Here’s what to do in Chiang Rai for affordable luxury.
- Stay at the affordable luxury Sann Hotel
- Visit both night markets
- Rent a scooter and see the temples
We arrived on the VIP Green Bus from Chiang Mai at around 6pm and took the 10-minute walk to our hotel, the newest addition to downtown Chiang Rai hotels, The Sann.
Sann Hotel, Chiang Rai
The Sann Hotel is just a block east of Chiang Rai’s famous clock tower (more on that in a minute). This place definitely still has ‘new hotel smell!’
It’s a very nice new hotel with ample parking:
A lovely lobby area:
The room was smallish but very comfortable:
Breakfast was included. Other than eggs cooked to order it wasn’t very special:
But best of all, it has an AWESOME swimming pool where we were able to cool off and do our 30-minutes of swimming exercise after a hard day of touring:
There ARE cheaper places to stay in Chiang Rai.
But there are also older, less luxurious hotels for the same price. We were happy with our affordable luxury choice!
There are two night markets in Chiang Rai: the everyday night market then a special walking street night market on Saturday night.
We visited both.
The every-night-market is near the bus terminal and consists of stalls of merchandise surrounding a large outdoor restaurant and entertainment venue. We did some browsing and watched a bit of the show while having dinner one night.
The show consisted of a duet with guitar and violin singing easy-listening music and golden oldies like Elvis, Carpenters, etc. On our way out we danced to their rendition of You Were Always on My Mind. By the time they finished the song a few other couples had joined us dancing!
The Saturday Night Market was just under a kilometer long along a street parallel to clock tower street. It was a smaller version of the Sunday night market in Chiang Mai.
Seeing the Temples – Motorbike Rental
We had a lot of ground to cover in short time if we wanted to see as many of the famous Chiang Rai temples as possible. So it was finally time for me to put my international drivers license with motorcycle endorsement to use!
There are plenty of motorbike rental places all over the center of Chiang Rai. We chose one that had relatively new bikes and that was also open late so we could return same-day and not be bothered with it in the morning. We had our choice of several.
As part of the rental process, the shop we chose wanted to keep a passport as security deposit. We flatly refused. The ONLY time I part with my passport is to get a visa, either at an airport or at an official agency.
They asked for 3000 baht ($95US) as a security deposit instead. We were more amenable to that but only if we could do it on credit card. They tried, but their card reader failed. In the end they were content to take Lisa’s Florida drivers license as security.
By the way, they never asked for nor saw my international drivers license with motorcycle endorsement. Sigh. At least I had it in case of a police checkpoint (500 baht/ $15US fine) or in case of an accident (travel and health insurance only covers scooter accidents you have a proper license).
We rented a 125cc Honda Click at a cost of 250 baht ($8US) for a 24-hour period.
It’s a sharp-looking, zippy little machine. Quick off the line and I got the little thing up to about 70kph a couple times before Lisa banged me on the shoulder and told me to slow down.
Lisa mapped out our day. It was, of course, highly efficient! We headed south on some back roads to the White Temple.
Then we headed north on the main road to the Blue Temple.
From there we took a very short ride for some refreshments at a very cool coffee shop and bistro right on the river.
Finally, we headed to the misnamed ‘Big Buddha.’
Our route looked like this:
Stop 1: Wat Rong Khun, aka, The White Temple of Chiang Rai
Our first stop south of Chiang Rai was at the White Temple.
The ride down was our first time riding on a motorbike since Greece a year earlier. I was fine. Lisa may have pulled a few muscles clinging on for dear life.
We went into the White Temple with no expectations but this it NOT ‘just another Wat.’ It’s a bit of Disney mixed with a bit of Tim Burton:
Stop 2: WAT RONG SUEA TEN, aka, the BLUE TEMPLE of CHIANG RAI
On our ride north from the White Temple to the Blue Temple Lisa seemed much more relaxed. Which was good since it was a long ride…made a bit longer because I passed our turn by about a mile before realizing how lost I was. Matt gets lost…count on it!
But Lisa got us sorted and eventually we made it. Again, we were stunned by the beauty of the place.
Stop 3: Chivit Thamma Da, aka, an awesome coffee shop/bistro
Our digital nomad friends Megan and Bodei recommended that we stop by Chivit Thamma Da, a gorgeous coffee shop/bistro on the banks of the Kok River. They told us it resembled a Southern US plantation house and garden. And it’s only a short ride from the Blue Temple.
They were correct on all counts. It was an amazing setting and good food:
Stop 4: WAT HUAY PLA KUNG, AKA The BIG BUDDHA of CHIANG RAI (spoiler: it’s not buddha!)
After a snack we realized time was getting away from us. We debated whether to carry on to our last site or head back to the Sann. We determined to carry on. And thank Buddha (again, not really Buddha) we did!
After a bit of a ride we arrived at what is loosely called, as I have repeatedly said, The Big Buddha.
It IS big. But it’s NOT Buddha. It’s actually Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Guan Yin is a female Bodhisattva in Thai Buddhism, which means someone that reached enlightenment in life and helped others try to do the same.
It’s an impressive campus that includes the enormous statue, a separate white-temple-type Wat as well as a 9-level pagoda. The enormous statue is actually a building and for a few baht you can take an elevator into her ‘mind’ on the top floor. We took it enthusiastically.
On the ride home, Lisa was finally comfortable enough to take some gorgeous video:
We had a fantastic time doing some fast travel in Chiang Rai. It’s one of those places that would be very hard to visit on a week-long or even two-week vacation from the US, making it precisely the sort of place we undertook this lifestyle to see.
But if you ever have the opportunity, we highly recommend a visit to these amazing temples around Chiang Rai. We’ve seen hundreds of Wats in our travels but these were very special.
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