Cities Itineraries

Cycling to the sights: things to do in Chiang Rai

Not everybody can ride a moped. Thai public transport can be difficult to navigate. We chose bicycles to get around the pretty sights of Chiang Rai, northern Thailand.

There are so many things to do in Chiang Rai, but not everything is within walking distance. Cycling is a fun, easy, cheap and fairly safe way to get around the attractions, and it seems to be very often overlooked.

Most people opt for hiring a scooter, but if you’re like me and have never used one before you might not be all that confident in riding one, especially when you’re expected to hand your passport over as collateral.

Another way to tick off the list of things to do in Chiang Rai is to pay around 1,000 baht for a tour. This involves zipping around nine different attractions in a single day, including Wat Rong Khun, or the ‘White Temple’.

Neither scooters nor tours suited what we wanted to do, so we decided that hiring bicycles for two days was the perfect option. We could pick and choose what we saw and the time we spent at each location.

Things to do in Chiang Rai: cycle hire is a great alternative way to see the sights
Things to do in Chiang Rai: cycle hire is a great alternative way to see the sights

The four main destinations we cycled to were: Wat Rong Sear Tean (Blue Temple), Wat Huai Pla Kung (Big Buddha), Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) and Singha Park. Below I’ve outlined our itinerary, including distances and times, to give you an idea of what is possible.

We took it at a really slow pace, simply because we were in no hurry. It would be possible to cycle to all these attractions on the same day, or to add extra places nearby. We completed these cycles in March 2018, when the average temperature was 30 degrees, but we didn’t find this to be a problem.

Day 1: Wat Rong Sear Tean (Blue Temple) and Wat Huai Pla Kung (Big Buddha)

12pm: leave Mercy Hostel and cycle to the Blue Temple (3.8km)

Mercy Hostel is in the centre of Chiang Rai, a few hundred metres from the clock tower. This was a good base for exploring the surrounding area, and we could also rent bicycles for 60 baht each per day.

The cycle to the Blue Temple was on paved roads with a medium amount of traffic. There were no uphill sections except for going over the bridge.

12.30pm: arrive at the Blue Temple

Things to do in Chiang Rai: inside Wat Rong Sear Tean (Blue Temple)
Things to do in Chiang Rai: inside Wat Rong Sear Tean (Blue Temple)

The Blue Temple is a recent addition to Chiang Rai – completed in 2016 – and it was absolutely worth the visit. It has already been added to the day tour schedule, but if you spend a while there you can experience it with a little serenity between bus arrivals.

We grabbed a delicious noodle soup at one of the street stalls at the temple, and then spent over an hour admiring the artwork and taking photos. This temple is free to enter, which makes it even better for the budget backpacker!

2pm: leave the Blue Temple and cycle to the Big Buddha (6km)

We were actually aiming for Chiang Rai Beach, but spotted the Big Buddha statue in the distance and cycled for it. The roads were all paved and there was only a slight bit of uphill near the temple.

2.30pm: arrive at the Big Buddha

Things to do in Chiang Rai: Wat Huai Pla Kung (Big Buddha) under construction
Things to do in Chiang Rai: Wat Huai Pla Kung (Big Buddha) under construction

Like the Blue Temple, this one is a new addition to the list of things to do Chiang Rai, and it isn’t part of the day tours yet. They were still constructing the stairs to the giant statue. Even so, it was an absolutely amazing sight.

We walked up to the top of the temple, which was free to enter and provided great views of the surrounding area. We spent about an hour here taking plenty of photos and scaling the stairs for the view from the top. Some small tour buses came and went but there were not too many people, which made it a calming visit.

3.30pm: leave the Big buddha and cycle to Wat Mung Muang (5.9km)

We ended up at Wat Mung Muang after heading back towards Chiang Rai town, but this could have easily been any of the other temples in town. Again, the ride was fairly flat, and there was a medium amount of traffic on paved roads.

We cycled around the market nearby and headed back to our hostel.

4.30pm: arrive back at Mercy hostel (1.3km)

All in all this was a great afternoon, and I would highly recommend this route to anyone with a bicycle. It is an easy cycle, and the route along the river made for some great views.

