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How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

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Oakland, California
posts: 2
reviews: 33
How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

My wife and I are headed to Chiang Rai for a few days in December. We've been to Chiang Mai and loved wandering the city for a couple of days. (We found that 2 and a half days of wandering CM was perfect.) Given that Chiang Rai itself appears to be significantly smaller than CM, if you were to simply wander about the city, how long would you allocate?

Also we were thinking of renting a car after spending a couple days in CR and heading up to Chiang Saen for the morning, then overnight in Chiang Khong. Then spend the next day driving to Phayao with an overnight in Phayao, spend the day wandering around Phayao and then back to the CR airport for our flight south. Does that sound like a feasible itinerary...or too jam-packed?

13 replies to this topic
Colorado
Destination Expert
for Chiang Rai, Chiang Rai Province
posts: 3,231
reviews: 126
1. Re: How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

I don't think your itinerary is too jam packed. It sounds like a good pace. If you are just wandering around Chiang Rai itself, and not going to the areas outside of town, you will probably be fine with a day and a night in Chiang Rai (Saturday night being preferable if it works in your schedule, as the Saturday walking market is great).

Safe Travels,

Broder

Chiang Rai, Thailand
posts: 653
reviews: 15
2. Re: How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

Hi Pilotguy,

If you found 2 and a half days wandering around CM perfect, then I think you might find 1 day enough in Chiang Rai. If you stay a Saturday night, be sure to take in the Saturday Night Walking Street Market, it's more than a mile long and 4 rows of market stalls and well worth a visit as Broder pointed out.

I suspect you enjoy driving as I do, I would be tempted to drive to Mae Salong and overnight there (preferably in a bungalow at Little Home Guest House). This is a much more unusual destination than Chiang Saen or Chiang Khong, it's a Chinese village steeped in history, albeit modern history. For me the journey is often more interesting than the destination, of all the places you mention, Mae Salong is the one where the destination matches the journey for me.

Then the next day head off to Chiang Saen, Chiang Khong, and rather than driving to Phayao, I would be tempted to continue on to Nan. This will take you on the mountain peak roads that look down into both Thailand and Laos and is my favourite drive here. This would be pretty much a full day driving, and personally speaking, I would be tempted to either drop Chiang Saen & Chiang Khong and from Mae Salong program the GPS for Wiang Chai (90 mins) and then Nan (3 hours) and possibly stop at one of the little guest houses you will pass in the valleys or on the mountain ridges. They are only frequented by Thai people, so you are unlikely to see another foreigner. If you enjoy the drive to Mae Salong, you will love the drive from Wiang Chai to Nan it's like the road to Mae Salong "on steroids" and will keep you off the superhighway. It is almost unknown by tourists, yet it is probably the most scenic drive in Northern Thailand. There is a motorcycle riding group in Chiang Rai and this route of Wiang Chai to Nan is considered one of the the best and gets the largest turnout, they ride it annually and stay overnight in Nan. The destination is the restaurant "Tony's Place" in Nan and there is a nice little guest house just opposite it called Baan Nai Vieng Hostel which is very new and good, about 500 baht/night. I have wandered around both Phayao & Nan and they can be quite uninteresting, though Tony did recommend the art gallery in Nan.

I am reticent to suggest skipping Chiang Khong & particularly Chiang Saen, but given the choice of Mae Salong or CK/CS I would choose Mae Salong and given the choice of the drive to Phayao down the superhighway (which is the route everyone takes) or from Wiang Chai to Nan, I would choose the latter. Wiang Chai is 10 miles due East of Chiang Rai, by heading to Wiang Chai, it will force your GPS Navigator to avoid the superhighway and make for a much more interesting drive, I think you skirt Chun on this route.

You could consider hiring your car one-way and drop it off in Chiang Mai at the airport. But for a journey like this, I would recommend spending a few extra baht and asking for a GPS Navigator, because it is off the tourist routes, you won't see many signs in English and you might get lost without one.

Finally, if I were to rank all these places in order of favourite, it would be

Mae Salong

Drive Wiang Chai to Nan

Drive to Mae Salong

Drive Wiang Chai to Phayao

Chiang Saen

Chiang Khong

Any driving on the SuperHighway

Do let us know what you actually did afterwards and how you enjoyed it.

