After our extended stay in Pai, we decided to head further north to explore the beautiful city of Chiang Rai. The easiest way is to backtrack to Chiang Mai and then catch a bus from there. We decided to spend the night in Chiang Mai and on arrival, bought the bus ticket to Chiang Rai for the following day. The bus took three and a half hours, but do beware that it stops at the new station outside of the city before heading to the old (central) station which is in the throws of a renovation. This is the station you need.
There are a multitude of things to do here, we recommend renting a motorbike as many of the sights and attractions are outside of the city. We considered renting a car at first, but restricted by our budget we got motorbikes instead. Alternatively, there are bicycles for rent and various tour operators that include transport.
One of the popular ways of arriving into Chiang Rai is by riverboat on the Kok River from Tha Ton. With our motorbikes we did a circular route around the river (to the West of Chiang Rai). The best way to visualise this route is to obtain a free map from the main TAT office (tourist information). The midpoint is a narrow suspension footbridge (which motorcyclists can use) Google Map location here.
The whole route is about 25 miles (40km), it’s a fairly pleasant ride, passing through beautiful scenery with small village towns in between ideal for Lunch or break stops. The tourist map will indicate some points of interest and you can you can start either clockwise or anti-clockwise. Some parts are dirt roads, and there was a section on the North side being repaired (do mind the pot holes).
During our visit in Chiang Rai we were lucky to be here at the same time as the International Balloon Fiesta 2017 at Singha Park. A free event with live music, food stalls, beer, balloons – it provided perfect photograph opportunities.
Brought to you by one of Thailand’s biggest beer companies Singha, the park itself is worth a visit with no entry fee and open all year round. It’s a ranch style nature park, with thousands of flowers planted pristinely around a central lake, surrounded by gentle rolling hills – it looks very fairytale and best explored by bicycles that are available for rent.
One of Chiang Rai’s most recognisable sights is the Wat Rong Khun (White Temple). It is located 9 miles from town, you can reach there by motorbike or taxi. Look closely and the artwork will surprise you when you go inside the main hall, lookout for Angry Birds and Micheal Jackson – a stark contrast from it’s traditional looking exterior.
For a natural cool escape from the midday heat, we went to Khun Korn Waterfall & Forest Park, this was one of the most stunning waterfalls we have seen in Thailand at 70m tall. To reach the waterfall involves a small 1 km hike through a forest trail.
If you have more time do venture out and explore the dramatic mountainous regions of the North and East where it borders with Burma and Laos. Jim did a long motorcycle journey to Doi Pha Tang (73 miles from Chiang Rai), if you are confident on bendy mountain roads, this is a great journey to take and to explore this beautiful region. Once you get to Doi Pha Tang, there is a 1 mile hill trail that offers incredible views with Laos and the Mekong River visible in the distance. Just a few miles south of Doi Pha Tang is Phu Chi Fa, offering similar views and also a popular spot to watch the early morning sea of clouds that roll in to the valley.
WHERE TO STAY
We decided to stay very central in Chiang Rai for most of our time there. The Chiang Rai Hotel is literally two minutes from the beautiful clock tower and 5 minutes from the night market. The large airy atrium inside does resemble a prison, but the rooms are modern and comfortable, with the much needed air conditioning, good WiFi and friendly staff. We also stayed one night at the Mech Mansion, on the outskirts of the city and if you want to be a bit further out, it is much better with a motorbike which can be hired from the very happy gentleman at BBB Boy Bike and Breakfast.
WHERE TO EAT
Our favourite place to eat was the wonderful Barrab restaurant, which specialises in Northern Thai food. You have to try the sausage – our favourite was the steamed sausage, very tasty! For a good breakfast, head down Jetyod road to Oak and Awe Coffee House. Those with a sweet tooth should check out Polar Boulangerie and Patisserie on Trairath Road or Cat ‘n’ a Cup on Thanon Phaholyothin, where you can chill with cats all around you. If you are wandering near the river, the beautiful, although somewhat pricey Melt in your Mouth is also worth a visit for a sunset drink by the river. One last recommendation on cafés in this coffee growing region, is Melody Coffee just past Singha Park, a very chilled small coffee stall offering green views of surrounding rice paddy fields.
- For long motorcycle journeys, such as to Doi Pha Tang do fill up as often as you can ensuring you have enough fuel to complete your whole journey. The petrol stations are more sparse (to non-existent) as you reach the higher roads in the mountain region.
- Always wear a helmet and have good travel insurance when hiring a motorcycle.
- A daily bus service is available from Chiang Rai to Phu Chi Fa if you want to see the morning ‘sea of mist’, this normally involves an overnight at a nearby town. You can find more information here and a Google search.
- Be selective in what you want you to see, there is a lot on offer just go with the flow (don’t burn yourself out).
- For more information on day trips, sights and events in the city, check out the official tourism website at www.tourismthailand.org/chiang-rai
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