Northern Thailand Itinerary: 6 Days in Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai

Northern Thailand Itinerary: 6 Days in Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai

A traveller shares his detailed itinerary and cost breakdown for six days in Northern Thailand, covering the cities and beyond.

Contributed by Eat. Travel. Photography

This itinerary will cover Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai over 6 days and is the second part of my Thailand – Laos backpacking trip. To see my previous itineraries, check out my 5-day itinerary for the Mae Hong Son motorcycle loop, or fast forward to my next itinerary, 13-day itinerary for Northern Laos and 9-day itinerary for Ayutthaya, Bangkok and Hua Hin, Thailand.

TRIP SUMMARY

  • Trip length and when did I go? 6 days in June 2015
  • Places visited: Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep, Chiang Rai, Mae Salong
  • How much did it cost me? MYR 360 (approx. USD 84)

AT A GLANCE

  • Day 1 – Chiang Mai. Arrival in Chiang Mai. Check in to So Hostel, then walk to Sunday Night Market and dinner at Tha Phae gate. Overnight in Chiang Mai.
  • Day 2 – Chiang Mai. Walking tour of the old city along all five of Chiang Mai’s gates (Tha Phae, Chang Puak, Suan Dok, Suan Prung and Chiang Mai). In the same time, I visited important temples such as Wat Phan Tao, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh. Dinner at Chiang Mai gate. Overnight in Chiang Mai.
  • Day 3 – Chiang Mai to Doi Suthep to Chiang Mai. Day trip by motorcycle to Doi Suthep and Doi Pui. Stopped by at The Harbour on the way back. Dinner at Chang Puak gate. Overnight in Chiang Mai.
  • Day 4 – Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. Check out from the hostel and took the bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. Upon arriving in Chiang Rai, I checked in to Fun D Hostel. Did a short visit of Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) in the afternoon. Back in Chiang Rai, I did a short walking tour of Chiang Rai, visiting the famous Chiang Rai clock tower. Ended by day by having dinner at Chiang Rai Night Bazaar. Overnight in Chiang Rai.
  • Day 5 – Chiang Rai to Mae Salong to Chiang Rai. Day trip by motorcycle to Mae Salong. Along the way, I made stops at King Mengrai Monument and Baan Si Dum (Black House). In Mae Salong, I hiked up to Sinakarintra Mahasanthikiri Pagoda for a bird’s eye view of the town and its surroundings, and visited the tea plantations. Back to Chiang Rai and dinner at Chiang Rai Night Bazaar. Overnight in Chiang Rai.
  • Day 6 – Chiang Rai to Laos. Check out from hostel and took a bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Kong. From Chiang Kong, I took a tuk tuk to the border crossing and over the Friendship bridge to Laos

View the itinerary map and travel montage on the original post.

DAY 1

Arrival in Chiang Mai & Hostel check-in

  • 8.00 pm – Arrive in Chiang Mai after completing my Mae Hong Son loop
  • Check-in to So Hostel (located along Loi Kroh road) – 189 baht per night. Staying for 3 nights (total cost – 567 baht)

Facade of So Hostel Chiang Mai. Conveniently located with ample and well-thought-out facilities at a good price point

Inside So Hostel. Had the whole dorm to myself the first two nights, sweet!

Sunday Night Market at Tha Phae Gate

  • 9.30 pm – Walk from hostel to Sunday night market, located at Tha Phae gate (under 10 minutes)
  • Dinner – Chiang Mai sausage (20 baht) & vegetarian fried rice (60 baht)
  • Walk around the night market for a few hours until closing hour. The market only stays open till midnight
  • 11.30 pm – Return to hostel

Sunday Night Market

Chiang Mai sausages at Tha Phae gate. Yummy!

DAY 2

Getting ready for Chiang Mai’s old city walking tour

  • 8.00 am – Wake up
  • Breakfast at 29 Cafe (located along Ratmakka road, close to Tha Phae gate) – American breakfast (100 baht)
  • Return scooter to Pop Rental at Tha Phae Gate

My breakfast at 29 Cafe. Well portioned, good price

Tha Phae Gate in the daytime

Tha Phae Gate to Chang Puak Gate

  • 10.00 am – Start walking tour of Chiang Mai’s old city
  • 11.15 am – 12.00 pm – Photo stop at Chang Puak Gate. From here, it’s possible to catch a red songthaew to Doi Suthep. Costs 50 baht one way, but it only leaves when full (in low season, this could take a very long time)