Bruce

Oakland, California
posts: 2
reviews: 33
3. Re: How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

Thank you Broder and Bruce -- that is extremely helpful! Much appreciated. I will explore the options you suggested. Really looking forward to this trip -- it will only be our second time in the north.

Before I read your posts, our plan was 2.5 days in CR with a daytrip to Mae Salong. Then drive to Chiang Saen for lunch, overnight in Chiang Khong. Then take all day to drive to Phayao, overnight in Phayao, wander around Phayao for most of the day, then back to CR for a next-morning flight south. The drive to Nan sounds a little long (I get antsy after about 2.5 hours in the car) but we will take a close look.

One question: How cool does it typically get in the winter (late December) up in Mae Salong and the border areas?

Edited: 3:23 pm, September 10, 2013
Chiang Rai, Thailand
posts: 653
reviews: 15
4. Re: How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

Hi Pilotguy

You can expect daytimes 28-32C cool evenings dropping to a typical 13C overnight. You may want a warm sweater jacket in the evenings/early movings, it's usually very nice by 10am.

About once every 3 years we get a very cool 2-3 days where it never rises above 11C, I have only ever seen this once and it was in a March and it rained all the time.

Bruce

Colorado
Destination Expert
for Chiang Rai, Chiang Rai Province
posts: 3,231
reviews: 126
5. Re: How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

Hi pilot guy:

I was in Mae Salong late December/early January last year, and have spent time in Mae Salong in December during other trips. I found the temperature were generally about 45 - 50 F in the evenings. We wore long sleeves and long pants with light jackets during the evening/early morning but during the day we would not need the jacket and could wear short sleeves.

Safe Travels,

Broder

Eugene, Oregon
posts: 4
6. Re: How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

Pilotguy,

My wife and I are planning a very similar trip in August. I'd like to know what you ultimately did for your trip. A trip report/summary would be great. I'm struggling to find the route we want to take for a driving tour. Thanks.

Eugene, Oregon
posts: 4
7. Re: How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

Bruce,

My wife and I are planning a very similar northern Thailand trip in August. Your post was very helpful. I did my best to outline the route you've suggested on Google Maps. Can you take a look at this link and tell me if I got the route correct? Thanks in advance.

https://goo.gl/maps/TGm30

Chiang Rai, Thailand
posts: 653
reviews: 15
8. Re: How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

Yes that looks great, but if when going from CM to CR you turn left on the 109 to Fang (a stunning road) and then right onto the 1089, it will avoid Chiang Rai and take you a more scenic route for that part of the journey.

Once you get 4-5km past Wiang Chai (don't turn left onto the 1173 Chiang Khong road) program your GPS for Nan and you should be fine. Checkout Tony's restaurant in Nan, he's a character and a great place to meet ex-pats living there, really good food too

I hope you can post a trip report afterwards for us all to read, have a super adventure.

Bruce

Eugene, Oregon
posts: 4
9. Re: How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

Bruce,

Thanks for your response! I've altered the Google Map route to travel on 109. I'm still a bit confused on the appropriate route between Chiang Rai and Nan. Should I take 1233 to 1299 to 1152?

Could I persuade you to take a look at the updated map and change the route to what you're suggesting? You can drag the blue route line around to change the route. Once it's updated, click the little gear icon in the bottom-right corner of the screen and you'll have an option to send a map link. https://goo.gl/maps/Dz95A

We also ordered the Golden Triangle map from http://www.gt-rider.com/ I think this will be a great resource.

I really appreciate your help.

Robert

Chiang Rai, Thailand
posts: 653
reviews: 15
10. Re: How long to spend in Chiang Rai?

Hi Robert,

Sorry for the delay, I hardly had a moment spare yesterday.

I have updated the map (I hope). Take the 1233 to Wiang Chai and go straight on to the 1152 (avoid Phaya Mengrai) and then program your GPS for Nan, it should pick it up from there. As you turn off South you should see a large shallow lake on your left hand side.

Bruce

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