Although we only stayed in Chiang Rai briefly, we found lots of fun things to do in the small border town. It’s sprawling night market was amazing and very fun to explore, and Jetyrod Rd. just south of the Golden Clocktower was a great spot to bar hop! Our lovely hostel garden was a great place to kick back and relax, and we even rented bikes to head out to the outskirts of town to explore a couple caves, including Buddha Caves. Chiang Rai was a pleasant surprise for us. It was a great town to just wander around and explore. Especially after how much we loved Chiang Mai, it still found a place among our favourite spots.
How to Get There
We booked a bus from Chiang Rai on the X Class for 169 baht (6.30 CAD). It was about a 3 hour ride, and the bus had A/C, good leg room and free water and snacks. The trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai was crazy, going around insanely steep and windy roads. Make sure to wear your seat belt or you’ll surely fall into the middle aisle!
Coming the other way from Hay Xai, Laos, the whole trip cost about 300 baht. Crossing the border into Thailand is fairly simple, you can obtain a visa-on-arrival. Check out our post on Crossing the Thailand Border for more info.
Where to Stay
- Baan Bua – One of our favourite hostels on our trip, Baan Bua was a simple hostel surrounded by an awesome garden set back from the main road. It was only 400 baht for the two of us for a private room with AirCon and an ensuite bathroom. But the garden is the main draw! We spent a bunch of time eating breakfast and writing in our journals here, and it was definitely time well spent. You can book online here.
What to Do
- Night Market – The Night Market or Night Bazaar was the best we experienced throughout our travels. The streets were alive with strands of christmas lights and shop owners selling literally everything from souvenir trinkets to jewellery to those elephant pants you know you need. In the middle is an outside mall cafeteria style area lined with amazing food stalls. We went around and bought a couple things from a bunch of different stalls and topped it off with a couple of drinks at the beer stall to create the ultimate (and cheap) buffet dinner. We shared our assortment while watching a show on a large stage at one end of the opening. The Night Market is what made Chiang Rai so memorable for us so make sure to check it out!
- Buddha Caves – Rent a bike for 30-50 baht (1-2 CAD) each and head out of town to the rolling country side to explore some cool caves. Make sure to test your bike and the brakes before heading off. Almost straight north of the Chiang Rai Golden Clock Tower cross the bridge over the Kok River. Just on your right after crossing the river you’ll see signs for Tham Tu Pu and Buddha Caves. About a kilometer down the road you’ll see a dirt path just off to the side and some stairs leading into a cave; this is Tham Tu Pu. About 3 km farther down the road is Buddha Caves, where you’ll encounter a monk and a bunch of small Buddha statues strewn around the cave. In the park down by the river you can walk down a path to a bridge with another large Buddha perched on a small island. Enjoy the trip, scenery and Buddha statues and have a peaceful couple hours out of the city.
- Golden Clock Tower – An amazingly intricate structure in the middle of a busy roundabout, this is one of the must see spectacles of Chiang Rai. Though it is sparkling and golden in the sun, make sure to pass by at night too, when it is lit up every colour of the rainbow.
Where to Eat
- Cabbages and Condoms – A cool restaurant that donates proceeds of each meal to family planning in SEA. It’s motto is that “condoms should be as common as cabbages” and amazingly their food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy! The food was good, but portions were relatively small. Either way it’s for a good cause!
- Night Market – The outdoor food court was a surprise favourite for us, as we were able to buy a bunch of different things cheaply from different stalls to sample different foods. Not to mention the beer stall to wash it all down and the free shows on the stage at one end. Save some room for some snacks when you visit the night market.
- Cat Bar – The road just south of the clock tower (Jetyrod) has a good sample of bars to check out. We were looking for something fairly chill and we found Cat Bar. Very basic but it had some good tunes going, cheap drinks and connect four to entertain us. Also it had an awesome cat passed out (we hope) on the floor to enforce its name.