What used to be a tiny mountain town in the north of Thailand is now a bustling epicenter of tourism. Hundreds of thousands of tourists have flocked to Chiang Mai to seek out the charming Lanna culture, but if you are looking for something a little less developed, perhaps a peek into Chiang Mai’s more northern sister city, Chiang Rai will do.
(Though, if you are looking to visit Chiang Mai, Blonde The Road really captures it’s essence in her Chiang Mai articles & itinerary)
Exploring Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai doesn’t cater to western tourists nearly as much as Chiang Mai. You will find a similar sprawling city, but with significantly less English signs. What it lacks in western amenities, it makes up for in pristine mountain-scapes, wonderful parks, and interesting religious monuments. Although I had the luxury of a semi-local’s tour, you can easily find a 3-hour bus ride to bring you into the city proper, where you can explore the city on your own, either by bus, tuk tuk or vespa. There are turquoise waters leading into stalagmite-covered caves and nature or animal preserves that beckon to be explored.
A Day Trip to Chiang Rai
Rocking along to the movements of the car as it ascended the curvy mountain road, I watched Buddha shrines, and other temples in the rear view mirror. Brandon and I accompanied one of his coworkers that has lived in Northern Thailand for the better part of a decade. Jeff, who has clearly left his western-style driving behind, cheerfully taxied us all to Chiang Rai for a fun day away from the city. Our first stop? The modern temple, Wat Rong Khun.
The White Temple
I love anything slightly depressing, morbid, or otherwise dark. This temple has got it all. Creepy hands reaching up from the ground, skulls dangling from trees, a life-size statue of the character “Predator” from that alien v. predator movie…. I still don’t understand how these relate to Buddhism, but they were entertaining to come across.
The White Temple was by far my favorite Buddhist temple in Thailand, just because it’s so different.
Due to it’s pearly white color, it’s very difficult to look at without sunglasses, but you won’t want to miss a single detail of Wat Rong Khun. Some of the artwork looks like it came directly out of Game of Thrones, or The Lord of The Rings. Fascinating as it might be, please don’t forget that it still houses a religious monument, so be sure to dress and behave respectfully.
Doi Thun, Chiang Rai’s flower park
Another hours’ drive time North will allow you to access the most exquisite flower garden I have ever seen. It puts Japan’s gardens to shame! Although an admission ticket will run you about 100 baht, I think the price is well worth it. I can’t imagine how many hours the gardeners must work every week to keep this giant park looking as gorgeous as it does. There are maze-gardens, greenhouses, and a hillside full of colorful flower patches and bushes. Every inch is full of beauty.
Grab a papaya-yogurt Popsicle from the cafe in the center to keep cool while you explore the grounds.
You might have time to visit one more attraction before the day is spent. Here are a few more ideas to fill up your time:
Chiang Rai Caves; there are 3 different caves to explore, complete with a plethora of stalactite and stalagmites to ogle over
Zip lining at boomerang adventure park
Taking a bath in the hot springs
- Cruise along Mekong River
Chiang Rai is the perfect day-trip out of Chiang Mai. Hopefully your ride back to the city will be relaxing enough to catch a little shut-eye after such a busy day. Have you any recommendations to add to this list? Or a better day-trip opportunity in mind?