Part of the wall that surrounds Chiang Mai’s old city

View of the moat on the way to Chang Puak Gate

Approaching Chang Puak Gate

Red songthaews waiting at Chang Puak Gate. You can catch a red songthaew here to Doi Suthep. During low season, this can be a very long wait, so try out other options such as renting your own transport

Chang Puak Gate to Three Kings Monument

  • Walk south along Phra Pokklao road. Short photo stop at Three Kings Monument (15 minutes), an important landmark in Chiang Mai’s history, built to commemorate the city’s founders
  • 12.30 pm – Coffee break at Kaffe 151 – Banana cake (30 baht) & pearl milk tea (35 baht)

Walking along Phra Pokklao road

Kaffe 151 located at a junction along Phra Pokklao road

Three Kings Monument, one of Chiang Mai’s most important landmarks

Wat Phan Tao

  • 12.45 pm – Continue down Phra Pokklao road
  • 12.55 pm – Photo stop at Wat Phan Tao (30 minutes), one of the city’s oldest temples, and one of the few remaining teak wood structures in Chiang Mai

Seen on the way to Wat Phan Tao

View of Wat Phan Tao from the outside

Teakwood interiors of Wat Phan Tao

Wat Chedi Luang

  • 1.30 pm – Walk over to Wat Chedi Luang, located just around the corner. The ruined chedi housed in this temple was possibly the largest structure in ancient Chiang Mai

View of Wat Ho Tham, one of the temples inside Wat Chedi Luang

Inside Wat Ho Tham

Chedi Luang, possibly the largest structure in ancient Chiang Mai

Wat Phra Singh

  • 3.00 pm – Walk west along Thonon Rachadamnoen road. Coffee break at Ratchadumnern Cafe along the way – Iced latte (65 baht)
  • 4.00 pm – Photo stop at Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai’s most revered temple. There’s an entrance fee of 20 baht to enter the main temple, but I got in for free since I seem to pass for a local

View of Wat Phra Singh from the outside

Ho Trai, or temple library of Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh to Suan Dok Gate

  • 5.00 pm – Exit Wat Phra Singh, and start walking east along Arak 5 road. Turn in halfway to Intrawarorot road. Noticed lots of eateries along this road, and the place is seemingly popular with the locals
  • 5.15 pm – Photo stop at Suan Dok Gate

Beautiful weather as seen from Arak 5 road

Watching the sunset over Suan Dok Gate

Suan Dok Gate to Chiang Mai Gate

  • 5.30 pm – Walk south along Arak road. Since it started to rain, I decided to do a short photo stop at Nong Buak Hard park. It’s a small area but very popular with the locals.
  • 6.15 pm –  Continue on eastward along Bumrung Buri road from the park
  • 6.30 pm – Quick photo stop at Suan Prung gate

Scenic moat area seen on the way from Suan Dok to Chiang Mai Gate

Inside Nong Buak Hard park

The moat runs in parallel with Bumrung Buri road

Chiang Mai Gate

  • 7.00 pm – Dinner at Chiang Mai Gate food market – Paprik rice (40 baht) with fried chicken (20 baht) & fruit shake (25 baht, quite possibly the best I’ve tried, bought from Pa Fruit Shake stall)
  • 8.45 pm – Return to hostel

Drizzly evening at Chiang Mai Gate food market

There’s a wide selection of food here that you’ll be spoilt for choice

Pa Fruit Shake Stall. Possibly the best fruit shake I’ve tried in Chiang Mai

DAY 3

Pre-day

  • 8.00 am – Wake up
  • Breakfast at Crema Cafe near the hostel – American breakfast (110 baht) & coffee (25 baht)

Crema Cafe. Decided to have breakfast here since it was only a short walk away from the hostel. The breakfast was pricier and wasn’t as good as the one I had in 29 cafe, though

Chiang Mai to Doi Suthep

  • I mentioned earlier that you can also take a red songthaew from Chang Puak gate to Doi Suthep. However between the waiting times and added costs, I chose to rent a motorcycle instead
  • 10.00 am – Walk to Tha Phae Gate (under 10 minutes). Rented a motorcycle from Chiang Mai Thai Car Rent & Tour (located a few shops away from Pop Rental) – 150 baht per day (renting for only one day)
  • 11.00 am – Ride to Doi Suthep (via route 1004, exit the old city into Huaykaew road going northwest, you will pass by the Chiang Mai Zoo on the way)

