A Travel Price Comparison for Thailand Chiang Rai vs. Chiang Mai for Attractions, Food, Hiking, and Backpackers

Should you visit Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai?

Which is cheaper to visit? Which is more expensive for vacation?

If you're trying to decide where to visit between Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai, this travel comparison, which includes costs, can help. The overall cost of travel is usually a consideration when deciding where to go next, and the cost comparison down below can help you decide based on the average prices from other travelers along with your own travel budget.

Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is a beautiful, friendly, and charming city. It's a gorgeous place to visit. Other reasons to visit include food, hiking, and shopping.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a friendly, cultural, and welcoming city. Travelers will also find plenty of sights and attractions here, as it's a big city that attracts lots of visitors. The beauty of this spot is also one of the main reasons why visitors come. Visitors also love the museums, nightlife, and food.

Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Active nightlife
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
Things to Consider
  • Less hiking options
Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Active nightlife
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Big city activities
  • Impressive beauty


Is there more to do in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai?

Tourists will generally find more to do in Chiang Mai than Chiang Rai. It is bigger and it has more sights, attractions, and activities for travelers. Chiang Mai is more touristy than Chiang Rai and is known for its lively night market, historical temples, local cuisine, and cultural rainforest treks. It is also well known for Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Chiang Rai is famous for its intricate temples, unique cuisine, and being the gateway to the Golden Triangle.

How is Chiang Rai different from Chiang Mai?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Then, you can decide for yourself which place is better for your next trip.

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai?

Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai

Visiting museums and landmarks is a fun activity in both Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.

The museums and tourist attractions in Chiang Rai are world-renowned. The Old City is filled with breathtaking temples and cultural sites. Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) is an iconic sight, but you should also visit the Black House, and Wat Rong Seua Ten (the Blue Temple). Wat Tham Pla is the Monkey Temple and has a dramatic effect with its steep staircase. It's a short drive from Chiang Rai, but worth the trip as it's overrun with monkeys.

You'll find many recognizable landmarks that put Chiang Mai on the map. The city is filled with culture and you'll find many beautiful temples in the area. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a mountain-top temple that is an iconic landmark in the city. Other famous sights include Doi Inthanon and Wat Chedi Luang.


Is the Food Better in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai

Picking the best cuisine and restaurants between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai can be difficult as they are each world-class in their own way.

Known for it's food and restaurant scene, Chiang Rai is always at the top of any foodie's travel list. The regional cuisine is famous for its unique dishes and flavors. It's slightly less spicy than the southern Thai cuisine and the dishes are rich in flavor. Northern Thai sausage is a must-try dish, as is Khao Soi Curry, and Khao Soi Gai Nong (coconut curry and chicken soup).

Many restaurants in Chiang Mai have been singled out for their culinary prowess. For many, this city offers some of the best food in all of Thailand. The cuisine is influenced by nearby Burma and China, with ginger and turmeric often used. Curries tend to be a bit milder and dishes are often served with sticky rice. Famous dishes around town include Khao Soi, Larb Kua, and Sai Oua. Cooking classes are also very popular around town and the courses often include a trip to a market.

Is Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai Better for Nightlife?

Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is an excellent place to visit for nightlife and partying. Also, Chiang Rai is not quite as popular, but is fairly good for its evening party scene.

Chiang Mai has a lively atmosphere and nightlife is popular here. It is the largest city in Northern Thailand, so it has the most active nightlife scene in the area. Whatever your style, you can find something to do at night here. Many people head to the riverside to drink and listen to music. You'll also find clubs concentrated around Nimmanhaemin Road and Loy Kroh Road. There's also the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, which is packed with stalls and people sampling food and drinks.

Chiang Rai has an active nightlife scene for those who seek it out. The small city has a laid back nightlife scene with a number of bars and cafes along Jetyod Road. You'll find a mix of expats and locals, without the usual backpacker crowds that are common in some cities.

Is Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai Better for its Old Town?

Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai both have great historical old towns that attract visitors.

Many visitors go to Chiang Rai to see the historical old town. The Old City is filled with intricate temples and impressive beauty. The area is very walkable and you can easily visit the famed Wat Ming Muang, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Phra Singh.

