Chiang Rai is the northernmost city in Thailand. It has a rich history and cultural trappings that any tourist would love to explore. Our exploration of Chiang Rai was the extension of our visit to Chiang Mai- a city about 200km south of Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai can be planned as a one day excursion from Chiang Mai. An alternative is to stay for a night in Chiang Rai. We chose the former.
Without a doubt, the most popular landmark of Chiang Rai is the Wat Rong Khun aka The White Temple.It was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a famous Thai visual, graphics and sculpture artist, who decided to reconstruct the temple and fund the project with his own money after it was hit by an earthquake in 2014.
As the name suggests, the temple is built in white and is different from any of the Wats we came across Thailand. According to Chalermchai, he decided on white colour as gold stands for people who lust for evil deeds and white represents purity. The sculptures are covered with mirrors everywhere to show our true selves to ourselves…
To get to the main temple also called as Ubosot, we need to cross a bridge of cycle of rebirth. On both sides of the bridge you will notice several stretched out arms which represents hell. Crossing the bridge means overcoming all the evil and coming out on the other side to the Gate of heaven.
Wat Rong Khun displays a mix of traditional and modern, with interiors combining scenes from the life of Buddha with characters such as Keanu Reeves from The Matrix, Michael Jackson, Superman and so-on.The picture in the collage below shows a transformer like figure guarding the temple.
The other attractions in the premises include a wishing well, an artificial tree to where you can hang up medallions with your name on it for 30 baht and also a restroom which is built completely in gold.
The most comfortable way to reach is with an air conditioned mini-van. However there are buses which leave from the bus station located in Chiang Rai town centre as well as songthaews and tuk tuks. Admission is 50 Thai Baht per person. The operating hours of the temple is from 8 am until 6 pm. The Art gallery closes at 5:30 pm.
This is the first stop that we made while traveling from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. This place mainly serves as a resting spot for the journey with a few eateries, shops and a 7-eleven here.There are a few hot springs located here which give the otherwise cold weather a certain warmth.There were people selling bird eggs and bamboo shoots which can be dunked in the hot springs to get cooked! We had not seen such a thing anywhere else and hence was a bit amusing. A good way for locals to make an honest earning and visitors to try out something different.
The place is not huge and you could probably spend a maximum of half an hour here.
The golden triangle (Saam Liam Thong Kham) is where the borders of the 3 countries- Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. The Ruak river meets the Mekong river forming natural boundaries between the three countries.This triangle is famed for growing opium in the past and the the name is taken from the US state departmental memo describing the practice.
Since the three countries are divided by the water body, there are short boat rides to take you to Laos border. Here you can check out the market scenes in Laos and buy a few things. Passport will be kept with the tour guide and they return it back once we have reached back to Thailand border. If you are not interested in this, you can stay on land and see the border from the viewpoint and visit the temple there.
What caught our attention was the laughing Buddha here in the temple.You put coins into the pipes at the top of the temple (where the lady is standing int he picture below). The coin travels through the pipe and triggers an audio sound of the Buddha laughing and the coin reaches where the idol is.
Since gambling is banned in Thailand, there are casinos in both Laos and Myanmar- which cater Thai citizens and foreign tourists who have a taste for gambling. We caught sight of a few casinos from afar- they did look majestic. There were some photo-worthy structures around the temple
Long Neck Tribe Village
The long neck Karen tribe are actually immigrants from Myanmar who have been allowed to stay in Thailand but cannot work in the mainland. Therefore this tribe has made its own living by making and selling magnets, show pieces,shawls and other knicks knacs. As their name suggests, these people have a number of gold rings around their necks which keeps increasing along with their age.There are various tours which will take you to their tribe to see how they live.You do feel bad to look at them as these are actual people and not museum artifacts.But you also feel good that by buying some of their products, you can actually help them out.
The ladies sit out in separate huts where they will be busy making their products and also oblige for pictures. The number of rings on their neck indicates their ages and with every year the number of rings keep increasing!We saw some really young girls as well as the old women here.
There are a lot of travel companies which arrange for day trips from Chiang Mai. You could either arrange for the trip with them or do the trip on your own. Either option is good.
So we end this post on Chiang Rai with a lot of nostalgic memories. We intend to go there again sometime and we hope that we have convinced you that you should visit this beautiful place as soon as possible. Ciao