Since November 2019 I have been living in Chiang Rai, the provincial capital of the northernmost province of Thailand of the same name. It is not a particularly beautiful city. Nevertheless, it offers a lot for travellers, emigrants and wintering people. Reason enough for me to collect some information for newcomers, transients and expats to publish it here.
- How to get there – and get away again?
- Where can I find suitable accommodation?
- Where can I find delicious food?
- Where is the best place to drink coffee?
- What is there to do?
- Elephant camps
- Where can I do sports?
- Where can I go out into nature?
- Where can I go out in the evening?
- Where can I find good shopping places?
- When is the best time to travel to Chiang Rai?
- My personal tips
- And even more information for people who stay longer
Travel to Chiang Rai
Flight – convenient and fast
By plane from Thailand: Several airlines fly to Chiang Rai from Bangkok. Thai Smile and Bangkok Airways from Suvarnabhumi Airport and Air Asia, Thai Lion and Nok Air from Don Muang Airport. Only Vietjet Air flies directly and cheaply from Phuket.
By plane from abroad. There are a few flights from both Thai and Chinese airlines that fly to different regions of China. Current information is available on Wikipedia.
By bus to and from Chiang Rai
By bus it is very easy to get to Chiang Rai. Among others Sombat Tours, Green Bus and Budsarakham provide various connections. At Bookaway you can find connections and can book bus tickets in advance.
Good to know: There are two bus stations. Bus Terminal 1 is located in the city centre, 2 a little south of the highway. These two are connected with Songthaews. For 15 Baht per person you can get from one to the other if needed.
Individual travel by car
Self-drivers will find Chiang Rai at the nothern end of Highway No. 1 and on Google Maps
Cheap rental cars are available on the Portal BSP. If you rent a car for more than a week, different pick-up and drop-off points become cheaper
Chiang Rai as a tourist destination for Thai, Chinese, Farang and other foreigners naturally offers a large number of hotels, resorts, guesthouses and hostels. Because in the high season the best hotels are fully booked, I advise you to book your favourite hotel early enough with Booking.com. I use the great filter possibilities to find exactly the right one. The first thing you have to do is to enter a rating of 8+ in the filters and you will get the recommended accommodations in all price ranges.
That’s how I found the Bann Tawan. The rooms for 2 or 3 persons are not very big, but they are super clean and equipped with a pleasant bathroom. Centrally located and yet quiet (except during the Flower Festival in January).
Restaurants – a small and personal selection
Ma Long Der
Right next to the Art Bridge Gallery you can enjoy delicious northern Thai specialties stylishly arranged in a beautiful ambience. The only drawback is the nearby street. Google Maps
Leelawadee and Lulam
Two neighbouring restaurants directly on the river. In the evening hours you can enjoy delicious northern Thai dishes here. Unfortunately, despite their size, they are full on special days during the high season, so that it is not always possible to find a place without pre-booking. Auf Google Maps
Som Tam Denha (Denha is a city district)
Papaya salad is ubiquitous in Thailand. Here you will find a restaurant with good quality in a pleasant atmosphere. Google Maps
Central Plaza Department Store
Yes, there is a delicious Khao Soi in the huge mall. Downstairs on the ground floor opposite the Tops-Market are stylish cookshops with all the usual dishes. The management has actually succeeded in not making the whole thing look like a canteen. (Just across the street, the bakery of Tops-Market offers delicious pastries as desert. Google Maps
In Thailand a special form of vegetarian cuisine has a long tradition. “je” (in Thai เจ) is very popular during Buddhist Lent. A restaurant specializing in this is located near the Clock Tower: Tamachat Vegetaria does not win a design prize, but it is still delicious.
Foreign (seen from Thailand ;-)
One of the most beautiful, unfortunately also one of the more expensive restaurants is located at the Kok River. A colonial-style house, furnished with a collection of funny and beautiful things, with nice seats in the rustic garden … and above all, delicious food. My favourite is the lamb stew. Google Maps – 8 am to 10 pm
A Japanese buffet. For 350 or 500 Baht per person Sushi, Sachemi and other delicacies of Japanese cuisine – all you can eat!!! And all this with good quality. With all reservations about imported salmon – this must simply be on our luxury list every now and then. Google Maps – 11 am to 10 pm
Ban Lom Jen (cool breeze)
Lovers of the Italian variant of a pizza (contrary to what Thais understand by it) have the opportunity to get their fill for only 175 Baht every Friday lunchtime. It has also become a meeting place for expats. Attention: From about 14 o’clock the pizza is sold out. The Homestay also promises a little peace and quiet in the greenery of the Kok River for 850 Baht for 2 persons. http://www.banlomjen-chiangrai.com/
La Gatta (Italian: the female cat)
The Spaghetteria is much better visited after moving to the Jetyod-Road. Delicious pasta dishes, pizza and salads. The pasta is available in normal and wholemeal. The pizza is also available in a vegan cheese version. The owners manage to meet the taste of western foreigners.
