Located in Northern Thailand and part of the well-known Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai is a town with a distinct spiritual vibe. A city with a rich past, Chiang Rai’s history can be traced back to the 13th century, when it was the capital of the Mangrai Dynasty. In fact, Chiang Rai translates to the City of Rai. While often overlooked in favor of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai has a delightfully laid back and un-touristy (which we love) charm about it! With trips to the Golden Triangle and tea plantations and treks to hill tribe villages, caves, and waterfalls to embark upon, there’s plenty to do in the city. But, Chiang Rai’s claim to fame is its breathtakingly beautiful temples, each unique with fascinating legends and stories attached to them. With that mind, we thought that we’d count them down in this; our guide to the best Chiang Rai temples!
Top Chiang Rai Temples to visit
With over 1000 temples, deciding which ones to visit can be pretty confusing. Here is our list of the best temples in Chiang Rai.
- Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)
- Baan Dam (Black Temple)
- Wat Rong Suea Ten (Blue Temple)
- Wat Huay Pla Kang
- Wat Phra Kaew
- Wat Phra Thai Doi Chom Thong
- Wat Phra That Chom Kitti
- Wat Klang Wiang
- Wat Phra Singh
- Wat Phra That Chedi Luang
Want to save them into a handy map? We’ve got a full Google Map further down this piece, so just scroll on down…!
Wat Rong Khun
Popularly known as the White Temple, this is probably the most iconic of all the temples in Chiang Rai and a must-visit on every Thailand itinerary. The brainchild of artist Chalermchai Kositpopat and conceived as an offering to Lord Buddha, the structure is, in fact, an art exhibit. The Wat Rong Khun appears positively ethereal with an all-white facade and set against a blue sky, its reflection equally mesmerizing in the pond in front.
You will appreciate the beauty of the temple even more when you understand the thought and symbolism behind the structures. The main structure, or Ubosot, can be reached after crossing a bridge representing the cycle of rebirth. On either side of the bridge are sculptures of hundreds of outreaching hands, a reflection of man’s greed. It points out to one of Buddhism’s central tenets, that desire is the cause of suffering.
Once you cross the bridge, the Gates of Heaven welcomes you to the main structure that is part traditional and part pop culture. The temple’s interiors might leave you a tad confused — a golden statue of the Buddha occupies center stage with murals of Michael Jackson, superheroes, the burning twin towers, and even Neo from The Matrix adorning the walls. See if you can spot George Bush and Osama Bin Laden hitching a ride together on a nuclear missile through space!
While there, do visit the restrooms (yes, you heard that right!). Done up in gold and symbolic of man’s obsession with worldly desires and money, they are hard to miss. Before you leave, purchase a leaf, write out a wish and hang it on the Wishing Tree, located outside the meditation hall. The Chalermchai Kositpipat gallery, located next door, is worth a visit too.
Visitor information: The Wat Rong Khun is located 13 km south of the city center and can be reached by bus, taxi, songtaew, or by renting a motorcycle. Visiting hours are 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays, and 8 am to 5.30 pm on weekends. The entry fee for foreigners is 100 Baht.
Address: 60 หมู่ที่ 1 Phahonyothin Rd, Pa O Don Chai, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000
Head to the temple early for the best pictures and if you want to avoid the crowds.
While not in any sense a temple, the Baan Dam or Black House, as it is popularly called, is often mentioned in conjunction with the White Temple due to the stark contrast in appearance and theme. Created by Thawan Duchanee, a student of Chalermchai Kositpipat, Black House is the award-winning artist’s interpretation of hell.
The main building is a wooden structure with a black tiered roof and metal structures jutting out into the sky that lends it an unmistakably spooky air. And as if that wasn’t enough, a tour of the grounds will reveal a remarkable collection of dead animals – skulls, skin, bones, teeth, and all! This one is not for the faint of heart!
Visitor information: The Baan Dam is located less than half an hour from the Central Clock Tower. Entry is free and the grounds are open every day from 9 am to 5 pm.
Address: 333 หมู่ 13 พิพิธภัณฑ์บ้านดำ Nang Lae, อำเภอเมือง Chiang Rai 57100
Wat Rong Suea Ten
Just for its visual appeal, the Wat Rong Suea Ten or the Blue Temple gets our vote as one of the best temples in Chiang Rai, and definitely one of the best landmarks in Thailand. With its mix of striking blue and gold, the temple paints a pretty picture. Fierce-looking dragons welcome you to the impressive main structure that is done up painstakingly in gold.
