Chiang Rai was chosen specifically to see the White Temple! I didn’t get to go north during my last visit to Thailand, and I knew this was a destination not to be missed.
We had booked a bus with 12Go Asia, which was due to take 3 hours. We reached Chiang Mai Bus Terminal via taxi (with a hungover James in tow!) and settled into our VIP bus with extra-large reclining seats, bottled water and snacks. After 3 hours of air con it was pretty chilly but we made it to Chiang Rai without a hitch and in walking distance from our Hostel.
Where to stay – Mercy Hostel
This was a really lovely hostel! The bunk beds we very big, spacious and private. Very useful for when I decorated James’ bed with a birthday banner and balloons for his birthday!
We had a room of 8 beds which was only full on our third night. The hostel was very clean and had plenty of toilets and showers available (separate men’s and women’s).
The hostel had a small swimming pool and outside area (overlooking a small, dark temple), as well as a comfy indoor area with sofa, fish tank and a pool table (which was in use most of the time). The hostel also offered another outdoor community area with a TV and a gym. Would recommend a stay here in Chiang Rai.
Where to eat
Street food Market
We ventured here on our first evening in search of good cheap food. It only took 5 minutes to find it, although we did get caught in a quick 10-minute downpour of torrential rain!
We grabbed some spring rolls (obviously) as a starter then chose a couple of dishes from another vendor including pad Thai in egg (came surrounded in an egg parcel!) and pork with green veg and rice. It was really tasty and cost around £4 for both of us with drinks! Bargain dinner.
Oak and Awe café
We looked this place up on trip advisor and it had really good reviews and was only a short walk away so we decided to go for breakfast for James’s birthday.
James was so happy with his first fry up in 2 months and I was super happy with my bacon and cheese baguette! It wasn’t the cheapest place but still a good price compared to UK prices.
James actually returned here without me one evening as I had eaten at the market and tried Khao Soi (a noodle soup type dish with crispy noodles) and said it was one of his favourite meals – I was a bit gutted I didn’t join him!
Hungry Wolf Steak and Ale Restaurant
I decided to take James here for his birthday meal – it was rated really well (good old trip advisor!) and was quite quirky!
We grabbed a tuk tuk from the cinema to get there knowing we could walk back. The waiters were super friendly and smooth Jazz music played in the background.
We both ordered burgers with extra onion rings and nuggets and the portions were huge! We couldn’t eat it all – even though James never wastes food! It was really tasty! I was really happy when James said he was glad I found this restaurant.
I mentioned to the waiters that it was James’ birthday and they brought over brownie and cream with a candle and sung happy birthday – free of charge! Things like that go a long way in my book. The whole meal (mains, sides and drinks – and a free dessert) ended up costing me about £20! A lot cheaper than I was expecting!
Things to do in Chiang Rai
After a little sunbathe by the hostel pool, James decided he wanted a birthday cinema trip to see Fantastical Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
We jumped in a Grab (Thai version of UBER) to Central Plaza and booked our 200 baht each ticket. We bought some popcorn to enjoy and decided to mix it up a little having half sweet, half cheese (James’ idea…).
Let’s just say the cheese popcorn is an acquired taste and was left in the box! Before the film, we needed to stand in respect to the King and a song played – I am unsure if it was the national anthem but it was very powerful!
The film was great, but we were somewhat distracted but being freezing for the whole film due to the aircon being on full blast and arctic!
We visited this clock tower twice – once in the day and once on our walk back to the hostel following our massive dinner! It resides on a roundabout and is sparkly gold and intricate! Quite a sight to see actually. It glimmers in the sunlight, and is lit up of an evening. Take a peek if you are close by!
Chiang Rai Day Trip
We chose a day trip to see all the main sights on Chiang Rai, as we felt we would see more/get a better value for money by doing it this way in the short time we had. We paid 950 each (including lunch and white temple ticket) but this did not include entry for all attractions.
It was a good tour and we had a good guide, but unfortunately, they tried to pack too much into one day – so we felt we had nowhere near enough time in some places and felt bored in others!
White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
The main event! We got here at 8.20am and it was already buzzing with tourists. The temple itself is spectacular – so different to any other Thai temple we had seen! We were advised it was designed by an artist who donated it to Thailand.
It felt mystical and almost wintery! Something to get us in the Christmas spirit! We stopped to take some pictures and selfies by the small lake in front of the temple before we got rushed by our guide to get to the walkway to go inside.
Closer up it has so much artistic flare – hands and skulls reaching out at the entrance symbolising hell for example! We walked into the temple and it was so unusual.
It was a small space, with a small buddha (nothing unusual there) but the walls had contemporary characters such as Spiderman, Pikachu and Michael Jackson painted on as well as recent political events such as 9/11. Really unexpected for a temple, you were not allowed to take photographs inside. We were then rushed out the temple and to the exit where we realised we couldn’t go back inside again, only see the surrounding grounds.
