Chiang Rai with kids

Chiang Rai… Chiang Mai?!? What’s the difference??  I mean both are big towns with lots of temples but Chiang Rai showed a little more of authentic Thailand for me. And was less tunneled towards the tourist market.  I loved that we could easily get around Chiang Rai with kids.

The street markets here were full of locals – we hardly saw any westerners and the activities were spread out further so it felt like we were the only ones at times.

Because of the activities we wanted to do. We decided to hire a car to get around.  First we were planning to take a trip to Doi inthanon. You can rest about our stay here. And then we wanted to stop at sticky falls en route to Chiang Rai. After this we had a number of recommended places we wanted to visit, such a Doi Sa Ngo and golden Triangle. So a car made sense.

But no visit to Chiang Rai would be complete without a visit to the white temple. Here’s what we got up to in Chiang Rai:

 

Travel to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai

Buses

The main option is to get a bus. There are several companies advertising in Chiang Mai. I believe the most popular bus is Greenbus.

Cost: and $4 to $10 one way

 

Booking a tour

There are several options to book a tour for just a couple of days within the area. The tours tend to tick off the main sights and then transfer back to chiang Mai.

Cost: varies depending on your length of time & where you stay. But I’d recommend going for longer than a day trip. It’s a long journey and plenty to do!

 

Hiring a car

Oh my goodness, it’s so easy! We booked through www.rentalcars.com the car we booked was with thrifty (which actually turned out to be Hertz). We collected it from the airport. Note: Make sure you have an international driving license and keep it on you at all times.

The process was seamless. The keys were handed over and we were soon checking the car for every dint and scratch (the guy thought we were weird! I mean every car in Thailand has dints and scratches!!)

Driving in Thailand is on the right hand side of the road. We had an automatic, and after recently driving in Australia – it felt like a doddle. There was a bit of traffic to get out of the main town. But other than that the roads were fairly clearly.  We used Google maps to navigate to our destinations.

Petrol stations are everywhere with most having a cafe amazon and 7-eleven or snack shop

Upon completion of our hire, we returned the vehicle with a full tank of petrol. Nobody looked at the car and then we have the keys over. No drama at all! And not a dint made 🙌

Cost: $13 per day + $50 petrol and we travelled 870km. We hired the car for 7 days – giving us much more freedom for a family of 4!

 

Car and driver

If you prefer not to driver yourself, another option (although much more expensive) is to get a private car & driver.  

Cost: I’ve seen mentioned that it could cost around $75 per day for a driver, car and petrol.

 

Things to do

We had a number of destinations in mind and therefore booked 4 nights. We had time in our hands and meant we went too rushed.

Markets

Arriving at a weekend is always a good idea as chiang Rai has both a Saturday night & Sunday night market. We visited both. But unfortunately it was raining quite heavily on Saturday so it put off stall holders, locals and tourists.

We lasted all of 10 minutes then headed to a restaurant for dinner!

The next night, we had the chance to try again! Oh my word, the market was huge!! It went on and on and on!  You could buy snacks, clothes, shoes, homeware, toys… pretty much anything. We did enjoy tasting a few snacks from the food stalls. Some good, some not so good! (We didn’t like the Thai sausages on sticks, but did love the mini dosa wraps!)

Cost: free

 

White temple

Wow! This brilliantly white and sparkling temple was definitely one of my favourite. I mean, how can you not love sparkles!!

We entered through the rear entrance and we immediately in awe of the buildings in front of us.  We wandered around the grounds at our leisure. The main draw is the large white temple & lake. This meant that the other smaller temples were much quieter.

There was also an ornate rockery area, which surprisingly had modern statues such as teenage mutant ninja turtles?! Unusual!

In addition to the selection of white temples there was also a large gold temple and my favourite building was the very detailed, golden toilets!!

As well as this there was a wishing well and a kiosk to buy a metal leaf that you can write a good luck or love message on. You’ll find these hanging all over the complex an art feature.

Once we’d walked around the grounds, we decided to walk inside the main attraction; the large white temple. This is the only section which requires a fee and where you need to have your knees and shoulders covered. There was lots of lovely ladies in bright coloured dresses posing for that 1 amazing Instagram post!! Ha ha.

Outside the sun lit up the temple so that it was positively glowing. Offset against the blue sky and surrounded by beautiful gardens, it really did make a beautiful picture!

In order to enter the temple you must pay 50 bhat. You are then ushered along to keep the crowd flowing & cross the bridge to enter the temple. Once again, I was surprised that the illustrations on the wall were very contemporary. Buddha’s mixing it with Spiderman – an artistic blend of modern and historic. You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the temple so you’ll just have to believe me!

Cost: 50 bhat pp for main temple only.

