6 Must Visit Places in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand

Chiang Rai is a colorful city indeed, beginning with its collection of gorgeous temples painted in brilliant hues. My friends and I decided to make the best out of our very short trip to Chiang Mai by heading to Chiang Rai and explore the “Three Colors of Chiang Rai”: The White Temple, the Black House, and the Blue Temple….

We were lucky to find an amazing driver Sam who tagged his girlfriend, an English speaking tour guide along for a super reasonable price…

So for those of you heading to Chiang Mai and want to visit Chiang Rai or go around Chiang Mai, do contact Ken and Jan ( Nathaporn Ruankaew on FB) … they offer very reasonable price tours in a lovely clean van with refreshments etc and Jan tells amazing stories of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai…. And you get more then you bargain for!!!

For me, my friends and I only wanted to go to see the White Temple, Black House , Blue Temple and Long Neck Karens but these lovely couple even brought us to the Hot Spring and Wat Huay Pla Kang, unlike some other drivers I hire sometimes, who might agree to bring you to the places you want to go but then blame long distance for not fulfilling all your bucketlists… They are also very honest and trustworthy… I was stupid enough to leave my phone in the van after the trip and they brought it back to me!!!!

Do contact Jan through her Facebook – Nathaporn Ruankaew or WhatsApp Ken at +66 95 435 4259

Jan and Ken picked us from our hotel in Chiang Mai and our little adventure began……

Mae Kachan Hot Springs

Our first stop was at the Mae Kachan Hot Springs, more or less like an R&R place halfway between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai….

The natural hot spring here came with little geysers and had a temperature of about 90 degrees Celsius, hot enough to boil eggs in water…

There are couple of places where you can sit , have a drink while you dip your feet in the less hot but still pretty hot water to relax… and pssst…. If you are interested in those Northern Thailand / Chiang Mai souvenir clothing and such, the store here sells the clothing and bags and what not for very very reasonable prices …

The White Temple, or Wat Rong Khun

This eye catching magnificent temple is painted top-to-bottom in pristine white, rather than typical gold and I am sure never fails to elicit a gasp or a look of amazement….

The entire outer facade is covered with detailed adornments and glitters with mirrors and glass that sparkle in the sun.

Designed by a famous Thai artist named Chalermchai Kositpipat, nearly every aspect of the White Temple is symbolic in some way.

The art, architecture, sculptures, and paintings all reflect on the path from greed, desire, and destruction towards enlightenment through the Buddha’s teachings.

The artist wanted to build a temple that symbolised heaven with gleaming white for the Lord Buddha’s purity and the glass reflecting his wisdom shining over the earth and the universe.

However, you need walk past an unsettling pit of outstretched hands to cross a small bridge to enter the main temple.

This crossing was made to represents the transition from the cycle of life to the land of the Buddha…..

The White Temple is also home to what is considered to be the most beautiful toilet building in Thailand!!! Made of gold, it is both breathtaking and symbolic…

The Black House, or Baan Dam

The Black House is was our next stop and is the visual opposite of the White Temple.

Built of solid slabs of dark wood painted black and deep brown, the Black House is a set of dozens of buildings, much like a museum, showcasing paintings, sculptures, carvings, installations, and furniture created and collected by Thawan Duchanee.

The Black House looks like a huge Lanna-style Buddhist temple with big, intimidating-looking doors… it is filled with art and installations made of taxidermied animals…

A gigantic wooden table stretches across the entrance room (as well as towards the back of the house) draped with snake and crocodile skins. Enormous black chairs made from multiple buffalo horns and even moose horns surround the table like malevolent guests. I took a seat here for a moment and felt like some medieval chieftain’s wife at the main table… lol (me and my imaginations)

The walls are covered with paintings, sculptures, installations and large canvases painted in blood red with slashing black brushstrokes.

While the White Temple (wat rong khun) is often described as “heavenly”, the Black House is its opposite, and seemed filled with darkness, and death – supposedly representing human suffering due to desire and greed that the Buddha saw along his travels….

The gardens are beautiful and instaworthy with collections of artefacts and antiques given to the artist….it is said that the cremated remains of the artist is also placed at the highest structure inside the main house…

Longneck Karen Hill Tribe Village 

Visiting one of the Karen Long Neck villages in Thailand might just be an interesting and exotic experiences on the planet. 

