Chiang Rai Loop
The Chiang Rai Loop circles the highest peaks of Thailand. The Chiang Rai Loop itinerary covers about 500km. It goes around two mountain tops. Doi Thung and Doi Angkhang. The route has a lot of steep uphills and drastic lows. The best way around the loop is on a motorcycle. But if you are unsure of your motor skills, do not risk it.
The Chiang Rai Loop starts at Chiang Mai.
On the Chiang Rai loop, there are very steep slopes (Doi Thung and Doi Angkhang). Not recommended for novice riders. If you use the motorcycle with an automatic transmission, be sure to read the article about the brake fluid and the reasons for its boiling, which can cause the failure of the brakes – https://catmotors.net/brake-fluid-replacement/
Table of Contents
- 1 Chiang Rai Loop
- 1.1 Chiang Rai Loop Day 1. Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai
- 1.1.1 The things to do on the road to Chiang Rai:
- 1.1.2 The things to do in Chiang Rai:
- 1.2 Chiang Rai Loop Day 2. Chiang Rai – Mae Salong
- 1.2.1 (MS) Wat Rong Khun (open 8.00AM)
- 1.2.2 (MS) Black Temple (open 9.00AM)
- 1.2.3 (R) Union of Hill Tribe villages and the Karen Long Necks
- 1.2.4 (MS) Doi Thung
- 1.3 Chiang Rai Loop Day 3. Mae Salong – Doi Angkhang (coldest point in Thailand)
- 1.4 Chiang Rai Loop Day 4. Doi Angkhang – Chiang Mai
- 1.1 Chiang Rai Loop Day 1. Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai
R – Recommended
MS – Must See
Chiang Rai Loop Day 1. Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai
Direct route – 186km
Scenic route – 232km
Most loops that tourists travel through in Northern Thailand start at Chiang Mai. This is because Chiang Mai is home to an international airport. And flying to Northern Thailand is the quickest way to get there.
Onwards to Chiang Rai, however, the only option is by road. Here are some places you should visit on the way.
The things to do on the road to Chiang Rai:
(R) Mae Khachan Hot Spring
Northern Thailand is known for its Hot Springs. They are scattered across the hilly terrain of the North and attract loads of tourists every year. Mae Khachan is one such hot spring. The Mae Khachan hot spring is on the road between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. It is a stop on the way that most people make.
At the spring itself, you will see people taking a dip in the warm pools and of course, the traditional egg boiling. Both of which are very normal sights at any hot spring in Thailand. The Mae Khachan Hot Spring also has a few eateries around it.
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(R) Khun Korn Waterfall
Khun Korn Waterfall is Chiang Rai’s biggest waterfall. It is a must visit. The waterfall is about 70 meters high and hidden deep within the Khun Korn Forest Park, about 30 km from the center of Chiang Rai.
The Khun Korn Waterfall is one of the most beautiful waterfalls the North has to offer. It has trails leading up to it. It is a 1,5km trekking from the car park. So, we suggest you invest in a good pair of trekking or walking shoes. While the waterfall does get a couple of tourists, it is never too crowded. During the summer months, a lot of locals can be seen taking a dip in the cool waters of the waterfall.
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The things to do in Chiang Rai:
(R) Wat Phra Singh
The Wat Phra Singh Temple was originally built in Chiang Rai. The temple housed a very auspicious statue of the Buddha that pilgrims from all over the world would come to see. But over the years, the statue has been relocated to the Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai.
The Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Rai, however, is still worth the visit. The temple is built in old Lanna styles and many pillars with intricate golden carvings. The temple is usually quiet, but is certainly worth the visit.
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(MS) Wat Phra Kaew
The Wat Phra Kaew is officially called the Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram. In English the name roughly translates to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is Thailand’s most sacred temple.
The statue of Buddha was housed in Chiang Rai until it was relocated to Chiang Mai. But now, the Wat Phra Kaew houses a replica of the original, made of green jade. The Wat Phra Kaew is a temple that is still revered among Buddhists for having once housed the original Buddha statue.
(R) Wat Phra That Doi Thong
The Wat Phra That Doi Thong is an ancient monastery in Chiang Rai. The monastery is built atop a mountain that offers a nice vantage view of Chiang Rai. The temple holds a lot of unique and unusual Buddhist articles.
The temple has been in use for over a 1,000 years now. The temple was a local spirit house long before Buddhism arrived in the area. Another unique thing about the Wat Phra That Doi Thong is that it has pillars that are arranged in accordance with the Lanna tradition. These pillars represent the relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism.
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(R) Wat Ming Mueang
Wat Ming Mueang is a 700 year old temple in Chiang Rai. The temple is known for its intricate architecture and beautifully painted ceiling. Inside the temple there are a lot of artifacts and collectibles that are of historical importance and prove the connections of between multiple diverse cultures. Most of these artifacts are put on display for the tourists.
The temple is built in typical Thai style architecture and at one point was known as Tai Yai people’s temple. The temple, back in the day, was of utmost importance in the town because of its royal patronage.
