The Wat Rong Khun temple is so shining and impressive that it could be easily mistaken by a painting. I wonder how much love, inspiration, and work were needed to create that masterpiece. Wat Rong Khun aka White Temple is one of the most famous attractions in Chiang Rai – Thailand, and there I was, admiring it on my first solo trip of the year. A day trip to Chiang Rai packed with marvelous temples, delicious food and the feeling of overcoming one of my biggest fears.
Well, more about me later on. First, let me tell you the White Temple is just the cherry on top of the cake. This day trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai was beyond amazing and the places I visited were as incredible as the White Temple, if not more. Chiang Rai is located in Northern Thailand, a city known for its arts, faith, nature, and delicious food. Of course it deserves more than just one visit, but if, like me, you only have a day in Chiang Rai, try to make the most of it.
This trip had a special meaning for me: it was my first adventure alone after months fighting against an eye infection that almost took my vision away. But even with my left eye far from being 100%, I packed my bags and faced the challenge. I wanted to experience all the top things to do in Chiang Rai in just one day so I partnered up with TakeMeTour to go on a day tour from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
How to plan the perfect Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai day trip?
Chiang Rai is located about 200 km from Chiang Mai, the most famous tourist destination in Northern Thailand. Searching for how to get to Chiang Rai you will find two options: flying or driving. If you are traveling from Bangkok or any other destination far from Chiang Rai, you can either fly to Chiang Mai [which has more flight options and better prices] or fly to Chiang Rai and start your day tour from the airport.
If you are staying in Chiang Mai, the road trip is the best option and it only takes 3 hours and a half for you to get there. You can also travel from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai by yourself, as there are buses running daily and the tickets are quite cheap. But once you are in Chiang Rai you still need to get a taxi or a tuk-tuk to visit the temples and attractions. And it is totally feasible, especially if you already traveled in Thailand or Southeast Asia and know how to bargain and search for the best deals.
On the other hand, if you are staying in Chiang Mai and have only one day to visit Chiang Rai, I would say that a tour is the best, the easiest and the most practical option. Even better if your guide is someone local who can take you to the top attractions and also off the beaten path. That’s why I booked the “Blue Temple, White Temple, Black House, Lotus Temple & Best Khao Soi” experience with Kiki, a local expert from TakeMeTour. This is not the first time we book day trips with TakeMeTour, in Bangkok we did a Coffee Tour, a Chinatown Food Tour and visited a local floating market followed by a cooking class.
Day trip to Chiang Rai Itinerary
Our trip started early morning. At 7 am, Kiki arrived at my hotel in Chiang Mai [check the lovely The Mellow Pillow Hotel here]. It took us about 3 hours to arrive at the first stop of our day tour, the touristy Chiang Rai Hot Spring.
1st stop: Chiang Rai Hot Spring
To be honest, it was smaller than I expected and busier than I wanted but it turned out to be fun. Once you pass the crowds and find a spot by the water, you can sit and relax under the trees. It’s quite fun to see the vans and buses full of tourists arriving and leaving 10 minutes later, which reminds me why I don’t like big tour groups. While people are flocking in and out, Kiki and I had time to chat. He told me the story about the road that connects Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, the increasing number of tourists that are visiting the region, how interesting Chiang Rai attractions are, and how he feels happy to show them to travelers.
To balance the trip, the next attraction of our Chiang Rai tour was the most peaceful and also my favorite one.
2nd stop: Wat Sang Kaew Phothiyan
It was there that all the story about a local expert made sense. We drove a few minutes from the hot spring to this empty car parking in a secondary road. The sun was shining bright, it was hot and I was about to see one of the most beautiful temples in Chiang Rai. After the entrance, we were greeted by an amazing staircase with dragons, bells and not a single person around.
Wat Sang Kaew Phothiyan has a unique architecture, a beautiful garden and a stunning temple. Please, be respectful there. Different from the White Temple that is a tourist attraction in Chiang Rai, this temple was built for praying, so act respectfully, dress modestly and if you feel like praying, do it.
Right at the entrance of the temple there are two big statues symbolizing the good and the evil, the angel and the devil. The Buddhists believe that good and evil can co-exist as long as they are in balance. The fun fact is that the devil drinks whiskey, wears Converse runners, has an iPhone with Facebook and Instagram. It is definitely, a reminder that we need to look for a balanced life in our modern and digital world.
At the Wat Sang Kaew Phothiyan, I learned how to pray in a Buddhist temple and I even received a blessing from a monk. The blessing was followed by a powerful message, don’t worry too much and live the present. Noted!
After the blessing ritual, it was time to head to the 3rd stop of our day tour to Chiang Rai, the White Temple was waiting for us.
3rd stop: Wat Rong Khun AKA White Temple in Chiang Rai
The White Temple is breathtaking, one of the most beautiful temples in Chiang Rai and in Thailand, and as I expected it was crowded with visitors. Different from the previous temple, Wat Rong Khun is an artistic site where people go to admire the design and its art, not to pray. You still need to be respectful and dress modestly, but it’s more relaxed towards walking around, snapping photos and queueing for the so wanted Instagramable shot. Although, inside the temple itself you can’t take photos, which keeps it magical. You can only see how weirdly interesting the interior of the temple is if you travel to Chiang Rai. And trust me, the Chiang Rai White Temple is an experience to not be missed.
