Chiang Rai province is located in Northern Thailand, not far from the crossroads of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos borders (known as the Golden Triangle). It is not the first destination coming up to one’s mind when heading to Thailand but it is definitely worth a trip.
The region is a nice destination to escape the city stress and get your dose of quiet remote countryside time. The city of Chiang Rai itself is not as interesting or charming as Chiang Mai however it’s not bad and has enough interesting sites, galleries, restaurants and bars to keep you busy for a day or two. However, the real beauty is not in the city, but out. That’s where we recommend you to spend most of your time outside of the city, in the countryside.
If you drive a motorbike, you can arrange a very nice road trip in the region. Whether you prefer to stay on the main roads or go deeper in the countryside on some of the many dirt roads, you will find many villages to explore. In a lot of them you will be able to observe a very preserved and isolated rural life. There are not many “sites” to visit but definitely a lot to see in the countryside.
If you don’t drive or travel with a family, you can still explore the area by arranging day or half day trips in a van or simply walk from your hotel.
How accessible is it from Singapore?
Chiang Rai is accessible from Singapore with a stopover in Bangkok. So we recommend going there for a minumum of 4 days (you’ll arrive in Chiang Rai around 4pm and will take a flight back around 4pm as well).
Note that stopover in Bangkok with Air Asia “fly-through’ is very convenient as there is a special custom line for passengers in transfer.
The total door-to-door journey from (your home/office in) Singapore to your hotel in Chiang Rai will take you about 7 hours and 5 minutes. This estimate includes the flights, connections and taxi transfers.
How much is this going to cost us?
Transport wise, the total return trip will cost about SGD 680 for 2 persons. This estimate includes flights and taxi transfers. Accommodation wise, you will find a wide range of options: from cheap guesthouses (from SGD 20 a night) to nice hotels (up to SGD 300 a night).
Once there, costs for food and drinks are very reasonable. Excursions can significantly increase your total bill if you book a minivan for the full day (approx. 100 SGD)
How remote and risky is it?
It’s a safe destination. Medical infrastructure is not outstanding but you will be able to go easily to a decent hospital in Bangkok in case of serious problems. Roads are in excellent condition but very steep in some areas around Chiang Rai.
What about the kids?
Bring your kids along to make then breathe the fresh & clean air. Roads are in good condition and the overall environment is safe. We had a stroller (good for the city) and a baby carrier (great to explore the countryside)
You could also make this trip on a motorbike (without the kids…) to make the most of the great scenery and go deeper in the countryside
When should we go?
The best period to visit Chiang Rai and avoid the rain season are the months of January, February, March, April, November and December. Refer to the chart in the sidebar for details about the monthly average rain volumes and rainy days.
Connections from Chiang Rai
From Chiang Rai you can either go to Chiang Mai by land transport or take a domestic flight to Bangkok or Hat Yai. Then you can always go anywhere else in Thailand but you will have to make a stopover in Bangkok. Laos and Myanmar are closeby. They can be good options if you have more time.
Did you know?
The late Princess Mother (Mother of the present king) Somdej Phra Srinagarindra played a big role in the region. Thanks to her, the hills were reforested, and the population stropped growing opium poppies and started other crops such as coffee, tea, pineapples, etc. The region is still a hot spot for drug smuggling between Myanmar, Laos and Thailand and you may see a few police checkpoints on the road. However the area is very safe.
There are no direct flights from Singapore. You will need to take a connecting flight through Bangkok. You can fly from Singapore Changi Airport to Chiang Rai airport (CEI) with either AirAsia or Thai. We did go with Air Asia and really recommend it as the transfer in Bangkok (DMK) is very smooth.
Getting there: Air Asia – Singapore to Bangkok: 10:55 AM SIN – 12:20 PM DMK (2h25 flight), connection in airport is 1h40 then Bangkok (DMK) to Chiang Rai (CEI) 1:55 PM– 3:15 PM (1h20 flight) Coming back: Air Asia – Chiang Rai to Bangkok 1:10 PM – 2:30 PM then Bangkok to Singapore 4:45 PM – 8:05 PM
Return ticket from SGD 290
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Getting from Hanoi airport to the city centre
The airport is small. Taxis are available at the airport. You will need about 15 minutes to reach the city center and it will cost about THB 200 per taxi. Taxi meter if you manage to negotiate one will be cheaper.
We stayed in 3 different hotels during our stay. That’s too many (remember, I hate packing 😉 however, we recommend you to split your stay into 2: one in the city and one in the countryside.
If you wish to explore the small city for 1 or 2 days, we recommend you to find a hotel in the city center. If you stay outside the city, chances are you’ll get lazy and won’t visit the city center. We stayed in Naga Hill Resort 20min drive up North. but don’t recommend it. Overall, not a great experience nor location so we would recommend you find another one in the city center.
