Recently I’ve gotten myself into this new love for traveling up to northern parts of Thailand, especially Chiang Rai. As an amateur photographer, Chiang Rai is one of the most intriguing and photogenic places to visit. It’s more low key and relatively cheap compared to its touristy sibling Chiang Mai. The nature is also very majestic and untouched. For this trip, we decided to rent a car with a driver. I would suggest you do the same if you’re not used to driving on curvy roads! Here are the 17 most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai! You may or may not have heard of them before, but that’s exactly why you should take a look at this list and mark what you like.
17 Most Recommended Places to Visit in Chiang Rai
1. Wat Rong Wat Rong Suea Ten (aka Blue Temple)
In my opinion is the most beautiful temple in Chiang Rai (some people prefer White Temple, but more on that later). The Blue Temple was created by Mr. Putha Kabkaew, a student of renowned national artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, creator and owner of the White Temple. The Blue Temple is unique as it is almost entirely in bright blue and gold, which makes it one of the most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai hands down! One thing I really like about it is that you are allowed to take pictures inside its incredibly beautiful ordination hall, which is prohibited in the White Temple.
2. Phu Chi Fah
Phu means mountain, and Chi Fah means pointing towards the sky. You can tell from its name that Phu Chi Fah is probably one of the best spots in Northern Thailand to watch sunrise. For this trip though, it was raining all night and the entire view was covered by fog. All we could see was the sign that we have reached Phu Chi Fah, and that was pretty much it. The surrounding on our way up was still quite beautiful. We had the entire place to ourselves because the weather was not good. On our way up, we ran into a random cow that some hill-tribe people had probably brought with them. The cow surprisingly very calm. The hiking trail was quite narrow that we were afraid that we’d scare the cow if we walk by. But nope…he just stood there, too cool to care haha!
3. Phu Chi Dao
Phu Chi Dao is clearly one of the most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai in terms of nature. I was really sad because Phu Chi Dao is actually the place I looked forward to the most in this entire trip, but our driver told us the view would be no different than Phu Chi Fah because we’d basically see nothing but fog. So we trusted him and decided to skip it and try again next time. But here’s a photo I borrowed from Bangkok Airway’s blog. As you can see. It’s so gorgeous, I am so determined to visit next time. That is also why I cannot leave Phu Chi Dao out of this list. I just can’t!
4. The views on the way down from Phu Chi Fah (don’t fall asleep yet!)
On our way down from Phu Chi Fah, we stopped at various places along the curves of the road to take photos. There were so many magnificent views of the mountains, valleys, and hill-tribe crops to see. This almost made up for the view we did not get to see at Phu Chi Fah and Phu Chi Dao. It may sound a bit weird that I’m putting a no-name area as the most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai, but really just look at these photos! Don’t you just love how lush green everything is?
5. Baan Mai Prai Maek
This is a beautiful chill style cafe situated right next to the river. The rose milk I ordered was very nice, although a bit too sweet for my taste. The ambiance and the entire river side environment was a very relaxing place to sit down and just be. We wandered around the area and walked on wooden bridges, surrounded by flowers. They also had little boats you could take for about 100 THB, but we didn’t really have time to do that. For anyone interested, they are opening a home-stay soon. I’m guessing it will be a great place to stay once they’re done with their renovation!
6. Singha Park
If you have little time (say 2-3 hrs), I would recommend you take their sightseeing bus and eat at their Phu Phirom Restaurant. You do get a chance to visit many of the main spots quickly and take a photo with their beautiful tea plantation. Along the way, there are free tasting of teas and melon. If you have an entire day though, I would highly recommend renting a bike and spend time cycling the park, stopping along the way to take pictures of wonderful flowers and lakes as there are many small roads that can only be reached by bikes. Note that the best time to visit this place is during winter time when the cosmos are in full bloom. There is also a camping area during that time since the weather is nice.
