Chiang Rai is an underrated sister of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Although it’s a pretty small town with a population of over 70,000, there’s still a traction of tourists visiting the place. In fact, a lot of tourists would opt for a day trip from Chiang Mai just to see some key attractions in Chiang Rai. It’s also known for numerous hill tribes, with its borders close to Myanmar and Laos at the famous Golden Triangle.
Chiang Rai exudes this down-to-earth and laidback vibes that makes it a good destination to have a relaxing trip. I went on a 3D2N solo trip to Chiang Rai and it was an unforgettable experience for me. I was intrigued by its beauty of all the IG-worthy temples – White Temple, Blue Temple, Black House and was on my bucket list for a while when one of my colleagues mentioned that Chiang Rai looks awesome. So I did some research and knew I had to make a trip there soon. I was on a work trip in Bangkok prior to this and I took a domestic flight to Chiang Rai. I’ll share greater details on the flight, accommodation, places to go and the expenditure for this.
I booked Bangkok Airways for my domestic flights and it’s really affordable. A 1-way ticket cost only approximately SGD83, which includes premium lounge access to Bangkok Airways at Suvarnabhumi airport. In addition, Bangkok Airways is a full-fledged carrier which provides flight dining and 20kg baggage check-in. I almost struggled with this as my main return flight of SG-BKK was 30kg and I forgot about the limit for Bangkok Airways. When I flew to BKK, my luggage was 21.5kg! Nonetheless, I managed to discard some stuff and put more in my backpack and I flew to Chiang Rai with a luggage weight of 19.4kg. Phew.
If you decide to fly straight to Chiang Rai from Singapore, tickets can be quite expensive so I would recommend you to stay in BKK for few nights and explored other awesome temples and places as shared in my previous post, before you take a domestic flight to Chiang Rai at less than SGD100 for 1-way.
One thing to note is that domestic flight doesn’t take much time for immigration and stuff. I got my luggage and made my way out and made my way to Le Patta and everything took only 20 mins. For departure to catch my flight to BKK, from the point I left hotel to the waiting area to catch my flight, it took only 20 mins as well.
I was deciding between Le Patta Hotel which is a boutique hotel and Le Meridien Hotel in Chiang Rai. Ultimately, I decided to go ahead with Le Patta due to its great location, cleanliness and it’s value-for-money. In addition, I wanted to keep cost low since I’m travelling solo and Le Patta seems to fit all criteria I needed. I made the right choice as the staff was extremely helpful, polite, attentive to all my needs. For 2 night stay, I paid SGD170. It comes with a spacious balcony overlooking the pool as well. I forgot to take photos of the hotel and you can google them on Agoda for better pics.
Knowing that I’m travelling alone, they allocated my room to be at Level 1, near its lobby. I reckoned it’s to ensure that they can keep watch on me. They have 2 security guards on night shift and their receptionists on duty were prompt in assistance.
I was supposed to head to Chiang Mai at the end of the trip but due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to shorten my trip and head back to SG. Prior to that, Le Patta had made a private taxi booking to Chiang Mai which cost 2800 baht (Approx. SGD120) and they assisted to cancel that for me. In addition, I need to make calls to verify my cancellations for certain flight and accommodation bookings. The receptionists were extremely helpful to assist me to call their local Thai office to reach out to Bangkok Airways and Agoda. Kudos to them!
There’s taxi available for hailing in Chiang Rai. So GRAB app saves my day. Usually when the grab driver arrived and picked you up, they will ask you what other places you wanna go and then you will have a driver for the rest of the day. I was lucky enough to have a driver who helped me take photos at the white temple and he paid for the temple entrance fee!
For airport 1-way transfer, I only paid 150 baht (Approx. SGD6) when I reached hotel. As I made last minute booking back to Bangkok, a private taxi booking was made for my airport 1-way transfer back to Mae Fah Luang Chiang Rai Airport, which cost 200 baht (Less than SGD10).
