In recent years, Chiang Rai has become an alternative to the hectic and touristy destination of Chiang Mai, but also as a great place to chill-out and rest for a while.
Essentially, Chiang Rai is a service city for the surrounding province but is also renown for its hill tribes living in mountainous terrain accessible by trekking. The city also serves the Golden Triangle border region – Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. One thing I’ve noticed here is that the food is definitely spicier, if that’s at all possible in Thailand!
Arrived in the latter part of the afternoon after an 8-hour trip on the Green Bus from Mae Sot, then caught a Songthaew from the bus station to our pre-booked accommodation.
Chayadol Boutique Resort (699 Moo 24, Kornrat Village)
Initially booked for 3 nights and loved it so much that we stayed for 6 nights. Wanted to stay an additional 3 nights but the resort was fully booked, so, had to move.
The Chayadol provides a large clean modern room (king-size bed), toiletries, serviced daily, AC, balcony, water, fridge, and a good area to store big backpacks. Great clean pool area and also a gym! A good breakfast is served with a selection of Thai and western food. Very friendly and helpful staff. This hotel has many local tourists stay as well as foreigners, so it books up very quickly, especially on weekends. Although a little out of the city centre (approximately a 45-minute walk), it’s a lovely quiet area and away from the city’s noise.
The Chayadol can organise scooter hire for you at around US$6 per day, which is pretty reasonable. Also offered, are many different types of tours around Chiang Rai and the surrounding area but thought these were a little pricey for our budget.
Baan Norn Plearn Guest House (382 Banpaprakan Rd. T.Wiang A.Mueang)
Stayed here for 3 nights and so glad we did as it has a lovely vibe. Well located to town and many local eateries, this very homely guest house has a great ambiance and service from all staff. Our deluxe room was serviced daily and included toiletries and water (coffee/tea can be made throughout the day in the common area). The breakfast is amazing and the best in Thailand so far; very good quality and delicious – you can even whip up your own eggs the way you like here! The wi-fi works in the room as well as the common area.
Although the Chayadol offer a laundry service, as with many hotels, it’s much cheaper to do your own. There’s pay washing machines (20 or 30B) along the street next to Chayadol (turn right at front entrance then left onto long road and keep walking until you stumble upon pay machines).
Tried several coffee shops but as I wasn’t impressed and overpriced for the quality, I won’t waste my time writing about these here.
- Although I don’t know the name of the restaurant, make sure you try this wonderful local female-run restaurant about a 10-minute walk from Chayadol (go right at the resort’s front entrance, then right and walk up hill past big homes, it’s on your right). The Thai food is delicious and very cheap; many locals eat here and there’s also take-away meals.
The reason for all the instructions is that many of TripAdvisor reviewers commented about the Chayadol’s location as being too far from anywhere and yes, it is far from western-style restaurants. However, if you walk around the area, you will find everything you need in the resort’s vicinity, including many small local restaurants that serve delicious food at much cheaper prices.
- Pangkhon Coffee (Baanpa Pragarn Road)
Reasonably priced coffee but have had much better in Thailand and Chiang Rai. Nice comfy decor and very friendly staff!
- Night Bazaar & Food Court – frequented this a couple of evenings as you can pick up cheap delicious local meals and treats. One night, there was a huge crowd dancing and the older gent in the pink hat (right) was dancing like there was no tomorrow…he was great!
- Central Plaza – apart from all the usual goods you can buy in your typical plaza, the food here is pretty cheap and delicious. Ate here a couple of times as the ground floor offers the best-valued meals – many locals also eat here.
- Connect Cafe – extensive selection of food (local and western) at varying prices; something for everyone here. Good atmosphere and music. Try the mixed berry juice – delicious and won’t break the bank! Opposite the Old Bus Terminal (city centre), this little cafe is bustling with foreign tourists.
Hired a bike for a couple of days to see Chiang Rai’s sights and ended up seeing bits, getting lost on a windy pot-holed almost like shell-holed dirt track – luckily this was before the afternoon torrential deluge of rain, which ended in a small bike accident!
Somehow missed this temple after avidly looking for it then in the pouring rain on the bike, saw the temple from a distance whilst whizzing by in the traffic. The temple is about 14 kilometres south of the city and I hear it’s worthwhile visiting, next time.
Unfortunately, this was the day of our little accident on the scooter…
It was torrential rain on the way back to the resort and we were right in the middle of the city in peak-hour traffic – it’s always peak hour in Thailand! The old hand slipped on the accelerator and we went banging in the back of a utility truck with a thud. Both parties pulled over and understandably, the Indian guy was quite annoyed at the mere tiny dent in his car. However, the front of our basket was pushed in and also some scratches on the bike. After some words, we apologised as really, that’s all he wanted and we both went on our merry way. I believe that had we been locals, he probably would have taken it further with insurance; probably much too hard to pursue for such a minor issue when foreigners are involved – whew! With some muscle power, the basket was pushed back into shape and bike returned without any issues there…very lucky that day!
Khun Korn Waterfall
Rode up to the entrance gate but everything was closed for this waterfall. Mental note to self, many things are closed for the low (wet) season in Thailand. Apparently you can swim there and it’s quite pretty…another time perhaps.
Some rave about this Singha Beer-owned park as the best tourist attraction as it has feeding animals, coffee shop, tea plantation, and free farm shuttle buses. Rode past and stopped for a few minutes, but didn’t really fancy going in; think this would probably be more fun for a family with children.
Day trip to Mai Salong
If you feel like a day’s break or longer from Chiang Rai to somewhere a little quieter and cooler, then Mai Salong is great for a day trip, but make sure you have your transport sorted out before you leave Chiang Rai. Mae Salong is a small town with a village feel and with an early history centering on the Golden Triangle’s opium trade; however, these days the trade is in tea, mostly.
Leaving Chiang Rai for Laos
If you find yourself in Chiang Rai and wanting to cross the border overland into Laos (Huay Xai, Bokeo), be advised that you can only buy the international bus ticket on the day of travel. You won’t be sold a ticket beforehand so save yourself time, angst, and petrol!
The bus leaves from the International bus station, which is about 3 kilometres south of Chiang Rai.