Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai / by Jenn Wei Hee

Thailand is mostly known for the sun, the island or the vice of Bangkok; the northern Thailand has a lot to offer - jungle trekking, hiking, motorbike trips, stunning temples, elephant sanctuary, ruins of ancient cities and so much more! This is the part of Thailand for the nature seeker, laid-back adventurer with awe-inspiring landscapes! If you're like me and you'd rather hike to remote villages than sit on the beach, you'll love Northern Thailand. 

Chiang Mai Chiang Rai

Beyond the green northern capital, there's plenty more to see than Chiang Mai alone. It's not typically easy to navigate in the Northern Thailand, here's a recommendation Itinerary and Road Map to take in on a trip around Northern Thailand. [You can download the hi-res road map here]

 A 6-day laid back Northern Thailand itinerary, 708km. 

A 6-day laid back Northern Thailand itinerary, 708km. 

AVERAGE COST

Accommodations below are based on 3-person stay. Thailand is relatively affordable! Hostel dorm (private room for 3-4) will cost around THB284 a night and Hostel private room from THB1,215 a night onwards. Campervan is not typically popular in Thailand, mainly due the tight road condition in Thailand. Alternatively, Airbnb will make a great choice to experience authentic local culture. 

  1. Chiang Mai - Imm Thaphae Chiang Mai Hotel THB3,166
  2. Chiang Rai - Luxury Loft in Wooden Longhouse THB2,233
  3. Phu Chi Fah - Buran Phucheefah Resort THB2,466
  4. Chiang Rai - HuanKawin PhotoGallery THB1,488
  5. Chiang Mai - Imm Thaphae Chiang Mai Hotel THB3,166

Foods (per person) in Chiang Mai-Chiang Rai are cheap. A restaurant with table service can cost from THB80-120, fast food cost around THB100-209, local street food (except seafood) cost around THB25-35.

Transportation - Chiang Mai airport is just 15 minutes away from town, airport shuttle bus from airport cost around THB40 per person, Grab/Uber/Taxi will cost around THB180-190. Getting around Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai is relatively easy with easily accessible Tuk-Tuk, shuttle bus and ride hailing (Grab/Uber). 

The Northern Thailand is the perfect destination to get lost in the beautiful countryside. 

CHIANG MAI

A city in mountainous northern Thailand, founded in 1296, it was the capital of Lanna Kingdom until 1558. Its Old City areas still remain relics of walls and fort from its historical culture and religion centre. Despite being the second largest city in Thailand, in Chiang Mai, the landscape is greener, pace is slower than Bangkok and home to hundreds of elaborated Buddhist temples. In Chiang Mai, NEVER trust the zebra crossing, the government may have implement them but motorists always ignore them. Crossing roads are pretty daunting for first timers in Thailand, try to follow the locals wading onto heavily trafficking streets, pushing in the middle of the road as cars whiz past and waiting for the precious moment when other side can reached safely; dangerous but a viable option to master the art of jaywalking. 

Places of Interest and recommended time to spend:

  1. Doi Suthep - the Golden Stupa - 1.5 hrs
  2. Chedi Luang - believed as pillars to protect the city - 1 hr
  3. Wat Umong - 700 years old temple - 1 hr
  4. Phra Singh - Monastery of Lion Buddha - 0.5 hr
  5. Evening temples hopping in the Old City - 2 hrs
  6. Dinner at Chang Phueak (Street Hawker Area) - 1.5 hrs
  7. Nimmanahaeminda Road - Nightlife
 Took a shuttle bus from old city to Wat Doi Suthep, almost an hour drive up.

Took a shuttle bus from old city to Wat Doi Suthep, almost an hour drive up.

 309 steps to the pagodas. 

309 steps to the pagodas. 

 Doi Suthep has an interesting story - the construction began in 1386 and according to legend, the temple was built to hold a piece of bone from the Buddha's shoulder. One of those bones was mounted on a sacred white elephant who climb Doi Suthep mountain and stopped near the peak. The elephant trumpeted three times before dying on the mountain. 

Doi Suthep has an interesting story - the construction began in 1386 and according to legend, the temple was built to hold a piece of bone from the Buddha's shoulder. One of those bones was mounted on a sacred white elephant who climb Doi Suthep mountain and stopped near the peak. The elephant trumpeted three times before dying on the mountain. 

