We were in Chiang Rai for less than five hours before we decided that we had to extend our planned stay here. We had originally only planned to be here for three nights, but after a quick walk through the night bazaar, a dinner in a lively street market and the cheapest patio beers we’ve come across in Thailand, we decided that we’d want to spend New Year’s Eve in Chiang Rai. I can’t wait to share pictures, because I think it’s going to be pretty incredible.
It’s also going to be where we’re spending my birthday! My friends and family will tell you that I’m really into my birthday. I usually wear a crown if possible and throw a party called Sparklefest where I make my friends wear sparkly outfits and do things like get hammed at dive bars or make brunch. This year, I didn’t really plan anything and assumed I’d have a relatively chill day since I can’t play hostess. But once we got here, I immediately came up with a full day’s itinerary which I’m super excited about it!
Chiang Rai actually isn’t that cool or bumping of a town. It’s a small town, three hours from Chiang Mai (we took the Greenbus VIP service from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai), which is another slightly-less-small town about eight hours from Bangkok (although we took the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai).
Chiang Rai has markets and street food and restaurants and bars, just like Chiang Mai. But unlike Chiang Mai, it’s incredibly walkable and has a much more endearing identity. It’s also about 10% cheaper than Chiang Mai, which was nice because we expected Chiang Mai to be cheaper than Bangkok (it wasn’t), so it was nice to have a little price break (this is all relative though, everything in Thailand is cheap on US standards).
We’ve got a few fun things planned while we’re here, but are enjoying the pace of Southeast Asia. Most places we’ve been to so far have things to do, but aren’t jam-packed with all-day activities. We’ve settled into a nice routine of spending our mornings exploring the killer coffee scene here while we get some work done, enjoying the temples and markets in the afternoon and early evening, and then taking full advantage of the cheap and delicious street food.
Initial Reactions on Chiang Rai
- Touristy but not overwhelming. I’m certainly not going to tell you that we “discovered” Chiang Rai. It’s hit by tons of backpackers making their way across Southeast Asia. But it’s noticeably a tier-two city, so it’s not as jam-packed as Chiang Mai. The night bazaar is bustling, but you can still make your way into the stalls to actually browse and shop. The food market is full of people, but you can still find a table. It’s a perfect balance of busy and accessible. I like it!
- It’s super cute. There are not a ton of bars and restaurants, but every single one of them is adorable. There’s a lot of hipster vibes, patio seating, and white lights (which make everything better). Every bar and restaurant we passed I wanted to go to, and I flagged about five coffee shops just on our 10 minute walk home. This comes back to my comment about it being walkable. There’s probably not more cute places in Chiang Rai than Chiang Mai, but it feels like there is because they’re all so close together.
What you need to know:
- Population: 70,000
- Altitude: 390 meters
- Exchange Rate: 32.61 Thai Baht to $1 USD
- Primary Language: Thai
- Walking Tour: None, sadly.
- Time Zone: Indochina Time Zone, UTC +7 (13 hours ahead of US Central Time)
- Taxi: Yes, but also Tuk-Tuks, which are like motorized pedicab taxis, and Songthaews (think Uber pool, but you can hail one down on the street)
- Uber: Yes,
- Public Transit: Busses
- Emergency Number: 191 or 1155 for Tourist Police
- Running: None! Resting after running the Chiang Mai Marathon a few days ago.
- American Football: Football in Asia isn’t really fun to track because of the time difference. We can only catch the nights games in the morning our time, so we can’t really watch them at bars.
- Starbucks: Yes, but just one and it’s not walking distance from us.
- Local Starbucks Specialty: Vanilla Nougat Latte (I didn’t love it, actually)
- McDonald’s Veggie Burger: No, and I was really surprised by that given the number of Buddhists here.
- Coffee Price:
- Beer Price: A large Chang (local Thai beer) will cost you around 80 Thai Baht (~$2.50 USD) at a restaurant or bar.
Besides New Year’s Eve, we’re also planning a visit to the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) just outside Chiang Rai. From Chiang Rai, we’ll be heading to Chiang Khong by bus, and then crossing the border from Chiang Khong, Thailand to Huay Xai, Laos.