For your country side escape however we highly recommend you to stay at Manee Dheva Resort & Spa. This is amazing hotel. In the middle of nowhere and in the very middle of rice paddies. 100% Nature, chic and comfortable. The food is delicious (except for the breakfast that is disappointing) and food prices very reasonable. The hotel is 45 min away further North from the airport (getting there by private car will cost you 800 THB, the hotel the transfer). If you go there in the cold season (January, February, March), take along fleece jacket & warm clothes as the common area as the restaurant is open air as well as the bathroom and it is freezing cold at night (but the staff will light some small charcoal pots to warm you up while you are dining).
Chiang Rai Province – view from the restaurant at Manee Dheva Resort & Spa
Here we need to give credit to Romain and his podcast Sur les routes de l’Asie as it’s in his Episode 35 (in French) about the Minority tribes in Northern Thailand that we heard about that wonderful hotel. Thank you Romain and Ghuilem (who is the main speaker on that episode).
We also stayed in a crazy hotel: Phu Chaisai Mountain Resort & Spa, in the mountain minutes away from the Manee Dheva. It’s a crazy hotel because it’s completely in the jungle on steep hills and most of the buildings are made of bamboo. Amazing flowers and nice view from the little terrace. Hundreds of statues, fishes, flowers… There is a pool and spa. Rooms are nice and clean, but can make you feel a bit claustrophobic because of their design. Facilities are a bit chaotic. The restaurant is really disappointing. Thai food in particular was really bad. The hotel can arrange some day or half day tours to go see elephants or trail in the jungle. Overall mixed feelings about our stay there. A really original hotel (maybe a bit too original to our taste).
If you have time you can get a hint of Chiang Rai city and spend 1 or 2 days there. Then you must go further away and enjoy the countryside. A few ideas of things to do and see:
In the city center
The Clock tower: Not amazing but nice golden clock tower in the city center.
Saturday night market: Very nice atmosphere. Mix of souvenirs and plenty of food. A few areas to sit and listen to music or dance (well at least during Chinese New Year, that’s when we visited). The food is local and tasty, with anything from pad Thai and mango sticky rice to worms and crickets.
Get there around 6 and walk down the streets.
Temples: Wat Phra kaew (with an Emerald Buddha), Wat Phra Shing (with few buildings and a quiet atmosphere in between),… and some others less interesting.
Oub Kham Museum: Private collection of costumes and statues from Lanna kingdoms. Ask for a guided tour. You’ll find a mix of old and modern pieces, some rooms are quite rich. Not easy to follow given the diversity of the tribes and the mix of generations. 1km from the city center of town, opened daily from 8am to 6pm (Adult 300 THB and Child 100 THB)
Artbridge Gallery & Restaurant: Exhibition for contemporary artists. Has a nice little restaurant next to it with a coffee bar. Nice arty trendy atmosphere and view despite being on the side of the main road. Good option for a lunch break. There is a small shop with art supplies and a few pottery items.
Nearby the city
Wat Rong Khun (White Temple): very popular destination for Thai tourists, contemporary and unconventional Buddhist temple (built in 1998 J). It was damaged by an earthquake in 2014. 40 min drive south from town. Opened from 6:30 am to 6:00 pm.
Baandam Museum (Black House): This is an art gallery area composed of 25 wooden buildings (few of them are modern & design buildings) where you can see the local arts from the past to present. Most of the buildings are in black and decorated by woodcut, drums, elephant bones, crocodile skin. 20 min drive north from town (near the airport). Opened daily from 9am to 5pm. Free entrance. Definitely worth a visit.
Mae Fah Luang Garden: The royal village where the King’s Princess Mother used to spend winters. The main attraction is the gardens filled with hundreds of different kind of plants. 35 min drive up north from the city center, opened daily from 7am to 5:30pm. Not far from there you can experience an elephant ride.
Doy Din Dang Pottery village: 6 km from the airport, 12 km from the city. You can make a stop there on your way to the airport. You will see people making pottery. There is a shop with a decent selection. Small coffee shop for a nice break. There is also a long neck Karen village not far from there but we did not visit it.
Further away from the city
If you only stay few days, you should chose if you want to head North, East, West or South from Chiang Rai . Most of the places are 1h30 drive or more away.
NORTH – Doi Mae Salong: 1800m – one of the highest peaks in Chiang Rai. The air is cool and refreshing all year round. 45 min drive from Manee Dheva Resort & Spa or 1h30 from Chiang Rai town. The roads are in perfect conditions, very steep up and down the hills, nice scenarios over the surroundings. The tea plantations are disappointing when you’ve been to Sri Lanka or Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. The village itself is more of a tourist trap. The all-day market sells mostly cheap branded clothes and souvenirs. Some shops sell herbs and teas. There were more tourist vans than locals. A few Chinese restaurants serve average food.
NORTH – Golden Triangle: This is where the borders of Thailand, Laos & Myanmar meet on the Mekong River. We did not go there but it seems it does not have much interest, it is a viewpoint and there are loads of tourists. If you go there you’ll enjoy much more a boat tour on the Mekong or a visit at the Opium Museum. 2hours drive from Chiang Rai. The Hall of Opium is situated in Chiang Saen District, opposite the Anatara Golden Triangle Resort and Spa. Opened Tuesday to Sunday from 8:30am to 4pm. Adult 200 BTH.