 King Nu Naone took this as a sign that a temple should be built on this spot and that is where the Theravada Buddhist temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep resides today, at 3,500 feet above sea level. 

King Nu Naone took this as a sign that a temple should be built on this spot and that is where the Theravada Buddhist temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep resides today, at 3,500 feet above sea level. 

 The temple is arranged around a central region copper plated chedi - which is the most holy area of the temple grounds. 

The temple is arranged around a central region copper plated chedi - which is the most holy area of the temple grounds. 

 It is customary to walk around the chedi three times chanting a prayers and leaving a wish bell to chime in the breeze. 

It is customary to walk around the chedi three times chanting a prayers and leaving a wish bell to chime in the breeze. 

 Praying monk at the chedi. 

Praying monk at the chedi. 

 Greeted with the sight of golden spire which decorates the centre of mountain top temple. 

Greeted with the sight of golden spire which decorates the centre of mountain top temple. 

 Walls around the spire formed a mini enclave and richly decorated with historical murals, shrines and wishing bells.

Walls around the spire formed a mini enclave and richly decorated with historical murals, shrines and wishing bells.

 Entrance to the golden chedi. 

Entrance to the golden chedi. 

 An hour ride back from Doi Suthep back to the city - explore the old city of Chiang Mai. 

An hour ride back from Doi Suthep back to the city - explore the old city of Chiang Mai. 

 A contemporary cafe inside the Old City decorated miniature hot air balloons. 

A contemporary cafe inside the Old City decorated miniature hot air balloons. 

 Chaos electrical cables formed an interesting weaving foreground for Wat Pan Ping inside the Old City. 

Chaos electrical cables formed an interesting weaving foreground for Wat Pan Ping inside the Old City. 

 Mobile banking for the win!

Mobile banking for the win!

 The Old City has been considered the core of Lanna art and culture for over 700 years, traces of its past glory can still be found and translated into modern art. 

The Old City has been considered the core of Lanna art and culture for over 700 years, traces of its past glory can still be found and translated into modern art. 

 Tuk-tuk in Chiang Mai. 

Tuk-tuk in Chiang Mai. 

 Buildings in Chiang Mai are mostly quiet and low rise, and many old styled buildings can still be found within and outside of the Old City walls.

Buildings in Chiang Mai are mostly quiet and low rise, and many old styled buildings can still be found within and outside of the Old City walls.

 Sunset from Pratu Chang Phueak gate, one of the four former protective wall of the Old City; on the right is Chang Phueak (Street Hawker Area).

Sunset from Pratu Chang Phueak gate, one of the four former protective wall of the Old City; on the right is Chang Phueak (Street Hawker Area).

 Chang Phueak (Street Hawker Area).

Chang Phueak (Street Hawker Area).

 One of the best braised pork leg rice in Thailand! Khao Kha Moo at Chang Phueak Street Hawker.

One of the best braised pork leg rice in Thailand! Khao Kha Moo at Chang Phueak Street Hawker.

 In her signature headpiece and wielding cleaver.

In her signature headpiece and wielding cleaver.

 One dish of pork braised leg rice with lava egg is just under one USD!

One dish of pork braised leg rice with lava egg is just under one USD!

 We also tried pad thai, khao soi noodle and grilled squid from this stall, not bad!

We also tried pad thai, khao soi noodle and grilled squid from this stall, not bad!

 Seafood! 

Seafood! 

 Pad Thai is good, Khao Soi noodle is just so-so and grilled squid is amazing! 

Pad Thai is good, Khao Soi noodle is just so-so and grilled squid is amazing! 

