A visit to Chiang Rai

A visit to Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is one of the lesser-known cities of Northern Thailand but for us, it was one of the highlights of our Thailand trip. We saw a lot of temples but the temples in Chiang Rai are the most beautiful ones we have seen in Thailand. 

In this post, you will find our favorite things to do and plenty of tips for your trip to Chiang Rai. We stayed 3 days in Chiang Rai but we could easily spend 5 days there. 

How to get there 

We got there by bus from Chiang Mai but you can easily get there from other big cities by bus as well. You can get there by private transfer, take a day trip or get there by airplane. 
 

When to visit

November to February is the best time to visit. It’s the coolest and driest time of the year. We were there in early February and had temperatures around 25°C.
 
March to May is the hottest time to be in Chiang Rai with temperatures often reaching 40°C.
 
From June to October is the rainy season. 

Where to stay

We stayed at the Spinomat Hostel which we recommend. This Hostel is located in the city center not far from the Bus Station. In this hostel, you can do your own laundry and the food is delicious.

Black House 

The Baan Dam Museum or Black House is the home and studio of the late Thawan Duchanee, a national Artist of Thailand famous for his paintings and architecture. The Black House is a collection of 40 buildings spread out over gardens. 

The exhibition showcases Duchanee’s own interpretation of Buddha’s philosophy and in particular the suffering and death that Buddha saw on his travels. This idea in particular is represented through the collections of bones and animal skins found throughout the museum. 

The Black House is open from 9 am – 5 pm daily, and the entrance fee is 80 TBH per person. You can get there by bus or Tuk-tuk from Chiang Rai’s city center. 

Blue Temple

The Blue Temple’s official name, Wat Rong Suea Ten, doesn’t actually mean blue temple but ‘dancing tiger temple’. This refers to the site before the Blue Temple was built where an old abandoned temple used to stand.

The mastermind behind the Blue Temple is an artist named Putha Kabkaew. This artist was an apprentice of Chalermchai Kositpipat, the artist who designed the White Temple.  This temple is a very recent addition to the landscape having only been completed in 2016.

The blue color of the temple symbolizes tranquility, ascension, the infinite, purity, and healing in Buddhism. The temple aslo has lots of golden details which really makes it stand out. The Blue Temple is one of the most beautiful and unusual temples that we have ever seen. 

The paintings that decorate the Main Hall are all covered in saturated, bright colors. The unique spectacle of light and color makes you feel like you’re stepping into another world. The inside of the Blue Temple is truly mesmerizing and fascinating at the same time.

The Blue Temple is open from 7 am – 9 pm daily, and there is no entrance fee. You can get there by tuk-tuk from Chiang Rai’s city center or on foot (40 minutes). 

White Temple 

 

Don’t miss this temple! The White Temple is one of Chiang Rai’s most visited tourist attractions. When the original Wat Rong Khun fell into a state of disrepair, local Chiang Rai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat took it upon himself to rebuild the temple using his own money. He designed and constructed the new temple himself, before reopening it to the public in 1997. Kositpipat considers the temple to be an offering to Buddha and believes the project will give him immortal life. 

When you look at the temple from up close, you will see tiny mirrors stuck to the plaster. This makes the temple look like it’s sparkling in the sun. The white color is said to signify the purity of the Buddha while the mirrors symbolize the Buddha’s wisdom and teachings.

The first thing you will see is Wat Rong Khun’s famous sea of hands. These outreaching hands are meant to symbolize unrestrained desire. Crossing that bridge into the temple signifies that the way to happiness is to leave temptation, anger, and suffering behind.

Crossing the bridge takes you to the Gate of Heaven, which is guarded by two creatures representing death. These creatures decided the fate of the death. 

The interior of the Main Temple is all gold. On the back walls are paintings of pop culture references like Hello Kitty, Spiderman, the Terminator,  Pokemon, … These represent life without faith, they are the false heroes incapable of saving the world from war and destruction. On the walls in the front, where the altar is, you will see paintings of humans flying freely through the clouds. These represent the people who followed Buddha’s teachings and achieved peace. Taking pictures is not allowed in the main building. 

On the outside of the temple is a canopy of prayer plates and by walking under it you will reach the meditation hall, the art gallery, and museum. 

We are still amazed by the amount of detail Kositpipat put into this building. 

The White Temple is open from 8 am – 5.30 pm daily, and the entrance fee is 50 TBH per person. You can get there by tuk-tuk from Chiang Rai’s city center.

Clock Tower 

A beautiful structure in the middle of a large boulevard. The Clock Tower is designed by the same artist as the White Temple. This is downtown Chiang Rai’s most recognizable landmark. There is a nightly music and light show at 7,8 and 9 pm.

Night Market

One of our favorite activities after dark was wandering around Chiang Rai’s night market. This is the perfect place for some late night shopping and eating. Here you can buy hill tribe jewelry, souvenirs, clothes, and fabrics. 

Just a short walk from the main market you will find the food market. Here you can eat street food while enjoying a live band and other entertainment. We had a delicious steaming hot pot and some fried treats. 

Cat ‘N’ a cup Café

Situated right in the heart of Chiang Rai, next to the Bus Station. Here you can enjoy all kinds of coffee and pastries surrounded by cats. Make sure to make a reservation as this place is quite popular.

Phu Chi Fa 

Phu Chi Fa is a mountain area and National Forest Park about 2 hours from Chiang Rai. The mountain is overlooking the Laos border. Read our blogpost about Phu Chi Fa here

 

Choui Fong Tea Plantation

The Choui Fong tea plantation is the biggest tea plantation in the province, producing 1000 tonnes of tea per year. We were surrounded by tea plants as far as the eye can see. There is a cafe where you can taste Choui Fong tea and all kinds of tea flavored bakery. Make sure to try there Iced Macha Latte, it was delicious! 

We got there with a driver but you can get there by combining local busses as well.
 

Mae Salong

Mae Salong also is known as Santikhiri is a Chinese village located in the northwestern region of Chiang Rai province, in an area called Mae Fah Luang, which is right along the border of Myanmar. 

At the end of the Chinese Civil War, a group of Chinese, who wouldn’t succumb to defeat, lived nomadic lives in Myanmar. Eventually, they found their way to the hilltops of Mae Salongy, where they set up a village. the Thai government allowed them to stay in Thailand, as long as they fought for Thailand. Today this village still exists. Here you will find coffee and tea plantations, temples, beautiful viewpoints, markets, and restaurants that are serving typical Yunnanese dishes. 

We got there with a driver but you can get there by combining local busses as well.

Chiang Rai has so much to offer! It is a doorway to experience the cultures and scenic sites of Northern Thailand. If you are looking for unique experiences we highly recommend you visit Chiang Rai. 

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