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(MS) Gold Clock Tower (21:00)
The gold clock tower is a work of art. The gold clock tower was unveiled in 2009. And it is the brainchild of a Chalermchai Khositpipat. Over the years, the golden clock tower which is also a roundabout center has become a tourist attraction of its own.
It is a must visit in Thailand and is actually quite popular among tourists.
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(MS) Night Market (food! a-a-a!)
One thing every Thai town is famous for is its night market or bazaar. And Chiang Rai is no exception. It has a bustling night market that starts around 5 pm every evening and goes way into the night.
These night markets are the perfect place to pick up souvenirs, handlooms, handmade crafts, etc. Another great thing to try out at these night markets is the food. Every night market has the best of Thai street food on display and it does not disappoint.
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Sleep in Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai Loop Day 2. Chiang Rai – Mae Salong
There are two routes to get to Mae Salong. The first one goes straight through and is about 60-70km long. The other route is a more scenic route but it is almost double the distance in terms of kilometers. The best way to get around to these towns is on a two-wheeler, motorcycle or bike.
Direct route – 60km
Scenic route – 170km
The thing to do on the road to Mae Salong:
(MS) Wat Rong Khun (open 8.00AM)
Wat Rong Khun is probably the most interesting Buddhist temple that you will visit. That is because it isn’t one. The Wat Rong Khun is a large art exhibit that is in the shape of a Buddhist temple.
The original Wat Rong Khun was bought by a local Chiang Rai artist called Chalermchai Kostipipat. He then renovated the space and made it a tourist attraction. He has spent a lot of money from his own pocket to make the Wat Rong Khun what it is. And intends to use the space around the Wat Rong Khun for people and tourists to benefit from the teaching of Buddha.
This temple is more popularly known among tourists as the White Temple.
Come early, there are no other tourists.
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(MS) Black Temple (open 9.00AM)
The Black Temple is a group of monuments that are painted black. Similar to the White Temple the Black Temple to is a house for art by an artist. Incidentally, the artist Thawan Duchanee. The mentor of Chalermchai Kostipipat.
The Black Temple is home to his life’s work and a lot of the artist’s taxidermy too. Around the property, travelers will find skeletons of different animals. Although this is not a place that is advisable to the squeamish, it is a good place to stop.
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(R) Union of Hill Tribe villages and the Karen Long Necks
Northern Thailand borders Burma and is a very mountainous region. These mountainous regions are home to a large number of tribes and their people. One has to be very lucky to be able to interact with tribal people in Thailand.
For the tribes that are willing, the Thai Tourism Department has created accessible villages for them to inhabit. And has made them open for tourists. Tourists come from all over the globe to understand their lives, culture and take home a piece of Thailand’s tribal heritage.
Union of Hill Tribe Villages is one of them. It is a small village that is inhabited by tribes, more commonly the Karen Long Necks. And offers a window into their lives, culture, and practices.
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(MS) Doi Thung
Doi Thung is a part of the Nang Non-Mountains. Doi Thung is, in fact, the highest peak of this mountain range. The peak is heavily forested and is about 1650 meters above sea-level. The weather here is cold and icy year around.
At the summit, there is a temple, a bunch of cafes and a tree garden. All of which is a must visit.
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As with every summit, the Doi Thung too has a designated viewpoint. The designated viewpoint offers a panoramic view of the entire mountain range and a beautiful vintage. The summit is the best place to see the sunrise and sunset from.
There are many trails in and around the summit that every nature lover will enjoy. There are many tea and coffee stalls at the summit for tourists to enjoy while they take a minute in the lap of mother nature.
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The Royal Villa is the home of Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother of Thailand. The Royal Villa is built in an authentic Swiss Chalet style. The lawns and gardens around are tastefully manicured and set up.
The Royal Villa is a mixture of all that Thailand has to offer. Architecture, nature with a tinge of foreign influence.
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The Hall of Inspiration
The Hall of Inspiration is a collection of stories about an old Thai family. The Royal Thai family is called the Mahidol. The collection is a lot of stories that depict how the family was encouraged to serve the country. The Hall of Inspiration covers three generations of the Mahidol family. Each of the exhibits poses as an encouragement to serve Thailand.
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It is home to all sorts flora and fauna. It is a nice place to kick back, relax, read a book and just cool off. The main features of the garden are the shaped walks and hedge clocks, etc.
The botanical garden has a lot of sculpted flora that pose as a great place to take pictures and draw.
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Doi Thung Tree Top Walk
The Doi Thung Tree Top Walk is located in the middle of the Royal Garden. It is a remarkable experience. Tourists walk on a wooden rope bridge at the height of the treetop. After being harnessed into the safety belt, you walk across the treetops and have a beautiful view of the Royal garden below and the mountain range above.
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Doi Tung Temple + viewpoint
Near the summit of Doi Thung, is the Doi Tung Temple. The Temple is called the Wat Phra That Doi Tung. The temple is at about 2,000 meters above sea-level. The temple was built in the 10th Century.
The temple atop Doi Thung has a twin stupa. Both stupas are golden in color. The temple is in a quaint little location that offers a nice view of the mountain range. The vantage provides panoramic views of the mountain range and if you’re really lucky you get to see the clouds put on a show.
