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Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are both places located in northern Thailand, and there is around a 3-hour drive separating them. They both have temples, amazing local Thai food, and plenty to see and do but both are very different from one another.

Chiang Mai is the main city in northern Thailand with its own airport. Chiang Mai is popular with digital nomads and ex-pats because it was very affordable with good infrastructure with a range of restaurants, bars, several shopping malls, and more.

While Chiang Rai is nowhere near as developed as Chiang Mai and does not offer anything like what Chiang Mai offers. It is a small rural town that is surrounded by incredible jungle scenery and dramatic mountains and temples. Chiang Rai is less touristy than Chiang Mai and a great way to see local life.

In this post, we will go through which city to visit if it is either Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai to visit. Let’s get started!

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Chiang Rai Vs Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are both good places to visit for a variety of reasons. Simply Chiang Rai is a small rural town that is slowly growing in popularity especially with the big attraction of the white temple and Chiang Mai being more developed with elephants sanctuaries, temples, bars, and restaurants.

We will try to make it easier for you to compare Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in terms of the things to do in each place, accommodation, and any other factors that would have an impact on your visit.

Let us compare Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

How Far Is Chiang Mai To Chiang Rai?

The distance between Chiang Mai from Chiang Rai is 190 km.

Get To Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the main city in northern Thailand, and as a result, is very accessible. It can be easily accessed by the following.

  • Air.
  • Bus.
  • Rail.


Chiang Mai international airport is the fourth busiest airport in Thailand. Flying is the easiest way to Chiang Mai with regular domestic and international flights.

Thai Airways

Most airports in Thailand fly to Chiang Mai as well as from international destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore, Guangzhou, and so on.

The main airlines that fly in and out of Chiang Mai international airport are.

  • Nok Air.
  • Air Asia.
  • Air China.
  • Bangkok Airways.
  • VietJet Air.
  • Korean Air.
  • Qatar Airways.


There are regular buses from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. They depart from Bangkok’s Mo Chit station and arrive at Chiang Mai’s Bus terminal. Buses start from 05:30 am with the last at 22:00 pm.

It takes about 10 hours with the overnight bus properly being the best option.


Going by rail is another direct route as trains run directly between Bangkok’s Hua Lumpong Train station and Chiang Mai. This takes around 12 hours.

Get To Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai doesn’t have an airport, so the easiest way to Chiang Rai is to get to Chiang Mai first.

From Chiang Mai, you can get a bus, motorcycle, minibus, or private car to Chiang Rai.

Places To Stay In Chiang Rai And Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai both have a good supply of guest houses, hostels, and hotels. Here are a few places to give you an idea of what is available if you are planning to either one.

Remember to check the reviews and book a place that suits your interests while traveling.

Chiang Mai Accommodation

Chiang Mai has a good variety of guest houses, hostels, and hotels. There are over 1430 properties in Chiang Mai with prices starting from $14 a night.

OYO 1015 Once More Hostel

Cadlao Resort and Restaurant

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Rating 9.1, Prices start from $18 for a double room

ONCE MORE Hostel features air-conditioned rooms, a bar, free WiFi, and a shared lounge. The rooms are air-conditioned and have a shared bathroom with a bidet and a hairdryer.

Mapping Hostel

Maligaya Beach Bungalows-min

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Rating 9.3, Prices start from $5 for a bed in a 4-bed bungalow with a fan

Mapping Hostel offers air-conditioned private and dormitory rooms. And there is a snack bar, a shared lounge, and luggage storage available.

The private room is complete with air conditioning and garden views. The dormitory room comes with either fans or air conditioning.

Phra Singh Village

Phra Singh Village

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Rating 9.3, Prices start from $75 for a double room

Phra Singh Village offers a restaurant, free bikes, and an outdoor swimming pool. Along with free WiFi throughout the property and a 24-hour front desk.

Rooms come with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a shower, a hairdryer, and a wardrobe. All rooms come with a private bathroom with a bath and free toiletries.

Chiang Rai Accommodation

Chiang Rai also has a fairly good variety of guest houses, hostels, and hotels. There are over 224 properties in Chiang Rai, with prices starting from $12 a night.

Huen Chan Thip

Huen Chan Thip

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Rating 8.8, Prices start from $25 for a double room

Huen Chan Thip is surrounded by a beautiful landscape, as well as free private parking, and provides free Wi-Fi access in its public areas.

Rooms here provide guests with a flat-screen cable TV, air conditioning, and a refrigerator. There is also a seating area. The private bathroom features a shower and towels.

Bees Smile Hotel

Bees Smile Hotel

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Rating 9.1, Prices start from $25 for a double room

Bees Smile Hotel offers accommodation with a shared lounge, free private parking, a garden, and a terrace. Along with free WiFi throughout the property.

All rooms are air-conditioned and come with a flat-screen TV with cable channels. Also, rooms are fitted with a private bathroom.

Kanlaya Place

Kanlaya Place

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Rating 9.0, Prices start from $21 for a double room

Kanlaya Place offers accommodation with free Wi-Fi available throughout the property. They offer a 24-hour front desk and luggage storage.

Rooms come with a satellite TV and refrigerator. Shower facilities are included in an en suite bathroom.

