1 DAY ITINERARY
IN CHIANG RAI
Chiang Rai is an interesting city, nestled in mountainous jungle-caped landscape of northern Thailand. We had heard so many good things about the Rai so our visit was tainted in sadness as we were limited to just a day, due to a last minute flight to Bangkok for New Year. We'll need to come back and spend a few more days here.
To make our short trip even more interesting we challenged ourselves to enjoy as much culture, food and temples we could we squeeze into a single day and keeping to our $25/ £22 daily budget! With the challenge set and timer counting we awoke early with purpose, drive and just 1000 Baht to get us though the day. We normally like to travel slowly and spend a good bit of time in each place, so it was quite fun to change it up and set some time and money parameters, you should try it. Be aware that there is plenty more to do in Chiang Rai than stated here, but this is a good one day itinerary to start off your adventure.
Drink Fresh Coconut Milk In The Market
This was one of those stumble on-to-it moments that only happened because we had a 50 minute wait for the bus to White Temple. I'm glad we missed the earlier bus because just two streets back heading north east from the terminal 1 bus station, you’ll find an interesting indoor market with everything you’d ever need to make the best Thai curry. We were fascinated by the coconut pulsing machine that turned the white fibres into coconut milk right in front of our eyes. The lady running the shop saw us gawping at her machine and beckoned us across to try her product. The taste was exceptional! An earthy creamy flavour that is nothing like the canned mass produced stuff from home. Locals were picking up their milk in plastic bags, curry pastes and vegetables for the day and seemed really surprised to see us there. The market was a great start and the perfect time killer in between buses. It is called Sirikorn fruit & veg market and is situated just a couple of roads north east of the bus station.
White Temple / Wat Rong Khun
You may have seen many temples and monasteries across Asia but we doubt you’ve seen one quite as surreal as the White Temple. You can find the art installation temple 20 minutes out of Chiang Rai travelling south west. Getting there is easy, you can choose between a local bus from bus station terminal 1, which costs 20 Baht (45p) per person, or order a private taxi via your hostel for around 250-300 Baht (£6). Our budget meant we opted for the bus which runs every hour, there many people you can ask at the bus station to find the bus, everyone we spoke to were super helpful. The bus chucks you off at a busy road but from there you can already see the streams of people gliding to the attraction, and what a site it is. Envisage complex ornate shapes merged with dark graphic imagery made all the more strange by the gloss white it is finished in. Even though it’s very busy, it’s worth braving the crowds and you’ll leave wishing more temples were like Wat Rong Khun. Make sure you don’t miss the abstract mural behind the doors as you enter the temple, as artworks, we can’t think of more thought provoking pieces! Entry is 50 Baht (£1.10) per person.
Getting back to Chiang Rai was pretty easy. You could pay for a taxi at 250 / 300 Baht (£6) or wait at the bus stop for the hourly bus. We started waiting but were squeezed onto a passing locals taxi who took us to bus station for 20 Baht (45p) and Mark got to stand on the rail at back, like a dog in a convertible car:
Dine On Khao Soi At Pho Chai
We discovered Khao Soi via another blog and since devouring our first portion in Chiang Rai it has become a firm favourite of ours, although it’s quite hard to find out of northern Thailand. It’s a noodle dish in a deliciously rich coconut milk curry soup served with boiled egg, slow cooked meat (we opted for chicken), deep-fried crunchy noodle topping, fresh onion, lime, and pickles. The dish is wholesome and zesty. The Pho Chai restaurant had a flurry of customers, which is the sign of quality in Asia’s noodle kitchens. You can find it about 300 metres south of Chiang Rai’s clock tower on Jetyod Road. The best thing, for those hard budgeters, is the price, because a bowl of Khao Soi will cost just 40 Baht (90p). Lunch sorted, now for more surreal temples!
Black House / Bandaam Museum
We’d already visited the light side in the White temple, now it was time to enter the dark; namely the artist Thawan Duchanee’s alternative Black Temple. This is one of those places that you don’t want to read too much about because it’s better to just go and experience the sheer abstract wonder of an artists lifetime of work. Duchanee was surely a thorn in the side of the conservatives of Thailand who would have struggled with his dark subject matter. But this artist had such a clear vision for portraying the dark side of Thai culture he would eventually be celebrated. Black House is the impressive, now government funded, collection of dark, gothic and animalistic artworks all in one place. From huge wooden penises to chairs made from antlers that are all housed in magnificent stained black temples, this was the highlight of our day costing 80 Baht (£1.80) per person.
