What to Do With 24 Hours in Chiang Rai

Introducing guest blogger Robert from Thailand Starts Here

From a certain perspective, one day in Chiang Rai can seem like a long time. The city is tiny when you compare it to Bangkok or even Chiang Mai—what could you possibly do there that takes longer than 24 hours?

In fact, Chiang Rai and its vicinity are home to some of the best things to do in Thailand for families. You could easily spend 2-3 days here, and maybe longer if you love exploring.

However, I’m going to proceed with the assumption that your time in the Kingdom is finite, perhaps the two weeks in Thailand that most travelers spend. I’ll tell you how to make the most of a day in Chiang Rai, and how to expand that if you see fit.

This post is part of our Explore My City series – come and visit cities around the world through the eyes of locals


Where to Stay in Chiang Rai

I’ll get to listing off some of my favorite attractions in Chiang Rai in just a moment, but first allow me to mention some of my favorite places to stay. If you have kids that love to swim, Le Patta Chiang Rai is an excellent hotel choice. A bright, stylish property just a few minutes by foot from the city center, Le Patta also boasts an excellent pool, not to mention a delicious free breakfast.

If, on the other hand, you want to focus on having an authentic local experience, you might decide to snub larger Chiang Rai hotels in favor of the boutique Baan Jaru guest house. Run by a local family who has lived on the property for decades, this cozy spot will immediately feel like home, particularly if you’re lucky enough to score the “bungalow” room. Like Le Patta, it’s also just a short walk from the city center!

How to Divide Your 24 Hours in Chiang Rai

Say “Sawasdee” With a Local Dinner

Arrive in Chiang Rai in the late afternoon, check in to your hotel and head immediately to one of my favorite Chiang Rai restaurants: Four Stars, which is located near the historic Chiang Rai Clock Tower. This down-home eatery serves up local specialities including Khao Soi, a spicy curry soup that’s available with chicken and also in a vegetarian form. In spite of being authentic and not terribly touristic, the staff here speaks great English.

Khao Soi

(And a Spectacular Show)

Continue the first half of your 24 hours in Chiang Rai by walking to the aforementioned Clock Tower, which lights up around sunset while instrumental Thai folk music plays from its base. Once you’ve had your fill, stop in at Chiang Rai Night Bazaar (where you might catch a local dance performance, if you’re lucky) to do some souvenir shopping before heading back to your hotel. (Souvenir shopping or dessert eating—no judgment.)

The Clock Tower in Chiang Rai

Spend the Morning in Sacred Places

When it comes to temples in Chiang Rai, I use a simple mnemonic device: White, black and blue. Start your day by taking a local bus or taxi to the “white” temple of Wat Rong Khun, which is surreal and fantastic, and located just south of town. From here, continue to the Baan Dam (Black House), which is also rather surreal, and located just to the north of the city center. Finally, head back south to Wat Rong Suea Ten, the “blue” temple.

Chiang Rai White Temple
Chiang Rai White Temple
Chiang Rai Blue Temple
Chiang Rai Vlue Temple

Luxuriate at Lunch Time

As I mentioned earlier, eating is one of my favorite things to do in Chiang Rai. The great news is that your lunch spot is only a short walk from the blue temple. Chivit Thamma Da, housed in a historical mansion on the banks of the Kok River, boasts a menu of delicious Thai specialities (and some delicious adult beverages for the grown-ups in your group). The Northern Thai-style Pork Curry with Brown Rice is my favorite!

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Northern Pork Curry - Chinag Rai Thailand
Northern Pork Curry

(And Afterwards, Too)

After lunch, head back to your hotel, whose front desk you’ll have ideally sweet-talked into late check-out before you went sightseeing this morning. Move your belongings to the front desk, but before you leave the city, make the short walk to Monmueang Lanna, a wonderful traditional massage parlor. With fair prices and professional service to complement the traditional, rustic design, this is a relaxing way to say goodbye to Chiang Rai.

Extend Your Trip to Chiang Rai

Are you able to spend longer than 24 hours in Chiang Rai? Fantastic! The most obvious way to extend your trip would be to travel from Chiang Rai to the Golden Triangle, which is the collective name given to a spate of attractions along the Mekong River near Thailand’s borders with neighboring countries. Start in Mae Sai, a charming village on the Burmese frontier, then hop a song thaew to Chiang Saen, which is across from Laos.

Other places to visit in Chiang Rai include any number of coffee farms in the rural part of the province—my personal favorite is the Doi Chaang one. If you prefer the landscape of tea fields, meanwhile, you can visit Choui Fong Tea Plantation. Finally, the Wat Huay Pla Kang statue of Guan Yin (the Chinese goddess of mercy) is a great place to watch sunset. Kids will be fascinated by this massive “Lady Buddha”!

Chiang Rai Coffee Farm

Other Destinations in Northern Thailand

Whether you travel to Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai or go farther afield, here are some other spots to explore in Northern Thailand:

  • Chiang Mai: The hub of Thailand’s north, Chiang Mai is likely on your radar already. After you finish exploring temples within the walled Old City, travel to the ethical Elephant Nature Park on the outskirts.
  • Pai: Once a paradise for the hippie backpacker crowd, rural Pai has transformed into a relaxing getaway for all sorts of travelers, including families. This chill-out in the Thai countryside usually takes the form of a 1-2 day excursion from Chiang Mai.
  • Lampang: A small and lesser-visited city famous for horse-drawn carriages and Buddhist stupas strewn over jagged mountain peaks, Lampang is an ambitious destination, but a worthwhile one.
  • Sukhothai: Thailand’s first capital, Sukhothai is actually a way’s south of Chiang Rai (you can travel here via direct train from Chiang Mai), but still gives off a northern vibe.
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Continuing to Laos? Take a bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Kong, then cross the border and ride down the Mekong to Luang Prabang on a traditional boat!

The Bottom Line

Whether you end up spending one day in Chiang Rai, or expanding your trip to the nearby Golden Triangle and staying a few days, I think you’ll fall as deeply in love with this part of Thailand as I have.

From spicy Khao Soi soup outside the iconic Chiang Rai Clock Tower, to show-stopping selfies in front of the bizarre and beautiful White Temple, Chiang Rai is where the magic of northern Thailand truly resides. You’ll be tempted to stay longer than 24 hours, even if that’s as long as you can devote!


About the Blogger

Robert - Thailand Starts Here

After traveling extensively in Thailand (and living there a few times as well!), Robert Schrader wanted to share his on-the-ground knowledge with an English-speaking audience. So, he created Thailand Starts Here as a one-stop-shop for Thailand travel information — and inspiration. He hopes it serves you well, whether it’s your first trip to the Kingdom, or your fiftieth!

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With thanks to Robert for his contribution to our guest series.  You may also like to read more about Bangkok with kids.


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Chiang Rai with kids

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