Chiang Rai is about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. It is much smaller than Chiang Mai and has a more relaxed small town atmosphere. The town has an unusual ‘temple’ and is used as a base to explore the hill tribe villages and visit the Golden Triangle (where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.) Although we have been to Chiang Rai before we decided it would be fun to go for a few days.
We caught the Green bus which is a luxury bus (air conditioned with comfy seats!) much nicer than the local buses and travelled through a mountain range and lovely forested and farm areas. The trip was lovely, comfortable and it was nice just sitting back enjoying the view and little villages as we drove through.
We arrived at Chiang Rai at about 11 and made sure that we got off at Bus terminal 1 this time as last time we got off a terminal too early and had to arrange a songthaew to take us into town.
We stayed at Na-Rak-0 Resort, a quirky little hotel walking distance from the bus station. Each room is in a different bright colour and funny kitschy stuff everywhere…very entertaining. Anyway the place must be doing well as the ladies who own the place had extended the resort to include renovating the building next door.
Spent the rest of the day getting our bearings, found a cafe which made good coffee called the ‘ Cat and Cup’ because it is full of very spoilt cats who get let into the cafe for the visitors to play with while sipping on their coffees. I thought it was cute with some lovely cats…Bruce wasn’t too sure of whether he would have a sneezing attack..but all good!
Later we walked to the clock tower roundabout and visited the gaudy clock tower which is one of the town’s attractions. It was actually built by the same guy who built the White Temple. It has a bit of a light show at 7, 9 and 10 each night so we came then and took photos and attempted a video.
To avoid the crowds we decided to get up early the next day to visit the famous White Temple (Wat Rong Khun or Wat Kao-White) 13 km south of Chiang Rai. We worked out that we didn’t need a tour-just went back to the bus terminal around the corner and jumped on the local blue bus..that was fun..real local bus with rickety seats (lucky if you get one) and door tied open with a strap…bags of rice being transported and a very strong smell of fish sauce! Good option if the trip isn’t more than about 20 km. We got dropped off at the side of the road not far from the temple.
Not sure how to describe the White Temple-blingy with lots of little mirrors inlayed into the white which sparkle in the sun. The quirkiest temple I have seen and the grounds are a bit gothic with heads hanging from trees! It is privately owned and was built in 1997 by a Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpitpat.
The idea is that you walk over the main bridge to reach the Buddha but to do so you must pass the pits of hell below which is represented by hands and skulls trying to escape the underworld. Once you cross the bridge you reach the Gate of Heaven which is guarded by Death. All very deep….and macabre!
Unfortunately when we were here this time the inside of the temple was closed for renovations. Last year the inside was painted with murals depicting the end of the world with demons and references to popular culture such as Spider man, the Matrix and Twin Towers. I’m not sure whether the renovations are to fix up the paintings or to add new ones.
The construction continues in the temple complex and apparently the artist is training others to continue his ‘never ending’ project even after he dies. All entry is free. If you visit Chiang Rai make sure you also visit the Black House which is another Thai artist’s work and very interesting especially in contrast with the White Temple. We didn’t visit it this trip so I don’t have photos to share.
The food of Chiang Rai is delicious and we always have to sample lots. We went to the Barrab restaurant and had great pork curry and Thai salad another great place we were told about was called LuLum which is on the river and very Thai. We also enjoy eating at the little local road side kitchens. The Thai are so clever with their food stalls, feeding hordes of people who mostly eat on the streets rather than at home.
We went to the Night market for a wander around. I enjoyed it much more than the Chiang Mai one as it wasn’t so crowded and there was less touristy stuff. I particularly enjoyed the Saturday night walking street where they block off a long and very wide street and set up food stalls, clothing, fruit and veg and the usual tourist stuff but it was full of locals buying dinner and phone covers! We had a peaceful wander but didn’t take any photos.
Unfortunately we had to cancel a tour we had organised for Mae Salon and Doi Tung as they are up windy roads close to the Myanmar border and it rained very heavily all night and still unpleasant in the morning. We will just have to return another trip!
So what to do when its raining ? Take photos and play around with the camera settings…wish I could say the following photos are mine but they are Bruce’s!
We visited the Hill tribe Museum which was interesting once we finally found it. It was old and tucked on the 3rd floor of some building but it was very interesting to learn about the different hill tribes and their customs and way of life.
The Hill tribe museum provided some good options about home-stays that seemed more authentic than the hill tribe tour we have done in the past which made me feel a bit uncomfortable because it is artificial and it felt like a bit of a human zoo! I did buy lots of handicraft from the women hoping it would help them directly.
The museum has an associated and weirdly named ‘Cabbages and Condoms’ Cafe! Found out that the proceeds go to educating people about family planning-the founder wanted condoms to be as freely available as cabbages-hence the name!
Finally found some transport (never there when you need it especially if you are out of the main tourist area), to go to the Art Bridge Cafe which didn’t have much artwork displayed but the trip getting there was fun in the back of a tuk tuk come songthaew . We had to stop to top up the LPG on the way. Caught a comfortable air conditioned taxi back to town for the same price. Oh and I confess they sold paint so I had to buy a couple more tubes-well they had metallic colours!
And visited a few more Wats (Wat Phra Keaw and Wat Phra Sing) in the rain which meant we had the places pretty much to ourselves!
Went for a much needed foot massage…dont know why I wear my thongs when walking 12 km a day! Back on the bus for a comfy trip back ‘home’! Funny I was excited to get back to our place in Chiang Mai…felt like home after being there for 3 weeks.
We enjoyed Chiang Rai but will definitely have to come back to visit Mae Salong (A Yunnanese village) and I would like to do a hill-tribe homestay some time-but not in the rain!
Sa-wat-dee from Chiang Rai!