Editorial Note – I posted the following on Trip Advisor. Seemed like a good blog post.
We spent three weeks in Thailand and Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat, which is also known as the Floating Pagodas, was not on our radar when we arrived in the country. We “discovered” it by seeing a picture on Instagram and then google revealed it wasn’t too far from where we were staying at the time (Chiang Mai). However, getting there proved challenging. When you walk the streets of Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, there are many tour operators offering packages to see the top tourist sites around these two cities. However, Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat is not listed anywhere and when approached tour operators about how to get there, most have never even heard of it. This is truly one of the “undiscovered” gems to go see now before it is converted into a main attraction.
Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat is located in a National Park about 150 km east of Chiang Mai or 180 km south of Chiang Rai. There is no scheduled tour service so you will need to hire a car and driver, or rent a car yourself. I suppose you could get there via moped, but I would not want to navigate the main highway out of Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai on one. For our family of five, we tried several options before finally renting a car in Chiang Rai and driving there ourselves. For those going from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai (or vice versa), consider hiring a car and driver and visit Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat on the way – it would be a four hour side trip.
Travel Recommendation: Need a car and driver? We met Chiang (his name) in Chiang Mai and he owns a car / van service and drove us all over Northern Thailand. He spoke decent english, had reasonable costs, and good vehicles. He drove us from Pai to Chiang Rai via Chiang Mai, which was a 7 hour drive, and we did not have enough time to hit Was Chaloem Phra Kiat on the way. His phone number is +66 81-681-4940. Tell him Jason sent you.
For our specific trip to Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat, we rented a car in Chiang Rai near the night market for 1200 baht (plus fuel) that fit our family of five. We stopped at the White Temple on the way south, which worked out to see it early in the day. We then left from there around noon for Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat. You drive south on Hwy 1 then Hwy 118 (towards Chiang Mai) for about 1.5 hours before turning off on Hwy 120. At this intersection there are several good restaurants and we pulled off for lunch.
Google will navigate you easily to Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat and it takes around 2.5 – 3 hours depending on how you drive and traffic. We arrived at 2:30 pm and were one of 10 or so cars in the parking lot. Most everyone there was Thai. All five of us paid the 70 baht to see the wat and the adults paid 200 baht each for the park entrance fee, so our group was 750 baht. We hopped in the back of the Songthaew and rocketed up the steep grade to the bottom of the mountain. It’s 400 meters of stairs up to the wats on metal grates than can be slippery in the rain (it was dry for us). These stairs support the limited traffic that the site currently sees – it would need a heavy upgrade if this became a standard tourist attraction.
The views from the top are truly stunning. There’s great photos on the web and we have included a few here. I was able to fly the drone and get an aerial perspective which can be viewed on our “out there doing that” youtube page. There were only a handful of people and that small crowd faded as it got later and later. The infrastructure at Was Chaloem Phra Kiat is consistent with its undiscovered status. Most of the platforms, which are perched on the edge of 300 meter tall cliffs, are made of worn teak that feel like they might crumble at any minute. There wasn’t a safety concern, but this place hasn’t been upgraded for industrial tourism, which is unique and what we were looking for.
We were back on the road at 5:30 pm and drove straight through to Chiang Rai, arriving around 7:45 pm. As a side note, driving on Thai highways at night is pretty sketchy with unlit people, dogs, mopeds and other vehicles traveling at different speeds in different directions. You would NOT want to be there on a moped. So consider starting earlier than we did (we left Chiang Rai at 10 am) and getting back before dark.