Delicious ice cream …
… is not only available at Diary Queen in the Central Plaza and Big C, but especially at the “Tornyorn Café“, where Homade Premium Icecream is advertised. Durian and mango are my favourites. Near the Central Stadium (Sanam Gila). I also find Frozen Yoghurt very tasty and refreshing and you can sit there very comfortably with AirCon. Opposite the Chiang Rai International School. You can buy cheap, local coconut ice cream at Lung Chom. A box with 6 balls for only 50 Baht.
The most beautiful cafés in Chiang Rai
It feels like there are 1000 coffee shops here in Chiang Rai; on every corner, on every street, no matter how small, the enterprising Thais think they can still do business. There are more and more. The quality of the coffee is quite different. Some roast their coffee themselves. Many brew it with great dedication.
Since there are simply too many to list all of them, I am passing on here the personal recommendations of my friends and my favourites.
Wolf loves to sit with his wife Mon on the covered terrace of Mino Akha Coffe. “There is always a light breeze. We love sitting here.” Of course the home-grown and brewed coffee is also really good. A little outside near Singha Park. 8 – 18 o’clock
Adam led me with his bike group into the 1:2 Chiangrai Brew. “The coffee here is super yummy and with 40 Baht cheaper than usual.” He’s absolutely right. – 8 to 5 o’clock
Lek and Namwan showed me The Roastery at the old airport. I think that was the best coffee I ever had here in Chiang Rai. – 8 am – 5 pm
One of my favourites is the Baan Chivit Mai, a café and restaurant ideally located at the bus station in the city centre. “Chivit Mai” means “new life” and refers to the Scandinavian aid organisation that runs the café and a shelter. It is mainly about good education. Young people from this organisation work here in the café. In addition, there are delicious baguettes – 8 – 18 o’clock
All the people in Chiang Rai I’ve asked agree. The most beautiful café, where they also like to take visitors, is the Chivit Thamada, which translates as “the normal life”, which is not normal at all. In an old wooden house in colonial style and a terrace at the Kok River exquisite and not quite cheap delicacies are served. If you want to enjoy something special. – 8 am – 10 pm
What’s there to do here? The tourist attractions in Chiang Rai
Freshly fortified and stimulated by the delicious coffee, we set off on a voyage of discovery. Because with the Clock Tower, the White Temple and the Black House, Chiang Rai already is a remarkable tourist destination. With the Blue Temple and the Big Buddha, new ones have been added in the last years.
Clock-Tower (Haw Naliga)
The golden kitschy clock tower is colorfully illuminated by LEDs every full hour from 18 to 21 o’clock.
White Temple – Wat Rong Khun
The site of the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat is an attraction in Chiang Rai with thousands of visitors from all over the world. More Info
Ban Dam – Black House Chiang Rai
Thai artist Thawan Duchanee has created an area with 40 buildings full of animal skins, horns, skeletons, shells, wooden structures, traditional utensils – and art. read more
The temple of the dancing tiger is located quite centrally in the city. read more
Wat Huay Pla Kang – The Big Buddha Chiang Rai who is none at all a buddha
The statue, which is visible from afar, was only built a few years ago and is already a very popular destination. read more
Color as a unique selling point – now also in red. read more
This is very promising, which started in January 2020 with a so-called soft opening. Beautiful architecture of northern Thailand, fantastic wood carvings, a beautiful location at the Kok River, … Only the museum itself I have not yet experienced opened. To be found behind the beautiful Wat Fang Min
Every Saturday night during the dry season on Thanalai-Straße, near the Flag and Lamp Park (with the old prison), Walking Street offers a nice mix of stalls with snacks, clothes, handicrafts, souvenirs and clothing. Because this market is not only made for tourists, it looks much more likeable than the Night Bazaar.
On Sunday evenings there are even fewer tourists on the Walking Street von Denha.
A treasure trove of northern Thai souvenirs, gifts and clothing. Every evening behind the bus station. Of course with plenty of opportunities to find delicious food and enjoy ice-cold beer with live music.