Chiang Mai is an extremely popular place to visit the historic old town area. The old city is about 1.5 square kilometers in size and it has four gates, one on each side. The most famous area is Sunday Walking Street, which comes to life at 4pm every day when it is lined with stalls and filled with people.


Is Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai Better for Hiking?

Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is an amazing city to visit for its hiking trails. Also, Chiang Rai is not quite as popular, but is fairly good for its hiking experiences.

Known for its hiking, Chiang Mai draws a crowd to experience the nature and the trails. Many people use this city as a base for a trekking excursion into the surrounding countryside. The land is lush and beautiful and many treks also expose you to the welcoming Hilltribe people of Northern Thailand. Treks can be organized at almost any hotel or hostel as well the many tour agencies around town.

Plenty of visitors go hiking around Chiang Rai. Head out of town to Khun Korn Forest Park Waterfall if you want to enjoy some hiking. It makes an easy half day trip.

Is the Shopping Better in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai?

Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is an amazing city to visit for its shopping opportunities. Also, Chiang Rai is not quite as popular, but is fairly good for its shopping areas.

Known for shopping, Chiang Mai draws large crowds to its stores. The city is famous for its night markets, which run every night of the year until around midnight. You'll find the streets packed with people and vendors, rain or shine. This is a great place to search for local handicrafts and try some of the city's famous street food. Popular items to buy include rice boxes, silk, and Thai sky lanterns.

Browsing through shops is a popular activity in Chiang Rai. Local markets, night markets, and souvenir shops with handcrafted goods all make shopping a fun experience. Head to the Night Bazaar or the Walking Street for some of the best experiences.

Is Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai Better for Families?

Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are both great destinations for the whole family.

Because of its large number of kid-friendly activities, Chiang Rai is very family-friendly. There are parks and outdoor spaces to explore such as Singha Park and the Garden of Reeds. For a little bit of silly fun, check out Nava Land Water Park and if you want to get out of town a bit, you'll find some great hiking nearby at Khun Korn Forest Park Waterfall.

Chiang Mai is known to be a very family-friendly place to visit. This city is very friendly and welcoming to kids. There are many cultural and adventurous activities that the whole family can enjoy. One of the most popular kid-friendly places to visit is the Elephant Sanctuary, where kids can get up close and personal with these beautiful animals. Kids will also enjoy heading into the countryside to trek or visit one of Thailand’s Hilltribes. The cultural experience and opportunity to meet a diversity of kids will be an experience your children will never forget. In town, a cooking class is a popular option for budding foodies.


Is Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai Better for Couples?

Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are both great to visit as a couple.

Chiang Rai makes for a fun place to visit for a couple. Beautiful temples, impressive gardens, and an authentic Thai experience all make this a romantic and fun destination for couples.

Couples visit Chiang Mai frequently as it offers plenty of romantic activities. Trekking, rafting, temples, and some of the best food in Thailand all make this city a popular destination for a couple's getaway. The region is perfect for adventurous couples who want to experience more of the authentic side of Thailand.

Is Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is an amazing city to visit for backpackers and budget travelers. Also, Chiang Rai is not quite as popular, but is fairly good for backpackers.

With so many budget-friendly offerings, Chiang Mai is extremely popular for backpackers. This is one of the biggest backpacker mecca's in Southeast Asia, and you'll find the city flooded with budget travelers out to experience it all. There are countless hostels and budget hotels available and most will organize treks and activities for guests. It's easy to meet other backpackers and many visitors end up staying longer than they planned. Prices in Northern Thailand are also much more affordable than many other areas.

Chiang Rai is a very popular city for backpackers and budget travelers. There is no shortage of affordable hostels around town. There are also enough backpackers around to keep things fun but not so many that the local vibe is lost.

Is Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a nice place to visit for times when you don't have a car. However, Chiang Rai is lacking in options for its public transit.

Chiang Mai has some public transit options. Transportation options include red songthaew (converted pick-up trucks), buses, and tuk-tuks.

Public transit is generally limited in Chiang Rai. Tuk tuks and taxis are your best bet for getting around town in a vehicle.


Is Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai a more walkable city?

Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai is a great city for its walkability. Also, Chiang Mai is not as popular, but is still a nice city for its high level of walkability.

Chiang Rai is very walkable. The old city is easy to explore on foot.

