Chiang Rai is famous for being home to some of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. In Chiang Rai you will find the famous White and Blue Temples, as well as many more attractions.
Most people visit Chiang Rai on a day trip from Chiang Mai, missing out on the sunrises, sunsets and all the evening beauties of Chiang Rai.
I believe you should try to spend at least one night in Chiang Rai, and this Chiang Rai 24-hour itinerary shows you exactly how!
In this Chiang Rai itinerary I’ve listed everything you need to know to plan your trip to Chiang Rai. Including how to get there, how to get around Chiang Rai, the best things to do and see and where to stay.
So without further ado, let’s dive in and discover hope to spend an epic day in Chiang Rai!
- 1 How to get to Chiang Rai
- 2 How to get around Chiang Rai
- 3 My 24-hour Chiang Rai itinerary: Day 1
- 4 My 24-hour Chiang Rai itinerary: Day 2
- 5 Where to stay in Chiang Rai
- 6 What to pack for Chiang Rai
How to get to Chiang Rai
The easiest ways to get to Chiang Rai are either by plane, bus or car. Lots of people also visit Chiang Rai on a day trip from Chiang Mai with an organised tour. Let’s look at each option in more detail.
Chiang Rai has a small airport with domestic flights to destinations like Bangkok and Chiang Mai. However the flights are relatively pricey and not that much faster than driving.
Once you factor in the hour (at least) that you need for check-in, security and all other general airport procedures and the travel time getting to and from the airport, it ends up taking as long as a flight.
If you prefer comfort and flexibility then a great way to get to Chiang Rai is by hiring a private car and driver. These can be quite pricey but are also the most comfortable.
You will have someone pick you up at your hotel in Chiang Mai, drive you everywhere you want to go in Chiang Rai and then back.
I personally took the bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and can highly recommend it. There are different categories of bus, from basic to premium, the premium buses have huge comfy seats and are air-conditioned.
The bus journey takes four hours and the prices range from 150 THB to 250 THB. Travelling by bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is affordable, easy and comfortable.
Many people visit Chiang Rai on a day trip from Chiang Mai. While one day in Chiang Rai will allow you to see all the main highlights, you will end up spending 8 hours in a minivan.
I personally find that quite stressful. You would also miss out on the sunset, sunrise and night bazaar in Chiang Rai, which were some of my favourite things there!
If you have the time I would definitely recommend making your own way to Chiang Rai by bus and spending a night there. If you can’t do that here are some day trip options with great reviews online.
How to get around Chiang Rai
If you visit Chiang Rai without a day tour you will then have to make your own way around the temples and attractions. There are a couple ways you can do that.
Rent a scooter – You can rent a scooter for anywhere between 120 THB to 300 THB for one day. That way you will have full freedom and flexibility on your itinerary.
With Grab – Grab is basically the Thai equivalent of Uber. You order it directly from your phone and a driver shows up fairly quickly.
There was four of us travelling together so we just used Grab all the time. Even if you’re not splitting the cost by four it’s still very affordable and convenient.
My 24-hour Chiang Rai itinerary: Day 1
This itinerary reflects almost exactly my own Chiang Rai itinerary. It covers two days including travel to and from Chiang Mai, but is essentially a 24-hours in Chiang Rai itinerary.
It’s designed to minimise your transfer time between places, and maximise your exploring time. So let’s dive straight in!
Early morning bus from Chiang Mai
Start your Chiang Rai itinerary by actually getting to Chiang Rai! We got an early bus from Chiang Mai around 7AM.
It’s an early start but the bus is comfy and you have four hours of driving ahead to nap!
Arrive in Chiang Rai for lunch
The journey from Chiang Mai takes around four hours depending on what bus you take, so even if you set off with the first bus it will be late morning by the time you arrive.
Pop by your hotel, drop off your bags, chill for a moment and then get ready to hit the road! There are lots of cute cafes and restaurants in Chiang Rai where you can grab lunch before starting your sight seeing day.
One of the most famous is CAT ‘n’ A CUP Cat Café. If you’re into that sort of thing it can be a fun place to have lunch before starting your proper Chiang Rai itinerary.
Visit Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple)
I figured we should start this itinerary on a strong note and visit straight away one of the most famous attractions of Chiang Rai; the White Temple!
Wat Rong Khun is one of the most visited temples in Thailand, and it’s easy to see why. With its unique white architecture and decorations it’s completely different from all other temples we saw while in Thailand.
Entrance is 50 THB and gives you access not only to the White Temple, but also to the surrounding temple grounds. Around the White Temple you will find a golden temple, numerous statues and houses.
You can easily spend a few hours just wandering around the various temple grounds.
Wait for sunset at the White Temple
Once you’re done visiting the White Temple, don’t run off straight away, the best is yet to come! We waited for the sunset and it was one of the best sunsets of our Thailand trip.
There are lots of shops, restaurants market stalls in front of the White Temple so you can wander around and explore those while you wait for sunset. The temple closes at 5PM so they will usher everyone out then.
The sun sets behind the White Temple and once everyone has left, you will get to enjoy this beautiful temple by yourself.
Even from the outside you can appreciate the soft golden light contrasting with the beautiful white architecture.
Spend the evening at the Night Bazaar
After sunset head to your hotel to chill for a bit and freshen up. It’s now time to explore the Night Bazaar! The Night Bazaar is located in the heart of Chiang Rai, and is one of the coolest spots you will explore.
