Steeped in history and for a brief period of time, Chiang Rai was once the capital of Northern Thailand. This is why I would like to take you on a Temple-Tastic tour of Chiang Rai.
Let me show you a side to Chiang Rai you may have not considered.
Some of my favourite Temples are in Chiang Rai and, admittedly, a Temple Tour of Chiang Mai will take you around historical sites from the 13th Century, but do not under estimate a mixture of new and old in Chiang Rai. Three of these temples are generally included with most tours, but you can always hire a scooter as we did and do it yourself.
As always, I must stress the importance of Temple etiquette. When visiting Temples, you are reminded to be respectful of the Monks’ religion, beliefs and way of life. As tourists, we should remember that we are visitors and must dress and act in a way that does not cause offence; wearing tiny shorts, small vests or see-through tops with plenty of flesh on display is inappropriate. A Temple is not a place to show off your body, it is a place of worship and if you visit, please treat it with respect and cover your shoulders and knees. If you are hot and wear less clothes on holiday, when visiting Temples please just carry a sarong with you so you can cover up for those short periods of time.
The White Temple - Wat Rong Khun Temple
Entrance fee: 50 baht per person
Opening hours: 8am – 6pm
Address: San Sai, Mueang Chiang Rai District (off Highway 1, Phahonyothin Road)
Note: There are food and refreshment shops on site plus a toilet which cost 5 baht to use
The White Temple is the only exception to viewing temples with less tourists and, as the number one tourist attraction in Chiang Rai and it is literally teeming with visitors (oh, and the odd visiting monks who pose for photos outside with their mobile phones!). It was unlike any other Buddhist temple I have seen to date.
A painted white temple covered with millions of mirrored tiles which sparkle in the sunlight it is, in a word, sensational. It has a spectacular Gaudi style architecture and a Disney-like feel to it, albeit a macabre one at times! At the entrance, severed heads hang from trees and clawing hands reach up from the ground, it is a fantastic example of an oxy-moron; very dark in terms of the theme yet the architecture glows white. If I were to have a palace built, I would want it to look like this (minus the severed heads).
Inside the temple next to the doors are strange paintings of Ku Fu Panda, Michael Jackson, Neo from The Matrix, a spaceship, transformers, Freddy Kruger and Saw. On the other door is a ninja turtle, picachoo, Superman, Spiderman, Jack Sparrow, Harry Potter, Godzilla, Terminator, Pinhead, Predator and Star Wars icons. Bizarrely there is also a mural of the Twin Towers exploding and images of nuclear warfare, terrorist attacks and oil pumps which are here to show the destructive impact humans have on earth. These are all modern representation of good and evil … although I’m not sure how Superman and Harry Potter relate to Buddhism!
Opening hours: 8am – 6pm
Address: Tambon Rim Kok, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Rai (Off Highway 1)
I have to say this temple is breath-taking, the colours are phenomenal. I will go out on a limb here and say this was my favourite of all the temples I had seen to-date. The white pearlescent Buddha statue inside the temple is the focus point and is complimented perfectly by the deep blue colour that represents the Dharma, the Buddha’s teaching and code of morals. If you are here before 10am, you may be able to observe a few monks praying.
This temple is very new and was only completed in January 2016 and some of the statues within the 6 acres are still under construction, however this does not affect the main temple itself. There is no public transport here and not all tours will stop but, as mentioned, if you have your own scooter, you can visit en-route to the Black House if you are planning to head there. Alternatively, take a taxi which will cost about 100 baht, or a Grab/Uber if you have the app.
Entrance fee: 80 baht
Opening hours: 9am – 5pm
Address: 414 Baandam Nanglae Moo 13 Tumbol Nanglae, Mueang, Chiang Rai,57100
Note: There are a few food and refreshment stalls outside and the museum has toilet facilities
The Black Temple isn’t really a temple, it’s actually a museum built in the shape of one. Referred to as “The Black House”, it’s true name is Baan Dam Museum (Baan means house and “Dam” is black). Most tours stop here, but if, like us, you are doing it yourself, be warned … it’s difficult to find!