Longneck Karen is one of Karen tribes. The Karen are a tribal group who have historically lived in the hills in Myanmar (formerly Burma) side of the Thai border. Recognized for their long necks, the Karen women wear heavy brass rings around their necks, forearms, and shins.

While the Karen men are mainly field workers and farmers, the women have a rich history of crafting from wood carving to weaving. Overall the Long Neck Tribes live a rugged, tedious, and simple lifestyle, but the fruits of their labor are colorful and very lively.

While it may seem that the Karen women have unusually long necks, their traditional brass rings actually smash their shoulders and rib cages down just making their necks seem longer.  The brass rings, which are also around their shins and arms, are made out of one solid piece of metal making them quite heavy.  Each time a woman adds a ring to her neck she is fitted with a new neck piece that coils around and around. 

While there are some of the women that still stick to the tradition to make money since they are refugees, there are some of the women that do it just to hold onto their heritage….

It is said that in the early days of the Long Necks, the practice of the brass rings was started not just for beauty, but to protect the women against tigers

Today many of the young Karen women are breaking with tradition and it is estimated that the neck lengthening practice only has a few generations of life left. 

The village is basically a large tourist market villages with the long neck karens stationed by her own hut or stall ferociously working on knitting looms or carving something from wood or bamboo… you are of course, welcomed to take photos, buy something to support their livelihood and so on…

The Blue Temple, or Wat Rong Suea Ten

The Blue Temple or Wat Rong Suea Ten is also known as “Temple of the Dancing Tiger” is designed by Putha Kabkaew, a student of the artist who built the White Temple.

Before it was built, an ancient temple once stood here, and tigers are said to have roamed freely over the grounds when it was abandoned nearly a century ago.

Painted with calming cerulean, the Blue Temple is adorned with gleaming gold trim and surrounded by blue and gold statues of magical Buddhist beings and mythological characters.

The centerpiece of inside the main temple is a Buddha statue, made from pearly porcelain that seems to manage to look kinda eerie and blueish in the prayer hall. He sits with one hand pointed to the ground, a representation of the moment he achieved enlightenment.

This is a beautiful temple to visit when you are in Chiang Rai and well, don’t forget to indulge in some lovely coconut ice cream here before you leave!!!

Wat Huay Pla Kang

Wat Huay Pla Kang is a fourth temple in Chiang Rai, and it is just as unique and interesting as its colorful counterparts, though still relatively undiscovered by tourists.

Like the Black House and the White and Blue Temples, Wat Huay Pla Kang was also built by a visionary, a monk named Phra Ajarn Phob Chok.

Unlike other Chiang Rai temples, which are usually built in the Lanna style or a fusion of Lanna and Thai traditional elements, Wat Huay Pla Kang is a fusion of Lanna and Chinese architectural styles.

This gorgeous temple is built on a mountain, and the temple is enormous, featuring a 9-storied chedi that towers over the valley below. The chedi is built in a pyramid shape, which is found in neither China nor Thailand, but the very tip looks much like a classic bell-shaped Thai chedi. The guardians of the steps or pathway into the temple this time are Chinese dragons instead of naga serpents….

Inside the temple are statues carved of sandalwood, including a massive two-story statue of Guan Yin, the largest in the entire country. Look out for Chinese deities intermixed with Thai-style Buddhas, all arranged around the large center room underneath the enormous chedi.

Wat Huay Pla Kang is impressive on its own, but you cannot miss the Guan Yin monument nearby. This gigantic monument is 23 stories high, and for a small fee visitors can take an elevator to the very top to look out over the countryside!!!! And the interior of this monument is just as breathable with carvings representing mythological creatures and scenes from Buddhist cosmology….

Peek out of different windows for different viewpoints of villages, farms, and far away mountains. This temple is definitely just as amazing as the “Three Colors of Chiang Rai” and should not be missed!!!!

Getting there is just easy… contact Jan through her Facebook – Nathaporn Ruankaew or WhatsApp Ken at +66 95 435 4259 and ask these lovely couple to bring you there!!!

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