I wish we’d given longer to Chiang Rai than the two nights I allocated – which is why I’ve recommended a third night in my perfect 3 week Thailand itinerary.
You’ll want a full day to see the famous sights in and near the city, and Chiang Rai is also the perfect base from which to explore the Golden Triangle, visit one of the Thai hill tribe communities in the region, or learn more about the production of coffee and tea.
I also recommend Chiang Rai’s wonderful night market (see below) for casual evening dining and shopping! If you visit at the right time of year, you can add the flower festival in Mueang Chiang Rai Park to your list. Throughout the year, you can enjoy the Mae Fah Luang Botanical Garden on the slopes of Doi Tung (mountain); I wish we’d had time to make it there – I know I’d have loved the rope-bridge Tree Top Walk.
Most of the time, I prefer to research the sights and visit independently, making it easy to spend as long or as little time as we like at each place and adjust our plans on the fly. But in Chiang Rai the key sights are pretty spread out so I decided to book a private guide and car for our one day tour. This made travel between the sights much easier, as the dedicated driver dropped us off at the entrance of each sight and found a spot to park or wait while we explored with our guide.
There are lots of companies offering similar itineraries, so if you want to do the same, consider factors such as maximum group size for a public tour, increased pricing for a private one, and vehicle type (a lot of tour operators here use trucks with semi-open seating on the truck-bed, which aren’t very comfortable).
Chiang Rai in One Day | Top Sights
Wat Rong Kun – Chiang Rai’s White Temple
Although it’s relatively new, having opened only in 1997, the White Temple has fast become one of the most iconic sites of the city. Although there was a previous temple here, by the late 20th century its condition was so dilapidated that local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to completely rebuild the temple to his own design. He funded the project with his own money, and considers it an offering to Buddha.
The temple and associated buildings offer a veritable delight of over-the-top ornamentation and bling! The ubosot (prayer main hall) puts me in mind of the intricate icing of a wedding cake, shimmering in the sunshine thanks to fragments of mirrored glass embedded in the exterior. At the foot of the bridge leading up to the prayer hall are a sea of hands, and it gets even stranger inside, when you take in the details of colourful murals featuring modern day characters from Elvis to Batman, from the Minions to Spiderman!
Similarly shiny are the golden building (in which the toilets are located), and the thousands of silver prayer leaves hanging from conical tree-like structures and from the roofs of covered walkways.
A favourite detail of mine was a tree hung with concrete heads of evil characters such as Hellraiser – modern references like this seem incongruous and yet perfect for such a phantasmagorical place!
There are meanings associated with most of the elements above, so I’d recommend booking a knowledgeable guide if you are interested in understanding more.
If you have two days in Chiang Rai, you’ll also have time to visit nearby Singha Park.
(Admission fee for overseas visitors)
Chiang Rai Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten)
The Blue Temple is even newer than the White Temple!
Wat Rong Suea Ten is named for the village of Rong Suea Ten, which translates as Dancing Tiger, a reference to the tigers that once roamed the forests here. There was a temple here previously, but it was abandoned nearly a century ago. In 1996 the villagers decided to build a new temple in its place, starting construction in 2005.
The tall white standing Buddha statue, located to the back of the main prayer hall, was finished in 2008, but the prayer hall itself was not completed until 2016. There is still construction ongoing; when we visited a second immense statue was being built at the entrance to the site.
The outside is richly decorated in blue and gold, with regular tiger motifs as well as the more traditional dragons. Inside is a large seated white Buddha, startlingly bright against the blue interior with colourful decoration.
Chiang Rai Chinese Temple (Wat Huay Bla Gang)
This is often called the Big Buddha Temple but the absolutely huge statue built on top of a hill is actually Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Regardless; the statue is incredibly striking, visible as it is from miles away.