My personal tip: Doy Din Dang
Arts and crafts of the finest quality. The pottery not only produces individual crockery, but also sells artistic vases and the like. The Doy Din Dang Pottery is located a little bit north of Chiang Rai airport.
I have summarized even more tourist spots in the province Chiang Rai in this overview page.
Elephant-Camps in Chiang Rai
Chang Puak Camp
Very badly and made for non-critical Chinese tourists. If you look at the offer with show, horse riding plus ATV riding, crocidile show and Long Neck Karen Zoo (A “village” of the ethnic minority Karen), you can imagine what the whole event is all about: money. https://changpuakcampchiangrai.com
There is another elephant camp near the White Temple. Elephant Valley seems to be the opposite. Although it is only three kilometres from Chang Puak, the approach and goals are completely different.
“Our dedicated team of employees has been working for more than twelve years in Cambodia and Thailand to give elephants a better future. With the construction of our new elephant sanctuary here in Thailand, we are preparing for the next ten years and our ambitious new mission to bring elephants back into the wild”.
Already for 1000,- Baht you get a Quiky here. One and a half hours of viewing and feeding elephants plus getting information is enough for people who want to include a visit to an elephant camp in their daily program.
For currently 2200,- Baht (will rise) you get the “Elephant Valley Safari Experience” at the moment, a full day program on the new, huge area.
Nam Kok Elephant Camp
… is located on the river above Chiang Rai and is therefore often a stopover on boat trips from Thaton. Mmm. Obviously the opinions differ widely:
From “Can you see… But you don’t have to! Here, there is a lot in the way of species-appropriate animal husbandry and in every circus, no matter how small, the animals are better cared for and treated. – Once and never again” to “A wonderful experience … don’t miss it.” the judgments go. When I cycle along there I see the elephants chained (normal and necessary in tourism), with a riding basket (this means an unnatural strain) and often with these rocking head movements (this is not a good sign).
There are more sensible alternatives. Such as the Elephant Valley described above or Elephant Special Tours in Chiang Mai. www.elephant-tours.de
Every February the International Balloon Fiesta takes place. Dozens of hot-air balloons in all colours, shapes and sizes can be admired over several days in Singha Park. There are competitions, night glow at the lake and live music. This of course attracts thousands of visitors. But since the event is tightly organized, there is not even a chaos at the arrival.
Doing sports in Chiang Rai
In the morning and evening the locals jog and walk mainly in 3 places:
Sala Glan District Administration or Chiang Rai City Hall. A 1.3 km long circuit. Well lit. Toilets available.
Old airfield. The runway is almost 2 km long. No shade.
Ko Loi Park. No matter if jogging, tennis, football, badminton, volleyball, takraw, boules or Thai aerobics – here you can do sports in the evening hours.
My tip for joggers: The loop around the Nong Bueng is 1.95 km long, is mostly in the shade and is spared from car traffic. Not much traffic. If you feel fit (or want to become fit), you can still go up the road to Doi Khao Kwai (Buffalo Horn Mountain). 115 height meters on 800 meters length = steep https://goo.gl/maps/kxaLKpuAp49cCmVH8
50-meter pool at Mae Fah Luang University. Clean water and extremely low traffic in the afternoon. 80 Baht entrance fee for non-students (one free after 5 entries). 10 to 20 o’clock. Thursday afternoon from 15 to 17 o’clock a group occupies the pool. https://goo.gl/maps/C6EYSSmk6VHQhnEf9
50-meter pool at Rajabath University. Not quite as well-kept, but clean water. 60 Baht entrance fee. 1 to 8 pm. Closed on Saturdays.
25-meter pool in the sports center (Sanam Gila). Free entrance, but unfortunately closed at the moment. https://goo.gl/maps/2vCCLqVFrQZYZLhz7
In many guesthouses simple city bikes are offered for free. If you are looking for something better, Fat Free Bike offers reasonable mountain bikes, with which you can ride around town (200,- Baht per day, for a week you pay only 6 days). Beautiful trips e.g. up the river to the suspension bridge and on the other side back again or to the waterfalls can be made with them. In the Singha-Park you can also rent bikes for the nice cycle tour there incl. zoo with giraffes and ZIP-Line (or you go there by bike).
Larger tours around Chiang Rai I have described on the page Cycling tours in northern Thailand. Whereby there are many possible combinations. For a little money I will gladly advise you and suggest the most suitable routes for you.
The International Chiang Rai Triathlon, which takes place several times a year on different courses, is suitable for beginners and professionals alike because of the Olympic and Sprint distances offered.