Chiang Mai is a somewhat walkable place. Although there are a few walking streets, the city can get very crowded and many places are easier to access with a tuk tuk or taxi.

For even more information, also check out Is Chiang Rai Worth Visiting? and Is Chiang Mai Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai?

How long in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai?

Both Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai have a number of activities to choose from. With generally more activities and things to do, visitors tend to spend more time in Chiang Mai than in Chiang Rai. Usually, 2-4 days is a good amount of time for Chiang Rai, and 2-7 days is enough time in Chiang Mai.

Families should spend more time in Chiang Rai than Chiang Mai. Because of the many family-friendly attractions and fun things to do for kids in Chiang Rai, it's a great place to visit with the whole family.

Couples should spend more time in Chiang Mai than Chiang Rai. You'll find plenty of romantic sights and fun activities in Chiang Mai that are perfect for a weekend getaway or a longer couple's trip.

Backpackers and budget travelers should spend more time in Chiang Mai than Chiang Rai if your budget allows for it. With a larger number of budget-friendly sights, good nightlife, and active things to do, anyone traveling on a budget would have a good time in Chiang Mai.


  • How many days in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai? Ideal Length of Stay
    Chiang Rai 2-4 
    Chiang Mai 2-7

One day in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai?

With museums and nightlife around the charming city of Chiang Rai, there's plenty to do. Anyone can find something fun to do here. Make sure you visit the old town while you're here. But since there are so many activities, you'll likely want to spend more than one day exploring.

When visiting Chiang Mai, people usually allow for lots of time. Anyone can find something fun to do here. Make sure you spend some time hiking while you're in the area. But since there are so many activities, you'll likely want to spend more than one day exploring.

A weekend in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai?

With nightlife and food around the destination of Chiang Rai, there's plenty to do. Most visitors spend time around the old town while in the area. It offers something for everyone. Many people spend a weekend here. In a weekend, you should have a good grasp of this city.

When visiting Chiang Mai, people usually allow for lots of time. Most visitors spend time around the old town while in the area. It offers something for everyone. Many people spend a weekend here. In a weekend, you should have a good grasp of this city.


Five days in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai?

Chiang Rai, a popular city, is full of activities for travelers. Visiting the old town is also a must. Most people find that five days is more than enough time to see everything. Your budget might influence how long you stay.

Chiang Mai, a popular city, is full of activities for travelers. This is a popular place to visit for five days. Hiking can easily take up a good amount of your time here, too. In five days, you should have a good grasp of this city. Your budget might influence how long you stay.

A week in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai?

Chiang Rai is a popular place that is full of things to see and experience. One week is plenty of time to see everything, even with extra days to spare. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do.

Chiang Mai is a popular place that is full of things to see and experience. If you have one week, this city makes for a great vacation. One week should give you a good understanding of everything this city has to offer. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best Tours for Seniors to Thailand, The Best Contiki Tours to Thailand, The Best G Adventures Tours to Thailand, and The Best 3-Day Tours from Phuket.


Which place is cheaper, Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai?

These are the overall average travel costs for the two destinations.

The average daily cost (per person) in Chiang Rai is $39, while the average daily cost in Chiang Mai is $45. These costs include accommodation (assuming double occupancy, so the traveler is sharing the room), food, transportation, and entertainment. While every person is different, these costs are an average of past travelers in each destination. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Chiang Rai $17
    Chiang Mai $26
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Chiang Rai $34
    Chiang Mai $52
Compare Hotels in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai

Looking for a hotel in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai? Prices vary by location, date, season, and the level of luxury. See below for options and compare which is best for your budget and travel style.

Hotels in Chiang Rai


Hotels in Chiang Mai


Kayak helps you find the best prices for hotels, flights, and rental cars for destinations around the world. Compare prices for multiple destinations when planning your next trip.


