Chiang Mai VS Chiang Rai – What is the difference?

Expat Community –

               There is a huge difference in the size
of expat communities between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Chiang Mai has been the
‘digital nomads’ hub of the north for a very long time, and before that, the
original settling place for Bangkokians and foreigners seeking the quieter
scenes of North Thailand. As a result Chiang Mai’s expat community is much
bigger and better connected. There are even certain condos in the old city that
are well known gathering points for bloggers first arriving to begin their
lives as expats.

Chiang Mai there is a healthy selection of hobby gatherings and interest groups
ranging from cycling, yoga and fitness workout groups to name just a fraction. Even
on facebook there are dozens of groups set up to help expats who don’t speak or
read Thai to stay abreast of the best restaurants, where to buy vehicles and sell
second hand items between each other.

Rai has a long way to go to catch up in this respect. As far as we know there
is only one expat community facebook page set up to help dwellers to stay
connected. And amusingly, we set it up before we moved here so that it would be
easier to see if any other English speakers were selling household items.

               As a
general observation, even in the most central parts of town, Chiang Rai has a
much smaller expat presence. 

If you walk the streets of Chiang Mai in some
areas it feels like 50% of the human traffic are westerners. So if you are
looking for a strong expat community and want to build lots of western bonds
here in Thailand, Chiang Mai is the place to be.


Religion and Temples-

Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, there is a very heavy Christian influence
in Chiang Rai. Quite a high percentage of foreigners and even Thai’s up here
are missionaries or just go to church regularly to worship. Even the hill
tribes in the surrounding villages are more likely to have several basic churches
and no Wat’s or Temples at all. The village where we live has an Akha Hill
Tribe Christian Foundation that is run by our landlady’s family. The churches here
in Chiang Rai aren’t like the extravagant stone structures that we are used to
in the UK. They are often very basic wood structures used for worship and
teaching. Obviously there are still quite a few temples around but not as many
as Chiang Mai.

Mai is home to over 300 temples and despite your best efforts it is very
unlikely that you will see them all. Also a lot of them are very similar to
each other so it might feel like a bit of a worthless task anyway.


Driving in Chiang Mai VS Chiang Rai-

around the old city moat in Chiang Mai requires a much greater deal of concentration
than inside the centre of Chiang Rai. Chiang Mai is a busier city with a faster
and more complicated traffic flow. The way the moat roads have been designed is
rather unorthodox, and if you are not a confident adaptive driver it may be a
little confusing at first.

Rai city is a slower quieter place with a common road system, there are very
few one-way streets and the layout of town is quiet simple to get your head
around. With the exception of the round-about around the famous gold clock
tower monument where we have witnessed a few confused drivers collide into each
other. Round-abouts are very rare in Thailand so it looks like Thai drivers
have no clue who has to give way when they arrive at the junctions.

of the cities driving in both provinces is the same, quite laid back and easy
going. We feel safe and at ease driving here in Thailand. Although many
disagree with us.


Food Scene-

Rai and Chiang Mai both have a very good food scene with an amazing diversity
of restaurants and street food vendors. But without a doubt Chiang Mai is the
clear winner for the shear amount of great cafes and trendy places to eat. This
is likely to do with the fact that many modern Thai’s who have left the hustle
and bustle of Bangkok to settle in Chiang Mai have brought the capital city food
scene with them. Fusion cuisine is everywhere and new stuff is popping up every

Rai is slowly following suit in this regard. In the same way that Bangkokians
left Bangkok for a quieter life, now some Chiang Mai citizens feel the same way
about Chiang Mai and are heading even further north for a quieter life. As a
result Chiang Rai is fast developing and in the 12 months that we have lived
there the fusion food scene has expanded greatly. Although if you are a Vegan
there are a lot more Vegan restaurants in Chiang Mai right now.

Aircraft Noise-

of the layout of Chiang Mai city and its airport location you tend to get a lot
more aircraft noise at home and around town. In our old Chiang Mai home we had
to endure the constant coming and goings of jumbo jets on a direct flight path
over our house. We also looked at a few other properties around the city and found
that many of them had the same problem.