Doi Suthep

  • 11.45 am – Arrive at Doi Suthep. Paid entrance fee to enter Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples – 30 baht
  • 11.50 am – 1.50pm – Photo ops around Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Climbing the 300+ steps of the Naga staircase to get to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Alternatively, there’s also a lift you can take to the top if you’re not feeling up to it

Emerald Buddha statue at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Altar with a row of golden Buddhas

Visitors donating coins to the temple by trying to stick them onto a board. Some try it with wax, others with pure luck

Sightseeing around Doi Pui

  • 2.00 pm – Continue on up the hill to Doi Pui national park. Stopover at Bhubing Palace along the way but didn’t go in. This place was built to accommodate Thailand’s royal family and other dignitaries during state visits to Chiang Mai. The main draw for tourists however, is the beautiful landscaped gardens located within its grounds. There’s an entrance fee of 100 baht to enter.
  • 2.30 pm – Photo stop at Doi Pui peak. Similar to Doi Inthanon, the highest point on Doi Pui hill is marked with only a signboard. There isn’t much of a view as it’s covered with trees. To get here, simply follow the road all the way to the top until you reach the camping grounds. From there, it’s about 20 minutes on foot to the peak

On the way to Doi Pui Peak

This isn’t actually Doi Pui peak, rather a viewpoint located along the road on the way to it. I liked the views here better than the ‘viewless’ Doi Pui peak

Hmong village nestled in a lush jungle

Back to Chiang Mai

  • 4.00 pm – Ride back down from Doi Pui to Chiang Mai. Did short photo stops at two viewpoints with impressive views of Chiang Mai city on the way down

View of Chiang Mai from one of the viewpoints on the way down

The Harbour, Chiang Mai

  • 5.00 pm – Back in Chiang Mai
  • 5.20 pm – 7.20 pm – Photo stop at The Harbour on the way. Coffee break at Roastniyom – Cafe latte (60 baht)

The Harbour, Chiang Mai. A great place to spend your evenings

The Harbour lights up as the day turns to evening

Chang Puak Gate

  • 7.30 pm – Stopover for dinner at Chang Puak gate food market – Seafood tom yum & stir fried vegetables (150 baht)
  • 9.30 pm – Return to hostel. Did my laundry using the coin operated machines in the hostel – 90 baht
  • Went for a massage at a massage parlour nearby before heading back to the hostel – 150 baht

Chang Puak Gate food market

Dinner at Chang Puak Gate, spicy tom yum and stir fried vegetables. The tomyum was one of the best I’ve tasted so far in my travels

DAY 4

Last day in Chiang Mai & Hostel check-out

  • 7.30 am – Wake up
  • 8.15 am – Pack up and check out from hostel
  • 8.25 am – Returned motorcycle to Chiang Mai Thai Car Rent & Tour at Tha Phae Gate

Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai by bus

  • 8.35 am – Ride a red songthaew from Tha Phae Gate to Arcade bus terminal – 40 baht
  • 8.50 am – Arrive at Arcade bus terminal. Walk to ticket counter to buy one-way ticket for 9.30 am bus (Green Bus) to Chiang Rai (Bus Station 1) – 140 baht (2nd class)
  • Breakfast at the bus terminal – Fried rice with egg (40 baht)
  • 9.30 am – Board bus (Green Bus) departing for Chiang Rai
  • 10.45 am – Stopover at Mae Khachan for lunch (15 minutes)

Green Bus ticket counter inside Arcade bus terminal

Waiting to board the bus. The journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai took about 3 hours

Arrival in Chiang Rai & Hostel check-in

  • 12.40 pm – Arrive at Chiang Rai Bus Station 1. Walk from the bus station to the hostel (under 20 minutes)
  • 1.00 pm – Check-in to Fun D Hostel – 144 baht per night. Staying for 2 nights (total cost – 288 baht). I’m inclined to give this hostel a glowing recommendation, as it gave me the best value for money out of all my stays in Northern Thailand.

Arrival at Chiang Rai Bus Station 1

Fun D Hostel in Chiang Rai offered the best value for money out of all my stays in Northern Thailand

The dorm in Fun D Hostel. The beds were small but comfy and best of all, they have privacy curtains!

Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)

  • 1.40 pm – Walk back to Chiang Rai Bus Station 1 (under 20 minutes)
  • 2.15 pm – Ride bus (blue colour with the sign “To White Temple”) at platform #8 to Wat Rong Khun – 20 baht. Remember to tell the bus driver to drop you off at Wat Rong Khun
  • 2.45 pm – Dropped off by the roadside near Wat Rong Khun. Walk to the entrance of White Temple (under 5 minutes)
  • 2.50 pm – 4.00pm – Photo ops of Wat Rong Khun. Have to admit I was a bit deceived by the photos I saw while researching how to get to the white temple. Got the impression the temple was a fairly big place but it’s actually pretty small and can be seen in about an hour

The famed White Temple to tourists, Wat Rong Khun to the locals

The temple stands as a testament to the amalgamation of old and new ideas

Back to Chiang Rai

  • 4.05 pm – Exit Wat Rong Khun and walk to the police station just outside the temple along the highway (under 5 minutes)
  • 4.15 pm – Ride bus (blue colour) back to Chiang Rai – 20 baht.
  • Note: If you’re visiting Wat Rong Khun using this method, make sure to conclude your visit latest by 4pm as I was told by the locals that this was the last bus back to Chiang Rai
  • 4.35 pm – Arrive at Chiang Rai Bus Station 1

Going to and from Wat Rong Khun is pretty easy once you get the idea. Just make sure to wrap up your visit before the last bus comes through here though, or you may find yourself having to take a taxi back!

Sightseeing around Chiang Rai

  • 5.00 pm – 7.00 pm – Photo walk around Chiang Rai town. From the bus station, I walked along Phaholyothin road, then continued westward along Thanon Baanpa Pragarn road

Chiang Rai clock tower

Chiang Rai Clock Tower

  • 6.00 pm – Photo stop at Chiang Rai clock tower. Hung out at Yoddoi Cafe just around the corner while waiting for the light show to happen at 7pm. During this time, the clock tower lights up in different colours at specific intervals, most notably around 7pm, 8pm and 9pm each day

Chiang Rai clock tower lights up in different colours at specific intervals each day, starting at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm

One last peek at the Chiang Rai clock tower

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar

  • 7.30 pm – Dinner at the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar – Hot pot (70 baht) & fruit shake (20 baht)
  • 10.00 pm – Did some shopping and walked around the bazaar for a bit before heading back to the hostel

Chiang Rai’s biggest surprise to me was its night bazaar

The night bazaar is very popular with tourists and locals alike. There’s no better place in Chiang Rai to sit back and enjoy your evenings

DAY 5

Getting ready for Mae Salong day trip

  • 7.30 am – Wake up
  • Breakfast at the hostel – Toast bread, cereal and coffee (provided by the hostel)
  • Rented a motorcycle from the hostel – 200 baht per day (renting for only one day)
  • Refuel at a nearby gas station – 90 baht

King Mengrai Monument

  • 9.00 am – Start riding from the hostel to Baan Si Dum (via Route 1)
  • 9.05 am – 9.20 am – Photo stop at King Mengrai Monument on the way. If you have plenty of time, there’s a tram you can hop on here for a free city tour

King Mengrai Monument, Chiang Rai

Free city tour by tram is available near the monument

Baan Si Dum (Black House)

  • 9.20 am – Continue on to Baan Si Dum via Route 1
  • Note: The lack of signages makes it very easy to miss the turn-in to Baan Si Dum. Look out for the purple signboard with the letters “National Artist – Mr. Thawan Duchanee” then make a left turn. Follow the small road to Baan Si Dum
  • 9.55 am – 10.55am – Photo stop at Baan Si Dum. Chiang Rai’s Black House showcases works of art by Thailand’s national artist, Thawan Duchanee. I found the displays to be quaint and grotesque at the same time

Quaint works of art by Thailand’s national artist, Thawan Duchanee

The black houses of Baan Si Dum

Some of the displays at Baan Si Dum can be morbid and a bit disturbing

Mae Salong

  • 11.00 am – Continue on to Mae Salong via Route 1, then a turn-in to Route 107. At the security checkpoint, turn-in to Route 1089
  • 1.00 pm – Arrive in Mae Salong
  • Lunch at Ping Ping Restaurant – Pork knuckles, stir fried vegetables and oolong tea – 320 baht
  • 2.15 pm – Climb the stairs to the top of Sinakarintra Mahasanthikiri Pagoda to get a bird’s eye view of Mae Salong (under 30 minutes). Make sure you’re fairly fit before attempting the hike, as it’s a long and very tiring one. I found out later that you could also drive to the top but a word of caution, the road to the top is pretty steep
  • 3.45 pm – Climb back down from the pagoda and ride to the surrounding tea plantations in the valley below Mae Salong
  • 5.15 pm – Ride back to Mae Salong to refuel at the gas station – 50 baht
northern thailand itinerary