7. Chiang Rai Downtown (a ton of street food) and Chiang Rai Clock Tower
Nothing beats local restaurants. We went out for a stroll in Chiang Rai downtown for some delicious street food dinner, and took some night shots of the Chiang Rai Clock Tower by Chalermchai Kositpipat. If you catch the clock tower at 7, 8, or 9 pm, you will be treated for a light and sound show. The clock tower changes colour and music plays. Honestly though, the show’s not mandatory, and I wouldn’t feel too bad about missing it. But the CLOCK TOWER itself is definitely a must see, so at least make your way to downtown of Chiang Rai at least once during the night to see the masterpiece. If you’re walking the Saturday Walking Street, you’ll likely run into it anyways since it is right in the middle of town. Look at the intricate details of the golden clock tower, and realise art is so beautiful.
8. Saturday Night Walking Street
One of the greatest highlights of Chiang Rai, definitely one of the most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai, and a chance to experience local vibes of a walking street in northern Thailand. There are foods stalls, indigo clothes, locally grown vegetables, handmade arts and crafts, etc. But my favourite thing to look for at the Saturday Night Walking Street? Avocado shakes! It’s my absolute favourite, and the best part is it’s so cheap! You cannot find cheaper avocados in Thailand than this and definitely not in Bangkok!
Another highlight of the walking street is the food market, with seating area and live band on stage. Many line dancing groups gather here to dance to live Thai country music. It’s one of the most charming and cutest things I’ve ever seen people do together. It makes me so happy to watch them dance together, I could sit there and watch them all night.
9. Wat Rong Kun (White Temple)
White Temple was created by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a very renowned national artist who is a local in Chiang Rai. He created and owns exhibitions and sightseeing places around Chiang Rai to help with local art and culture tourism. It’s not wrong to say White Temple is his masterpiece. With so many intricate details and concept of heaven, hell, and death, White Temple is probably the most popular attraction in Chiang Rai, and a very interesting place to see. It just doesn’t make sense to travel in Chiang Rai and not visit the White Temple. There is no question why this place is considered one of the most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai (if not the most recommended).
The place has caught a world-wide attention,and tourists are pouring in from everywhere. Unless you arrive very early, be ready to face the crowd. Nevertheless, the White Temple is not to be missed. The intricate thoughtful details are so worth it. The area around the White Temple is HUGE. There are multiple exhibitions you should make time for, including an exhibition of Ganesha (Elephant god) and a wondrous collection of Chalermchai’s pieces (even ones from when he was still a student!). He’s a real rare talent, so do go see his collection.
10. Wat Huay Plakang (9-Tier Temple)
Wat Huay Plakang consists of a 9-Tier Temple and a giant Guan Yin tower. Within the 9-Tier Temple, there are wooden statues of Guan Yin and her disciples. Have you ever tried your luck at fortune sticks at any Chinese/Thai temple? They took this to a whole new level here with an automatic fortune number machine. You insert any bill, and the machine will give you a number. Then you take that number and look for your fortune. Mine said I was going to find love soon HAHA.
Guan Yin is known as the Mercy Goddess, and is very well worshiped among Chinese people. Within the Guan Yin tower, take the elevator up to near the top. The walls are filled with sculptures of creatures and characters from Guan Yin’s legend. You can also look outside through her eyes and forehead, which is quite a nice symbolism. Not to mention the amazing views you can see from the top. You are allowed to take photos of the entire place without restrictions.
11. Baan Dam Museum (Black House)
Created by Thawan Duchanee, another renowned national artist from Chiang Rai, Baan Dam is not only a representation of Thawan’s works and identity or masterpiece, but is also where he resided for the rest of his days. The concept of Baan Dam’s revolves around death, hell, darkness, and nature. It has a very down to earth feeling, especially the bathroom. It was an interesting place to be regardless, and the architecture was definitely an incredible sight to see. If you’re not fond of dark concepts (like death, hell, and animal remains), I’d suggest you skip this one out.
12. Doi Mae Salong and Mae Salong Tea Market
I fell asleep on our car ride up to Doi Mae Salong and eventually woke up to an incredible view. Doi Mae Salong unexpectedly turned out to be my favourite part of the entire trip. Mae Salong is home to many Chinese whose family migrated to Thailand back in the old days. Up in Mae Salong, the Yunan descent hill-tribe people mainly run tea plantations and their own tea houses. They also sell their products in the tea market, where you can taste and buy their locally grown nuts, dried fruits, and various types of tea.