The site is also known for its beautiful nine-storey pagoda, with huge dragon heads on either side of the stairway to its entrance and a huge
Between the pagoda and the giant goddess is a white prayer hall with vivid red roof. Behind it there’s an onsite vegetarian restaurant. The fence that runs alongside the pagoda has a long line of prayer bells; many visitors walk slowly along, ringing each bell in turn.
There’s an active monastery school on site, and when we visited, the Abbot was making a tour and greeting visitors. He has worked extensively to help villages in the area, and in turn, the local communities are devoted and very respectful.
(Free admission to the site. Fee payable to enter and climb up inside the giant goddess.)
Chiang Rai Black House (Baan Dam)
Sometimes erroneously called the Black Temple – no doubt because it trips off the tongue when included in a list with the White, Blue and Chinese Temples – Chiang Rai’s Black House is actually a museum-cum-art gallery, the creation of one of Thailand’s most famous artists, Thawan Duchanee.
Spread across the extensive gardens are over 40 predominantly black buildings in a variety of styles, the largest of which is right by the entrance. These are decorated with a huge collection of animal bones and skins, along with sculptures and other artworks by Duchanee.
Much of the work is quite dark and disturbing, and yet the garden setting means it’s not a foreboding site to explore, utterly strange though it is! Some of the buildings are not open for entry, but their contents can be viewed through windows or open sides; the rest can be explored inside and out.
Chiang Rai Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew)
Although the original Emerald Buddha is now housed in Bangkok, this temple in Chiang Rai is where it originated. The icon of Buddha is thought to have been created in India over two millennia ago.
Since then, it has housed in many places, from India to Sri Lanka and Cambodia before arriving in Thailand, where it was first displayed in a temple in Ayutthaya. In the 14th century, a time of much strife in the region, the King of Chiang Rai decided to hide the revered statue, covered in stucco, in the chedi of a temple then known as Wat Pa Yier (bamboo forest temple). In 1434, lightning hit the temple during a storm and cracked both chedi and stucco open, revealing the green Buddha within. The local people, thinking it was made of precious Emerald, called it the Phra Kaew Morakot, and renamed the temple to Wat Phra Kaew. Not long afterwards, the King of the Lanna kingdom ordered this treasured icon to be moved to the capital, then in Chiang Mai, however a recalcitrant elephant carried it farther, to Lampang, and the king allowed it to be housed there instead. From Lampang, it eventually moved to Chiang Mai, before being taken out of Thailand by the Burmese Taungoo Dynasty, who took control of the region. It remained in Laos for the next 225 years. Not until 1778 was it brought back to Thailand, when King Rama I (still a general under King Taksin at that time) captured Vientiane from the Burmese and retook the Buddha.
As Bangkok was established as the new capital, the statue’s new home was in Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew (officially known as Wat Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram and considered the most important Buddhist temple of the country), where it remains today.
It’s still worth a visit to Chiang Mai’s Wat Phra Kaew, which now houses a replacement jade Buddha, as well as another made of green stone and several others.
Chiang Rai’s Night Bazaar, Perfect for a Street Food Dinner
The night markets of Thailand are a wonderful mix of street food and shopping, perfect for tourists and locals alike. Chiang Rai’s Night Bazaar was our favourite night market of the trip, it’s pedestrian-only lanes a pleasure to browse.
To find the Night Bazaar, head south from the Clock Tower on Phaholyothin Road and you’ll spot the entrance gateway on your left about two hundred metres along.
With two large open-air seating areas, it’s easy to find somewhere to sit so grab a table and make an evening of it. We preferred the area with folding metal tables and seats, bordered by permanent food stalls along two sides to the one under a large tree.
Favourite food items we ate at the night bazaar include a pork and vegetable hot pot, mixed vegetable tempura, omelette-wrapped pad thai, satay meat skewers, stir fry green vegetables with crispy pork and mango and coconut sticky rice.
In between eating and drinking, browse the stalls for locally made handicrafts, including beautiful silk scarves, clothing and bags made of handwoven fabrics, wooden ornaments and toys, and much more.