Total distance cycled on day one: 17 km (give or take a few hundred metres for detours)

Total cost for two people: 180 baht (bicycle hire and lunch)

Ideas for additional sites: We passed fairly close to the Buddha Caves and Chiang Rai Beach, which would be an easy addition to make this a day-long cycle.

Day 2: Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) and Singha Park

10am: leave Mercy Hostel and cycle to Wat Rong Khun (14.7km)

Slightly longer than the previous day, this section took about an hour on paved roads with medium traffic. The route was fairly flat, so no steep hills to worry about.

11am: arrive at Wat Rong Khun

Things to do in Chiang Rai: Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)
Things to do in Chiang Rai: Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)

As one of the most popular things to do in Chiang Rai, the first thing you will notice about the White Temple is the volume of tourists. This was very different to the Blue Temple and Big Buddha.

We cooled off with a frozen smoothie and waited for an opening between the busloads before paying our 50 baht admission fee. The temple itself was absolutely beautiful on the outside. Inside it was somewhat plain, but that’s not what you go to see.

Instead of heading for the tourist-heavy food court across the road, we chose a nearby local café for a delicious lunch of chicken, pork and rice.

12.30pm: leave Wat Rong Khun and cycle to Singha Park (6.4km)

The ride to Singha Park was mainly flat, again with medium traffic. It’s a really straightforward route, and you bypass more temples if you want to stop for a look around.

The locals were so friendly in the north of Thailand. When we were cycling, people shouted hello and stopped to check we were alright and knew where we were going.

1pm: arrive at Singha Park

Things to do in Chiang Rai: Singha Park tea plantations
Things to do in Chiang Rai: Singha Park tea plantations

Arriving at Singha Park you will notice the famous golden lion and a few cafés. This park is absolutely huge and to take advantage of the ground you need to cycle to get around. Luckily for us we already had our bikes so we didn’t need to pay extra to rent one there.

There were brilliant cycle paths all the way around the park, winding past the lakes and through the tea fields. A good thing about cycling round is that there were next to no tourists. The tour buses that stop here pack people onto trams for a guided tour, using the roads and staying clear of the cycle paths.

2.30pm: leave Singha Park and head back to Mercy Hostel (11.7km)

Heading back is easy as it is one long, fairly flat road, with the usual medium traffic.

3.30pm: arrive back at Mercy Hostel (via a few shops!)

Exploring these two great sites on our bicycles meant that we could take the time to stop and enjoy them. Of all the things to do in Chiang Rai, hiring a bicycle was the best decision we made.

Total distance cycled on day two: 32.8 (plus around 10km cycling around the park)

Total cost for two people: 360 baht (bike hire, White Temple entry fee, lunch and frozen smoothies)

Ideas for additional sites: You will pass many other temples, so if you have time you can stop to look around. If you’re an avid biker and fancy going a bit further, the Khun Korn waterfall is another 10km from Singha Park.

Additional information for getting around Chiang Rai on a bicycle

  1. Take water with you. There are little shops to stop and buy it, but the likelihood is that your bike will come with a basket – make use of it!
  2. Wear sunscreen. The routes around Chiang Rai are mainly flat and not too strenuous so the heat, even in March, wasn’t a problem for us. Make sure you protect yourself though, even if it looks overcast.
  3. Download the maps.me app. It’s free and it’s a great alternative to Google Maps when you aren’t connected to the internet.
  4. Remember to bring the appropriate clothing. You need sleeves and long trousers (both men and women) to go inside the temples. We cycled in shorts and vests so we didn’t get too hot, and carried our extra clothing in a bag.
  5. Check the tyres and brakes on the bike before you leave. We did just that, and even though the bikes were a tad old and rickety they got us around perfectly fine. When you’re looking for a bike to rent, most places open at about 8/9am, and there is the option to pay more for a mountain bike. However, unless you’re planning on some serious off-roading, the town bikes are just fine.

Is Chiang Mai your next stop after Chiang Rai? Read about our trekking adventure off the beaten path in the jungle.

Or perhaps you are heading into Laos? Here is everything you need to know about the slow boat to Luang Prabang.

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