The estimation of daily transport from one point to another with 15 mins ride would cost around 150 baht (Approx. SGD6). Most of the attractions are nearby Le Patta, with the exception of Black House and Golden Triangle. A grab driver would quote you a sum and you can request whatever places/temples/cafes you wanna go and they will wait for you, so you can take your time to enjoy each places. That’s my personal encounter and I appreciated it because I took some time to set up my tripod stand and snapped photos and enjoyed my cafe experience to the fullest, without any time constraint. I did not bargain with their quoted price because they will check according to grab market rate; I valued convenience and flexibility more in this manner. In addition, it is better to stick to a reliable driver throughout rather than booking a new driver in between.
For Day 2 transport to Phu Chi Fa, I paid for private taxi transport arranged by Le Patta which cost 2800 baht (Approx. SGD120). This includes 8 hours duration which starts at 3.00am as I wanted to catch the sunrise at Phu Chi Fa. In the end, the driver drove me around and took 10 hours.
For Day 2 second half, a return ride cost me 1400 baht (Approx. SGD 60) which includes Black House, Golden Triangle, 2 cafes. I took my own time to fully explore the area. Alternatively, you can opt for a 1 day tour to take you around but usually they will give you 30 mins limit to explore the attractions which in my opinion, you won’t enjoy much. I saw a lot of tourists arriving in group tour but had to hurry through due to their limited time given.
For Day 3, I booked a grab driver to take me to big Buddha and a cafe before I left for the airport. It cost me 500 baht (Approx. SGD20)
Total transport expenditure estimation: SGD 6 + 10 + 120 + 60 + 20 = SGD216
One thing to note is that there’s no traffic jam in Chiang Rai, maybe only a slight 5-min heavy traffic in the morning. Other than that, it’s almost smooth-sailing throughout in terms of getting from one place to another.
Expect authentic thai food and a wide variety of other cuisines at the well-known cafes. A meal in restaurant and cafe cost only SGD15~20 with a main course and drink. An estimation for daily food expenses would be only SGD50.
Other miscellaneous cost would be attraction entrance fees – around 50-100 baht per visit. The entire trip cost me around 200 baht maximum (Approx. SGD10). I went for a nearby decent massage place named Lanna Massage and Wellness for 1 hour foot massage at 250 baht (Approx. SGD12).
Total estimated expenditure for this trip: 166 + 170 + 216 + 50 + 22 = SGD624
Breakdown: Domestic Flight SGD166 (83 + 83) + Accommodation SGD170 +Transport SGD216 + Food SGD50 + Miscellaneous SGD22
For return flight from SG to BKK, you can factor in SGD400 for a decent promo price.
Here’s a summary of my itinerary of the 14 places that I went:
Day 1: White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House & Bistro. Chiang Rai Clock Tower, Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
Day 2: Phu Chi Fa, Choui Fong Tea Plantation, Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten), The Wanderer Cafe, Black House (Baan Dam Museum), Golden Triangle, Melt in your mouth cafe
Day 3: Big Buddha (Wat Huai Pla Kung Temple), Manorom Coffee, CAT ‘n’ A CUP cat cafe
Things to note:
You may want to start the day early as most of the attractions (especially the temples) close at 5pm. I went back to the hotel on the first night at around 9pm after my foot massage. And I realised the roads/streets were really quiet and I quickened my pace back to hotel. It’s safe but still a good thing to exercise some caution and not to wander around too late. For the attractions, I would recommend to stay at least 1 hour, so you can enjoy the experience fully.
The White Temple is also known as Wat Rong Khun, located outside the town of Chiang Rai. This temple was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, and it’s not finished yet. This white temple is simply breathtaking and astonishing under the bright sun. It was on my bucket list for the longest time and I kept planning what OOTD to wear it to. LOL. I settled for a lush green maxi and brought my tripod stand along. I had a lot of difficulties trying to get a shot without groups of tourists in it. I also looked weird carrying the tripod around and doing my poses but seriously, I don’t care. haha.
I called the grab driver and asked him to help me take photos. He couldn’t speak English and thought it was gone case as he was waiting for me outside the temple. After 15 minutes, the grab uncle appeared and helped me take amazing photos! I thanked my lucky stars.