To the left of the temple is a path to the amazing viewpoint with a length of 300 meters.
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Doi Thung Arboretum
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Sleep in Mae Salong
Chiang Rai Loop Day 3. Mae Salong – Doi Angkhang (coldest point in Thailand)
Direct route – 113km
Scenic route – 145km
The things to do on the road to Doi Angkhang:
(MS) Mae Salong
Tea Farm (101 Tea)
The Chiang Rai Province is known for its tea plantations. Its beautiful green order and the paths that go between them. The route from Mae Salong to Doi Angkhang is blessed with tea farms in abundance.
Stop for a bit, enjoy a fresh cup of tea with the local tea-pluckers and click a photo or two while you’re at it.
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Phra Boromathat Chedi
Set against a bright blue sky, the white with golden carvings stupa of Phra Borommathat Chedi is a site to take in. It is one of the last remaining symbols of the influence of the Srivijaya Kingdom.
It is a standing testament to the diverse history of Thailand. And is a site that should be visited by everyone in the region. Like most temple or monastery set-ups, the Phra Borommathat Chedi is also built on top of a hill and provides panoramic views of the towns below.
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General Tuan Shi-Wen tomb
General Taun Shi-Wen is the General that led the Chinese anti-communism division forces into Thailand during the communist revolution. He made it as far as Doi Mae Salong but unfortunately died there.
In his memory, there is a tomb that was erected on one of Doi Mae Salong’s many hills and it still remains.
“We have to continue to fight the evil of communism, and to fight you must have an army, and an army must have guns, and to buy guns you must have money. In these mountains, the only money is opium”
— Gen Tuan Shi-wen, Weekend Telegraph (London), 10 March 1967
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(MS) Wat Tha Ton
The Wat Tha Ton is a large temple complex in Thailand. The temple complex is only a few kilometers shy of Burma. The temple complex, at one point, had only the main stupa. But with more tourists coming its way, a couple of supporting structures have been recently built to give the temple complex a grander look.
The temple, like most temples in the region, is built on top of a hill. The hill overlooks a couple of villages and a small river flows down. It is a very peaceful experience and is a must-visit for anybody in the region.
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(R) Fang Hot Spring
Fang hot springs is a hot spring that is in the middle of a national park. The hot springs have multiple little geysers that lead up to the main geyser. The area surrounding it is absolutely forested. But the little development that the Thai tourist department has done also blends in well with the surroundings.
The Fang Hot Springs is a nice little place to relax and take a dip during the winters as the water around are warm enough.
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Sleep in Doi Angkhang. Don’t forgot warm clothes, closed shoes, and motorbike gloves. In January, the temperature can reach minus 3 degrees Celsius (26°F). In hotels there are no heating devices but there are very warm blankets.
Chiang Rai Loop Day 4. Doi Angkhang – Chiang Mai
Direct route – 160km
Scenic route – 173km
(R) Doi Angkhang viewpoint (come by 5:00-5:30 AM)
As with every summit, the Doi Angkhang too has a viewpoint. The viewpoint offers a panoramic view of the entire mountain range and a beautiful view. The summit is the best place to see the sunrise and sunset from.
There are many trails in and around the summit that every nature lover will enjoy. There are many tea and coffee stalls at the summit for tourists to enjoy while they take a minute in the lap of mother nature. This, however, is on the way to Chiang Mai so is usually just a stop on the way.
On the left side from this viewpoint have another one.
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(MS) Wat Dap Phai
The Wat Dap Phai is the temple of good health and forgiveness. Legend has it that once a very sick man prayed here for his health and was immediately cured of his ailment. The temple has a small pond in front of it. Which adds grandeur to the temple’s golden structure.
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(MS) Chiang Dao Cave
The highlight of the entire cave experience is the reclining Buddha statue inside it, but along the way, there are a lot of inscriptions and drawings on the walls that date back to centuries before. Thailand has always been known for its caves and this particular one was used as a safe-haven during the Burmese invasion and is home to a lot of history.
The entrance of the cave is about 180 steps away from the car parking, to get to which tourists have to climb the Naga Serpent staircase. Being a cave, it has been lit up with fluorescent lights all over, that accentuate the face of the cavern and all its stalactites and stalagmites formations.
There is no need to worry about having to crouch down to get through the cave as the cave is quite big on its own, however, make sure that the paths you take are well lit and check with the people there before wandering off into any tall caverns.
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After visiting the Chiang Dao cave, you can return to Chiang Mai, or turn to road 1095 towards Pai town, and continue your journey by motorcycle for another 3-5 days on the Mae Hon Son Loop.
(R) Wat Mae Kaet Noi (Temple of Hell)
Wat Mae Kaet Noi roughly translates to Temple of Hell. The temple essentially depicts the consequences of the choices we make and show you that every choice we make determines whether we go to hell or heaven.
There are a lot of interactive action machines inside this temple, so make sure you take change.
Before you visit this temple – change somewhere 100-150 baht for coins of 10 baht. There are many action machines.
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Come back to Chiang Mai.