To get there you’ll need to return to bus station terminal 1 and board the half hourly bus, again ask at the bus station to find the right one. The cost is 20 Baht (45p) and takes 20 minutes heading north east. This route isn’t as busy as the white temple so make sure the conductor knows where you want to go, he’ll give you a nod at the correct stop. Once off the bus follow the street and ‘Bandaam Museum’ signs until you reach the attraction which is about 10 minutes walk from the main road.
Getting back was harder as we waited on the main road for 40 minutes and no large taxis came by so we started get prices from tuk tuk drivers who wanted 300 Baht! Eventually we bartered with a driver and got back to Chiang Rai for 50 Baht (£1.15)
Wonder The Back Streets Of Chiang Rai
We got back to Chiang Rai late afternoon and went for a vanilla milk for 50 Baht (£1.15) in a coffee shop and did an hours blogging, biding our time until dinner. If you’re looking for backstreet bars and eateries then returning to Jetyod Road is good start. You’ll find all manner of local and western restaurants and bars that have a chilled atmosphere. If that’s not relaxing enough then why not indulge in a massage, there plenty of massage parlours around Chiang Rai. When your stomach starts to rumble then you know it’s time to hit the night market for some cheap eats.
Night Market For Dinner
From 5pm onwards the market sellers set their stalls, light their BBQs and place the Chang’s on ice. In the night bazaar you can enjoy live music, social atmosphere, plenty of places to sit and watch Thai families eat together. A little tip, the beers are a bit pricey in the market so grab a beer from a 7/11 outside the market for 50 Baht (£1.15) although we didn’t indulge in beers this day. The market is easy to find as it’s a stones throw from the bus terminal and the amount of choice is little bewildering. Marinated meat on sticks, seafood, curries, just take your pick. We tried a Yellow Curry - 80 Baht (£1.80) and Seafood Tom Yum - 100 Baht (£2.30). The yellow curry was delicious made fresh in just 2 minutes but the Tom Yum was not to our taste, spicy and sour watery curry with squid and prawns. But dessert was where the real treats lay, it would be rude not to try mango sticky rice and there’s plenty of vendors to deliver the sweet fruity punch, which is priced at 40 Baht (90p). It consisted of fresh mango, sticky rice, coconut ice cream, pink sweetened rice noodles and a crunchy crisp topping.
Homemade Sweets & Ice Cream
We were full, bursting, but then we spotted a huge queue of 20 people snaking up to an inconspicuous stall helmed by 3 ladies. It looked like they were selling children’s sweets but we had to take a closer look to find out what it was. They had 4 deserts that ranged from gooey coloured rice balls, hot milk, sesame seeds, pink sweet rice noodles, coconut ice cream and their strangest creation; a salty egg yolk. The egg definitely offset the sweet flavours of its accompanying parts. You can find the stall on one of the street corners on Phaholyothin Road near the market, each dessert is 20 to 25 Baht (60p).
Sleep In The Airport
Our flight left at 6am so we didn’t see the point in paying for accommodation for a night if we’d need to get up at 4am. Of course all airports open all night right? Wrong. We settled down for bed at 10pm in the airport only to be awoken 20 minutes later by the security guard telling us we couldn’t sleep there, the airport was closing. Well we still weren’t going to pay for accommodation, so we planned to sleep till 11pm and just wait outside till 5 in the morning when the airport would reopen, a bit of a delusional decision in hindsight. At 11pm a few ladies from customer service came and woke us explaining they were worried about us and said we could stay in airport this once, ‘get in’ we thought. We were gifted the airport as our hotel that night and we were the only ones, plus a few guards. We did think about making a Christopher Walken weapon of choice music video but we might have upset security. Our taxi to the airport cost 150 Baht (£3.30).
Total spend for the day: 1001 Baht / £22.75
Of course there many other things to do in Chiang Rai. We have listed some attractions we were interested in but didn’t get to see:
- Mae Fah Luang Art & Culture Park
- Hilltribe Museum & Education Center
- Oub Kham Museum
Why not watch our travel video from Chiang Rai?
Why Not Pin It?
(So you can find it later)