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Chiang Rai is the capital of Chiang Rai Province, Northern Thailand.
Mae Fah Luang-Chiang Rai International Airport (CEI) is located on Phaholyotin Rd 8 km from the centre of Chiang Rai. Car rental is available on arrival from several companies as well as in town.
At a desk in the airport you can hire a pre-paid taxi. It costs 200 baht to the city centre and more to other places. It will take you to your hotel, or the driver will find you one if you give him the price range you want to pay. The meter-taxis refuse to use the meter, covering it up with tape, so the pre-paid taxis are the best option.
There are two bus stations in Chiang Rai: the old bus station and new bus station.
Old Bus Station (Bus Terminal 1) is located in the centre of town. Buses coming from towns in Chiang Rai province such as Chiang Khong and Mae Sai stop here. From here you take the bus south to Phayao and Lampang.
New Bus Station (Bus Terminal 2) is 7km south of the city, just off the Super Highway. Buses from elsewhere in Thailand stop here. Greenbus services to and from Chiang Mai stop by here on the way to the Old Bus Station, or on the way to Chiang Mai after departing from the Old Bus Station.
The nearest train station is at Chiang Mai.
Chiang Rai is about 820 km north of Bangkok and is easily accessible from Bangkok via Hwy 1 and Hwy 32 and from Chiang Mai via Hwy 118.
Public transport consists mainly of tuk-tuks and songthaews, plus a smaller number of taxis. The city itself can be explored on foot, but for trips into the province consider renting a car or a motorbike. Budget and Avis both have offices in Chiang Rai and there are several local agencies. If you don't feel up to driving in what may be a very different environment, then consider hiring a car with driver. It doesn't cost much more.
Chiang Rai has a few cyclo-rickshaws (samlors), which can be a pleasant way to see the main sights if you want a fairly quick tour.
What to see
Temples and churches
Baan dam Museum, created by Thailand national artist Thawan Duchanee, the grounds include nearly 40 small black houses made of wood, glass, concrete, bricks, or terracotta in various unique styles and design scattered around the temple area.
Chiang Rai First Church, its largest, was built in 1914 at PratuSiri corner. It's Presbyterian.
Munniti Chiang Rai Across from Sammakkhi Wittayakhom School on Banpaprakan is this Taoist and Mahayana Buddhist temple, a rare sight in Theraveda Buddhist Thailand.
Wat Klong Wiang. Dating back to 1432, this is an excellent but little-visited temple showcasing exuberant Lanna-style at its best. Noteworthy are the colourful guardian statues, the elephants in the back and the "No Killing Area" admonition at the entrance.
Wat Ming Meuang, intersection of Banphaprakan and Trairat Rds. Small temple housing the spirit of the city (ming meuang) in an exquisitely carved and decorated Lanna-style, almost Laotian wiharn.
Wat Phra Kaeo This beautiful Buddhist temple on Trairat Rd right in town is famous for having housed, in the 14th century, the Emerald Buddha, one of the most famous Buddha images in Thailand.
Wat Phra Sing is located near the townhall used to house a major Buddha statue, the Phra Buddha Sihing, which is now enshrined in Chiang Mai. Like Wat Phra Kaeo, the temple now houses a replica instead. A special feature is the Lanna-style Ubosot and the wooden door panels carved by Chiang Rai contemporary craftsmen.
White Temple, located at Ban Rong Khun, Tambon Pa O Don Chai. This unique modern temple was designed and built by artist Chaloemchai Khositphiphat starting in 1998. A beautiful white ordination hall is decorated with silver glittering pieces of mirrors.
The Chiang Rai Cultural Centre is just north of the new airport, to the other side of the highway, next door to Rajapat Teacher's College.
Cultural Hall Museum Near the TAT building on Singhaklai Rd is a large white building that has a huge statue of King Mongkut at the main entrance. Visitors can find prehistoric tools, two medieval cannons, costume examples, ancient pottery, and examples of ancient Lanna literature in the Dhamma script. There are also videos available, a model of the city and a display of five major areas of Tai culture. Admission for adults is 10 baht, for children 5 baht.