Opening Hours: Unsure but possibly 9am – 6pm
Address: 553 Moo 3, Rimkok, Chiang Rai
This newly constructed site is an absolute must-see, you get 3-in-1 here! It’s about 6km north of Chiang Rai so a little out of the way and tours do not stop here, however, if you have a scooter than head here before sunset so you can see it during the day and night, believe me when I say it’s worth it! I would say it one of the top places to visit when in this area.
As you approach the hill, you are greeted with a giant white Buddha sitting on a lotus leaf and it is stunning. There are three different buildings on this site and we didn’t know which way to head first. To the left is the giant Buddha and to the right, a golden Chinese Pagoda and a white Buddhist Temple – we went for the pagoda first.
Looking up, the Buddha is absolutely massive, I seriously thought it was a contender for the biggest seated Buddha in the world (it’s about 120 feet/36.5 metres tall).
Visiting this Temple was an absolute highlight and if you can visit, I would definitely recommend it.
Wat Phra Kaew – where the Emerald Buddha was discovered
Opening Hours: 7am – 7pm (Museum 9am – 5pm)
Address: 19 Moo 1, Tambol Wiang, Ampur Mung, Chiang Rai
This temple is one of the most historically important temples in all of Thailand. It is here in 1434 that the Emerald Buddha was discovered after lighting struck the chedi in which it was kept. The Emerald Buddha is the most highly revered Buddha image in the Country which can now be seen at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Emerald in Thai language means “green coloured” and the Emerald Buddha is actually made of green jade.
This Temple is a working Monastery and respectful dress and behaviour should be shown at all times.
Until 1434, the original name of this temple was Wat Pa Yeh meaning Bamboo Forest Temple due to its surroundings by a yellow bamboo grove known locally as Yah. It’s new name, Wat Phra Kaew means Wat of the Holy Glass Buddha, however it wasn’t until 1990 that a replica of the Emerald Buddha, known as the Jade Buddha, was commissioned.
Wat Phra Singha
Opening Hours: 6am – 5pm
Address: 2415 Ruangnakron Road, Tabon Wiang, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Rai
If you are looking for an old Temple which embodies the spirit of Buddhism, then Wat Prah Singh is one to visit. Built in 1385, it is one of Chiang Rai’s oldest temples and is a fine example of Lanna style. The revered Buddha image, the Phra Sing “lion Buddha” used to be housed here but is now in the much larger Wat Phra Singh Temple in Chiang Mai, however a replica can be found here. If you want to read more about the Lion Buddha’s new location, check out our post “Temple Tour Chiang Mai”.
Hiring a scooter
If you want to explore the temples of Chiang Rai at your own pace, the cheapest and most convenient way is to hire a scooter. There are many places to hire scooters at a cost of around 250 baht per day, we picked one up from a restaurant not far from our homestay which hired new and well looked after scooters.
You do not need an International Driving Licence in Thailand provided your licence displays a photograph and is in English. We are from the UK so our licence complies but if you are unsure, check this website for regulations.
Have you been to any of the temples in Chiang Rai? If so, which ones did you visit and what were your thoughts? Maybe you are thinking of going now - let us know in the comments section below.
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Flying: Air Asia fly to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and many other places in Thailand, however Chiang Rai is very close to the border of Myanmar and Laos if you wanted to travel overland.
By Train: You will need to get a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, then a bus. We checked the train schedule and bought tickets online through 12GoAsia from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. They also travel all over Asia so you can check boat, train and boat schedules ahead of time. We caught the overnight train from Bangkok, but there are regular daytime options.
By bus from Chiang Mai: All walks of life catch the bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, on the same bus were tourists, men from the Royal Thai Army and two monks. Buying a ticket is simple; from the Green Bus Thailand website choose your departure date, type of bus (Express buses are 4 seats across, VIP are 3 seats – we opted for the latter), time of departure and which seats you would like to sit in. You are then given a numerical code (take a photo of this code on your phone) and show this number to the cashier at your nearest 7/11 shop. The cost was approximately 270 baht per person (£6.13/US $8.16)
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