Chiang Rai is one of Thailand’s largest cities in the north, aside from well-known Chiang Mai. There are many similarities between the two cities, but I found after spending time in both that they are both fairly similar, aside from Chiang Rai having a much more local feel. Though there may not be as much to see and do in Chiang Rai, it is completely worth the few hours’ drive north. One thing I love about Thailand is how each city/town has its own night market. The Chiang Rai night market has a decent selection of souvenirs that are comparable, if not cheaper, than those in Chiang Mai and a large outdoor seating area surrounded by food stalls to grab some dinner.
Without fail, when I arrive in a new destination, I usually take it a bit easy and wander about, see what the area has to offer, and book any tours for the following day. At night, it’s also customary for me to visit the night market if there is one. I am a huge fan of night markets because..
a) I love shopping. Especially when there are unique and cheap purchases to be made.
b) You just have to try the local cuisine wherever you go and it doesn’t get much more local than going to a food stall. Plus, it’s cheap and delicious.
c) In some places there is literally nothing else to do at night, so why not?!
The night market in Chiang Rai is much smaller than the one in Chiang Mai, but they do have varied souvenirs (some of which are actually a fair bit cheaper) and the food is drastically different.
There is a large open dining area with “restaurants” all around that mainly serve hot pot (though it was boiling at night, so I’m not sure why/how you could even eat that) and, oddly, a variety of tempura. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the food stalls in the night market that were serving dinner as there wasn’t much variety and the food that was on offer didn’t look so appetizing (the tempura was just sitting out on display instead of it being fried when you ordered).
Despite the disappointment in the dinner choices, the dessert I tried more than made up for it. I could have honestly eaten five of them.. It was a scooped out melon with the inner pieces on the side filled with sweet green sticky rice, a scoop of mango, coconut, and strawberry ice cream, and was garnished with peanuts. Literally perfection. For only ฿25 (that’s like $6 HKD!), might I add. Definitely the food-highlight of my time in Chiang Rai.
Besides buying some souvenirs, and eating dinner and dessert (or just dessert x 2) at the night market, you should also walk over to see the clock tower as it comes to life at night. It is the centerpiece to a busy roundabout a few minutes’ walk from the night market and its brightly lit gold coloring can be spotted a mile away.