Our Analysis
We've analyzed the average and typical hotel prices based on guest reviews, star ratings, and hotel amenities here: Chiang Rai Hotel Prices and Chiang Mai Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Chiang Rai $3.19
    Chiang Mai $3.63
Typical Local Transportation Prices in Chiang Rai

Below are a few samples from actual travelers for transportation costs in Chiang Rai:


  • Bus to White Temple
    $1.09

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Chiang Rai

Also for Chiang Rai, here are a few examples of actual transportation services:

  • Chiang Khong Border Private Car transfer to/from Chiang Mai: $161
  • SUV Private car Chiang Mai transfer to/from Chiang Rai: $150
  • Chiang Mai Private Car transfer to/from Chiang Saen Border: $142
  • Private Transfer From Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai: $123
  • Chiang Mai Hotel to/from Chiang Rai Hotel: Private Transfer: $121
  • Chiang Mai Private Car transfer to/from Chiang Rai: $120
  • Private Transfer from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai: $84
  • Chiang Rai Airport: Transfer To Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai: $78
  • Chiang Rai Private Car transfer to/from Chiang Saen Border: $63
  • Chiang Rai Airports: Transfer Chiang Kong, Golden Triangel, and More: $50
  • Private Transfer Chiang Rai Airport to and from Mueang Chiang Rai: $41
  • Chiang Rai Airport (CEI): Private Chiang Rai Hotel Transfer: $33

Typical Local Transportation Prices in Chiang Mai

Some typical examples of transportation costs in Chiang Mai are as follows:


  • Tuk Tuk Ride
    $1.09
  • Moped Rental
    $4.91

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Chiang Mai

Also for Chiang Mai, here are a few examples of actual transportation services:

  • Zipline Adventure at Chiang Mai with Return Transfer: $193
  • Try find your better than us!Airport transfer service in Chiang Mai APT-HTL(CNX): $9.67
  • Try find your better than us ! Airport transfer service Chiang Mai HTL-APT(CNX): $9.67
  • Transfer: Chiang Mai to Huay Xai City, Laos: $45
  • Transfer : From Chiang Mai to ChiangKhong Border,Chiang Rai: $42
  • Skyline Jungle Luge Ticket + Lunch with Private Transfer: $250
  • Siam Dragon cabaret show : Ticket & Optional Transfer: $14
  • Private Vehicle: Transfer from Airport in Chiang Mai: $21
  • Private Van: Chiang Mai Airport Arrival or Departure Transfer : $45
  • Private Transfer: Four Seasons Hotel to Chiang Mai Airport: $24
  • Private Transfer: Chiang Mai to Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX): $26
  • Private Transfer from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai: $154

Is it cheaper to fly into Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai?

Prices for flights to both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai change regularly based on dates and travel demand. We suggest you find the best prices for your next trip on Kayak, because you can compare the cost of flights across multiple airlines for your prefered dates.





Food
  • Food Meals for one day
    Chiang Rai $12
    Chiang Mai $10

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Chiang Rai

For Chiang Rai, here are some samples of tours and activities related to meals and dining experiences:

  • Authentic Private Thai Cooking Class in Chiang Rai: $34
  • Chiang Mai: Traditional Thai-Akha Cooking Class& Market Tour: $39
  • 1 Day Trekking Group Tour With Bamboo Cooking / Chiang Rai: $48
  • Half-Day Thai Cooking Class with organic ingredients: $50
  • Private Local Food Cooking Class in Chiang Rai: $59
  • Jungle Adventure-Group Trekking & Bamboo Cooking: $60
  • Chiang Rai Private Cooking Class - Cooking With Ann: $72
  • Chiang Rai by Night with Show, Dinner and Trishaw Ride: $83
  • Chiang Rai City Tour with Dinner and Show: $87
  • Chiang Rai by Night: Incredible Temples, Market and Northern Dinner: $130

Typical Food Prices in Chiang Mai

Here are some examples of typical meal expenses from previous travelers to Chiang Mai:


  • Sit Down Dinner (for One)
    $5.32
  • Roti Snack (Bread)
    $0.65
  • Casual Breakfast
    $1.09
  • Casual Lunch (for Two)
    $5.46
  • Mangoes
    $0.82
  • Coffee
    $1.36

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Chiang Mai

For Chiang Mai, here are some samples of tours and activities related to meals and dining experiences:

