Around the World Trip: Chiang Rai, Thailand!

*By Whitney*

By this point, we had visited seven different countries. We had already been in Thailand once before and were returning to visit a different city!

If you haven’t already, check out my posts on our other stops: 

Timeline for Chiang Rai: September 27th-October 4th, 2018

Visiting Chiang Rai wasn’t originally on our itinerary, but while we were in Chiang Mai we figured out that it would be a place we might really like. So rather than take only a day trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, we decided to add it in as an additional stop later in the trip and stay for a whole week. We already had an entire month booked in Chiang Mai, so in order not to have to get a visa for overstaying the non-visa 30 day mark, we went to Laos first, then doubled back to Chiang Rai. This was pretty easy with flights because they’re all pretty closeby.

About Chiang Rai

We had hoped that Chiang Rai would be a smaller version of Chiang Mai, and we found out that was basically right. Chiang Rai is a small city even further north of Chiang Mai in Thailand, close to the Myanmar and Laos borders. Chiang Rai had a lot of similar features to Chiang Mai, but just more compact. There was a good bit of history and traditional charm, with some modern conveniences we’d come to know and love in Chiang Mai including a mall, coffee shops, bars, Western food, 7-eleven and supermarkets. However, it definitely didn’t have as much variety of the Western things and didn’t have as much night life (such as clubs).

People in Chiang Rai were very nice, and many of them spoke English which is very helpful for us. We were excited to be back where they had a good variety of street food and other inexpensive food options, compared to Laos where that was harder to come by. They have one main night market in Chiang Rai that operates every night and has live music and entertainment. They also have a Saturday night market (“walking street”) that was pretty good.

Where We Stayed

We stayed in a nice Airbnb that was like a motel with a really great host who was very sweet. She gave us some recommendations on things to do in the area, and she even took us to see a temple with her one evening without expecting any money in return. Unfortunately there were a couple things about the Airbnb that weren’t great, including the shower and not having a fridge or a hot water kettle in our room, which we had come to love about our previous Airbnb stays. But we had to curb our expectations and remind ourselves we were paying very little to stay there, and we were in Southeast Asia where some of these amenities are not standard. Fortunately though, to make up for the lack of amenities, the place was in a really great location within walking distance to mostly everything we wanted to see and do in town.

What We Did

We did a lot of relaxing and being lazy in Chiang Rai, ha. We had a hard time tearing ourselves out of bed most days. Also, one night we stayed out til 5am at a bar, so this really got our sleep schedule messed up! But, kinda like we did in Chiang Mai, we did take advantage of an awesome day tour that hit all the major sight seeing highlights, which made for a really busy and productive day! The day tour included visits to: The White Temple, Blue Temple, Black House art museum, tea plantation, monkey cave, Golden Triangle (where the borders of Thailand/Laos/Myanmar meet), Long Neck hill tribe village, and Mai Sae border town at Myanmar. All of these were amazing experiences, and we might not otherwise have seen them all if we didn’t do the day trip!

We also did some local sight seeing within walking distance in town, including visiting lots of amazing temples and going to the night markets. We enjoyed some local foods, Western foods (including the most amazing burger I’ve had since we left the US, or maybe ever), rolled ice cream, and coffee shops.

As mentioned above, we spent one big night out drinking where we met 3 people from Europe and accidentally crashed a local Thai birthday party at a bar, haha. That was a lot of fun and we met some nice locals!

We worked out a few times at a pretty nice gym we found in town. We also, completely randomly, met someone at the gym who went to Jared’s high school back in Virginia! What a small world! He and his girlfriend had just moved to Chiang Rai. He fights Muay Thai and she was teaching English. It was so awesome meeting them, and we went out to dinner and drinks with them on our last night in town.

Overall Impression

We really loved Chiang Rai! It’s a toss up for us whether we like Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai better. Both of them have their own perks. Chiang Rai was a little cheaper, and it was smaller and less busy. But, there’s some definite perks to having more options of things to do in Chiang Mai. But regardless, both of them are awesome places. It’s safe to say we loved northern Thailand, and we’ll definitely be back there! We haven’t even been to Bangkok other than a quick 24 hour stop over and a couple trips to the airport, and we haven’t made it down to the islands yet. And those places are what usually draws most travelers to Thailand. We feel fortunate to have explored northern Thailand and loved it so much. We can’t wait to see what the rest of Thailand has in store for us later in our trip!

But for now, we left Thailand behind and headed to Vietnam next!

Next Stop: Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam!

Insider Tips on Chiang Rai, Thailand:

  • For tips on hygiene and sanitation, check out the insider tips section at the bottom of my Chiang Mai post! Most of it applies for all of Southeast Asia!
  • The currency in Thailand is the Baht which is about 32 baht to 1 dollar. They mostly use cash in Thailand.
  • Chiang Rai is fairly easy to get around with English as many people speak it.
  • You can always count on 7-Eleven for your modern conveniences in Thailand! They also have Boots and Watsons pharmacies.
  • We recommend a day tour to hit the highlights in Chiang Rai, including the White Temple, Blue Temple, tea plantation, monkey cave, long neck village, Golden Triangle, and Myanmar border city! So worth it!
  • Check out Jetyod Road area for some good bars, restaurants, coffee shops and massage parlors!
  • Try the coconut and mango ice cream at the night market, yum!
  • You can walk to most things in Chiang Rai, however the sidewalks aren’t in great shape, so sometimes you have to walk in the street- be careful!
  • A temple that is a little less known but really cool was the Wat Huai Pla Kung!
  • When in Thailand you should also try Tom Yum Soup and Papaya salad, both of which I discovered you can get spicy or not spicy (I had avoided them because I’m not a spicy lover, but you can ask for it not spicy some places!).
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