[Pictures of Tea market]
After buying half the market, we got hungry and decided to try one of Mae Salong’s finest Yunnan style pork leg and steamed bun at Imm Phochana (Jao Kao) Restaurant. The meal was easily the best meal we had in the entire trip. Everything was THAT good! Not to mention it was very reasonably priced.
Most recommended dishes:
- Black chicken stew
- Yunan style pork leg
- Steamed buns (Man-tou)
- Soy sauce fried shitake mushrooms
- Vegetable stir-fry (choose any veggies you like in their menu)
With my love fortasty foods around the world, I could easily make this restaurant one of the most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai, but it’s really the entire hill of Doi Mae Salong that is totally worth the visit. So don’t miss out on Mae Salong, the tea market, and the food all together.
13. Hommuenlee Hotel and Tea House (Mae Salong)
This is also our hotel. Hommuenlee has the most incredible view in Mae Salong. Hommuenlee means smelling the fragrance from miles away. It is also a name of a flower Osmanthus, which they use to make their signature Osmanthus Oolong Tea. The view from our balcony was extremely beautiful, so was the view of the hotel’s tea house next door. This is an upscale version of a traditional tea house. The owner offered to brew us a pot of their signature Osmanthus Oolong. We went to bed with our tummies warm and our minds very peaceful.
14. Choui Fong Tea Plantation
If I had to choose a place that is the most photogenic in my entire trip, it would definitely be Choui Fong Tea Plantation. Choui Fong Tea Plantation have absolutely nailed the sweet spot between cafe lover and nature lover tourism. It is not surprising why many travel guides list them one of the most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai. Their beautifully organised rows of tea plants are highly photogenic. Their cafes serves various types of hot/cold tea drinks and bakeries to die for, like this beautiful matcha crepe cake. Everything is so fashionably lush green and so relaxing on the eyes.
15. Doi Chang Moop
Doi Chang Moop is the border between Thailand and Myanmar. It’s a little far out, but is so worth the car ride because of its incredible view. If you’re into nature, this is a spot not to miss. You won’t really find this in any western guidebook. It is really an unseen attraction that is surprisingly not all that popular with western tourists. You have to register your ID with the soldier at the entrance to get in. In there you can see border bunkers that soldiers use for protection, presumably not really needed anymore. From Doi Chang Moop, you can see an endless view of Myanmar’s untouched nature, which is why it is one of the most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai. It is such an unseen destination! Despite the rain, I spent over an hour there just taking photos of the incredible panoramic views.
16. Doi Pha Hee Cafe
This cafe may seem quite far away, but trust me when I say the majestic view makes up for it all. Plus, the coffee is very good here as well. The Pha Hee Village people make a living by growing and roasting coffee locally. So come support the local Pha Hee community with a cup of coffee and a million dollar view. We also ordered a Khao Pad Krapow Kai (Chicken stir-fried with basil and chili over rice), and it was frankly the most delicious Pad Krapow I’ve ever had. Best time to visit is around November-January which is when you can experience a sea of clouds. Great food, amazing coffee, and a majestic view makes Doi Pha Hee Cafe one of the most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai, even if it’s a little far away! I recommend you to visit this cafe after visiting Doi Chang Moop as they are quite close to each other.
17. Rai Saeng Arun
This one is a bit further out, and I would say you need maybe 2 nights to visit to fully relax and enjoy it. Nevertheless, this is no question one of the most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai. Rai Saeng Arun is essentially a farm stay right next to the Mae Khong River, with absolutely gorgeous view of the river, rice paddies, and home grown vegetable fields. Breakfast is included in the stay. Everything is organic, home grown, and so delicious. I have never tasted better local food than at Rai Saeng Arun.
You get to choose the cottage you want to stay in. You have to book the popular ones quite far ahead of time though as they sell out pretty quickly. I stayed in Baan Saeng Arun, which has a gorgeous view with a huge balcony that is overlooking the mountains and their plantations. But is on top of a hill and requires a lot of walking up the stairs. The most popular cottage is called Baan Rim Khong, which overlooks the Mae Khong River directly without much walking to do from the restaurant/check-in area. Come relax and do nothing. Read a book, go to bed early, and enjoy delicious healthy organic food.
Have you been to Chiang Rai, and any of the places listed above? Let me know what your the most recommended places to visit in Chiang Rai are!