There are several gyms in Chiang Rai, which are frequented by lightweight young women who want to gain a little weight, up to already quite muscular men. I’m not a fan of the gyms, but I think that indoor training during the smog season makes sense. My lack of experience is made up for by recommendations from friends.
“Super Gym” or “Project S Gym” is the same gym with good, varied equipment and air conditioning when it gets hot. Open from 7 to 22 o’clock. Google Maps
The Six-One-Gym is very cheap. Open from 7 to 23 o’clock. Google Maps
Sportswear and equipment can be purchased at SuperSports in the Central Plaza on the highway opposite the BigC. Wide selection!
How do I get out into nature?
If you like to make trips to a waterfall, a cave or a mountain, here are a few suggestions.
Nam Tok Khun Kon (Khun Kon waterfall)
Nice excursion by scooter or bicycle (for fit cyclists). Follow the road past Singha-Park until the signposted turn-off to the right. From there slightly uphill to the end of the road. Another 1.3 km on a path. On the way back make a stop at the Mino-Akha Café described above.
The stream carries enough water all year round, so the trip is always worthwhile.
Huay Gaew Waterfall + Lam Kok Nationalpark
The special thing about this park is the mixture of the river, hot springs and waterfall. read more
Shopping in Chiang Rai
Where is there good bread in Chiang Rai?
I think all Germans who are abroad for a longer period of time miss good bread. Meanwhile I eat bread more often again, because it is delicious, nutritious and practical. Here in the city I think you can get the best bread at the Tops-Market (Central Plaza shopping mall, lower floor) and at the German Backery in Denha.
Western, but also Japanese and Australian food can be found in the already mentioned Tops Market in the Central Plaza shopping centre. In the Big C supermarkets (in the city on the highway diagonally opposite the Central Plaza + on the highway at the intersection to the airport) you can also find a huge selection of articles including some western products.
There are some local food markets in the city.
Kad Luang – Centrally located between Clock Tower and Overbrook Hospital. GoogleMaps
Talad Ban Mai – afternoon/evening market north of the river. GoogleMaps
There is a flower market behind the bus station. GoogleMaps
Chiang Rai Nightlife
Chiang Rai is a small town. Therefore, one must not set high standards. In addition, I am not an expert on the subject.
Between Bus Terminal 1 and Clock Tower is the area where you will find most bars and restaurants. Partly with live music, almost always with girls. At the southern end of the Thanon Sanam Bin (Airport Street) is the 8080 Café. Here one meets the most beautiful girls of the city in the evening, I was told. Opposite is The Glass Bar. Not bad either.
The Dinner Late Café und Restaurant offers a roof-top bar craft beer and a view of a central and busy intersection. There are also a few bars on Klang-Wiang Street that are popular with Thais.
For the needy men: Around the Wangcome-Hotel there are also some massage parlours with skilled ladies.
The best travel time for Chiang Rai
Generally speaking, there are 3 seasons: The hot months of May and June – the rainy months from July to September – the dry and cool months from October to February. I mean that with March and April the smog months are added.
The time between November and February is ideal for travelling, although it can be quite cool in December and January. Cool can also mean below 10 degrees Celsius in the morning hours. No problem for travellers coming from cold regions, if it weren’t for the lack of insulation in the houses. Such temperatures can be quite unpleasant if you are not prepared for them.
But some people have told me that he or she also appreciates the rainy season. Then the air is like washed clean and the view from the mountains is phenomenal.
All Thai banks have branches in Chiang Rai. There are endless ATMs all over the city and also at Big C and Central Plaza. For Thai ATMs you pay a handling fee of 220 Baht in addition to the fees of your bank.
Money Changer are a popular alternative to the bank with usually better rates. At the moment the rates there are about half a baht to a whole baht higher than at the bank. With 400,- Euro that are 200 – 400 Baht. A professional exchange office can be found in Thanalai Road.
Do you have to send money to Thailand? I use torFX because of the good rates and the exceptional service. Try it out and get a quota.
My personal tips for Chiang Rai
The two walking streets in Chiang Rai are great opportunities to try some unusual local dishes. But also in the above mentioned Ma Long Der, northern Thai specialities are served.
Massage: Next to the red temple there is a massage cooperative with some masseurs of the better kind. Here you can also get help if you have tensions or a specific problem. Then this problem will be dealt with. In many other places I have experienced that nothing was possible outside the standard program. But the massage here is not even expensive. 150 Baht per hour is rather a cheap standard in the far north. If one wants to enjoy the air conditioner at the same time, another 20 Baht are added. This low price is possible despite the experience of the masseurs because they only have to pay a small amount to the cooperative. This is different from other massage shops, where half of it is collected by the owner. But this should not stop you from tipping. If I am satisfied, I give about 40 Baht.
