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What is there to see in Chiang Rai ?

Are you planning a trip to Chiang Rai ? Would you like to find out what there is to see and do there ? Chiang Rai is the most northerly province in Thailand, and a popular tourist destination, that gets well-marketed alongside the Golden Triangle as a tourist destination. Although one-day tours from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle are popular and well-advertised, there is so much more to explore in the beautiful province of Chiang Rai than this ! The Golden Triangle is approximately 198km away from Chiang Mai, it takes around 3 hours of driving non-stop (on a major highway) to reach there from Chiang Mai.  That’s around 6 hours driving in one day, so you’ll spend most of the day driving. This blog post sums up a 1 Day Chiang Rai + Golden Triangle day tour pretty well !

So, what is there to see in Chiang Rai? So much more than the Golden Triangle !

How many days do I need ?

We recommend a minimum of 2 days to explore Chiang Rai province. And instead of basing yourself in Chiang Rai city itself and making day trips from there, we recommend staying in the countryside instead which is where the cultural beauty of Chiang Rai lies. With day trips from Chiang Rai city you are imited in how far out into the countryside you can travel. You will also have to spend time travelling out of the city, and back again, so it’s not a very efficient way to see the area.

Chiang Rai’s Tourist Attractions

Most of the Chiang Rai and Golden Triangle tours, will stop at the same tourist highlights, such as :

  • White temple (Wat Rong Khun)
  • Black House
  • Blue Temple
  • Mae Sai (Thai/Myanmar border town)
  • Opium house
  • Hot springs

Non-Touristy Things to See and Do in Chiang Rai

To discover the real magic of Chiang Rai, you’ll need to get off the tourist trail and into the heart of the countryside – into the rolling hills and sprawling rice fields, where dirt path-lined villages and rural life unfolds. In these more remote areas, you will discover how the locals and ethnic minorities (hill tribes) are really living. They form part of Chiang Rai’s rich and colourful cultural tapestry.

Chiang Rai’s  Ethnic Minority culture

Karen Hilltribe woman and traditional dress

Karen Hilltribe woman and traditional dress

A large part of Chiang Rai’s identity lies in it’s diverse ethnic minority culture. Chiang Rai is home to a wide variety of hill tribes, such as the; Akha, Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Hmong, Mien/Yao and Palaung, who migrated from neighbouring Myanmar and Laos.  Each  group has its own unique culture, customs and language. Any visit to Chiang Rai should include a visit to these hill tribe groups, and their villages.  A common village scene is that of young children running around, whilst chickens and pigs roam underneath rickety bamboo houses. Men and women maybe carrying logs or vegetables back from the farm, as grandma is weaving on the terrace. It’s a cultural delight, to simply watch how daily life unfolds in a village.  Although the colourful and eye-catching costumes of the hill tribes, are becoming less common, and increasingly reserved for special occasions such as new year or a wedding, if you’re lucky enough to visit some of the more authentic villages, you might still see some villagers (mainly the elders), proudly wearing their beautiful traditional dress.

Agro-tourism in Chiang Rai

Agriculture is a key industry in Chiang Rai province. Most of the locals are working as farmers or somehow connected to agriculture – it’s a key part of life in Chiang Rai, and provides an important insight into the locals and their way of life.  The province is characterised by large and sprawling plantations across it’s mountains and lowlands. Chiang Rai is famous for its tea and coffee plantations, but it also grows a wide variety of other crops such as rice, corn, strawberries and pineapples. The landscapes and scenery in Chiang Rai reflect this – sprawling fields against a mountain backdrop, discovering these beautiful vistas should also be part of any Chiang Rai itinerary.

Chiang Rai scenery

Typical scenery in Chiang Rai



What’s the best way to travel from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai?

There are regular public buses that run from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, but their services usually end in Chiang Rai city. After that, the availability and reliability of public transport for the purposes of exploring the countryside is limited, and especially tricky if you don’t speak the language. So really, the best way to explore Chiang Rai is with private transport.

Are you still thinking about what there is to see and do in Chiang Rai ? As you can see, there’s a lot to discover beyond the Golden Triangle and what the guide books tell you. Why not check out our 4d/3n Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai tour ? This itinerary has been specially designed to include the best and most authentic parts of Chiang Rai. We start in Chiang Mai and make a loop through Chiang Rai province, discovering culture and local life along the way. From our years of experience, this route is an optimal and efficient way to see the province. We can customise each tour, so you can decide if you want to include the tourist highlights of Chiang Rai (such as the White Temple) do pass the Golden Triangle and other tourist highlights, but after that, we venture further into the countryside with the aim of showing you the real Chiang Rai.

Useful Posts

Chiang Mai vs Chiang Rai   A comparison between destinations, which one should you visit ? 

Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Itinerary A sample 4 day itinerary to Chiang Rai 


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