On a Saturday or Sunday, you may want to try the Thanalai Road Walking Street Market and the Sang Khon Noi Walking Street Market, respectively.
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A Three Week Itinerary For Touring Thailand
We visited the Chiang Rai as part of an independent holiday, which we organised and booked ourselves. Check out this comprehensive three week Thailand itinerary, including tips on sightseeing, hotels, food and transport.
Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!50 Comments to "Chiang Rai in One Day | Top Sights"
wow this is so cool! Never thought Chiang Rai has so much to offer and at most would have given it a day or two for the white temple. Lovely pictures!
Two nights is minimum, in my opinion, and I wish we’d spent an additional one or two nights on top of that. I really liked Chiang Rai!
I visited Thailand two years ago and did the same – only two days in Chiang Rai and I regretted not planning to stay any longer! Shame on me, I didn’t even visit any of those wonderful temples! :O
They aren’t right in the centre so hard to visit without a tour or transport.
I loved visiting Chiang Rai last year, but I think I managed to miss Wat Huay Bla Gang. That big buddha looks really cool. I also can’t remember if I saw the emerald buddha or not. I was amazed how much there was to do and see up there. It’s definitely hard to squeeze it all into a day. I’ll be back next year to see more myself.
There was a lot to do, I agree, and I adored the night market here.
Chiang Rai is definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve been too! It’s so full of really good cultural beauts and history is amazing, isn’t it?
I’d love to visit Chang Rai one day, I’ve never been up in this region in Thailand yet it looks so lovely! The Emerald buddha looks amazing!
It’s such a beautiful part of Thailand!
Wow- so much thought and detail that went into the temples! And the street food looks delicious as well!!
The temples are stunningly ornate.
I only spent a night in Chiang Rai but this makes me wish I had spent more time!
We wished we had longer than our 2 nights!
I’m only familiar with the White Temple in Chiang Rai, so thank you for introducing me to the rest of the temples here. All the temples are definitely eye-catching and unique. The Blue Temple looks amazing. I’m pretty sure when the renovations are through it’ll be more impressive than it is now. Will definitely include all of this temples when we visit!
All the temples are so different to each other, visit as many as you are able.
Love the photo collage. I have many happy memories visiting Chiang Rai. The food is fabulous and the people are so friendly.
Thanks, I love doing my collages!
There’s so many stunning temples to visit, I love that white temple, it is really amazing considering how new it is. I also love exploring outdoor markets and local foods.
Very nice and detailed post! We’ll be in Thailand later this year. So very helpful to me.
I been longing to go to Thailand for a very long time now and Chiang Rai is on my list. I think the white temple appeals to me the most, as a photographer I would love to capture that from different angles. Great post and fantastic advice.
The white temple and the emerald Buddha is absolutely stunning. Chiang Rai has been on my list for a while now. Thanks for this post.
Nice place. White temple is magnificent
Gorgeous photos, I love all those temples, especially the white and the blue. We haven’t been to Thailand yet but would love to go. Thanks for sharing. ?
An omelette wrapped Pad Thai sounds delicious; it’s putting me in the mood for Thai food right now! I missed out on Chiang Rai sadly, and really kicking myself for missing these stunning temples. The white temple is mesmerising, and like something out of a dream. A wonderful Thai city.
There is so much to see in Chiang Rai. The white temple is my fav, have been seeing its pics several times now. Time I take a few pictures myself. Now I am getting a good sense how much time I need to tour the place.
Thailand has been on our list forever. We will get there one day and we will definitely be stopping in Chiang Rai. Those temples alone are gorgeous and must be seen! And I really want to visit and experience the night markets. I love visiting markets while traveling, I feel it is a good way to experience the local cuisine!
I have heard and read a lot about the White Temple but not about the rest of the places! I wish I knew about these temples when I visited Thailand 4 years ago because I would’ve loved to visit. The Chinese temple and the Blue temple also look pretty awesome actually and the emerald buddha is one I’d definitely want to visit! Thank you for all these suggestions, I have been thinking of going back to Thailand to visit Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai and you have given me a lot of things to see and spend my time on, apart from the White Temple.
