes. It looks very ordinary from outside, but the collection of exhibits is really rich.

The museum might be a small attraction during the trip, but after visiting it, you will have a more meaningful hill tribe trek. The villages of the different minorities are worth discovering, and during your trek you will be close to nature and able to enjoy beautiful views.

History and nature in Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park& Botanic Garden

In Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park, you can learn about the history of the royal family and see collections of ancient art of the Lanna Kingdom. There are beautiful wooden pavilions among colorful flowers.

It's also a botanical garden where you can admire many rare plants of northern Thailand and many collections of ancient art of the Kingdom of Lanna. The comfortable environment provides for peaceful moments during your trip.

Elephant camp

A visit to an elephant camp is a unique experience in Chiang Rai for you. Here are two options:

Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle

The Four Seasons Tented Camp is an amazing hotel where you can "live with" elephants. When you step on the boat for the short journey to get to the tented camp, you will truly leave behind the busy life and work.

The Four Season Tented Camp, Golden Triangle, is the only tented camp hotel of Four Seasons. The tents are hidden in the forest and become a part of nature. You can have the private, quiet space to your own.

During the day you can get close to the elephants and learn to communicate with them.

Anantara Golden Triangle Resort

Anantara Golden Triangle Resort, Asia's premier elephant camp, is located on a mountain ridge from where you can have a bird's-eye-view of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. You can also see two rivers meet.

You will not only enjoy the comfortable natural environment, but also get close to the elephants. You can learn a lot about elephants and have a relaxing walk with them in the forest.


You can also learn how to cook local food. The experience to purchase food at a local market and then learn to cook authentic local dishes, will make for interesting memories.

Plan your trip

Chiang Rai is not a busy city and you can slow down to enjoy your trip. It's suggested to spend about 2-3 days for a Chiang Rai trip, so that you can appreciate the exquisite modern temples, explore the Golden Triangle, and relax in the beautiful nature around.

Key itinerary

Half a day to Baan Dam Museum (Black Temple) and Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)

The Black Temple and the White Temple are on the must-see list for a Chiang Rai trip. Half a day is suggested for you to appreciate the unique architecture. They are not actually temples for worshiping. These two buildings are very different from other temples that are decorated with gold and jewelry.

You will not only see the beauty of the appearance, but also learn about the brilliant ideas behind their construction.

One day hill tribe trekking

For most travelers, Chiang Rai is just a small city to enjoy peaceful life. Actually the city provides a good environment for outdoor activities.

Trekking in the forests is one of the most popular activities for travelers to Chiang Rai. There are many mountains and hill tribes in areas like Mae Salong. You can decide the length of your trekking trip (1 to 3 days). The activities during your trekking trip can also include boating, visiting an elephant camp, visiting local hill tribes.

Half a day to the Golden Triangle

The mysterious Golden Triangle is famous for opium trade history. The local people used to plant opium poppy to make a living. After the government intervened, it's no more the chaotic opium trade area, but a peaceful place with green mountains and rivers.

Nowadays people are still curious about this area, and it's suggested that you spend half day to visit it. You can learn about the history and hear stories of the Golden Triangle in the Hall of Opium Museum. An additional option is to go on a Mekong River Cruise, which will make a great experience.

Half a day to Doi Mae Salong

Doi Mae Salong is a mountain village. It's sitting in a mountainous area and enjoys a pleasant, spring-like climate all year round. The nice climate makes it a perfect place for tea, coffee and fruit tree plantations. Doi Mae Salong is a key tea plantation of Thailand. You can sit down and enjoy the fresh tea and have a relaxing time.

Many Chinese people have been living there after the war. It's a village with many hidden stories. There are also several local tribes waiting for you to explore.

Half a day to Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park & Botanic Garden

The Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park & Botanic Garden was constructed by queen Srinagarindra. After forbidding the plantation of opium poppy, the queen ordered the planting of commercial crops. This beautiful garden is built on the site of a weapon depot of the former big drug trafficker, Khun Sa.

There are hundreds of rare trees and flowers. You will have a quiet and relaxing visit.

2-Week Thailand Getaway Tour for Couples:

Differences between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are like twin sisters. They are both in the northern area of Thailand, not far from each other.

Chiang Mai is a famous old city. For most travelers, it is a popular and noisy tourist city, but it offers more activities. There are also some good shopping options in Chiang Mai, at the markets or in the many popular shopping malls.

Chiang Rai is famous for the quiet and leisurely atmosphere. It's less famous than Chiang Mai and also less traveled. You can enjoy the beautiful scenery around and some great trekking in forests.

City Main Activities Atmosphere Elephant experience Cost (Meals and Hotel)
Chiang Mai Historical temples
Night market
Wandering in the Old City
Jungle flight
Night safari
Popular and
touristy old city
half day/ day tour
about 80% of
Chiang Rai Unique White Temple
and Black Temple
Mysterious Golden Triangle
Trekking in Forest
Mekong River Cruise
Quiet and less
traveled place
Enjoy all-inclusive service
at Anantara or Four
Seasons Elephant Camp
about 60% of

8-Day Northern Thailand Discovery:

How to Get to Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is close to Chiang Mai, and most people choose to take a bus to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai after a visit there. But if you want to know more transportation options for getting to Chiang Rai, please read on.

Internal Flights from Bangkok and Phuket


It takes about 1 hour to fly to Chiang Rai from Bangkok. There are more than 20 direct flights a day available. Chiang Rai International Airport is about 8 km away from downtown Chiang Rai.


There are direct flights from Phuket Island to Chiang Rai that take about 2 hours.

ExpressBus from Chiang Mai

Although the two destinations are close to each other, the bus journey still takes 3 to 4 hours.

It takes about 20 minutes' drive on a tuktuk from the Old City in Chiang Mai to the Arcade Bus Station. From there you can take the green bus to Chiang Rai Bus Station.

Asia Highlights provides a comfortable private car from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai if you travel with us. There will be a professional, friendly tour guide and driver to pick you up in Chiang Mai and take you to your hotel in Chiang Rai.

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Explore Chiang Rai with Asia Highlights

Chiang Rai is an ideal place to enjoy a quiet and relaxing holiday in Thailand. If you want to go on a trip to Chiang Rai, Asia Highlights will be happy to do all the planning for you. You will be taken good care of by our professional and knowledgeable local guides. You don't need to worry about transportation and hotel transfers. You only need to decide on the dates and can leave the rest to us.

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