  • Cooking Morning Class Chiang Mai Visit Organic Garden and Market : $11
  • Khantoke Dinner with Traditional Performance: $22
  • Half-Day Thai Cooking Class at Organic Farm in Chiang Mai: $22
  • Afternoon Cooking Class in Organic Garden in Chiang Mai: $22
  • Morning Cooking Class in Organic Garden | Chiang Mai: $22
  • Chiang Mai:Thai Cooking class in a Lovely Thai family's Home: $25
  • Evening Cooking Class and Local Market Visit: $25
  • Cooking Class, Market and Thai Herbs Garden Tour: $25
  • Private Virtual Thai Cooking Class: $25
  • Half Day Evening Cooking Class with Yummy Tasty Thai Cooking School: $25
  • Baan Farm Thai Cooking School Chiangmai: $27
  • Half-Day Thai Cuisine Cooking Experience in Chiang Mai : $27

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Chiang Rai $7.38
    Chiang Mai $13

Tours and Activities in Chiang Rai

For Chiang Rai, here are a few prices for actual activities, tours, and tickets provided by various companies:

  • Private Chiang Rai Temples Tour in Thailand: $84
  • Sightseeing Join Tour Chiang Rai / PICK UP ONLY IN CHIANG RAI: $31
  • 4 Days Mae Hong Son Loop Motorcycle Tour from Chiang Mai: $1,418
  • Akha Hill Tribes, Chiang Saen, Mae Sai & Golden Triangle Day Tour : $106
  • Akha Home Cookery Experience Half Day Trip: $106
  • Ancient City Tour from Chiang Rai including Golden Triangle and Royal Villa: $154
  • Ancient City Tour from Chiang Rai with Golden Triangle Royal Vila: $133
  • Ancient City Tour from Chiang Rai with Golden Triangle and Royal Villa: $127
  • Ancient City Tour from Chiang Rai with Golden Triangle and Royal Villa: $90
  • Chiang Mai: White Temple, Tea Plantation, Waterfall Day-Tour: $382
  • Chiang Rai - Temple Tour: $154
  • Chiang Rai City and Temples Tour: $67

Typical Entertainment Prices in Chiang Mai

For Chiang Mai, here are some examples of average entertainment and activity prices from previous travelers:


  • Thai Cooking Class
    $35
  • Doi Suthep Entrance Ticket
    $1.64
  • Kratong Lessons
    $2.73
  • Pedicure
    $4.09
  • Chiang Mai Museum (for Two)
    $4.91

Tours and Activities in Chiang Mai

Also, here are some specific examples of entertainment, tickets, and activities for Chiang Mai.

  • 9 Hours Nature Tour in Inthanon National Park From Chiang Mai: $71
  • Chiang Mai 25 km Leisure Mountain Biking & Kayaking Adventure: $70
  • Chiang Mai Thapae Muay Thai Boxing Stadium Ticket: $28
  • One Day Doi Inthanon National Park Small Group Guided Tour: $40
  • Private Tour of Sacred Sakyant Tattoo in Lamphun Province.: $80
  • 1 Day Doi Inthanon Private tour ( Hiking and Sightseeing ): $97
  • 1 Day Private Tour Doi Inthanon And Phachor Canyon: $129
  • 1 Day Private Tour White Temple and Renewed Doichang Coffee: $188
  • 1 Day Sukhothai Historical Park from Chiang Mai Private Tour: $162
  • 1 Hr Chiang Mai Buggy Tour (Off-Road): $151
  • 1 day Private Tour to Unseen Temple in Lampang: $135
  • 10KM Inflatable Kayaking Adventure: $82

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Chiang Rai $8.32
    Chiang Mai $6.76

Typical Alcohol Prices in Chiang Mai

Some typical examples of the costs for nightlife and alcohol in Chiang Mai are as follows:


  • Wine
    $2.73


When comparing the travel costs between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, we can see that Chiang Mai is more expensive. However, the two cities are actually relatively comparable in price, as the difference is somewhat minimal. Generally, this means that you could travel with generally the same travel style and level of luxury in each place. Since both cities are in Asia, it's no surprise that their costs are relatively close, as many destinations here have somewhat similar travel prices overall.

If you're trying to decide if either of these two destinations are within your price range, also see Is Chiang Rai Expensive? and Is Chiang Mai Expensive?.


Which is Bigger, Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai?

Chiang Mai has a larger population, and is about 10 times larger than the population of Chiang Rai. When comparing the sizes of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, keep in mind that a larger population does not always imply the destination has more attractions or better activities. So, always research the type of place that you want to visit along with the activities and attractions that interest you.