From Chiang Mai, we took a 3 hour bus to the small city of Chiang Rai, further in the northeast. As our last stop in northern Thailand before we head to Laos, we stayed in Chiang Rai briefly and only went around the city itself. There was also much nature to explore outside of the city that we would have done with more time.
White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
One of the main reasons why we even stopped in Chiang Rai was to visit the White Temple, or Wat Rong Khun. Even after suffering from temple fatigue for more than a month now, this picturesque temple still impressed us, with its intriguing shapes in stunning white color and silver mirror decor. The sight of it was practically hypnotizing and it was hard to look anywhere else.
On the grounds of the temple, before the entrance, there was a small pond very popular amongst tourists for its beautiful reflection of the White Temple. Statues of mythical creatures surrounded the pond and they were just as detailed and magnificent as the temple itself.
A bridge crossing the pond led us into the White Temple. At the base of the bridge, a well of many hands reaching out from the underworld asking for salvation was quite creepy, but very unique and striking. It reminded me of the mythical Styx River, carrying the lost souls to the depths of Hades’ kingdom.
In the White Temple’s representation, some of the hands held skulls and vases, while one particular hand had a red-painted fingernail that gleamed in the sunlight. A high contrast to the otherwise dark grey of the other hands, it was macabre considering it was just a painted fingernail.
White guardians stood on each side of the bridge, pointing their fingers at us and holding their weapons high, always ready to strike. It made for a very redeeming journey to the land of the gods (the White Temple).
On the other end of the bridge, angelic figures making flower offering were a delightful view and reminded us of the beauty of the temple.
The façade of the White Temple was remarkable, with detailed carvings and shapes on the gable and white dragons on the roof corners. Inside the temple, the Buddha statue was surrounded by some unexpected wall paintings. Instead of the usual depictions of history, this wall mural consisted of the face of a demon apocalypse in the middle of an apocalyptic world, with many pop culture references, such as Darth Vader, Michael Jackson or the minions from Despicable Me. We had a fun time identifying all of them. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed inside.
A large section of the temple’s grounds were closed, for safety reasons, since the structures were damaged during an earthquake in May of this year. Just outside of the temple was what must be one of the world’s fanciest bathrooms. We were shocked that the entire elaborate building’s purpose was for people to relieve themselves.
The White Temple was one of the most different and beautiful temples we have ever seen and it alone made the trip to Chiang Rai worth it.
Wat Phra Kaew
Similar to the one in the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew in Chiang Rai was also home to the Emerald Buddha. The interesting story here was that in 1434, the temple’s chedi was struck by lightning and fell apart. Hidden inside the chedi was the original Emerald Buddha. The original has since been moved to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, and a replica remained at the templein Chiang Rai.
Built to honor the current king of Thailand, King Rama IX (Bhumibol Adulyadej), the clock tower was a nice addition to the streets of Chiang Rai. The golden swirling spires were exquisite, while the light and sound show that takes place here every night.
Sometimes forgotten among travelers, Chiang Rai was only a short ride away from Chiang Mai and is definitely worth the visit for those who are into history or trekking. We wished we had more time in this little town to explore more of what it has to offer.
For more pictures from Chiang Rai, please visit the gallery!