The Bazaar has a huge variety of stalls, selling all sorts of food, drinks, clothes and souvenirs. There is a huge central area with seating, so you can wander around the food stalls and then sit in the middle to eat.
If you’re travelling with friends and can’t decide on what to eat, it’s ideal! Everyone can get food from the stall they prefer and then eat together in the central seating.
I had the best mango sticky rice of the whole trip at the Night Bazaar of Chiang Rai!
My 24-hour Chiang Rai itinerary: Day 2
Sunrise at Wat Huay Pla Kung
I personally love waking up early before the crowds, and trust me when I say this temple is well worth the early rise! Wat Huay Pla Kung is a group of three temples in one, all with very distinct architecture.
The most famous spot is the huge statue of the Goddess of Mercy, often mistaken for a huge Buddha. This statue has a staircase decorated with dragon statues leading up to.
Depending on the time of year, this is the epic sunrise spot. There is a 40 THB fee if you want to go inside the statue, but none for admiring the statue and temples from outside.
It doesn’t officially open until 7AM anyway so if you go for sunrise it will still be closed. The other temples are a 9-tier colourful pagoda, and a more traditional temple is located between them.
When you put them together it’s a truly wonderful sight. If you use Grab to get here make sure to ask your driver to wait for you, we didn’t and then couldn’t find any other drivers in the area to pick us up after!
Visit Wat Rong Suea Ten (the Blue Temple)
After the White Temple, the second most famous attractions in Chiang Rai is Wat Rong Suea Ten, also known as the Blue Temple.
Similarly to the White Temple this one is also unique in its architecture, decorations and colour, making it stand out from all other temples in Thailand.
The drive from Wat Huay Pla Kung is pretty brief, so you can be amongst the first to arrive at the Blue Temple and enjoy it without the crowds. There is no entrance fee.
Remember that this is a temple and there might be people inside praying, so always be respectful. I personally found the architecture of the Blue Temple simply incredible.
Both the inside and outside were very elaborately decorated, with these bold blue and gold colours. It’s a truly unique sight and a must see on any Chiang Rai itinerary.
Visit Baan Dam Museum (the Black House)
Hop back in your Grab (or call a new one) and head over to another famous attraction in Chiang Rai; the Black House!
Often mistaken for a temple, Baan Dam is actually a museum. Some of its architecture is very similar to Thai temples, which is where the confusion stems from.
Baan Dam is a group of over 40 buildings, all dotted around a garden, designed by Thawan Duchanee, a Thai artist.
There is a 40 THB entrance fee that gives you access to the whole area, so you can explore the museums and gardens.
Lunch & back to Chiang Mai!
These three temples will take up your whole morning, depending on how long you spend exploring each of them.
I would then end your Chiang Rai itinerary with lunch at one of the many cafes in town, and then hopping back on a bus to Chiang Mai.
The journey back will take four hours so I recommend setting off not too late if you don’t want to be on a bus when it gets dark.
Where to stay in Chiang Rai
If you’re only spending one night in Chiang Rai you want to make sure you stay somewhere convenient!
It doesn’t have to be fancy, after all you won’t be spending much time in the hotel, but the position is important so that you don’t have to travel too much within Chiang Rai.
I have listed below some options for every budget:
Located right in the heart of Chiang Rai they also have a pool where you can cool off after a long day chasing temples in Chiang Rai.
Luxury: The Legend Chiang Rai Boutique River Resort & Spa – Even if you only have one night in Chiang Rai, no reason why you shouldn’t spoil yourself!
Treat yourself to a fancy stay at the Legend Chiang Rai, where you can relax after the long bus journey.
What to pack for Chiang Rai
You don’t really need anything extraordinary for Chiang Rai beyond your usual travel essentials. You can check out here my full Thailand packing list if you want more advice on what to pack for a Thailand trip.
However some essentials you shouldn’t forget include:
A camera – to capture all the beautiful temples you will see!
Loose airy pants – These are my favourite type of trousers. I wear them also in Europe and always get weird stares, but in Thailand they’re perfectly fine!
You shouldn’t be visiting temples in shorts, so these are a great way to keep cool and respectful at the same time.
A spare pair of socks – Some of the temples will ask you to remove your shoes to enter. However the little walk from where you leave your shoes to the shade can be quite long and burn your feet!
If you’re like me and exploring in sandals make sure to pack socks for when you’re asked to remove them.
A water bottle – You will find lots of restaurants have water tanks where you can refill your bottle. Perfect way to stay hydrated and reduce plastic consumption!
Final thoughts on the ultimate Chiang Rai itinerary?
This is how we spent our 24 hours in Chiang Rai, and believe it’s a great itinerary for those who don’t have long in Thailand. I hope you find this guide useful in planning your own Chiang Rai itinerary!
We absolutely loved the temples in Chiang Rai. They may be touristy, but they’re also some of the most incredible pieces of architecture I have ever seen. No Thailand trip would be complete without some temple hunting.
Looking for more Thailand travel advice? Check out these guides!
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- The most beautiful spots in Bangkok
- Where to see elephants in Thailand
- Day trip to the Similan Islands
- The 7 best rooftop pool hotels in Bangkok
- Ayutthaya day trip from Bangkok
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