CHIANG RAI

The one company that made its name for itself in Northern Thailand is Green Bus; it's clean, comfortable and affordable with route goes as far as Mae Sai! We tried both standard (THB166) and VIP (THB258) classes, highly recommended the VIP class with just THB90 more for the extra wide and plush with adjustable head rests, reclining capabilities and adjustable leg rests. We bought our bus tickets over the hotel counter top, ticket counters also widely available in multiple locations at Chiang Mai city - check here

Long since a popular spot for travellers keen on trekking to remote hilltribe village, Chiang Rai - right at the very top of Thailand, bordering Laos and Myanmar. It has nevertheless remained relatively low-key than neighbouring Chiang Mai, one that is closely attuned to ecotourism. In recent years, Chiang Rai has gained more attention thanks to its spectacular Wat Rong Khun - the White Temple. It is undoubtedly a rather unusual Buddhist temple with the mix of dazzle, controversial and disturbing architecture design by Chalermchai Kositpipat. Coming over from Chiang Mai, you'll pass by Wat Rong Khun before hitting Chiang Rai's city; i'll advise a visit to the white temple first, you just need to inform the bus driver, he will announce and drop you off; the temple operator has prepared storage room to store luggages for your convenience of moving around. Chiang Rai city centre's transportation is quite easily sort out - Taxi, Uber or Grab are easily available and reasonable, shouldn't cost more than THB190 a trip to city centre. 

Places of Interest and recommended time to spend:

  1. Wat Rong Khun - the magnificent white temple - 1.5 hrs
  2. Wat Rong Suea Ten - the Blue Temple - 1 hr
  3. Lanna Kingdom - Chiang Rai City - 1.5 hrs
  4. Chiang Rai Night Market - it's all FOODS! - 1 hr
  5. Chiang Rai Night Bazaar - local souvenirs - 1 hr
 Begin our exploration of Chiang Rai in one of Thailand's most precious gems - Wat Rong Khun.

Begin our exploration of Chiang Rai in one of Thailand's most precious gems - Wat Rong Khun.

 Wat Rong Khun took the fixation with painstaking detail and beauty to the next level.

Wat Rong Khun took the fixation with painstaking detail and beauty to the next level.

 Started in 1997, Wat Rong Khun isn't a working temple but more an artistic expression and experience. Between the contrasting subject matter, surprising figures and blatant messages you don't normally find at temples. 

Started in 1997, Wat Rong Khun isn't a working temple but more an artistic expression and experience. Between the contrasting subject matter, surprising figures and blatant messages you don't normally find at temples. 

 When in Chiang Rai, lunch at Lab Sanam Keela is a MUST! This is a local Thai food restaurant you don't want to miss! They mostly serve Lanna food; here are the few dishes i'd recommend - Yang Ruam (Pork), Jeen Neung (Beef), Tom Sab Moo (Spicy Soup), Pla Tabtim Tod Kratiem (Fried Fish) and sticky rice!

When in Chiang Rai, lunch at Lab Sanam Keela is a MUST! This is a local Thai food restaurant you don't want to miss! They mostly serve Lanna food; here are the few dishes i'd recommend - Yang Ruam (Pork), Jeen Neung (Beef), Tom Sab Moo (Spicy Soup), Pla Tabtim Tod Kratiem (Fried Fish) and sticky rice!

 Exploring the surroundings of Bambuh Boutique Homestay, lovely village outside of Chiang Rai. 

Exploring the surroundings of Bambuh Boutique Homestay, lovely village outside of Chiang Rai. 

 Edging in the rice paddy fields!

Edging in the rice paddy fields!

 Beautiful spotless luxury wooden loft with amazing garden, nice and friendly hosts! They are always there to help, even if it's a booking to the massage or its a cup of good coffee. I would strongly recommend the place! We loved the location as it was peaceful and quiet.

Beautiful spotless luxury wooden loft with amazing garden, nice and friendly hosts! They are always there to help, even if it's a booking to the massage or its a cup of good coffee. I would strongly recommend the place! We loved the location as it was peaceful and quiet.

 A classy decoration homestay ever!

A classy decoration homestay ever!

 Fiery sunset view from our loft. 

Fiery sunset view from our loft. 

 Really lovely dinner prepared by our host! 

Really lovely dinner prepared by our host! 

 and great breakfast too!

and great breakfast too!

PHU CHI FA IS CANCELLED!!! BOO-HOO!!!

On our way from Bambuh Boutique Homestay towards the bus terminal, we're already imagining a celebration on the top of Phu Chi Fa peak with one foot in Laos, another in Thailand while catching the sunrise in a sea of mist. Unfortunately when we arrived at the bus terminal, the operator informed us that the national park officials announced the closure of Phu Chi Fa forest park for safety reason due to the turbulent weather condition. The weather condition was impacted from the Tembin typhoon which landed on the southern coast of Vietnam and caused turbulent weather condition in Thailand. Widespread fog covering the entire mountain range, thus posing driving risk in the steep hill road. 

