White, blue and black with a touch of gold thrown in for good measure. These are the colours of modern Chiang Rai. From the pristine Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), the whimsical Wat Rong Suea Ten (Blue Temple) to the dark, in all senses of the word, Baan Dam (Black House), these buildings of Chiang Rai are a surprise. Not least because none are more than 25 years old.
The Blue Temple started in 2005 is first cab off the rank for us. There is absolutely no missing this temple, it is not shy. It is blue, very blue. Yes, it is garish but you forgive it this brashness because it somehow works. This temple is still a work in progress, one of the guardians at the entrance is yet to be completed.
The next piece of modern Chiang Rai on our sightseeing hit list is the Golden Clock Tower. It was built by the artist responsible for the famous White Temple, Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat at his own expense. It took three years to construct this artwork he created especially for Chiang Rai.
A bit like the blue temple, there is no missing this elaborate golden time piece in the centre of town. The nightly son et lumiere shows at 8pm and 9pm are well worth hanging around for.
The Black House, or Baan Dam is way out of town. It is a complex of over 40 structures, the main house is in traditional Lanna style and most striking. If you like black and white, animal hides, horns, cow skulls and phallic shapes you will enjoy this. James was like a naughty little schoolboy snickering at an entire table display of carved “male forms” shall I call them. I’m not a prude, but really, REALLY? The sign for the loos however did make me laugh.
To end my piece on the colours of Chiang Rai I have saved my favourite. The White Temple is the master work of Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat. Despite 1,000s of tourists, queues and all the hype around this temple, it is fabulous. Ajarn Chalermchai wanted to “build a heavenly garden for humans to stroll in” and he has certainly achieved it. Again, like his clocktower this ongoing work of art is entirely self funded. He does not want to “work under anybody’s influence or thought process” and I am just thankful that he has such a wonderful eye. Even James who thought he was going to hate this OTT temple begrudgingly admitted it is beautiful. Outside the main temple complex is a free exhibition of his paintings and they are well worth a visit.
I will end with Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat’s words “I want people of all nations to come and admire my works, like when they want to visit the Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat”. This may sound grand and frightfully egotistical but he has certainly put Chiang Rai on the tourist’s radar.
Tips for visiting Chiang Rai
You can come here as a day trip from Chiang Mai. But considering it is a three hour one way bus trip, we chose to spend several days here and see it at our leisure. We took nearly a week getting here going the scenic route via Chiang Dao, Tha Ton, Mae Salong and then a boat trip.
The clocktower and Blue Temple are in town so easy to visit and both are free.
The White Temple is out of town, it cost us 150B (AUS$6) in a Red Truck to get there. The admission charge was 50B (AUS$2) each. There are plenty of shops and restaurants around to grab lunch or a really good coffee there. But girls, wait till you are inside the Temple complex before visiting the loo. The White Temple has the most beautiful loos!
The Black House is again a long way out of town and it is best to ask the Red Truck to wait for you here, we paid 300B (AUS $12) for the return trip. Admission was 80B each (AUS $3.20). Again lots of eating options there.
Chiang Rai is full of accommodation for all budgets. We chose Gita’s House and when we decided to extend our stay moved around the corner to Kaew Place. These are slightly out of town in a nice quiet neighbour which we just loved. Both can be found on Agoda (James current favourite hotel site!).
If you are needing an animal fix, especially a cat fix, take yourself to Cat ‘n’ a Cup Cafe near the old bus station. And you must order the Waffle Stack, it is fantastic, but only order two layers to share because it is huge!
Prices correct at time of writing February 2018