Nightlife in Chiang Rai And Chiang Mai

Thailand is well known for its nightlife but Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai do have decent nightlife but not wild. Chiang Rai is quiet and Chiang Mai is a little bit busier.

Let’s compare the nightlife between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.

Chiang Rai Nightlife

Chiang Rai in reality is a small town that is not really developed as a tourist spot. This means that the nightlife is limited has developed but you do get a relaxed vibe.

Beer in Malaysia

The nightlife in Chiang Rai is mainly in and around Jet Yod Street and around Wangcome Hotel.

The Chiang Rai night bazaar is a brilliant place to drink and eat in the open-air beer garden. And It is cheap, with a great selection to choose from.

Chiang Mai Nightlife

When it comes to nightlife in Chiang Mai, it is a lot more developed and busier than Chiang Rai. The nightlife centers in and around 3 areas of the city. These are as follows.

  • The old city.
  • Along the river.
  • Nimman road.

The city does have a good bar scene not really a club scene as nearly all bars close at midnight.

Wat Chedi Luang Chiang Mai

What To Do See In Chiang Rai And Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are both are blessed with temples, incredible jungle scenery, and plenty of other things to explore as well as other places to visit.

Here are some of the best things to do in each place.

Things To Do In Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai growing in popularity, especially with the unique temples to see and explore. As well as a great place if you want to relax and enjoy the quiet rural vibe.

Read more about things to do in Chiang Rai here. Here is our list of things to do in Chiang Rai.

Visit Wat Rong Khung

Wat Rong Khun also known as the white temple, is actually a consecrated Buddhist temple. It is the work of Chalermchai Kositpipat, and that began in 1997.

Wat Rong Khung in Chiang Rai

There is a complete lack of any color except white and this makes the temple visually very intriguing. There can be a lot of tourists there, especially in the afternoon.

You can enjoy walking through the white halls of the temple and seeing the main temple as well as a photo on the grounds of the temple.

Go Hiking

This causes the surrounding area to be full of grassland, forests, and rivers, with many ethnic tribes, living in the hills around the capital.

It is possible to take a look at an organized tour. Often a multi-day trek is combined with an overnight stay in a local village.

Chiang Rai Thailand

Shop At The Night Market

Although the night market in Chiang Rai is much smaller than that of Chiang Mai, this market is just as much fun.

The Thai market traders sell tailor-made products, especially for tourists. So you can take home some nice souvenirs.

Night Market in Luang Prabang

Visit The Blue Temple (Wat Rong Seur Ten)

This temple as the name suggests is a temple that is blue. It is a beautiful temple inside and out. And is located a few kilometers outside of Chiang Rai.

The grounds around the temple are also impressive so be sure to walk around. It is recently built in 2016 and was named after tigers that once roamed the area.

Things To Do In Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has a relaxed vibe but there are a lot of things to do from temples, good nightlife, temples, and more.

Read more about things to do in Chiang Mai here. Here is our list of things to do in Chiang Mai.

Visit Elephant Sanctuary

One thing that is popular in Chiang Mai is elephant sanctuaries and conservation projects. There is a lot of them around Chiang Mai.

Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary

The challenge regarding elephants is to find one that does NOT include riding them. You can feed them, bathe them, and hang out with them for a few hours.

See our post on the best elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai.

ZipLine Through The Jungle

You can ZipLine deep inside the rainforest, you get to shoot from one tree to another, securely attached to a Zipline of course.

The whole ride was a 2-hour adrenaline-packed adventure. Fly at 70 meters off the ground and ride 800 meters single zip line. Highly recommended a GoPro.

Visit The Chiang Mai Night Safari

The night safari in Chiang Mai is split into two sections. The first is the Predator Prowl Zone which has tigers, lions, wolves, crocodiles, African hunting dogs, and over 200 more animals.

White Tiger in Singapore Zoo

The other is the Savanna Night Safari which is home to kangaroos, water buffalos, white rhinos, and 300 more animals.

A tram will take you around the park with the tram driver stopping and pointing out the various animals. Each night there is a later light show with accompanying music which is certainly worth waiting around for.

Visit The Night Bazaar

Chang Klan Road is just another regular road during the day, but at night the whole place fills up as the stallholders drag out their stalls and get set up for the night.

Hundreds of traders line the road selling various goods such as fake designer items, lanterns, and other handcrafted goods. A lot of things will not have a price and bartering is openly encouraged.

Wrapping Up

Finally, which one to choose really depends on your personal preference. For people looking for a more local Thai experience and not interested in the nightlife and with a lot of exploring to do from hiking to temples then it is Chiang Rai.

On the other hand, if you are looking for somewhere with a good range of bars and restaurants. And enjoy the chilled busy vibe with plenty of things to do from visiting an elephant sanctuary or hiking in the jungle then Chiang Mai is for you.

Personally, Chiang Rai is good for 2 to 3 days, after that, you will have seen everything.

And that’s it for now! I’d love to know if this guide on Chiang Rai vs Chiang Mai, which to visit has helped you. Let me know if you have any questions and let me know if there is more to add.

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Chiang Rai vs Chiang Mai
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