Chiang Mai is a very popular getaway for Bangkokians, it being only a one-hour flight and with several flights leaving Bangkok a day—you could even do a day trip. But for neighboring Chiang Rai only a three-hour drive away (or with 10 minutes on your flight time from Bangkok) is an underrated town worth checking out for your next northern excursion.
The difference between traveling north and somewhere like, say, Phuket, is the much cheaper price. You can stay at a five-star resort in Chiang Rai for a quarter of the price of Bangkok. Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort offers a 53-sqm room for B4,000 per night, which comes with a giant bathtub, a shower, and breakfast for two.
On their 26-rai property on Kok River, there’s the Favola Italian restaurant, which serves pasta on twice the portions you’d find in Bangkok. Try their brie cheese bruschetta served with honey, pomegranate and rocket salad (B290) and the spaghetti puttanesca (B400).
For such a small, quiet town, Chiang Rai is full of talented artists to fill up your sightseeing time. The most famous destination is Wat Rong Khun, or the white temple. Considering how hyped this temple is, we thought it was going to be an overrated tourist trap, but it turned out to be quite breathtaking. The details and anachronistic touches are stunning. The temple was designed by one of Thailand’s OG artists, Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, and in the same compound, there’s an art gallery dedicated to his best work from when he was 14—also a must-see.
Wat Rong Khun is located on the way to Singha Park, so after this stop, you can travel there. For getting around you can use Grab and, thanks to it being up north, the prices are just as friendly as the hotels. A 30-minute car ride with no traffic sets you back less than B200.
You could easily spend a couple of hours at Singha Park (B50 entry fee). Rent a golf cart (B600 for two people/two hours) and drive around, and stop by to feed the farm animals along the way.
A must-visit and our favorite art site has to be the Baan Dam (Black House) Museum (B80 entry fee), by another amazing Thai OG artist, Ajarn Thawan Duchanee. This place will make you feel so goth. It’s scary, it’s chilly, but it’s also so intriguing. Spend a day hanging out in all the animals’ ruins here and you’ll come out feeling weirded out but good.
Now that we’ve covered white and black, check out blue, the Blue Temple—Wat Rong Suea Ten—designed by Puttha Kabkaew who was the student of Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat and only officially completed in 2016.
For places to eat, head to this super local tom luad moo (pork blood soup) place, Saharodh, for breakfast. A big bowl of soup and rice are B110. For lunch, head to Tongtae boat noodles and grab the wagyu ribeye noodles for B150.
Return flights start at B1,785 via Nok Air.