Here are some shots that I took before grab uncle appeared. haha.
After that, the grab uncle appeared and came to my rescue! I’ll show him what angle and placed the framing, tell him to just keep pressing the button while I move. He got the hang of it pretty soon. 😀
The golden structure is actually the toilet!
Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House and Bar
After this white temple, I headed to Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House and Bar for dinner. It has a garden-themed ambience, located along the banks of Kok River. It’s near the Blue Temple as well. I arrived before dinner time and it was empty. After a while, the entire place was packed. The staff was attentive and I requested for a pretty cup for my latte. And they gave me IG-worthy cup. 🙂
Chiang Rai Clock Tower
The Chiang Rai Clock Tower is 5-min walk away from Le Patta. Located in the middle of Chang Rai’s busiest intersection, the clock tower stand tall and serves as a traffic roundabout. In fact, this clock tower was designed by the same person who designed the white temple – Mr Chalermchai Khositpipat.
Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
This night bazaar is a fun place to stroll along the stalls and brings vibrancy to nightlife in Chiang Rai. There’s an open space for tourists to watch LIVE singers and its lined with massage parlours and bars as well.
This pretty sums up my first day in Chiang Rai.
For day 2, I had to wake up at 2.30am to prepare my journey to Phu Chi Fa. I had seen so many amazing sunrise pictures about it on web and it was on my bucket list. It was one of the major reasons why I came to Chiang Rai and was apprehensive about it, as the weather was really unpredictable. It was mostly rainy or having light drizzle most of the time.
Phu Chi Fa
The ride to Phu Chi Fa took 2.5 hours and the private taxi driver picked me up from the hotel at 3am. We drove in pitch black conditions for the last 1 hour and I thought I must be crazy to do this on my own and all the horror thoughts came to my mind and it didn’t help that it was raining.
At 5.30am, the driver stopped at an entrance leading to a 760m hike up and I was seated in the car, thinking to myself – am I going to do the hike alone in pitch darkness??? Thankfully, another taxi stopped beside us and 2 Singaporean ladies came out. They asked me to climb the hike together and I was so grateful that I had them with me. I was expecting the driver to climb up with me LOL.
One of the ladies had to switch on the hp torch light amidst the darkness for our hike up. Imagine us hiking up amidst the rain with umbrella in tow, along the slippery rocks/slope, avoiding tons of cow dung at the same time! We were holding hands and making our way up in the dark. It was so cold and foggy that we couldn’t see anything at the top. We were practically standing in the fog/mist/rain and was so F*Cking cold! We can have rain droplets forming on us and we felt we are going to be blown away by the strong wind. We stood in silence, waiting and hoping the fog/mist/rain will go away but unfortunately, it didn’t. They were surprised to know that I’m also a Singaporean and they said I was so brave to do this alone. Though they can’t imagine how I can manage the hike up and down on my own. LOL. The hike down was so slippery that my umbrella became my hiking stick and towards the end, I was gliding down with no control!
No pretty pictures of any sunrise but still an unforgettable experience for me. We can’t even walk to the tip of Phu Chi Fa because of poor visibility and I think I’ll disappear in the fog/mist/rain and get blown away if I proceed further. We forgot to exchange names but it’ll be great if I can contact them.
For those who are adventurous to do this, think twice and risk it. Or just visit during daytime.
Thereafter, we headed back to hotel for a change of outfit and went to Choui Fong Tea Plantation.
Choui Fong Tea Plantation
Choui Fong Tea Plantation has around 3 tea plantations and few cafes spreaded across the massive area. Its modern cafe with terrace overlooks this huge, scenic tea plantation; which is really a therapeutic experience. It’s one of the well-known tourist attractions and the crowd was just nice – good crowd while you have a peace of mind to enjoy your cup of tea. They recommended me their famous matcha latte and I got a thai tea cake to go with it; of course I shared it with the driver to share the calories too! haha 😀
By then, it was already 11am and I was read to go back hotel to rest before the second half of the day. The driver took me by surprise and dropped me off at Blue Temple. What a kind gesture!
Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten)
Another famous temple you have to visit in Chiang Rai, would be the Blue Temple. Besides the famous White Temple and Black House, this new contender attracted a lot of tourists, though the temple was just completed in Jan 2016. You wouldn’t miss this temple and it’s close to well-known cafes such as Manorom Coffee, Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House and Bar, and The Wanderer.
There were many tourists snapping away but I set up my tripod at the prime spot and quickly took some best shots that I wanted. I even had some tourists asking me to help them to take their photos! LOL.
After the first half of the day, I was very drained but I didn’t want to waste time. I had a change of outfit and went on for my second half of the day. I picked The Wanderer Cafe to have lunch and to chill.
The Wanderer Cafe
Situated along the Kok River, it’s hidden in a garden and has alfresco and indoor seating. Somehow I felt that it exuded this exclusive vibes and the patrons there were well-dressed. Similar to the vibes you get when you are in PS Cafe. I ordered their seared grilled chicken bowl with onsen, and my trusty cuppa latte. All for only SGD12. Awesome food at affordable price.
Black House (Baan Dam)
The next stop was Black House (Baan Dam). It’s a unique museum with art display that exudes this dark side. The White Temple and Black House are dubbed as the “Heaven” and “Hell” of architecture – interesting to see this contrast though you might be disappointed to see Black House right after seeing the White Temple or Blue Temple.
Upon entry, visitors were invited to walk and explore the different structures sprawled across the park. You will see random sculptures, cow skulls/skeletons, elephant bones and random dead animal parts. There’s even few cows nearby!
Chiang Rai is the main focal point of the Golden Triangle of intersection for 3 countries – Thailand, Myanmar, Laos – whereby they meet at the confluence of Ruak River and Mekong River. In the past, the Golden Triangle has been an area well-known for opium production. There are tours bringing tourists across to Laos and Myanmar via Ferry and you can see casinos in both countries.
Melt In Your Mouth Cafe
With my last bit of energy, I made my last stop to Melt In Your Mouth cafe. I was so tired that I just dozed off majority of the time that I’m on taxi/grab. Another cafe situated along the banks of Kok River and I had an enjoyable time on my own, soaking into the atmosphere. Ordered thai green curry chicken and their special blend of ice tea to end the day. It was before 6pm and I had the cafe to myself while I happily took photos. 🙂
And so I was prepared to concuss for the night and packed for the next day to Chiang Mai. But due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to cancel it and we brought forward the trip to an end. But I was happy that Chiang Rai has been an awesome trip thus far!
Big Buddha and Pagoda (Wat Huay Pla Kung)
On Day 3, I started my trip to Big Buddha, wasting no time. It’s often labelled as “Big Buddha” but actually its Goddess of Mercy statue. I was probably the first visitor there at 8am and had the entire place to myself. I paid 40 baht for the entrance fee and when the doors opened at level 25, I was surprised to see such exquisite interior design of the white stucco carvings! I enjoyed the awesome view of Chiang Rai at the top as well.
I went to explore the white temple beside it and there were still some construction going on. But I can see the potential of this temple being IG-worthy as the ceiling design was so intricate and beautiful.
I had brunch at Manorom Coffee, another cafe situated at the Kok River. Great place for coffee chilling and I was the only patron there early in the morning. Ordered phad thai with giant grilled prawn and thai iced tea. Yes that’s my brunch LOL.
Cat ‘N’ A Cup Cat Cafe
This cat cafe is situated just 5 mins away from Le Patta. There you see, the hotel location is really good. I headed over to check it out and saw these cute little ones! I ordered my latte and rested at this cafe while the cats sleep and walk around me.
The grey cat in particular keep looking away when I tried to take wefie with it. It’s camera-shy! haha.
So that’s a LONG detailed entry of my awesome time in Chiang Rai. I felt that I spent a solid good time with myself and did some self-reflection – especially in the cafes and just wandering around. For solo travelers, you may want to consider Chiang Rai for a relaxing and rewarding trip. In addition, it’s also a great place for a family retreat and friends getaway, other than your usual BKK. In the meantime, I can’t wait for my next trip to Cambodia soon!