 

Blue temple

Not as impressive at first glance as the white temple. But actually, when you step closer you can see the beauty in the finer detail.

The main temple houses a huge white Buddha with a blue light glowing around it. It’s exterior is decorated with many blue dragons. If you look careful you’ll see ask the eyes looking down on you!

Within the grounds are several other smaller statues. Each an artistic reflection on the larger blue temple. We didn’t spend too long here as it was a much smaller site.

Cost: free

 

Golden triangle

An area North of Chiang Rai, where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar is known as the golden triangle. The rivers converge at thus northern point and has become a popular tourist spot.  There are lots of market stalls and restaurants.

There are many different signs detailing the direction of the 3 countries. 

But most notably is the means to cross the river and visit both Laos or Myanmar. Several people approached us asking if we wanted a boat journey. But today we were just here to enjoy looking out across the river.

Cost: free

 

Doi Sa Ngo

Having our own car meant that we could access areas that other people don’t. So when @travelswithourdaughter posted some stunning pictures on her Instagram page – I had to check it out. And I’m so glad we did!

We followed Google maps to the view point – except Google wanted us to drive up a track meant for a 4wd! We quickly decided it wasn’t for us and turned around in the hope that it ‘re-routed’ us, which thankfully Google did! It was quite a steep climb and we passed a rather smart looking coffee place in the way up. Hmmm.. might have to call in there later!

Soon we reached a car park. There was a group of men loading up a van who told us which way to go. We walked the last stretch up to the view point! Wow!! It was a stunning 360 degree lookout with views across to Myanmar, Laos and Thailand!! Just amazing.

To top it off there were a couple of local swings for the kids to play on.  

There was a lot of work going on to open the sleeping huts/rooms ready for guests next week.

We didn’t want to get in the way, so didn’t stop too long. Instead, do you remember that coffee shop I mentioned?!

Well, we headed straight there and enjoyed an expensive coffee – but worth it for those views!! 

It would have been nice to enjoy a cake too but the place didn’t look busy and I think we were lucky it was open 🤷.

 

Cost: free, except for 2 expensive coffees!

 

Clock tower

Situated on the main street the golden clock tower is target glamorous with it’s golden Street lights lining it’s path.  But it’s just that… a clock. I was a little underwhelmed.

The guide books talk of a light show and whilst it is pretty at nighttime the light show isn’t worth going out of your way for. A changing of lights is how I would best describe it and we watched it from oak & awe restaurant.

Cost: free

 

Goddess of Mercy

A fabulous sunset spot! This site is the home to a huge white goddess of Mercy. I mean she’s huge!! You really can’t miss her.

We arrived at about 5pm and wandered around the area, including another white temple and 9 storey pagoda.

We wandered around waiting for the skies to light up. It didn’t disappoint – stunning!! 

Cost: free

As you can see, there are lots of free activities around this area!!

 

Where to stay

Without a doubt this has been one of our favourite hotels so far.. Connect hostel. (Thanks for the recommendation wyld family). The thing I liked the most was having a common area with kitchen. Usually we can find ourselves holed up in our room but this dining area meant we could escape to someone else. It was a bit hot up there, but they have a few air con units.

In addition to this they also had self service washing machines for just 20 bhat, a television with Netflix and video games. Plus a selection of board games and books too! Great facilities, especially with kids!

The location was on the edge of the town, but an easy walk along the main streets. The staff were just amazing throughout our stay. They played with the boys, offered help wherever they could and were genuinely really nice!

 

Places to eat in Chiang Rai with kids

Street Markets

As I mentioned above, we ate snacks in the street Market one night.  We had a range of tasty treats and some which were not to our liking. Harper even managed to get a mini lasagne!?  One pot of noodles we bought was just 20p!

Oak and awe coffee shop

We are here in our first night and I have to say it was delicious!! I had a very authentic. Ethan and I had a very tasty khao soi, Jasper had spaghetti with tomato sauce and Keith had fried noodles. All very fresh ingredients.  

The restaurant was tiny, but it was popular with westerners. We enjoy our visit so much we returned 2 nights later.

As I mentioned we also had a dining room in the hostel, so one night we just ventured out to the 7 eleven and got some microwave meals for convenience after a long day out exploring!

 

Conclusion

I actually enjoyed Chiang Rai quite a lot. The town didn’t have a huge amount going for it. All the activities were based outside the town. Having a car made sense as the cost of 4 for ah the trips was going to add up. Plus having kids this felt like a luxury item – for the same price! 

The activities around the area were also free or very cheap; always a bonus for budget family travel. There’s was plenty of this to do in Chiang Rai with kids!

But most of all I enjoyed that it was much less touristy and there were lots of areas you could explore without anyone else around!

 

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