Inside, a massive white porcelain Buddha sits in a cerulean blue room, reminiscent of a blue ocean, its lustrous glow lending the entire space a surreal and otherworldly feel. The artistry displayed in the room is nothing short of spectacular. The walls and ceiling are covered with intricate artwork – traditional Buddhist patterns and motifs and scenes for the life of Lord Buddha.
Don’t miss out on the statue of the standing Buddha, his face radiating peace and his hands in Abhaya Mudra (a sign of benevolence) at the back of the temple.
A relatively new structure, the Blue Temple is not as famous as some others, but due to its Instagram fame, you’ll still find people thronging to this beautiful temple.
Pro Tip: If you’re up for a delicious dining experience, a short walk away is Chivit Thama Da, a beautiful colonial restaurant perched on the water’s edge of the River Kok. Go for afternoon tea, or a bit of cake. We sat on the veranda and gorged ourselves on delicious daytime cocktails, before a round of snooker (totally free!) in the library upstairs.
Visitor information: There are no buses to the Blue Temple, but you could easily take a tuk-tuk or rent your own car. Entry is free, and the temple is open from 7 am to 8 pm every day. Combine a visit to the Blue Temple with a trip to the Black House.
Address: 306 หมู่ที่ 2 Maekok Rd, Tambon Rim Kok, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57100, Thailand
Wat Huay Pla Kang
A unique aspect of Wat Huay Pla Kang is its architecture, a mix of Thai Lanna and Chinese styles. But what we love most about this temple is its location – perched high on a mountain top that affords gorgeous views of the greenery that surrounds it. Combined with the fact that we had the temple almost to ourselves made the experience even better.
This temple is primarily known for its 90-meter tall statue of Guanyin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, often mistakenly thought to be the Buddha. Take the elevator to the top for lovely panoramas of the forests, mountains, and Chiang Rai town.
It’s easy to spot the Chinese influences in the temple – the use of reds, golds, and yellow and, of course, the two Chinese-style dragons that guard the stairs that lead you to the main 9-stories pagoda. Climb the stairway to the top of the pagoda. Each floor is decorated with statues of the Buddha, Guanyin, and other wooden carvings. The view from the top is totally worth the climb.
The only Thai-style structure is the temple or assembly hall, known as the viharn. The all-white structure has intricate carvings all over and looks breathtaking against a setting sun.
Visitor information: The temple is open daily from 7 am to 9.30 pm. Entry is free though there is a 40 Baht fee for taking the Guanyin statue elevator (trust us though – it’s not totally worth it). The temple is about 8 km north of the city center and can be reached by tuk-tuk or songthaew.
Address: 553 Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57100
Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew’s claim to fame is the fact that it was here that the sacred Emerald Buddha was discovered. This statue is the most revered Buddha statue in all of Thailand and was moved to the Wat Phra Kaew temple in the Grand Palace in Bangkok many years ago. A replica of the Emerald Buddha called the Phra Yok Chiang Rai and just 0.1 cm shorter than the original statue now sits in this temple.
The story behind how the emerald Buddha was found is in itself an interesting one. According to legend, a bolt of lightning struck the temple’s chedi or stupa in 1434, breaking it to reveal the Emerald Buddha (actually made of Jade). The original statue was then moved from Chiang Rai to Lampang to Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang in Laos before being brought back to Thailand.
The Wat Phra Kaew is the oldest temple in Chiang Rai and built in a traditional Lanna style. The temple is also the home of one of the most beautiful Buddha images in all of Thailand – a 700-year-old bronze statue of the Phra Jao Lan Thong. There is also a museum that displays artwork and artifacts from the Lanna era.
Visitor information: The temple is located on Trirat Road and can be reached by tuk-tuk or by renting a vehicle. Entry is free, and the temple grounds are open from 7 am to 6 pm. The museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
Address: 19 หมู่ที่ 1 Trairat Rd, Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000
Not sure how to get around on your temple hopping tour, we found that getting a tour guide for the day was the easiest way to see all the must-visit spots in Chiang Rai. Check out this option from Get Your Guide.
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Other notable Chiang Rai temples to visit
The Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong is one of the oldest temples in the region and is located on the banks of the Kok River. The Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong is another remarkable temple with a rich history.
Famous for its crooked pagoda, the Wat Phra That Chom Kitti is known for its Chiang Saen style architecture and splendid hilltop location.
The Wat Klang Wiang is one of the most beautiful temples of the region in terms of design and decorations. The Wat Phra Singh is another beautiful temple located in the old city centre. It enshrines the Phra Buddha Sihing, a statue of great significance to Buddhists.
