An easy stroll
Published/Last edited or updated: 12th June, 2019
Since you’ll have noticed “worth a peek if you’re passing” seems to be a frequent description of our itemised city sight descriptions then combining as many as possible into a join-the-dots walking tour could be the perfect solution.
Busy Chiang Rai City may not immediately appear a good candidate for a walking tour but, keeping to the back streets and dodging through a few market lanes, you can do a very pleasant and interesting half-day stroll around town, taking in most of the sights and including a few good coffee and snack breaks along the way.
We’ll start, where else, at the iconic clock tower. The highly ornate, gold-painted tower you see today is a new version built to commemorate the former King’s 80th birthday replacing an older model. It now forms a traffic circle at the junction of Phaholyothin, Jetyod, Suksatit and Ban Phra Phrakan roads and whilst fancy enough in the daytime really comes into its own the evening when a light show takes place highlighting the tower in every hue from lime green to outrageous pink. (Timing is scheduled every evening at 19:00, 20:00 and 21:00, lasting for 20 minutes.)
Our walk is not a night hike so you’ll have to check that out later, but the proliferation of excellent coffee shop/bakeries around the tower means you can start your stroll with a good caffeine and sugar hit. From the traffic circle head west and take the first right which leads you past the town’s large mosque. Chiang Rai has a substantial Muslim minority—mostly of Yunnanese origin—and though it may be a bit early (or late) for lunch if you need further sustenance then cheap and cheerful Rosprasert Muslim Food Cafe, just down from the mosque, does a wonderful khao soi.
At the end of this little street you’ll cross over Thanalai—home every Saturday evening to a large Walking Street Market—where on the opposite side of the road is one of the entrances to the huge Municipal Market. This section of covered market sells fruit, vegetables, herbs and spice plus a range of clothes and household goods and is an interesting spot to wander before you emerge on Uttarakit Road. On your right you’ll see the original old clock tower surrounded by noodle and snack stalls. If you head straight on though and continue through a second section of covered market, you’ll come out on bustling Ruangnakorn Street with plenty more market stalls. The bustling side streets separating the market sections have better light if you’re of a photographic bent and are a good area to spot all the Lisu and hill-tribe vendors and buyers.
Yet more aisles of this vast market continue another block north to Singhaklai Road but heading left and then first right onto Tri Rat Road will see you in front of Wat Phra Kaew which, with its excellent little museum and garden setting, is well worth dedicating 30 or 40 minutes to. Exiting the wat, take Soi Sangkaew immediately on the north side of the temple, which leads you up a gentle rise to the foot of a series of low, tree-covered hills, housing among other features, Wat Doi Ngum Muang and Wat Prathat Doi Chom Thong.
The former is perhaps the least interesting temple to a casual visitor but following the road that skirts around the east side of the hill (Soi Arj Amnuaya according to our map) affords some interesting views of a very different side of Chiang Rai. Rows of ramshackle wood and tin shacks cling to the hill contours in something of a minor Rio barrio-style and create a forgotten little valley a stone’s throw from the centre of this otherwise rapidly modernising city. (A glimpse of what most of the city must have looked like say 50 years ago.)
Follow this lane around with a second wooded hill to your right until you reach a T-junction where a short distance to the left sees you in front of the entrance to Wat Prathat Doi Chom Thong. The temple is notable for its 9th-century chedi, Buddha relics and fine views as well as being the location of Chiang Rai’s founding city pillar.
If you take the steps down the east side of the hill you’ll find yourself on Soi Chom Thong which leads downhill to leafy Kraisorasit Road paralleling the Kok River. You can take a slight detour at this point down any of the lanes leading north which will take you down to the Kok River for some picturesque river views.
Back on Kraisorasit walking east you need to branch left when you see the Overbrook Hospital which will lead you onto Singhaklai Road and Wat Phra Singh one block distant. The well-restored old wooden building at the front is the original chapel and hospital building dating from 1903. Just past the hospital the popular cake-crammed Grace Bakery provides another good spot for a sugar and caffeine hit.
It’s worth continuing past the Wat a bit to have a peek on your right at the beautifully restored old Chiang Rai City Hall. Though at the time of our past visit it wasn’t open for visitors it’s claimed to hold exhibitions and according to the TAT office opposite will also become the future city museum.
Coming out of Phra Singh continue right until you hit Uttarakit where you’ll need to turn right then left to get back onto Suksatit leading back to the clock tower. If you’ve done a morning walk then one of the roundabout cafes or Porchai Khao Soi might be a good choice to grab some lunch or if it was an afternoon stroll then a cold beer on Jetyod awaits beyond the fancy timepiece.
Note a Saturday afternoon wander would also mean you could finish up at the Thanalai Walking Street market. Depends on how long you linger in the markets and wats but allow at least a couple of hours and potentially a whole morning or afternoon by the time you’ve added in a few refreshment breaks.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Chiang Rai