How to Spend 3 Days in Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is ideally situated for discovering Thailand’s Golden Triangle, so three days in the city give you ample time to immerse yourself in local culture and cuisine, and explore the northern highlands. Here’s how.
Day 1: Temples and Thai Culture
The compact center of Chiang Rai is easy to explore on foot, but some of the city’s most-photographed landmarks lie just a short tuk-tuk ride away. Joining a temple tour ensures that you don’t waste time getting lost and reveals local history and heritage that you may otherwise miss. Tours typically cover the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), made entirely of snow-white stone; the Blue Temple (Wat Rong Sear Tean); the ancient temples of Wat Phra Keow and Wat Phra Singh; and the Hill Tribe Museum, where you can learn more about the region’s indigenous villages.
In the evening, soak up the atmosphere at the Chiang Rai Night Market. Browse stalls for traditional handicrafts and souvenirs, and choose from a delicious array of Thai street food—take a food tour to guarantee the best bites. Look out for regional specialties such as Khao Soi (a coconut based curry).
Day 2: Journey to the Golden Triangle
As Thailand’s northernmost city, Chiang Rai serves as the gateway to the Golden Triangle, the highland region where the borders of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand intersect. Day trips from Chiang Rai let you skip the stress of hiring a car and transport you between dispersed attractions in air-conditioned comfort.
Most tours make a stop in Chiang Saen village, where you’ll find the ruins of one of Thailand’s ancient kingdoms, and the Hall of Opium, a museum dedicated to the region’s notorious opium trade. Excursions tend to include a cruise along the Mekong River, to the meeting point of the three countries, while some even offer the chance to cross the border to visit Tachileik in Myanmar or Huay Xai in Laos.
Day 3: Highland Views and Hill Tribes
While travelers short on time often combine a tour of the Golden Circle with a visit to one of Thailand’s hill tribe settlements, it’s well worth setting aside an entire day to explore the remote villages. Choose a tour that visits a number of villages, so that you can learn about the cultures and traditions of the Akha, Hmong, Lisu, and Karen people. A guided trek through the valleys or lunch with a local family adds an extra level of cultural immersion.
If you’d prefer to spend your final day closer to the city, take a cycling tour of the countryside or visit the Singha Park, where activities include ziplining, nature trails, and tea plantation tours. Spend your last night in Chiang Rai admiring the city’s illuminated temples and landmarks on an evening tuk-tuk tour, and then enjoy a Thai dinner show, which combines regional cuisine with live music and folk dance performances.