On the way to Mae Salong

northern thailand itinerary

Breathtaking scenery on the way to Mae Salong

There are plenty of restaurants in Mae Salong, but I decided on Ping Ping restaurant since it was packed to the brim with hungry patrons. More customers mean good food right?

Yunnanese delight. Delicious serving of pork knuckles, stir fried vegetables and refreshing oolong tea for lunch

northern thailand itinerary

Entrance and starting point to the Sinakarintra Mahasanthikiri Pagoda in Mae Salong

That arduous climb to the top, I lost count after the first few hundred steps. Luckily, there’s an easier way to do this

Views of Mae Salong from the top of the pagoda

On the way down to the tea plantation

This big lion head structure welcomes you to the tea plantation

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Views of Mae Salong and the surrounding countryside from the tea plantation

northern thailand itinerary

Rolling hills of oolong tea

Back to Chiang Rai

  • 5.30 pm – Ride back to Chiang Rai from Mae Salong
  • 7.15 pm – Back in Chiang Rai. Went to the night bazaar to do some last minute shopping
  • 9.30 pm – Dinner at the night bazaar before heading back to the hostel – Hot pot (70 baht) & coconut shake (20 baht)

Back in Chiang Rai. Decided to spend my evening in the night bazaar. There are free concerts by local performers to keep your nights entertained

Dinner on my last night in Chiang Rai. Hot pot and coconut shake

DAY 6

Last day in Chiang Rai & Hostel check-out

  • 7.30 am – Wake up
  • Breakfast at the hostel – Toast bread, cereal and coffee (provided by the hostel)
  • 9.00 am – Pack up and check out from the hostel.
  • Returned the motorcycle to the hostel, the owner gave me a ride to the bus station

How to get to Laos from Chiang Rai, using the DIY method. Step number one, take the bus departing for Chiang Kong from platform #16 at Chiang Rai Bus Station 1. Fare is 65 baht

Chiang Rai to Laos using the DIY method

  • 9.10 am – Arrive at Chiang Rai Bus Station 1
  • 9.30 am – Ride bus (red colour) at platform #16 bound for Chiang Kong – 65 baht. Tell the bus driver you want to be dropped off at the border
  • 11.30 am – Dropped off at an intersection just before Chiang Kong. Walk to the nearby tuk tuk station
  • 11.35 am – Ride tuk tuk to the Thailand – Laos border crossing nearby – 30 baht (bargained down from 50 baht)
  • 11.40 am – Arrive at the border crossing. Changed some Thai baht to Laotian kip at the currency exchange
  • Immigration clearance
  • 12.15 am – Ride the shuttle bus from Thailand to Laos via the friendship bridge – 25 baht

If you told the bus driver that you want to go to the border, you will be dropped off at the intersection to the friendship bridge, just before entering Chiang Kong

How to get to Laos from Chiang Rai, using the DIY method. Step number two, ride a tuk tuk from the Chiang Kong intersection to the border crossing. Should cost no more than 50 baht per way

Riding the tuk tuk to the border crossing, the whole trip takes less than 5 minutes

How to get to Laos from Chiang Rai, using the DIY method. Step number three, after immigration clearance, buy a ticket for the shuttle bus to Laos. Fare is only 25 baht

Getting ready to board the shuttle bus to Laos

Just beyond this horizon, Laos awaits!

TRIP COST & EXPENSES

HOW MUCH DID IT COST ME?

  • In local currency: THB 3,235
  • Conversion rate (at the time): MYR 1 = THB 9
  • After conversion: MYR 359 (for 6 days)

About Author

Garrett Aeria
Garrett Aeria

There are three things that Garrett absolutely loves about life: Eat, Travel and Photography, which are all perfectly summed up in his travel blog's moniker. Ever since being bitten by the travel bug, Eat. Travel. Photography represents his way of chronicling his life's journeys and sharing his enthusiasm with the world.

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