EAST – Phu Chi Fah: 1200m to 1600m – Supposed to be offering breathtaking views of Laos in a cool climate. You can also trek at Doi Pha Tang and go through Hmong hill tribes. It is 3h drive from Chiang Rai city.
It is not really worth driving for hours in the hills as attraction sites are not outstanding, we recommend not spending most of your time in the car but hiking across the rice paddies and the dirt path leading to small hill tribes’ villages. Ask your hotel the nearby hiking trails. That will be the best way to enjoy your stay.
That’s the one you leave at the hotel. Ideally you want to avoid checking in your luggage when flying. So check the weight and dimensions for hand carry luggage with your airlines (some airlines will allow only 7kg, some will allow up to 10kg). From head to toes.
Short sleeves tops: your main outfit. Everybody will see them on all your pictures. You really want to take that old Mickey Mouse T-shirt? Be mindful that you will be in a different environment so it might be a good idea to adjust your wardrobe.
Long sleeves tops: to protect yourself from the sun (if you’ve stayed for 5 hours on a motorbike with short sleeves you know what I mean) or to enter religious buildings or to protect yourself from mosquitoes in the evening.
Pullover. Yes I know, you’re going to a country where the temperature never goes down below 25 degrees and you need to pack a pullover? You will thank us when you’re back. Remember that flight during which you were freezing? Or this museum where the aircon is set to the “polar bear” temperature?
Short/skirt (you should be able to chose the appropriate one by yourself).
Trousers for the same reasons you need to take long sleeves tops. Jeans are usually not a good option. They are heavy and keep you too warm.
Underwear: well, you know. If you plan to walk or ride motorbikes for long hours, take something comfortable as the combination heat + friction can make you regret this sophisticated silk underwear. Cotton is good.
Shoes: one pair of flip flap and one pair of confortable shoes. Remember that you are going to spend most of the time on your feet. Forget about high heels and leave your Westons at home.
Swimsuit: even if you don’t plan to go to the beach, you never know. A nice river, a swimming pool, a heavy rain? Always have one with you.
Raincoat and protection for your bag. Even if you are visiting the country during the “best season”, you never know what the sky will be like.
Torch: take a pocket torch with you if you visit countries where the power is not reliable… Can come very handy when stuck in the dark in your room.
Toilet bag: Shampoo, soap, toothbrush & toothpath, deodorant, sun screen, tiger balm. Ideally, all these in miniature formats.
Sleeping bag liner (if you plan to stay in very cheap or dirty places, not required if you are staying in a 5-star hotel…)
Your ITstuff: iPad, eBook, laptop, chargers, memory card, batteries, etc.
Dryer sheets: they will help keep a fresh smell in your bag.
Your small bag
That’s the one you keep with you, all the time. Hence, a backpack is the best option.
Your passport, cash, credit cards and other life saving items like your insurance card with emergency contact details. Not a bad idea to put them in a zip-lock bag in case it rains. It will keep your documents dry.
Your driver’s licence if you plan to rent a car or a motorbike (some countries are quite particular about this so take it with you in case you are not sure, even for a motorbike rental).
Your emergency medical kit: painkillers, mosquitoes repellent, dressing/plaster, disinfectant, anti diarrhea, eyewash
Tissues and toilet paper (you will thank me later). Remember that in a lot of countries, you will not be provided napkins when having a meal.
Water – plastic bottles are a good option as they are lighter than a gourd/flask.
Biscuits (always buy some before you go when you are not sure what you will find. Always have “emergency” biscuit and water in case you cannot find food around and need to recharge batteries)
Sunglasses: you’ll need them. Take them even if it’s raining. Weather can change very fast in the region.
Scarf (krama, or any kind of fabric that you can use to put around your neck, put on your head to protect it from the sun, cover your shoulders in temples, dry your sweat, etc). Can come very handy in some situation. It will not stay clean for long so it’s wise to pick a dark color…
Time zone: Bangkok and across the country GMT +7 hours.
1h behind Singapore
Currency: Thai Baht (THB)
Phone: + 66
Electricity: 220V 60 Hz
Immigration and airport taxes on arrival
If you are a citizen from the following countries, you possess a passport with at least 6 months validity, and you are staying up to 30 days, then you do NOT need any Tourist visa to enter Thailand.
Visa exemption rule applies for: Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam.
If you hold a passport from another country, you will need to apply for a visa on arrival at the airport customs. A visa for 15 days costs 1000 Bahts.
National Public Holidays in Thailand
New Years Day
March 4 *
Makha Bucha Day
April 6 *
Thai New Year
Thai New Year
Thai New Year
Thai New Year
Thai New Year
May 5 *
June 1 *
Visakha Bucha Day
July 30 *
Asahna Bucha Day
H.M. Queen’s Birthday
H.M. King’s Birthday
New Year’s Eve
* check the exact date on this website as it varies from one year to another.
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