Viewpoints: I love looking down on a city from above. Here you can do this very well at three points: On the top floor of the city hospital, on the Doi Khao Khwai (there is even a road leading to the Buffalo Horn mountain) and on the Doi Khang Khao. On the latter, a steep, stair-like path leads up over rocks to the hermitage and the small stupa.
Formalities: For the renewal of the residence permit, for proof of residence or other formalities, one must go to the immigration office near the airport.(GoogleMaps)
The Provincial Transportation Office just a few hundred metres away is responsible for driving licences, vehicle registrations, etc. GoogleMaps
I find current visa regulations best discussed on the Thai-Visa-Forum.
Extra tips for people who stay longer
The two major cineplex cinemas also show films in English with Thai subtitles. One is located in the Big C on the highway at the airport intersection and the other on the top floor of the Central Plaza shopping mall.
Wednesday is cinema day, i.e. there are discounted tickets. The program can be found here Big C and Central Plaza
Here in Chiang Rai, surprisingly few Thais speak more than a few words of English. But they are very enthusiastic if we can say farang (white foreigners) a little bit more than just hello and thanks in Thai. With my tips for learning Thai you’ll be able to do that in no time and you’ll hear them again and again: “puud thai dai geng maag” (you speak Thai very well). for expample start with this very basic Thai language course. You will learn the Thai language writing which is essential for a good pronounciation.
Second Hand Bookshop
Orn’s Bookshop – The last of its kind! There used to be something like this in every small town backpackers passed by. The other bookstores have already closed, but Peter stays. A visit to the shop in the district Jet Yod is like a journey into a past time. German, English, French and Dutch books. — Unfortunatly Peter had to close his bookshop. A hotel will be build where the shop was. He said maybe he will open at a new place again.
In Chiang Rai too, healthy food is becoming increasingly important for many people who can afford it. This also includes organic food. Because a lot of vegetables (e.g. the giant carrots) and fruit (e.g. apples) come from China and are contaminated with pesticides & Co. it makes absolute sense to buy such products from careful producers. This works quite well locally, if you know the farmers, or on organic markets. Regularly every Wednesday morning there is an organic market in Thanalai Road in front of the Farmer-Bank. GoogleMaps
An inconspicuous, very cheap organic food store can be found in Denha. There are two prices on the price tags. Purchase and sales price of the shop. That is what I call transparency. GoogleMaps
Also there is a new famer market near the bridge to Chiang Rai district administration (city hall). Google Maps
Unfortunately, the aurenic store has closed. Aurenic is a Thai Organic Farming Development Foundation – an organisation for the development of organic farms in Thailand.
By the way: Chinese who can afford it buy fruit and vegetables from abroad, e.g. Thailand. So it may happen that they buy avocados imported from Burma in Thailand.
Except for my accident, my experiences fortunately only came about through my wife, friends and acquaintances whom I looked after or visited.
Municipal Hospital – Doctors are supposed to be quite good, but the large hospital rooms are a burden. Better the VIP rooms on the top floors. A lot of people.
Overbrook– good impression, first time a Thai intensive care unit seen from the inside
Sriburin– recently renovated and extended. Good care of my foot with fractured heel bone for the flight.
Mae Fah Luang University Hospital in Baan Du – Unfortunately no more cheap prices for foreigners. Also here we pay extra charges now.
Bangkok Hospital – Brand new in Nang Lae, a little bit outside the city at Ban Dam. My opinion: The good reputation does not justify the high prices.
Watch a football match
You want to experience how Thais really go out of themselves, how they scream and show their enthusiasm? Then you should watch a soccer game. Chiang Rai has two clubs. Chiang Rai United was the 2019 champion in the first league, Chiang Rai FC plays in the 3rd league. The stadium of CRUTD can’t be missed directly at the airport. CRFC plays in the Central Stadium (Sanam Gila) GoogleMaps
The Chiang Rai Pet Hospital has received recommendations on Facebook. Google Maps
I am always grateful for a good mechanic who can repair my scooter quickly and cheaply. Also in Mae Sai I knew where I could go and get good quality without being ripped off.
Now I have found a nimble, attentive mechanic here too. As usual he does not speak English either. Instead he did a test drive after changing the brake pads. Not a matter of course. GoogleMaps