The White Temple looks amazing! I have been to Thailand 3 times, but haven’t managed to make it up there, yet. Maybe next time? Thanks for sharing!
There is never enough to time to see everything and I always wish we had more time to spend in each place we visit. The temples are such interesting places because they are not only beautiful, but have a story behind them. It is interesting to learn that some of them are not very old yet still so popular and well known. My kids would probably love getting to ring the bells in the Big Buddha Temple. the White Temple also sound very interesting and probably makes for great photo ops.
I already visited Thailand, and i love it, but i didn´t went to Chiang Rai, only Chiang Mai in the north…. Next time, it´s a big country.
I loved your itinerary for Chiang Rai, and you are right – three days would be even better to spend there. My favorite was the Chiang Rai’s White Temple…it’s surreal beauty won’t leave me for a while…
The night bazaars look fun too 🙂
Chiang Rai absolutely needs two or more days. There is so much to see there. White Temple and Blue Temple were already on my list but black temple is absolutely new to me. Your itinerary seems to be perfect. We are going to follow this, whenever travelling next to Thailand.
It is so hard trying to see a city in 2 days, 3 days are always so much better if you have the time! Chiang Rai’s White Temple is absolutely stunning, well, all of the temples are, I’d spend most of my time here and at the market too!
I’m aware of the White Temple as it has more exposure on social media. Although the other temples are worth visiting too. The Night Bazaar is the perfect place to relax and unwind after a busy day of exploring.
Definitely a beautiful place, all those temples. Never been to Thailand and it’s the first time to hear about this marvelous city.
I’ve heard lots of things about Chiang Rai, mainly actually the White Temple as I’ve seen pictures all over instagram but my word it is such a stunning piece of architecture. I can’t stop looking at it and would love to visit for myself. I love a night market too, so this seems like the ideal destination for me!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of the white temple before and it totally wowed me! I love detailed guides like this that help you make the most use of your time instead of wasting it trying to figure out what to do. Always love a good market too.
Would love to go to Chiang Rai, great that you put all the sights together in a concise article, thanks for sharing!
the white temple and black house are so surreal. there’s also walking streets on the weekend which is even better than the night market!
Chiang Mai is one place that I am raring to go. It is such a cultural delight. The temples definitely are artistic, each one better than the other. I loved the White temple the most from your description. It seems quite intricate and that white tree with those things hanging make me curious. Very well captured.
I loved visiting Chiang Rai too – The white temple took my breath away, a photographers delight! The night market was fabulous too, I missed the chinese temple, oh well just have to go back…
I’ve visited only Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand, though Chiang Rai has always fascinated me. Your pics tempt me to plan a visit right away! 🙂 Beautiful post. The place looks lovely!
Wonderful photographs and super suggestions. I loved Chiang Rai when I visited it. Wat Rong Kun was unforgettable. Thanks for sharing your travel know-how with us all!
Wow! The temples are stunning. I had no idea Chiang Rai had so much to offer. We are in the process of planning a trip to Thailand, so your expertise is going to be put to good use for us. I’m looking forward to the food stalls at the night market!
I’ve never heard of the Blue temple before! That looks really cool! You could spend a whole day in Chiang Rai just visiting all these cool temples!
Great itinerary! Love how there are so many different colors of temples. The food at the night market looks tasty – we really enjoyed the omelet wrapped pad thai at a night market in Krabi a few years back.
This temples are absolutely amazing. I visited Thailand some years ago but i didn’t go to Change Raí..
Hi! I am planning to visit Chiang Rai in November. I want to see the white temple and blue temple for sure. Are they close enough to each other to do in one day?
Hi Christina, yes we did all the sights above in a single day, and there was plenty of time, however you will need to book on a tour or arrange private transport as the sights are really quite spread out, they aren’t in walking distance of each other.