Founded in 1262, Chiang Rai is located in northern Thailand, and is often referred to as Chiang Mai’s little sister. To be exact, the city is 860 kilometres (530 miles) north of Bangkok, about 200 kilometres (120 miles) northeast of Chiang Mai and 62 kilometres (39 miles) south of Mae Sai and the Burmese border. Compared to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is a sleepy, slow-paced town.
Chiang Rai has a strong Lanna identity, and it is one of the oldest settlements in Thailand. This culture is beautifully portrayed in its temples, art, language, music and cuisine which are strongly tied to the Tai ethnic culture – the origins of the Lanna people. Unlike the better-known sister city Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai has its charm, especially at night.
Save your night for shopping and food hunting!
You can easily indulge yourself in an exotic spree of shopping and eating - mind you, this is something for the adventurous. Go to Kaa Luang Market (Central Market) and the Walking Street to hunt for the exotic: bugs, salt-encrusted fish, Thai style tempura vegetables, hot pot and kabobs. Then go shop for something unique at MZ Collection and Nine Shop. Remember to catch a glimpse of the transformation of the golden Clock Tower at certain hours of night and watch it change from pink into green. Last stop is to get some rest at a restaurant that offers unique night views and some folk songs. Read on to find out about the best places for things to do at night in Chiang Rai.
1. Kaad Luang (Central Market) - an eating spree of exotic food
Kaad Luang Market (Central Market) is a haven for street food lovers and it has all kinds of snacks and munchies you might find along a road side market in northern Thailand, such as fresh vegetables, fruits, grilled seafood, northern delicacies, ready-to-eat meals and desserts. Every afternoon before sunset, vendors set up their stalls around the bazaar and get ready for visitors. If you are adventurous enough, try their fried bugs: grasshoppers, silk worms and beetles. If not, just go with the crowd and enjoy your food hunt along the way.
2. Chiang Rai Walking Street - let your shopping spree begin
3. MZ Collection
Shop for handmade jewelry designed by the Japanese owner at this boutique. MZ Collection is located on Bus Station Road near the Night Bazaar area. You will find one-of-a-kind designs in the earrings, bracelets, necklaces and rings, fashioned from imported silver and locally sourced semi-precious stones. Every piece is hand made with a mixed blend of Japanese and Thai flavour.
Website: MZ Collection
4. Nine Shop
Nine Shop is located at the Night Bazaar near the Klang Wieng food court. You can spot this funky shop easily from afar, it is decorated with blue neon light and wire fenced walls. At Nine Shop you can find a wide range of hand-painted fashion accessories, including trendy canvas sneakers, T-shirts, tank tops, baseball caps, cloth bags and socks. The designs are built around the owner’s imagination – a family of characters representing real people in his life, incorporating playful and imaginative designs. If you like, interview the owner for more about his creations - it will surely re-energise you for more late night shopping.
Website: Nine Shop (in Thai)
5. The Clock Tower
This clock tower is a dull-looking gold tower by day, but a masterpiece by night with its light and sound effects. With the pick-up trucks, tuk-tuks and motorbikes buzzing all around, it makes you feel that your night at Chiang Rai has just begun.
On the hour, from 7 - 9 pm, every day, you will see the tower turn pink for one moment and green the next, in a ten minute light show. The tower was designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Khositpipat, the same artist who built the White Temple in Chiang Rai, which was unveiled in 2008 in honour of His Majesty the King. The clock tower serves as part of a traffic roundabout that tends to distract, especially at night! Take a break and stand further away to admire the transformation and let the Clock Tower add colours to your shopping and eating spree!
The Chiang Rai clocktower is located where Thanon Jet Yot meets Thanon Baanpa Pragarn. Look out, too, for the elaborate gilded street lights which line Baanpa Pragarn Road on either side of the clock tower.
6. Leelawadee Restaurant
After much shopping and eating, it’s time to rest and relax and enjoy the river view at night. Leelawadee is a riverfront pub and restaurant and is a delightful alternative to Chiang Rai’s rather mellow bar scene. Seats are set either in the garden or under a large canvas canopy, both with panoramic river views. A light supper and some Thai dessert is an ideal end to the night’s shopping.
Website: Leelawadee Restaurant
7. Chiang Rai night bazaar
Chiang Rai night bazaar offers many bars, restaurants, and massage parlors. If you take a walk along the Jetyod street and around the Wangcome Hotel, you can see the flashy clubs and pubs. Though this place has limited options, tourists will have a gala time shopping. You can kill your time in the bars with large-screen TVs, where you can enjoy live sports and play pool along with a beer. Some of the bars do play live music but you have to compromise with the choice of songs played by the owner himself. Head to the Punyodaya road, where you will get a taste of the nightlife. You can opt from usual Thai and north-Thai dishes to Lanna dance show. You can taste their fried insects and snack food, sukiyakis or hot pots. Every evening after 6 p.m. the night bazaar gets ready to welcome their guests and stays open till midnight and travelers can buy from a wide array of clothing, candles and more.
8. Hill-Tribe Museum Souvenir Shop
Come back and plan your next spree
Exploring Chiang Rai at night can be a cultural experience. Let the Lanna people’s culture rub onto you through their art, handicrafts and dramatic lives - you will be charmed by the city’s beauty that will make you want to come back again. Start your next visit from the Clock Tower and see its transformation in between your shopping and food hunting. Or spend another night to have a simple seafood dinner at Leelavadee. The best way to see Chiang Rai at night is by foot - look around and pay attention to the little changes that Lanna culture has brought to this place. By now, you know that Chiang Rai offers you a different kind of nightlife.
Get Trip101 in your inbox