 The ticket counter to Phu Chi Fa resides in the corner of Bus Terminal Chiang Rai. 

The ticket counter to Phu Chi Fa resides in the corner of Bus Terminal Chiang Rai. 

 National Park Chief Sanit Homnan ordered road checkpoint at foothill to prohibit vehicles from entering the forest park. Here's our ride to Phu Chi Fa but grounded. Gahhhhhh! 

National Park Chief Sanit Homnan ordered road checkpoint at foothill to prohibit vehicles from entering the forest park. Here's our ride to Phu Chi Fa but grounded. Gahhhhhh! 

 Regroup, research and replan our routes.  

Regroup, research and replan our routes.  

 A bowl of good Khao Soi noodle can solve anything! Including our dishearthen souls. 

A bowl of good Khao Soi noodle can solve anything! Including our dishearthen souls. 

 They don't speak English here; so just grab yourself a piece of ordering paper (it's in Thai btw), Google image translate it, place your order into the cup, you're pretty much done! 

They don't speak English here; so just grab yourself a piece of ordering paper (it's in Thai btw), Google image translate it, place your order into the cup, you're pretty much done! 

 Tasty northern style egg noodle in an aromatic curry soup with the choice of pork, fish, shrimp and chicken. Frankly, the best Khao Soi noodle ever! Make sure you order some mouth-watering porks too! 

Tasty northern style egg noodle in an aromatic curry soup with the choice of pork, fish, shrimp and chicken. Frankly, the best Khao Soi noodle ever! Make sure you order some mouth-watering porks too! 

 State Lottery seller at Chiang Rai.

State Lottery seller at Chiang Rai.

 Designed by Chalermchai Khositpipat (yes, him again) and unveiled in 2008 in honour of His Majesty the King. The same guy who built the white temple and illuminated the same distinctive architectural style from Wat Rong Khun can be seen again with the clock tower.

Designed by Chalermchai Khositpipat (yes, him again) and unveiled in 2008 in honour of His Majesty the King. The same guy who built the white temple and illuminated the same distinctive architectural style from Wat Rong Khun can be seen again with the clock tower.

 It has been raining whole day in Chiang Rai, but that doens't stop us, we decided to brave through the rain and explore Chiang Rai city anyway. At the Municipal Market Chiang Rai. 

It has been raining whole day in Chiang Rai, but that doens't stop us, we decided to brave through the rain and explore Chiang Rai city anyway. At the Municipal Market Chiang Rai. 

 You just can't resist the lovely bokehlicious moment!

You just can't resist the lovely bokehlicious moment!

 The wet market vendor was kind enough to have us "man" her butcher stall. 

The wet market vendor was kind enough to have us "man" her butcher stall. 

Chiang Mai Chiang Rai 67.jpg
 Rain-cover done right!

Rain-cover done right!

 I suppose it's usually filled with people when the weather is good 

I suppose it's usually filled with people when the weather is good 

 What's better than having tomyam hotpot on a cold, chilling, rainy day!

What's better than having tomyam hotpot on a cold, chilling, rainy day!

 A huge open dining area at the night market right behind the bus terminal. 

A huge open dining area at the night market right behind the bus terminal. 

Cancellation of Phu Chi Fa kind of got us "trapped' in Chiang Rai due to our advance booking in accommodation; the next day, we head over to explore the outskirt of Chiang Rai - Blue Temple, a treat at an expensive hi-tea garden and the Elephant Valley. 

 Wat Rong Suea Ten, Blue Temple, was built by the student of Chalermchai Kositpipat who built the famous White Temple. 11 years of construction, it was finally completed in 2016. 

Wat Rong Suea Ten, Blue Temple, was built by the student of Chalermchai Kositpipat who built the famous White Temple. 11 years of construction, it was finally completed in 2016. 

 Blue color represents the Dharma, the Lord Buddha virtue code of moral that spread all over the world becomes the doctrine of logically naturalistic as bright blue sky. 

Blue color represents the Dharma, the Lord Buddha virtue code of moral that spread all over the world becomes the doctrine of logically naturalistic as bright blue sky. 