The White Temple is a mix of science fiction and Thai beliefs. There you will see statues and paintings of aliens, characters from Hollywood movies and Buddhas. It’s oddly beautiful. The hands rising from the ground in front of the temple represent hell, so you need to cross the bridge over the hands to arrive in heaven, the interior of the temple. That’s the meaning of Wat Rong Khun, a travel experience from the mundane to the nirvana.
One can easily spend hours exploring the White Temple, there are different shrines, a garden, and a golden toilet at the complex. The impressive golden bathroom was the fanciest toilet I have ever been to, the cubicle was clean and normal, but the building itself is art. A picture in front of it is another must for all the travelers visiting Chiang Rai.
Toilet photo snapped and Kiki announced the 4th stop of our Chiang Rai day tour, the so needed lunch break.
4th stop: The best Khao Soi in Chiang Rai
When I was booking the tour to Chiang Rai I told Kiki that Khao Soi is one of my favorite dishes in Thailand, so he promised to take me to a restaurant in Chiang Rai that serves the best Khao Soi in Northern Thailand.
Apart from tours, TakeMeTour also offers the Local Table Experiences, a gastronomic experience where you can visit a local expert house to try home-cooked dishes, or visit a local restaurant to taste traditional recipes. My Chiang Rai day trip was a combination of a tour and a Local Table Experience, and the result was a mouth-watering-cultural journey.
On the menu, we had a delicious Khao Soi – a coconut curry noodle soup with chicken, the Cha Pu Moo Yang – grilled pork sausage wrapped in Betel leaf, Pad Thai with shrimp, stir-fried Morning Glory, and fresh spring rolls. Everything was yummy, and, it was indeed the best Khao Soi I have ever tasted. Have a look at this Thai feast and my happy face on our Youtube video > Day trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
Satisfied from tummy to soul, it was time to grab an iced coffee and head to the 5th stop of our Chiang Rai day tour.
5th stop: Baan Dam Museum AKA Chiang Rai Black House
The Black House ou Baan Dam is a museum: a unique, beautiful and creepy one. The museum is spread throughout 15 houses and a huge garden, and everything there is part of the artist Thawan Duchenee private collection.
Be ready to see animals skins, old furniture, bones, and sacred images. Baan Dam is a dark place to visit in Chiang Rai, a fine line between the artistic and the grotesque. I was impressed by the elephant skeleton they have there, while other people were screaming because of the giant snakes. In a nutshell, you will find strange things for all tastes and fears. Chiang Rai Black House is not for the faint-hearted and if you feel you need a break from all the dead things, take a sit at the garden and enjoy beautiful living nature.
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After the Black House, it was time to visit another impressive temple in Chiang Rai and catch the sunset.
6th stop: Wat Rong Suae Ten AKA Blue Temple
Our day tour was almost in the end, and although my legs were tired I was still pumped with excitement to visit Chiang Rai Blue Temple. Different from the White Temple, this one was full of local tourists. I could see way more Thais than westerns visiting it, and that gave me the feeling I was stepping on another special attraction in Chiang Rai.
After visiting the temple I sat in front of the entrance to watch the sunset. We stayed there for a few minutes, admiring the sky turning orange, purple and then blue. That is what I called the perfect way to end our Chiang Rai tour.
What a day! We visited three of Chiang Rai top attractions, tasted local food and shared some laughs. The day tour to Chiang Rai is an experience that I will never forget, not only because of the stunning architecture and the incredible flavors, but also because it was a learning experience. I faced my fear of traveling alone without seeing a 100 %, I beat my own limitations with the support of a new friend. Not to mention the lesson I learned at the Wat Sang Kaew Phothiyan: “don’t worry too much and live the present”. Khob Khun Ka! Thanks Chiang Rai and Kiki for this awesome trip!
Travel tips to Chiang Rai and Thailand
By now you already know how to plan the perfect day trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and how to choose the best Chiang Rai tour, so let’s move on to other travel tips. Thailand is a big country and it’s hard to fit everything in just one trip, but you definitely need to visit Bangkok, so check out our guide for your first time in Bangkok and our list of unique things to do in BKK. Traveling to the Thai Islands? Read our guide to what to do in Phuket that doesn’t suck, things to do and where to stay in Koh Samui, and all you need to know about Krabi, Railay Beach, and Ao Nang. Heading south? Don’t forget to have a local experience at the lesser known but charming Hat Yai city.
Transportation: to get around Thailand at ease, you can fly, take trains, buses and boats. And to reach some destinations and islands, you might need to do a combination of them. To book bus, train and boat tickets online we use 12go Asia, a website that combines all types of transportation, so you can book and travel in Thailand at an easy and safe way.
Accommodation: in Thailand, you can find hostels, budget hotels, luxury resorts, and villas. To find the best place to stay in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or in any other destination in Thailand I recommend you to search and book your room on Booking.com or Agoda. They have the best prices and a wide range of properties.
Did you know you can rent a house, a chalet, or an apartment in Chiang Rai via Airbnb? Curious? Sign up here and get a discount on your first booking!
For this trip, I flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with Air Asia and stayed at The Mellow Pillow Hotel. A few steps from the South gate and old town, this lovely hotel is close to many attractions, temples and food markets. For more options of hotels in Chiang Mai click here.
Are you planning a day tour from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai? Don’t forget to book your local experience with TakeMeTour and have fun!
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