Still want more? You could try Wat Ming Muang, which was originally abandoned but then rebuilt in 1984, or Wat Jed Yod, which is purported to be a copy of the Mahabodhi temple in India.
Recommended Reading: 100+ Thailand quotes and captions
Chiang Rai Temples Map
Need a bit of a guide to get around? Here’s our handy Google map with all the temples marked!
Other great things to do in Chiang Rai
If you’ve really made your way around all the temples in Chiang Rai, perhaps you’re looking for something a little different beyond the ‘Wats’? We liked the Huay Mae Sai Waterfall and the Hot Springs but some other great options of other activities in the city include:
It’s open every night making this night market one of the more convenient markets that we visited in Thailand. To be honest, it’s pretty par for the night market course in Thailand – the usual food on offer, touristy wares and souvenirs but since it’s near the centre of Chiang Rai, it’s an easy option to visit.
Open: Daily from 6pm to 11pm
Address: Phaholyothin Rd, Chiang Rai
Thailand (and particularly nearby Chiang Mai) is well known for it’s cat cafes which, as the name suggests, is a café full of cats! We really liked the one in Chiang Rai – Cat ‘n Cup – for having real respect for the furry friends roaming around. This wasn’t a place where you took squirming kitties for selfies but, instead, was a natural experience where the cats could decide if they wanted to come to your table…
Open: Daily 11.30am to 10.00pm
Address: 596/7 Phaholyothin Rd, Chang Wat Chiang Rai 57000
Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park
Part of the Doi Tung Development Project, this park is a huge landscaped garden complete with an impressive museum. Actually, the museum boasts the world’s largest collection of Lanna artifacts, a culture characterizing people in northern Thailand, as well as China, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos. While there, make sure to snap a few photos at the Haw Kham (Golden Pavilion), a beautiful pavilion with a wooden tiled roof.
Open: 08:30am to 05:00pm daily (closed Mondays)
Address: 313 หมู่ที่ 7 บ้าน Pa Ngew, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000
Day trips from Chiang Rai
One of the most popular day trips from Chiang Rai, a Golden Triangle tour takes you into Myanmar and gives you an insight into the history of this region that was once the largest opium-producing area of the world. You’ll get the chance to explore a Burmese village and a few Burmese temples. Depending on your tour itinerary, you can even sign up for a Mekong River cruise.
Visiting the hill tribes of the region
The northern part of Chiang Rai province is known for its mountain terrain and hill tribes. Many of these tribes live near the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos and still retain much of their traditional style of living. A fairly un-touristy thing to do, you will get the chance to visit some of these villages (usually the Karen, Akha, Yao, and Shan villages) and interact with the locals.
Tea plantation visit
Owing to its mountainous landscape and mild temperatures, Chiang Rai and its surrounding regions produce some of the best tea in Thailand. A day trip to Wawee Tea Plantation, 101 Tea Plantation, or Choui Fong Tea Plantation will let you appreciate the process or, rather, the art of tea making. The fact that you can sip on the freshest tea while gazing at rows and rows of tea shrubs makes the entire journey worth it.
Phu Chi Fa
A 2-hour ride from Chiang Rai will take you to one of the best-kept secrets of the region; one of the hidden gems of Thailand. Known for its sublime sunrises, a trek to the top takes you above the clouds, a sight known locally as the Sea of Mist. If conditions are right you can see all the way into Laos.
How to get to Chiang Rai
From Chiang Mai
You can take a bus or hire a private taxi from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. Since Chiang Rai is only 3-4 hours from Chiang Mai, it’s a popular day trip.
The distance between Bangkok and Chiang Rai is around 820 km. You could take a car, a minivan or travel by plane. Chiang Rai’s airport, Mae Fah Luang-Chiang Rai International Airport, is served by Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, AirAsia, and China Eastern Airlines.
About 6 hours from Chiang Rai, this is quite a popular route. The best way to get there is a minibus, usually the best one departs at 7am.
Where to Stay in Chiang Rai
Luxury: How about a decadent hotel nestled on an island in the Kok river? About 2km out of Chiang Rai is The Riverie which is the perfect place to splash some cash – the views are to die for!
Mid-range: Okay so it might be a touch out of Chiang Rai town but, for us, the Bura Resort is a must! We stayed at this eco resort and it was incredible – each chalet has its own waterfall! The place is beautiful, the staff are wonderful and it’s worth the ride into town for the tranquility of it all.
Budget: If you’re keen on a brilliant hostel in Chiang Rai then Mercy Hostel is your pick. Dorms plus private rooms but all of them with wifi, airconditioning and a fabulous swimming pool to beat the Thailand heat.
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