The grounds were interesting and included golden buildings (some in which were toilets!), a Hindu temple, masks of characters such as Deadpool and terminator hanging from trees and an art gallery depicting the temple artist’s original works.
However, we only had 35 minutes in total at the complex before we were asked to get back on the bus, which really wasn’t enough to take this place in! I would recommend coming here alone, paying the 50 baht entrance and spending as long as you need here.
We brought a programme so we could read up about it on the bus.
After thinking we were getting bored of Thai temples (white temple being an exception) we were taken to this one.
It was so vibrant in royal blue and gold colours! There were 2 large interesting statues at the entrance on the complex, guarding the temple! The interior of the Buddhist temple was equally as colourful and interesting with a large golden seated buddha. At the back of the temple was a blue and gold pagoda. Really pretty and vibrant temple that is worth seeing. They also have toilets and food/drink stalls.
I had heard of this place and it had been recommended to me by friends. I was expecting a black temple, that is not what this place is!
Black house is a dark temple looking building but was actually more of a museum displaying works of another artist (who the White Temple artist was taught by). However, after paying 80 baht to enter you are greeted with fairly disturbing (and samey) objects – numerous wooden chairs covered in animal horns, numerous alligator skins and many, many phallic symbols – mainly male!
You can walk around the grounds but most rooms you can look into hold similar objects. It was all very bizarre. I actually had very odd dreams about the place that night!
This place was definitely interesting but I wouldn’t feel the need to go back – animal lovers steer clear!
Karen Long Neck Village
This was another part of the trip that you paid an extra 300 baht each to enter the village (£7.50). Apparently, this money goes to the village for when they may need transport, maintenance etc. I was not convinced. James and I were ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ about paying this but we decided to as we were there.
I wish we hadn’t! It was a very odd artificial atmosphere – it was a small village of bamboo huts and 2 parallel strips of market stalls selling the same scarfs and souvenirs. We stopped next to one tribe member who was making a scarf with a hand loom, and the guide explained how they were a Burmese tribe. The stall already had photographs ready for the guide to use to explain – step one of seeming not authentic!
It was explained the rings around the necks originated as protection from tiger bites! It actually doesn’t elongate the neck, but pushes the shoulders down due to the weight. Our guide told us we could take pictures of the people and the village as they were used to it. Yet I felt very uncomfortable with this, it almost felt like a human zoo.
There were only around 7 long neck tribe women around the stalls and a few children. The village felt specifically set up for tourists – all I can hope is the money we paid did go to them! My advice would be not to bother with this part of the tour.
Mae – Chan Tea Plantation
The tea plantation was very lush and green and pretty for photos. You were able to go in along the tea leaves. Tea tasting was due to be available but was closed on this day for some reason. We didn’t spend a long time here as people seemed to be getting bored and hungry – that, and we had learned all about tea in Sri Lanka!
Monkey and Fish Temple
This was a bit of a bizarre place! It was a bit of a run-down area where you picked up a stick-on entry in case monkeys got too close.
There was a small Thai temple (with a moving skeleton in it?!) and a small lake with plenty of fish. Apparently, you can buy fish and let them breed in the lake.
There were a few monkeys about, including one with one arm – but they tended to keep their distance and fight each other! We walked up plenty of steps to a pretty view point and to a cave with bats and a buddha inside. Again, I wouldn’t really bother with this place if you are seeing Chiang Rai your own way!
The border of Thailand, Myanmar & Laos (The Golden Triangle)
We were driven to see the most Northern part of Thailand, which was also the border to Myanmar. In theory, this sounds interesting. What it actually was, was a bridge with flags changing from Thailand to Myanmar, and an immigration office! I was really hoping to have one foot in each country/jump from country to country but this was not possible.
The Golden triangle however was very pretty. You go to a view point where you see where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar all meet. 3 countries we are due to visit on our trip. Picture and selfie opportunities available here!
There is also a large white Buddha statue. During this section of the tour, you walk up to the old ruins of a high temple, and a few other temples with a very old mostly destroyed buddha, but for some reason we were hanging around this area for some time for no apparent reason – this was frustrating for me and James considering we were rushed around the best bit of the tour (White Temple) in the morning!
The last part of the tour (apart from driving through Chiang Saen looking at a few temple and wall ruins) was the opium museum (50 baht with free postcards) which was also optional.
We went in and was advised around the opium war. As a previous drug worker, I understand a little about opium, but it was interesting to read up on the origins and old equipment. It was a small (slightly odd) museum, but there was more information upstairs on the long neck tribe which was worth reading! Unless you are seriously interested in opium, again I wouldn’t bother!
So, it seems there is lot to see in Chiang Rai, but I personally wouldn’t choose this tour – go your own way and see the White Temple and spend some time enjoying it, and pay a visit to the Blue temple!
Eat at the street food market, enjoy a little live music there and kick back and relax at a bar, or a nice hostel if it is like ours!
Long day of travelling tomorrow to Koh Phangan for Full Moon Party – James will tell you about that one!