This is a pictorial account of my first visit to Chiang Rai - it won’t be my last...
We stayed at Le Méridien which is a little out of town but in a very serene setting surrounded by water and for a relaxing weekend it was perfect. The building and surrounding gardens were really attractive. The rooms were big and very comfortable, our room opened straight out onto the garden. The service was really good, I felt the food catered for western tastes and was not very authentic to the North of Thailand which is known for its Isaan Cuisine. Normally I love being in the town or within walking distance but the hotel offered a regular shuttle bus during the day and in the evening and it was easy and not expensive to take a taxi. The concierge came up with good ideas for our trip and found us a great driver. For a weekend away it was great, very luxurious and we used our SPG points – so win/win! I would love to experience something a little more local and in the city…but then there’s always next time!
A Wat in every colour…
We booked a taxi driver/tour guide for 3-4 hours to take us to the few sights that I’d researched. There are many more things to experience in Chiang Rai and I’d love to go back with more time but for my first trip this is what we did…
The White Temple
Wat Rong Khun – this was the most incredible temple I have ever seen. It really took my breath away. It was unlike any other temple I had seen so far in Thailand. The White Temple is about 15 km south west of the town of Chiang Rai and is one of the most recognisable temples in Thailand. This is due to the uniqueness of it; the white colour which signifies the purity of the Buddha and the glass symbolises wisdom and the Dhamma, the Buddhist teachings. All wooden structures and carvings in white and all covered with tiny glass and mirror mosaics. In the bright sunshine, it was quite stunning. I could have wandered slowly around with my camera for hours. This temple was designed by Chalermchai Khositpipat, a famous Thai visual artist born in Chiang Rai. It is actually not yet completed because due to damage in 2014 from an earthquake, it is now being restored and added to. Chalermchai Khositpipat decided to rebuild the temple and fund the project with his own money. He built this temple to be a centre for learning and meditation. Click here for more detail about The White Temple and its structures and features
The White Temple in Chiang Rai
Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai
The Blue Temple
Wat Rong Suea Ten – a lower key more local attraction, was suggested to us by our taxi driver. This was a surprise addition to our short tour but well worth the stop. Located in Rong Suea Ten in the Rimkok district only a few km from Chiang Rai, the Blue Temple was a complete contrast to the White Temple, being a smaller and very locally used temple. A simpler style with brighter colours and more contemporary artwork and murals. The bright blue interior of the main hall and large white Buddha are the most striking features. It is a fairly recent construction, started in 2005 and the main hall was completed in January 2016 which is maybe why it has not caught the eyes of the tourists yet, but it will I'm sure, become more famous in the next few years. Interestingly, The Blue Temple was built by a student of Chalermchai Khositpipat who built The famous White Temple.
The Blue Temple - Wat Rong Suea Ten in Chiang Rai
Detail and the dragons at The Blue Temple in Chiang Rai
The Black Temple
Baan Dam or as it is known The Black House is more of a museum – Again arriving at the site of the Black House another stark contrast to the 2 previous stops – The huge main structure was filled with animal skeletons, buffalo horns, tiger and snake skins, dark wooden furniture and beautiful woodwork carvings, and ornate stucco artwork. The buildings within the whole 100-acre site were of differing architectural styles and eras, they house art exhibitions and museums of folk art. In total there are 40 units containing works of art and museum pieces. This has been created by teacher Acharn Thawan Duchanee, who has devoted the last 25 years to building up this amazing place.
The Black House, Baan Dam in Chiang Rai
Unusual architectural styles in the grounds of The Black House
Village tribes visit
I know this was a contrived group of small villages but it was an educational experience. To meet a few representatives from some of the northern village tribes and see the way they live, villages included the Lahu, Long Neck, Kayor and Palong. One can experience a little of their culture, enjoy their traditional dress and watch them make their local handicrafts. We walked among their village areas and the stalls where one can buy their local clothes, jewellery, wooden carvings, handmade bags etc. Seeing and learning about the Karen tribe was fascinating. These are the long-necked women. We even got to see ladies changing their brass rings. These are incredibly heavy it’s hard to believe they wear them all of the time. You pay an entrance fee to get into the area which I believe all goes to the tribal villages and anything bought from the ladies is helping their communities thrive.
The Clock Tower, Chiang Rai
So next stop was to see the much noted and beautiful Chiang Rai Golden Clock Tower in the centre of a roundabout, which was designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Khositpipat (who designed the White Temple) and was opened in 2008.
Late Lunch – Moom Mai Restaurant 64 Moo 16, Sankhongluang Road, Chiang Rai +66 53 716 416
Then we wandered the quiet streets of the city and hailed a Tuk Tuk to take us for lunch. I’d done my research and found a few ideas and I’m so pleased we went out of our way to find Moom Mai! What a delightful experience – thoroughly Thai and a really great lunch. We didn’t have a reservation but I would make one next time as it is a popular place but we arrived around late lunchtime and were easily accommodated at an outside table.
In the gardens at Moom Mai, Chiang Rai
Entrance to Moom Mai Restaurant, 64 Moo 16, Sankhongluang Road, Chiang Rai
At the entrance, you may think you’ve arrived at a theme park or a small jungle. There are strategically placed cartoon type sculptures and caricatures in a maze of gardens. The tables are tucked away in this area of covered greenery over a large space. It’s hard to describe this place, so luckily I took a few pictures. It was so different, very laid back and a lot of fun. The food was absolutely delicious and very authentic Northern Thai – I say authentic as it seemed to me typically a place the Thais eat and had not been adapted for Western tastes – which was great!
A selection of Northern Thai Dishes at Moom Mai, Chiang Rai
The Garden at Moom Mai Restaurant
Green Papaya Salad!
A selection of Northern Thai pork dishes
A weekend in Chiang Rai was a great 2 nights away from Bangkok city - we flew Bangkok Airways and it only took 1 hour 15 minutes. Chiang Rai town is only 8 km from the airport making it an ideal place to visit if you're short on time.
All Photographs are copyright © Caro Blackwell