With temples of every color, tri-country borders, creative artists, and cheeky monkeys, there is so much the province of Chiang Rai has to offer. Often overshadowed by the nearby Chiang Mai, this smaller province has unique locations that surpass all expectations.
If the temples and museums in Thailand have started all looking the same, Chiang Rai has a few gorgeous places that are like none other. With a combination of ancient Thai culture and modern art, here are just a few of the one-of-a-kind places to spice up any Thailand visit.
White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
If you see only one thing, this is the place to go! Not far from the city center is a place that is a fantastical work of art as much as it is a temple. Constructed only 20 years ago by Chalermchai Kositpipat, this modern day creation boasts a myriad of dragons, gods, Buddhas, and beasts. All white plaster with inlaid glass makes the whole building glitter as you try to wrap your mind around the art and symbolism. All of the surrounding buildings are uniquely decorated, including the golden bathrooms. You might even spot the designer himself in the attached museum, signing autographs.
Blue Temple (Wat Rong Sear Tean)
A student of Chalermchai Kositpipat made a blue temple that rivals the gleaming white temple of his master. In contrast, this temple is packed with color of brilliant shades, expertly hand-painted throughout. Fierce, colorful dragons guard the entrance to a tall inner sanctum. Inside, there’s a white seated Buddha surrounded by towering columns and stunning paintings covering the walls and ceiling. A tall Buddha stands outside at the back of the temple, facing a beautiful white and gold shrine.
Black House (Baan Dam Museum)
This eclectic museum is an incredible collection of the work by the late Thawan Duchanee. All the buildings are constructed with dark colors, intricate woodwork, and fantastical decorations. The artist decorated the buildings with alligator skins and cow skulls, pottery and baskets, thrones and weapons, and even his magnificent paintings. The grounds are covered with buildings and art, each more unique than the last.
A sprawling 3,000 acre park is a beautifully manicured farm owned by Singha, an Asian company known for their delicious beer. The entrance to this argo-tourism project is guarded by a giant golden statue of the company’s trademark lion. The road wraps through ponds, orchards, fields of wild flowers, rows of oolong tea, and even a petting zoo. Chiang Rai’s picturesque landscape, with green mountains and emerald-colored rice farms are visible past the park from any of its many vantage points.
Monkey Temple (Wat Tham Pla)
Not for everyone, but monkey fans have the opportunity to see dozens of macaques scampering about, approaching everyone for food. A sense of foreboding is had at the entrance as they hand you bamboo sticks “for the bad monkeys”. Mother monkeys with babies clinging to their backs, juveniles, and gigantic adults who’ve had one too many peanuts can be fed from buckets if you want them grabbing your pant leg. If it’s exercise you want, a staircase of hundreds of steps, flanked by a pair of nagas, lead you to great views and a cool, dark cave temple with a heart-shaped hole in the ceiling. No monkeys in the caves, however.
Scorpion Temple (Wat Phra That Doi Wao)
A winding road with views of Myanmar brings you up the hill to the “Scorpion Temple”, a monument to a Lanna king who kept Myanmar at bay. A number of brightly colored buildings, shrines and gift shops lead the way to the temple and an imposing scorpion statue that keeps a watchful eye out over the Myanmar landscape. Construction is being done on what looks to be more viewing platforms surrounding the buildings.
The geographical point where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet is called the Golden Triangle. Their borders are made along the Ruak and Mekong rivers. When they converge at the triangle, you can see the different colors of two rivers mixing into one. At the Golden Triangle Park Transit Point, a giant Buddha on a ship made of stained glass makes up the port of the Thailand side of the Mekong river. You can charter a boat to take you to the place where the three countries meet. Bring your passport.
House of Opium Museum
Down the street from the Golden Triangle port, a small private museum documents the opium and drug trade over Thailand’s borders. Opium artifacts and tools from the villages and hill tribes help visitors visualize and follow the drug’s path across Southeast Asia. Among the exhibits, the beautiful poppy flowers that produce the drug are on display as well. The museum was made to educate the public of the history and drug problems brought about by the infamous poppy.
Wat Phra That Pu Khao
Whether you want to take on the steps next to the Opium House or drive the winding road to the top of the hill, the trip is worth it. Not only do you have great views of all three countries and the Triangle, but the Wat and statues are beautiful in their own right. A towering female Buddha overlooks the view. A pair of ancient naga stairs take you to the Buddha shrine and five crumbling chedis, with sun shining through the surrounding bamboo groves.
Chiang Rai Clock Tower
In the city center of Chiang Rai, an eye-catching clock tower sits in the middle of a roundabout. The clock was finished in 2008 and created by the same artist, Chalermchai Khositpipat,who designed the White Temple. Similar features such as the stylized spires and inlaid glass makes the connection obvious to those who look closely. A “show” of sorts takes place in the evening, at 7, 8, and 9 PM. Colored lights illuminate the clock tower to the sound of beautiful Thai music. The perfect spot to watch the show is at a scrumptious and very affordable outdoor pad thai restaurant, Thai Delicious, on the steps of the southeast corner of the clock.
Chiang Rai is a refreshing break from the typical sites you can see all over Thailand. The creativity of the modern day artists combined with the ancient cultures of the Lanna and Thai people have produced a diverse and distinct style all its own. Partaking in these sights and experiences will definitely make a fantastic trip to Thailand even more beautiful and complex. The best part is that you can see many or all of these things in just one or two days. Although, one could spend hours at each place so slowing down to see the details will make it all the better.
Please feel free to share experiences or suggest any other places to see around Chiang Rai in the comments below.