A Passenger’s Guide to Chiang Rai International Airport (Thailand)

Chiang Rai International Airport serves the Northern Thai province of Chiang Rai, which is Thailand’s northern-most province. The airport is also a gateway to the Golden Triangle, which straddles Northern Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos.

image-of-chiang-rai-international-airport-terminal-northern-thailand
The terminal at Chiang Rai International Airport in Northern Thailand has modern jetways. Photo Credit: Stefan Fussan.

Airports of Thailand

Chiang Rai International Airport (CEI) is the largest airport in Chiang Rai province, which is located in Northern Thailand.

Chiang Rai is the commercial hub of the Golden Triangle, which spans Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos.

The metropolitan area of Chiang Rai has a population of roughly 200,000 people.

Chiang Rai is one of the oldest cities in Thailand. It remains off the beaten tourism track, and therein lies much of the city’s charm.

Notorious Caves

Chiang Rai is also the perfect base from which to explore mountainous Chiang Rai province, which is home to the notorious Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex beneath Doi Nang Non, a mountain range on the border between Thailand and Myanmar.

The system is 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) long and has many deep recesses, narrow passages, and tunnels winding under hundreds of metres of limestone strata.

Since part of the cave system is seasonally flooded, a sign advising against entering the caves during the rainy season, which runs from July to November,  is posted at the entrance.

The caves attracted the world’s attention when a group of Thai teenager football players and their coach went missing in the labyrinthine caves for 10 days in June 2018.

Fortunately, the Thai cave rescue operation was successful, although a Thai volunteer tragically died trying to help out in the operation.

Chiang Rai should not be confused with the neighbouring province of Chiang Mai, which is located to the southwest.

Chiang Mai is much more famous than Chiang Rai, and it has a much more developed tourism infrastructure.

Airport Overview

The air field’s official name is Mae Fan Luang – Chiang Rai International Airport. The airport handles roughly 1,000,000 passengers a year.

Airlines and Flight Information

Chiang Mai International Airport is served by several domestic airlines, which offer daily nonstop flights to Bangkok’s two international airports:

  • AirAsia flies from Chiang Rai Airport to Don Mueang International Airport;
  • Bangkok Airways flies from Chiang Rai Airport to Bangkok Suvarbabhumi International Airport;
  • Nok Air flies from Chiang Rai Airport to Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport;
  • Thai Lion Air flies from Chiang Rai Airport to Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport;
  • Thai Smile flies from Chiang Rai Airport to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi  International Airport.

The flight time to and from Bangkok is roughly 90 minutes.

Chiang Rai International Airport is served by two international air carriers:

  • China Eastern Airlines flies from Chiang Rai Airport to Changshui International Airport in Kunming, China.
  • HKExpress flies from Chiang Rai Airport to Hong Kong.

Airport Services

Money exchange counters and ATMs are located inside the airport terminal, but keep in mind that exchange rates are usually better in town than at the airport.

Ground Transportation

You can hire a pre-paid taxi inside the airport terminal. It costs 200 baht to the city centre and more to other places. Prices are on display.

Beware of meter-taxis because drivers will usually refuse to use the meter, covering it up with tape.

Check with your hotel to see if it will arrange a free transfer to and from the airport before making your own arrangements.

Several rental car agencies operate at the airport.

Tourist Attractions

Chiang Rai is home to several beautiful Buddhist temples. The White Temple, a.k.a. Wat Rong Khun, is the most famous. The temple is located 14 kilometres from the centre of town.

The city is home to a night bazaar and a Saturday Night Walking Street.

Lion Hill is the site of a Buddha cave and a natural cavern where hikers can walk in the south side, and out the north side of the hill that parallels the Mae Kok River.

Airport Location

Chiang Rai International Airport is located about eight kilometres from downtown Chiang Rai.

This is the 10th in a series of passengers’ guides to the Airports of Thailand (AOT).

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