Rai’s airport is much further out of town so we rarely hear any aircraft noise.
Also because the air traffic to Chiang Rai is less than Chiang Mai you don’t
even often see the planes in the sky.

Rimping International Supermarket-

expat that has spent a lengthy period of time in Chiang Mai would have heard of
Rimping Stores. This amazing chain is the go to place for all specialist
imported products and it can ONLY be found in Chiang Mai. They don’t even have
them in Bangkok. So whenever we are in Chiang Mai we pay a visit to one of the
branches and enjoy the amazing goodies that they have on sale. Chiang Rai only
has a store called Tops which is the equivalent of Waitrose in the UK, but it
doesn’t compare to the superior Rimping Stores.


Grocery Prices-

               We have
noticed that grocery prices are a fraction higher in Chiang Rai, probably due
to logistics. But the difference really is fractional so it hasn’t been a major


LPG and Petrol Prices-

seems to be a fraction Cheaper in Chiang Rai. We are unsure why; perhaps there
is an oil well closer to the Chiang Rai province.


Cinemas and Shopping

Mai is the clear winner for a superior shopping experience. With four massive
modern Malls, 3 of which are almost brand new plus one more dated Thai style
market Mall totaling 5 Malls around the city. Well known International brand
representation is apparent in these establishments, but the main advantage that
we benefit from is the Cinemas. IMAX, 4D, amazing sound systems and plenty of
screens multiplied by 5 means that the amount of films being shown in English
is much higher and the ticket prices are cheaper, around 120THB per adult.

Rai has one Mall and two cinemas, one in the Central Plaza Mall and one in a
supermarket across the road. The cinema at the supermarket only ever plays Thai
films and the Central Plaza has few screens so the English blockbusters that
they do play only last for a few days before being replaced with Thai dubs.
Ticket prices are about 160 THB per adult.

Internet Speed and Prices-

is actually no difference here as long as you live in the city or near to it. Fast
broadband and Fibre optic connections are available equally in Chiang Mai and
Chiang Rai. The only issue applies when you live far away from the fibre optic
cable connections of the city, for example on the rural farm where we live in
Chiang Rai we can receive fast download speeds but the cables can’t support
fast Upload speeds. So even if we paid for a 30mbps Download/ 3mbps Upload
connection, we would only get 30 Down /0.5 up. So it would be a waste of money.


Nature and Location-

               This is
where Chiang Rai really shines through. If you are looking for a peaceful quiet
home surrounded by real nature, but still be acceptably connected to the civilized
world by distance, technology and amenities, Chiang Rai is a top contender. The
one thing we notice about this place is that despite being a modern urban city,
the mountains and rural areas are so much closer to town. In 5 minutes from the
centre of town you can feel like you have been transported to a lost world in
the middle of nowhere. It is quite an amazing feeling.

same thing can be said for Chiang Mai as well, but the distance you would have to
travel from the centre of town is much greater. We found that if we wanted to
feel totally lost in the full Thailand experience in Chiang Mai we would have
to drive at least 45 minutes to 1 hour from town. Living on the Banana farm in
Chiang Rai, we quickly realised that that was what we were looking for all
along when we moved to North Thailand. We don’t feel a strong need to be
connected to the expat community and feel quite content with each other’s
company, so living out on a farm so close to nature has been a life changing
experience for us.

If you found these videos and post useful you might also enjoy our Cost Of Living in Chiang Mai Video


And also The Cost Of Living in CHIANG RAI

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*Other Useful information

Pet Friendly Hotels in other parts of Thailand? – Looking for Pet Friendly Hotels in other parts of Thailand?
Bringing a dog to Thailand – The ins and outs of Exporting a dog from the UK to Thailand.
Info we have categorized under Pets – Other Posts Related to Edens Dog Life in Thailand. Including cute dog videos and some Pet Friendly Hotel reviews too.


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Jmayel, Sacha & Eden El-Haj

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