Things to Do in Chiang Rai & Lots of Undiscovered Places
In the last year of living in Chiang Mai, we have made the 200km+ journey north to Chiang Rai 7 times, but it wasn’t until our last visit that we found lots of things to do in Chiang Rai that we previously knew nothing about.
We have visited Chiang Rai so much, mainly for visa runs, using it as a base to cross the border into Burma or taking family and friends when they visited us, to stop off for the night before heading on to different places. Yet it wasn’t until our last trip to the town that something magical happened.
The Chiang Rai we had always seen was merely just a town, a stop gap, a place to sleep after our visa run before heading home, had revealed a new side that was hidden in plain sight. Apart from the obvious Wat Rong Khun or the Black House, we thought there was nothing really special or eye catching to write home about. For us it was a place we ‘had’ to go to, for visa purposes, we never actually went there to explore Chiang Rai itself.
Hidden views of Chiang Rai
Most of the tourists headed up that way are booked onto a trek, maybe just glimpsing the town before setting off on their tour, maybe like us, not realizing all that Chiang Rai has to offer.
So what happened to change all that for us?
We had been asked to go up to Chiang Rai and stay in an Akha village to make a video for a tourist company. We spent 3 days in the village filming the area and it was then that we realized there was so much more to this place, a whole new world opened up to us and we began to see the under rated Chiang Rai in a gorgeous fresh light.
In the Akha village
On the last day in Chiang Rai we had filmed all we could for the video and so checked into a hotel and rented ourselves a motorbike. We wanted to get out there and see more of this place, a place we thought we knew, only to realize it had been concealing hidden gems of its own. Chiang Rai it seems only reveals its true beauty to those that want to see it.
It was like stepping into the wardrobe of Narnia, we had now been enticed further into the realms of the surrounding mountains.
Chiang Rai’s secrets began to spill out as soon as we ventured off the main roads and out of town.
Wat Huay Pla Kung
Our first discovery was Wat Huay Pla Kung, a Chinese styled temple west of the city, surrounded by hills. 9 stories high, you can walk right to the top of the temple for a delightful view.
Huay Mae Sai village
Another of our findings was Huay Mae Sai village, not to be confused with the town of Mae Sai on the Burmese border, is a small village in the hillside, 30km west of town.
Children running in the streets of Huay Mae Sai
Click photo for map of Huay Mae Sai village
The far side of the village leads to an Akha hill tribe village named Baan Apa. There is no obvious reason for tourists to go to Huay Mae Sai, there are a couple of small shops, a school and a few churches, but that is what is so special about it. We sat outside one of the little village shops after picking out ice creams from the fridge and watched real rural life go on around us.
Slightly further along, Banyafu is a Lahu hill tribe village near to Huay Mae Sai, it is not set up for tourism and is an actual local village.
Village house complete with dog
Click photo for map of Banyafu Village
For me, stepping foot into the village was like being transported into a story book. The almost surreal surroundings made me feel I was no longer in Thailand but in an entirely different world completely.
Me in Banyafu Lahu village
You can get to Banyafu with your own transport, but you have to do some serious off roading.
Off roading territory!
Alternatively, ask at the Akha Lodge in Mae Sai village. The French owner of the guesthouse, Eric, can arrange a guided days trek with an English speaking guide and you can also sleep overnight in the Lahu tribe village if you wish. Click Here for map of Akha Lodge.
Doi Bo view point
One of my favorite places we found is Doi Bo view point. It can be reached on the same road as the Banyafu village from Huay Mae Sai. I don’t recommend trying to get up the road if it has been raining or without a good 4 wheel drive vehicle unless you are a very skilled driver!
Doi Bo view point offers wonderful views across the surrounding land and is very peaceful and scenic, great place for a picnic.
Jmayel taking in the view
Huay Mae Sai waterfall
Next up we came to Huay Mae Sai waterfall. It was not the biggest or best waterfall we have seen, but a waterfall none the less.
Jmayel cooling off in the waterfall
Click photo for map of Huay Mae Sai Waterfall
Devoid of people and groups of tourists like most of the other waterfalls we have been to, made this place top of the list. The place was ours and with a pool to swim in and plenty of rocks to sit on, this waterfall was a great place to chill out and find some peace.
There is a car park where a path leads a short walk up towards the waterfall.
Doi In Cee
Doi In Cee, a deserted and out of the way temple on top of a hill was Jmayel’s favorite find. The 700 steps leading up to the temple provide a good workout for your glutes before rewarding you with a stunning view of Chiang Rai from the top!
Tackling the stairs!
Click photo for map of Doi In Cee
If stairs aren’t your thing you can get all the way to the top by car/bike, but the road is very steep.
When we turned up there were a handful of monks wandering around, one came over to talk to us as he was surprised we were there.
Jmayel chatting to one of the Doi In Cee Monks
Not many tourists make the trip and he couldn’t believe that we had actually found it. We are very glad that we did!
Me enjoying the view at the top
Doy Din Dang pottery
On the way back into town we came across Doy Din Dang pottery. A small pottery village where you can watch the workmen creating the ceramics.
There are 2 shops where you can purchase some really lovely pottery, one of which is the discount shop, home to all those pots and plates with slight defects.
An art gallery and coffee shop make up the cluster of buildings and of course we enjoyed a coffee before perusing the shops.
I picked out 2 rustic looking mugs with 2 matching saucers and bowl from the discount shop, a bargain at 250 baht for everything. A bit of a pot geek myself, I really loved it there and will be going back to purchase some bigger items to send home. Keep in mind that Doy Din Dang Pottery is closed on Sundays.
Potters at work
Our day of exploring Chiang Rai was a big success and we had a very enjoyable time, I can’t believe we had missed out on so much on all our previous visits.
Chiang Rai is not to be underestimated. It’s not just a place to go trekking or sleep after doing the mandatory visa runs.
It’s a beautiful area, full of deserted sights and places not frequented by tour buses, temples, authentic hill tribe villages and some of the best scenery we have seen.
Scenic Chiang Rai
For those thinking of heading north on a trip to Thailand, a couple of days in Chiang Rai should not be missed out on. Don’t be guilty of skimming over it like we did for so long. It’s all there, just waiting to be discovered. Go discover it!
Pet Friendly Hotels in Chiang Rai:
Sacha El-Haj – 8 Miles from Home