Haw Shan Art Gallery Out NongBua Rd, across from Family Bakery, in a large, dark-wood, Shan-style pavilion. It can be opened for special showings.
Lanna Museum, at Rong Rian Ban Sang Khong Yai, just southwest of Chiang Rai Hospital at an elementary school. It is opened by request.
Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park, 5 km west of town, has lovely two lakes, a barge and several large Shan-style small ponds. There is interesting Haw Kam Golden Temple with two Shan halls containing accoutrements collected by Princess Maha Chakri and examples of Lanna craftsmanship: seven-armed candelabra, Buddha images, wooden alters, embroidered cloth for wrapping Buddhist scriptures, carved wood screens, swords, and monks' fans.
Princess Mother '90 Museum is a sizeable fascinating pavilion dedicated to the life of the beloved Princess Mother. On display are fine collections of lacquer boxes, wooden pulleys, pottery, weaving equipment and some old handwritten folded texts with drawings. Admission is free.
The Sirindhorn Chinese Language and Culture Centre at Mae Fah Luang University was established through the cooperation of Mae Fa Luang University and the People’s Republic of China. The centre was built as a memorial to honour the Princess mother as a symbol of friendship between the two nations.
What to do
Learn Thai cooking; Cook Thai Yourself offers an excellent and original cooking class
Organize a trekking tour to the hill tribes; various businesses, such as Akha Hill house, Local Alike (Travel Social Enterprise) or Thailand Hilltribe Holidays are responsible tour companies that can organise this.
Visit Mae Sai and the Golden Triangle
Rock Climbing just 3 km northwest of Chiang Rai. Beautiful limestone rock soars up 80 m. Two dozen routes, all skill levels, are cleared and fixed for top roping. Also at Boomerang Adventure Park; the only zip lines north of Chiang Mai, and Asia's largest swing, called 'Pie in the Sky'. It has an arc of 45 m.
Trail running/walking The Chiang Rai Hash House Harriers convene on the 3rd Saturday of each month. Usually, a 6 to 7 km trail in the countryside followed by a social circle with food and beer. A good opportunity to discover little know places around Chiang Rai and meet locals. All are welcomed.
Views of City Buffalo Horn Hill has a splendid overview of Chiang Rai. Take the old road to Chiang Mai, called Thanon Ratchayotha. After a few kilometres, a hill can be seen on the left.
Waterfalls and Hot Springs Kun Korn is a 70 m waterfall about 15 km south of town. Take a right at the wooden sign of the same name.
Golf There are three high class golf courses east of Chiang Rai. Happy City is 8 kms east of town, Santiburi is 10 km east of town and Waterford Valley is 35 km northeast of town. In town there are two 9-hole courses.
Volunteer. The International Humanity Foundation has an orphanage and education centre. Voluntourists are encouraged to teach English, math, and computer classes, and play with and become friends with the children. Akha Hill House also requires volunteers to help teach the Akha hill tribe children English or to work on the website.
Bicycling Chiang Rai is made for cycling; little traffic, good roads, flat. Many shops rent out bicycles.
Chiang Rai Beach during the day or the early evening is an excellent spot. There are around 20 cafes and restaurants overlooking the 'Mae Kok River'. Bring your dictionary with you for there are no English menus to be found. A bit out of town. Go by tuk-tuk or motorbike.
Coconut Bar on the bar street close to Wangcome Hotel. Has good vegetarian options including a good vegetable stew and a chili-sin-carne.
Muang Thong Restaurant, delicious Chinese food, very popular with locals. At the edge of Jettyod Rd and Phaholyothin Rd. Try the garlic fish.
Nakhon Pathom, Th Phahonyothin, near Banphaprakan Rd intersection. The famous khao moo deng (rice with red sautéed pork, or as shown on the menu: 'rice with BBQ pork', 30 baht) tastes best at this big Chinese restaurant. No English sign, but looks for the red sign board with large yellow font Thai letters. It's opposite the Lebanese shop. Big cold coffee machines attract the locals to having lunch there.
Phetburi, Th Banphaprakan. Local curry-and-rice restaurant, just pick your favourites from the display. Under 50 baht for a full meal. Ratburi, right next door, is very similar.