After a week in Pai, we weren’t quite ready to leave. Alas, our visas were about to expire, so we trekked on to Chiang Rai for two nights before hopping over to Laos. We usually like to stay in places for several days, so I regret not spending enough time in Chiang Rai. So if you’re like us and got stuck in Pai for a long time and don’t have enough time for Chiang Rai, here is my guide.
Pai to Chiang Rai
To get to Chiang Rai from Pai, you must go back to Chiang Mai. There are operators selling tickets to Chiang Rai for 500 baht, but it still stops in CM along the way. It is cheaper to buy different tickets.
The mini van to Pai was 150 baht and was three hours of being cramped. Upon arrival in CM, head across the street to the Arcade bus terminal #3. Look for a Green Bus booth, grab your queue ticket, and wait to purchase a ticket to Chiang Rai. There are frequent buses, but we ended up getting one for two hours later on class 1 for 169 baht, which is more expensive than ordinary but cheaper than VIP. We walked across the street to Star Avenue mall and sat with our snacks and hung out there, which was more comfortable than the benches at the bus terminal.
The three-hour ride to Chiang Rai was surprisingly comfortable. The bus had AC, seats with plenty of room (for us short people at least), and we even got free water and a snack.
You can buy a ticket to Chiang Rai in Pai, but it is more expensive and you have to switch buses anyway in Chiang Mai. Beca and I did this in 2010 and we didn’t have a good experience.
Near the bus terminal is a cluster of guesthouses. We stayed at Mercy Hostel the first night since webooked it online. It’s a very comfortable and clean place to stay with amenities like free water, mini kitchen, pool table, computer, good WiFi, a reflection pool, attached restaurant, and social atmosphere. It’s perfect for a single traveler looking to mingle. However, I came to learn I prefer privacy. Also, the hostel reception area and general vibe resembled an impersonal hotel and I didn’t get the warm friendly homey feel like other guesthouses and hostels.
So, the next morning, we moved down the road to The Shaman Guesthouse and restaurant. Look for a sign that says “Leather Bags” because the owner makes and sells his own creations (he also plays guitar and does fire poi shows! Cool character that made me feel welcome to stay there). The double room is basic and clean with attached bathroom and hot water. For 200 baht a room (versus 200 baht per dorm bed), we slash our cost while getting privacy. I highly recommend this place! He just opened up two weeks prior, so there is not much information online. It’s right across from the Mercy Hostel.
Taxis, tuk tuks, songtaews, bicycles, and public buses are ways to get around. However, the best way is by scooter, especially if you have limited time and want to see more.
We rented a 125cc semi automatic for 200 baht a day including some petrol, helmets, and insurance. There are plenty of scooter rental places and prices vary from 100 baht to 500. Carefully inspect your bike before departing and give it a test run!
Wat Rung Khun (commonly referred to as the White Temple) is a modern privately-owned temple south of Chiang Rai, Thailand. The grounds are still under construction, but this doesn’t stop tourists from flocking over to marvel at the unique architecture. Some of the demon sculptures were a bit creepy and gave off a Halloween vibe. Photos are not permitted inside the temple, but there were huge murals of war and human destruction including characters like Superman, Kungfu Panda, and Michael Jackson. Pretty unexpected in a Buddhist temple. The complex is nice for a little wander, although it is a bit touristy.
Address: MueangChiang Rai, Pa O Don Chai, Mueang Chiang Rai District, 57000
Directions: Take the highway 1 down about 6 kilometers from the center of Chiang Rai until you see a sign for Khun Korn waterfall. Turn right and you’ll see the temple.
Hours: 9am-5pm. Closed 12pm-1pm, but this is a good time to take a photo without tourists hovering around everywhere.
Tip: The temple is an active place of worship. Dress modestly.
Khun Korn Waterfall
I’ve been to my fair share of waterfalls. I didn’t have any expectations of this waterfall, but I was surprised when we reached the tall and powerful waterfall. We met some nice Irish girls and hiked the twenty minutes to the waterfalls. You can go swimming, but the mist alone cooled me off. I highly recommend a visit.
Address: Highway 1208 , Mae Kon , 57000
Directions: From the White House, get back on the road and follow the signs to the waterfall, about 19 kilometers with lovely scenery. The last few kilometers is infested with potholes, so be cautious.
Tip: Watch our for snakes!
A few kilometers north of the waterfall is Singha Park. You’ll see an open green field with a giant gold lion statue. We didn’t have much time to wander around there, but we wish we did!
The Black House, also known as Baan Dam, is a complex of Balinese-inspired archiceture. Inside the houses are dark pieces of art by Thawan Duchanee. There are animal skulls, hydes, skeletamse – you name it. If you are an animal lover and squeamish, perhaps skip this place. The art is dark and unique, representing hell. It doesn’t sound like a welcoming place, but it is worth a visit for its uniqueness.
Address: Address: 414 Moo 13 Nanglae, Muang, Chiang Rai, 57100
Directions: From Singha park, keep driving north until you hit the city center. Get back onto highway 1 and drive about 15km north. There aren’t clear signs advertising the Black House, so I recommend downloading a map and using your GPS as a guide.
Hours: 9am-5pm with a lunch break 12pm-1pm.
Tip: Right outside of the entrance is a woman selling ice cream bars with unique flavors, such as Thai tea, for 25 baht. One of the most delicious treats I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy!
Every night, there’s a bustling market loaded with handmade goods. The best part is the food court. Take a walk around and before making a decision and sitting amongst locals and travelers alike, munching and drinking away. The hot pot seemed to be the most popular, but we decided on our staple favorites as it was our last day of Thailand (well, until January!). There are always performances on the stage like acoustic guitar and traditional Thai dances performed by smiley women.
Tip: Between the two stages set up, amongst the array of stalls selling pants, find this stall with the ice cream! He cut half a melon, carved the fruit, and made it into a bowl to scoop three ice creams (coconut, strawberry, and mango) as well as sweet rice, peanuts, and jelly (would’ve been better without it), all for 25 baht! Best to share this sweet treat with someone or you may want to visit your dentist after consumption.
An iconic landmark of Chiang Rai is the Clock Tower, a few blocks away from the night bazaar. It is in the center of a busy roundabout. An interesting structure that lights up at night. The architeture resembles that of the White Temple.
I would have spent another day in Chiang Rai, especially if it overlapped on a Thursday when free meditation classes are held at Wat Phra That temple. There are also many options for trekking and visiting hilltribe villages.
From Chiang Rai, we crossed the border to Huay Xai, Laos, to continue on the journey.