 This temple displays the contemporary Buddhist art that implied Lord Buddha's doctrine. 

This temple displays the contemporary Buddhist art that implied Lord Buddha's doctrine. 

 Where modern art meets Buddhism.

Where modern art meets Buddhism.

 Hi-tea at Manorom Cafe by the river.

Hi-tea at Manorom Cafe by the river.

 Nice place with great setting.

Nice place with great setting.

 Elephant Valley Chiang Rai is a sanctuary program started by Jack who has more than 10 years experience and knowledge working with elephants in Cambodia. 

Elephant Valley Chiang Rai is a sanctuary program started by Jack who has more than 10 years experience and knowledge working with elephants in Cambodia. 

 Volunteers at the Elephant Valley. 

Volunteers at the Elephant Valley. 

 Going for a daily shower - for hygiene and skincare, also for mental well being. 

Going for a daily shower - for hygiene and skincare, also for mental well being. 

 Feeding the elephants roots, tubers, plantains and banana leaves. 

Feeding the elephants roots, tubers, plantains and banana leaves. 

 Good bye elephant valley! 

Good bye elephant valley! 

 Back to Chiang Rai for dinner, at the open dining area behind the bus terminal. Really good barbecue meat on a skewer. 

Back to Chiang Rai for dinner, at the open dining area behind the bus terminal. Really good barbecue meat on a skewer. 

 One last try on Khao Soi noodle at the night market. 

One last try on Khao Soi noodle at the night market. 

 The December cool weather and hilly climate of Northern Thailand made it perfect place to grow many different type of flowers and plants, and they decided to make it into a show of Flower Festival!  

The December cool weather and hilly climate of Northern Thailand made it perfect place to grow many different type of flowers and plants, and they decided to make it into a show of Flower Festival!  

 There's music in the park too! 

There's music in the park too! 

PHA CHOR CANYON

Back to Chiang Mai from Chiang Rai for our last 2 days in Northern Thailand, we decided to head for Pha Chor Canyon. It's around 2 hours drive from Chiang Mai city and it's actually in the same direction towards Doi Inthanon National Park. You can make a visit to Doi Inthanon too if you have enough time! 

Pha Chor Canyon, crafted after Ping River, changed it's course many years ago. The shift created hills, as time past it eroded and changed into cliffs and soil pillars. These pillars are 30 metres high and are one of the main attractions of Mae Wang National Park. 

 Back to Chiang Mai Old City for the last 2 days of our trip at Northern Thailand. 

Back to Chiang Mai Old City for the last 2 days of our trip at Northern Thailand. 

 Road to Mae Wang National Park.

Road to Mae Wang National Park.

 There weren't too many stairs as we thought there would be. Once we got to the bottom, the path led through narrow corridors sculpted in big, sandy rocks shadowed by trees. Quite an easy hike, less than 30 minutes. 

There weren't too many stairs as we thought there would be. Once we got to the bottom, the path led through narrow corridors sculpted in big, sandy rocks shadowed by trees. Quite an easy hike, less than 30 minutes. 

 The Canyon from the view point. Impressive. 

The Canyon from the view point. Impressive. 

 Dwarfed by the yellow 30 metres sandstones.

Dwarfed by the yellow 30 metres sandstones.

 Pha Chor canyon from aerial view, you'll be able to see how the river crafted out these impressive pillars.

Pha Chor canyon from aerial view, you'll be able to see how the river crafted out these impressive pillars.

 The towering 30 metres sandstones.

The towering 30 metres sandstones.

 Back to Chiang Mai, spent our last night with a stroll at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.

Back to Chiang Mai, spent our last night with a stroll at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.

 At the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.

At the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.


That sums up our 6 days Northern Thailand trip. Often i find myself in a situation where i struggle to gather photography information when i travel to a new destination. I hope this piece of Travelogue from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai will be able help you in preparing for your next photography adventure. 

When I was a child, I used to read travel books or NatGeo magazines voraciously. I would read pages after pages and obsessed over stories and images. Only when I started traveling did I realise what the travel quote “it’s better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times” mean. As a travel photographer, I try my hardest to frame places and destinations from my point of view to viewers. However, there are just some things and experiences that are too beautiful to paint in pictures. So, what are you waiting for?
— Jenn Wei