I feel if I’d have known that the major tourist sights weren’t in central Chiang Rai then I definitely wouldn’t have come here (better do more research next time..oops). The hot springs, waterfalls, black house etc all looked amazing but I don’t have a scooter or feel comfortable riding one just yet, and my budget simply doesn’t allow for excursions to these places.
So when you’ve got a small budget, what is there to actually do this time of year in central Chiang Rai? Well I’ll tell you!- not ones to sit around, Joe and I have been trying everything to occupy ourselves these past 2 days, otherwise we’d be moping around wishing we were elsewhere (note to self- don’t book more than 1 night in a hostel, just in case).
1. Hire bicycles
The roads in Chiang Rai are actually pretty flat, and are the least crazy Thai roads I’ve seen so far. Once you ride 10-15 minutes out of the centre there are some breathtaking places you can find yourself in and it actually feels really urban. I’d recommend heading towards the Buddha cave for some really amazing sights, or even check out the Chiang Mai cycling routes.
Check with your hostel or hotel for best places to rent a bike- and make sure there are no nasties in your contract if you have to sign one. You don’t want to be paying an arm and a leg for a broken bike that was broken in the first place. We got our bikes from Mercy Hostel which is also where we’re staying, they set us back 60 BHT each (approx £1.35). Plus there was no contract in sight- happy days!
2. Go to the Night Bazaar
Okay, so is this market anywhere near as good as the one in Chiang Mai? Of course not, BUT it’s still a great way to pass some time, plus who doesn’t love a good bargain? Head over to the night bazaar for local clothing, art, crafts and food. They also have a night restaurant that also looks pretty cool- would be cooler if they sold vegan food but hey, can’t win them all.
3. Go to the Beach
You may be thinking…’did she just say beach? in Chiang Rai which is as inland as you can get?!’ hell yes I did! The beach is overlooking a river rather than the sea, but it has some really beautiful views of mountains, cliff sides and forests it would be foolish not to check it out. This only took us 20 minutes to get there from our hostel on a bicycle but it would be a nice walk as well.
I’d recommend looking out for a small clearing before you get to the main beach. It’s much quieter, and has much better views.
4. Visit the flower festival
The flower festival is in Chiang Rai is only on for a short period of time, but I am told that it frequents this city more than once a year, so it’s definitely something to look out for.
This festival showcases the most beautiful flower displays, and I kid you not- it smells incredible! I’ve got to admit, I really like flowers, but I’ve never seen any that actually smell, well of anything really. But this place really does smell gorgeous, it’s the first thing I noticed when I got here.
This place is open all day, but I’d recommend going during the evening when it’s all lit up, it makes the experience so much sweeter. Plus it’s free entry- wohoo!
5. Go to a Cat Cafe
Everyone loves cats… and if you don’t- you’re a monster, get off my blog! But seriously, Cat ‘n’ a Cup cafe is slap bang in the center of Chiang Rai and it’s a perfect way to spend an afternoon. The atmosphere is very chilled, the music is great and the drinks are fab too, what’s not to love? You also don’t have to go near a cat if you don’t have to, the cats pretty much do their own thing the whole time; unless of course you buy a cat treat and then they will swarm you-be warned!
The cafe is open 8am-10pm, except on Tuesday’s when it opens at 1pm. I’d recommend going in the morning as it can get really crowded in the afternoon. A regular coffee is 50 BHT (just over £1) which is a little more than you can buy from a street vendor; but you can sit and play with cats for as long as you want, so who cares?
6. Go see the clock tower
What’s so special about a clock tower you may ask? Well, not only was it designed and built by the artist who created the White temple, it has a really cool light show in the evening. The show last for approx. 10 minutes and happens at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm. Just trust me on this one, you don’t want to miss it. This is the sassiest clock I have ever seen (not a word I would usually use to describe a clock). You can see it in the day time too; it is really beautiful and the detail is amazing, but you’re not going to spend more than 2 minutes looking at it.
So there you have it- 6 things to do for free (ish) in central Chiang Rai, which in my opinion are so much better than doing the touristy things anyway. This way you get to explore the city yourself and claim it for your own. Chiang Rai really hasn’t been my favourite place, and I wouldn’t recommend a stay here personally; but it does make a great layover on the way to Myanmar or Laos. So if you do stay here, save as much money as possible by doing the above 6 things- they’ll make your trip great- trust me!
**All photos taken by Joe, as I was too busy moping this entire trip