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  • Angela Mona

How to Experience the Best of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in One Week

If you want to explore the culture, nature, and adventure of northern Thailand, you can’t go wrong with visiting Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

These two cities are the former capitals of the Lanna kingdom, and they offer a wealth of attractions and activities for travelers of all interests and budgets.

In this post, we’ll show you how you can experience the best of both cities in one week.

  • Day 1: Arrive in Chiang Mai and Explore the Old City

Chiang Mai is the second-largest city in Thailand, but it has a laid-back and charming vibe that makes it a favorite among travelers.

The best way to get to know the city is by walking or cycling around the old city, where you can admire the ancient walls and moats that encircle it. Inside, you’ll find over 30 temples, each with its own style and history.

Some of the most impressive ones are:

  • Wat Phra Singh, which houses a revered Buddha image and intricately drawn murals

  • Wat Chedi Luang, which features a massive chedi (stupa) that was partially destroyed by an earthquake

  • Wat Phan Tao, which is made entirely of teak wood

You can also visit the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center, which showcases the traditions and lifestyles of the northern Thai people. In the evening, you can enjoy some street food and shopping at the Night Bazaar or one of the weekend markets.

  • Day 2: Visit Doi Suthep and Chiang Mai Night Safari

One of the most iconic landmarks of Chiang Mai is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple located on a hill overlooking the city. You can reach it by climbing 300 steps or taking a cable car. Once there, you’ll be rewarded with a golden pagoda, a holy relic of the Buddha, and a panoramic view of Chiang Mai.

After visiting the temple, you can also explore the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, where you’ll find waterfalls, forests, and wildlife. You can hike through the trails, visit the Hmong village, or try some adventure activities such as ziplining or ATV riding.

In the evening, you can visit the Chiang Mai Night Safari, a wildlife park that offers a nocturnal experience. You can hop on a tram and see animals such as lions, tigers, zebras, giraffes, and more. You can also watch animal shows, feed some animals, or dine at one of the restaurants.

  • Day 3: Day Trip to Doi Inthanon National Park

If you love nature and scenery, you won’t want to miss Doi Inthanon National Park, which is home to the highest mountain in Thailand.

The park is about an hour and a half drive from Chiang Mai, and it offers plenty of attractions and activities for visitors.

Some of the highlights of Doi Inthanon National Park are:

  • The waterfalls, such as Mae Ya Waterfall, Wachirathan Waterfall, and Sirithan Waterfall

  • The local villages, such as Ban Mae Klang Luang and Ban Sop Had

  • The summit of Doi Inthanon, where you’ll find a cloud forest and a shrine

  • The twin pagodas of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit

You can book a tour package that includes round-trip transportation, entrance fees, lunch, and a guide. Alternatively, you can rent a car or a motorbike and explore the park on your own.

  • Day 4: Travel from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

After spending three days in Chiang Mai, it’s time to head to Chiang Rai, another city in northern Thailand that has its own charm and attractions. The distance between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is about 200 km (124 miles), and there are several ways to travel between them.

The cheapest way is by bus, which costs around 200 baht (6 USD) per person and takes about 3 hours. You can catch a bus from Arcade Bus Station in Chiang Mai to Bus Terminal 2 in Chiang Rai.

The fastest way is by plane, which costs around 1,000 baht (30 USD) per person and takes about an hour. You can fly from Chiang Mai International Airport to Mae Fah Luang-Chiang Rai International Airport.

The most comfortable way is by private car or van, which costs around 3,000 baht (90 USD) per vehicle and takes about 3 hours. You can book a transfer service online or through your hotel.

Once you arrive in Chiang Rai, you can check in to your hotel and relax for the rest of the day. You can also explore the city center, where you’ll find some temples, museums, and markets.

  • Day 5: Visit Wat Rong Khun and Baan Dam

Chiang Rai is famous for its unique and unconventional temples, and two of the most popular ones are Wat Rong Khun and Baan Dam.

  • Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple, is a stunning temple that was designed by a local artist named Chalermchai Kositpipat. The temple is entirely white, with intricate details and sculptures that depict Buddhist teachings and modern issues. The temple is also full of surprises, such as a mural that features characters from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Matrix.

  • Baan Dam, also known as the Black House, is a complex of buildings that was created by another local artist named Thawan Duchanee. The buildings are mostly black, with dark and macabre decorations that include animal skins, bones, horns, and skulls. The complex is not a temple, but rather a museum and a studio that showcases the artist’s vision and style.

You can visit both Wat Rong Khun and Baan Dam in one day, as they are about 15 km (9 miles) apart. You can take a taxi or a songthaew (a shared pick-up truck) from Chiang Rai city to each attraction. Alternatively, you can rent a car or a motorbike and drive there on your own.

  • Day 6: Visit Mae Fah Luang and Try Some Khao Soi

Another attraction that you shouldn’t miss in Chiang Rai is Mae Fah Luang, a cultural park that displays the art and culture of the Lanna people. The park is located on a hillside, surrounded by beautiful gardens and views.

The main attraction of Mae Fah Luang is the Haw Kham (Golden Pavilion), which houses a collection of antiques and artifacts from the Lanna era. The pavilion was built with teak wood and gold leaf, and it has a distinctive Lanna architecture. You can also visit the Haw Kham Noi (Small Golden Pavilion), which has exquisite wood carvings on its walls.

After visiting Mae Fah Luang, you can head back to Chiang Rai city and try some khao soi, a signature dish of northern Thailand. Khao soi is a noodle soup that consists of crispy and soft egg noodles in a curry broth, topped with meat (usually chicken or beef) and condiments such as pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime juice, and chili oil. You can find khao soi at many restaurants and street stalls in Chiang Rai.

  • Day 7: Depart from Chiang Rai

On your last day in Chiang Rai, you can do some last-minute shopping or sightseeing before heading to the airport for your flight back home. You can buy some souvenirs such as handicrafts, silverware, or tea from the local markets or shops. You can also visit some other temples such as Wat Phra Kaew, which houses a replica of the Emerald Buddha; Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong, which has a sacred chedi (stupa) that dates back to the 10th century; or Wat Ming Muang, which has an elaborate facade with colorful tiles and mirrors.

You can take a taxi or a songthaew from Chiang Rai city to Mae Fah Luang-Chiang Rai International Airport, which is about 10 km (6 miles) away. The airport has domestic flights to Bangkok and other cities in Thailand, as well as international flights to China, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, and Vietnam.

We hope you enjoyed this itinerary for Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. These two cities are full of history, art.

xoxo, Angela & Lali, from Chasefortravel


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