Our final stop in Thailand was the city of Chiang Rai, located in the northern region a couple of hours from Chiang Mai. We primarily stopped in the city as it was a good stop over before crossing the border into Laos, though if we had more time it is meant to another great base for hiking.
We only had one night in the city, leaving us with an afternoon and the following morning for some exploration. As seems to be a running theme for Thailand, it was more temple hopping! Our first stop was Wat Jed Rod, a temple located near the main bus station.
From here, we walked through the bust town centre, stopping at the very over the top clocktower turned roundabout!
Above are the songthaew (shared taxis) of Chiang Rai, blue this time in contrast to the red trucks of Chiang Rai.
Next, we stopped in at Wat Phra Kaew, a lovely temple complex housing a small emerald Buddha. And a lot of turtles?
A surprise highlight of Chiang Rai for us was the night bazaar. Located just behind the main bus station, the bazaar is known for hot pot and deep fried foods. We tried both and they were delicious, with the hot pot being a kind of ‘hands on’ meal requiring cooking and not burning ourselves on the pot.
The following morning we set off early to see the main attraction of Chiang Rai, Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple). The temple is located about 8km out of the city centre, though we were easily able to reach it by catching a local bus from the station for only 40 baht each.
The temple is designed and built by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a Thai artist known for his work combining Buddhism and more contemporary images. Opened in 1997, parts of the temple and the surrounding buildings are still being built.
As the above photo suggests, the temple was extremely busy! Thankfully the amount of sightseers did not detract from the beauty of the temple.
Photos are not allowed inside the main building, which features murals depicting pop culture figures (think Matrix Keanu Reeves, Harry Potter, Kung Fu Panda, etc). The artwork was quite amazing, and I am sure the symbolism of it all went straight over my head. This blogger has some photos of the interior if you are curious.
The complex surrounding the main temple was equally as intriguing.
The gold buildings were a stark contrast to the white of the main temple.
Here is a close up of the building details, the mosaic and the intricacy of the curves were stunning.
I also really enjoyed the gallery across the road from the complex, which was full of paintings by Kositpipat. They ranged from works inspired by Buddhism to some works of political satire. This page has some images of his paintings.
With a few more hours to kill in the morning, we made our way back to the city centre and wandered the streets, from the busy city centre to more quiet laneways.
Our main adventure of the day was to cross the border to Laos, so after lunch it was on to a local bus headed for a town near the border. The rickety old vehicle was crammed full of passengers, bags, and a pile of boxes that were to be delivered on route. Chris managed to score the best seat of the house up front with the driver.
Crossing the border was a bit of an adventure… but I will leave that to the next post!