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Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Itinerary
Here’s a sample Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai itinerary that takes 4 days to complete. It covers all the highlights of the area, in a geographically efficient way. We recommend taking 3-4 days to travel through Chiang Rai province and avoiding the 1 Day tours from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai (because you end up spending most of the day just driving back and forth).
When people think of Chiang Rai they think of Chiang Rai city, the White temple, and Golden Triangle. But there’s so much more to Chiang Rai than this ! There’s an entire province waiting to be discovered. And the best way to see it is to travel through it’s countryside, and go beyond the tourist route, to see its more authentic parts. Many travellers +make the mistake of basing themselves in Chiang Rai city, and making day trips from there. This is not an efficient way to see the province. Follow our Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Itinerary below for an effective way to travel through Chiang Rai.
Day 1) Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
Starting off from Chiang Mai city and heading north on the Doi Saket road, after around 3 hours of driving straight, you will arrive in Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai city itself is pretty unremarkable, and a standard urban Thai city, so you could easily skip this. The first sight on your Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Itinerary should be Wat Rong Khun (White temple). This site has mixed reviews, some people love its unique architecture, whilst others find it a ‘disneyfied’ attraction. If you’re travelling to Chiang Rai you should definitely check it out though, so you can see for yourself. Ten minutes drive from the White temple is the Black House, which is designed by the same artist.
The next stop from here should be Chiang Saen, where you can catch sunset over the Mekong River. There are lots of accommodation options nearby the river. Overnight in Chiang Saen.
Day 2) Chiang Saen – Golden triangle – Mae Salong – Thaton
Enjoy sightseeing around Chiang Saen, which includes the ruins of the ancient city. Visit the Golden Triangle (meeting point of three countries; Thailand, Laos and Myanmar on the Mekong river), visit the Opium museum with displays about how the Golden Triangle was a hub on the opium trade route with China. Then head further north, and up into the hills to visit the quaint hilltop village of Mae Salong. This is a Chinese village, famous for its tea plantations and Oolong tea production. This was a former outpost for Kuomintang soldiers fleeing communist China. You can visit tea factories here and sample a variety of black and green teas. Drive down from Mae Salong to Thaton. On the way there is ‘Ban Lorcha’ a community based tourism Akha hill tribe village. A local Akha village guide demonstrates traditional Akha way of life such as weaving and hunting techniques. After arrival in Thaton, the main attraction here is Wat Thaton, a beautiful hilltop temple which offers superb views of the Mae Kok River Valley. There are several 1-3 star accommodation options, and some are located by the Kok river. Overnight in Thaton.
Day 3) Thaton – Hill tribe villages
The Thaton area offers some of the most authentic treks in northern Thailand. If you want to build in a trek as part of your itinerary then, you should do it in Thaton. There are a variety of hill tribes here such as the Karen, Akha and Lahu. It’s a melting pot of hill tribe culture, and visiting hill tribe villages should also be on your itinerary here too. For tips on how to visit hill tribes responsibly check out this post. You could even arrange to stay overnight in a village at a hill tribe homestay here.
Day 4) Thaton – Doi Angkhang -Chiang Dao – Chiang Mai
The last day of this Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai itinerary, there are several options you could take. As a detour back to Chiang Mai you could go up Doi Angkhang mountain. A rugged and mountainous frontier which lies on the Thai-Myanmar border, it’s home to colourful hill tribes such as the Palong, Lahu, Lisu and Hmong. A Royal Agricultural Centre is also based here, and if you’re interested in botany this could be a place of interest.
Chiang Dao mountain is on the main road back to Chiang Mai, and from here its around 2 hours drive until you’re back to Chiang Mai city.
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