Chiang Rai is one of the usual stops on the Northern Thailand tourist circuit. We were attracted to this town by the pictures of the White and Blue Temples which reside in this small city near the Golden Triangle. Chiang Rai is our last stop in Thailand before heading to Laos via the Mekong River. We arrived after a very long van ride from Pai and settled into our apartment centrally located near the main clock tower. Originally we were going to be in Chiang Rai longer but we decided to go to Pai, so our stay here was only three days.
After two days of driving, we needed to stretch our legs. We spent the first day exploring the city and tracking down a rental car for a day trip to Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat. After our daily dose of iced coffee and bubble tea we waived down a songthaew for a short ride to the Blue Temple.
There are many old Wats in Thailand, and Chiang Rai has several. But Chiang Rai also seems to be home to some of the newest. The Blue Temple, or Wat Rong Seur Ten, was started in 2005 and completed in 2016, with some buildings still under construction. The temple name means “house of the dancing tiger” as a tribute to the wildlife which once roamed the area. The painting and artistry is exquisite and it has been fun to contrast these modern temples versus the historic ones.
After our visit the five of us piled into a motorized tricycle for the short ride back to our apartment. We explored the local market, which is only a few meters from our place, and had a quiet evening of street food and blogging.
The next morning we tracked down our rental car and explored the White Temple located 15 km outside of town. The White Temple, or Wat Rong Kuhn, is really an art gallery for local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, who owns the facility. It is visually stunning and one of the most visited temples in Thailand.
The temple itself, which opened to the public in 1997, is built on the site of a previous temple that fell into disrepair during the 20th century. The primary temple is surrounded by sculptures which have different meanings and the interior has exquisite paintings that combine traditional Thai with modern pop culture. It’s both a place of worship and a piece of art and technically you can’t take pictures inside – but I encourage you to watch the video.
Today there are several other buildings which support Buddhist teaching as well as a gallery that house some of Chalermchai’s work. The artist turned architect is now in his early 60’s and has assembled a team of artists and architects who will see through the completion of this complex, which is planned to happen in 2070.
After an hour at the White Temple we headed into the countryside to see the Floating Pagodas – Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat. Read that blog post here: Floating Pagodas (link). We returned home late and explored the Saturday night market as well as the final night of the Chiang Rai Flower Festival.
The video below captures all of our adventures in Chiang Rai…
Our final day in Chiang Rai was also our final day in Thailand. It was a low key day of laundry, journalling and packing. We also visited the historic Wat Phra Kaew. In contrast to the Blue and White Temples, Wat Phra Kaew is over 700 years old and is where the famed Emerald Buddha was discovered in 1347 when lightning struck and damaged the wat’s pagoda, revealing the Emerald Buddha hidden inside. The buddha has since been moved to Bangkok, but the site still has several historic buildings and buddhas and was a fun visit.
We have greatly enjoyed our 23 days in this country. We are also celebrating Day 51 of our trip, which means we crossed the half-way point while in Chiang Rai. The drive yesterday to the Floating Pagoda through the Thai countryside was magical and we relished getting off the beaten tourist path. This is a generous and caring culture and we have had an awesome time in this country.