A GUIDE TO THREE TEMPLES IN CHIANG RAI
Amidst lush mountains, Chiang Rai in far north Thailand is a place filled with magic.
Chiang Rai has long been on my radar, at first because of the White Temple, but then because of other beautiful temples in the area, and its comparisons to Chiang Mai- but a more laid back version.
Bordering Laos and Myanmar, it’s the oldest city from the ancient Lanna kingdom.
This northern city was my first ‘real’ stop in Thailand (after a quick one day stop over in Bangkok). It was a wonderful two and a half days spent checking out the city, relaxing and of course checking out temples in Chiang Rai.
Without question, the temples in Chiang Rai were among my favourite in Thailand- I’d even say I enjoyed them more than the ones in Chiang Mai.
If you have the time, I can’t recommend visiting Chiang Rai enough. There’s so much beauty, it leaves a lasting impression on you. There are plenty of day trips from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, but you should know they’re crowded and all on the same schedule.
Chiang Rai may be a sleepy mountain town, but it’s worthy of a few days to visit.
Three Must See Temples in Chiang Rai
Wat Rong Khun (The ‘White Temple’)
Wat Rong Khun is one of Thailand’s most iconic temples. It gets its name from the stunning white colour, which has inlaid mirrored glass.
I was so excited to visit the White Temple, but heard it was an absolute madhouse during the day- tour groups come from all over, even as far as Chiang Mai, arriving before the temple opens and staying up until it closes at 5 pm.
I’d read visiting around 4 pm and trying to stick out the crowds until 5 was the best strategy for photos of the temple where you could actually see the temple (vs. the hundreds of people visiting).
So, at 3:45 pm, I called a Grab and headed to the temple.
Open since 1997, and about 15-20 minutes outside of Chiang Rai, the White Temple is the story of crossing over from human suffering and being reborn. It symbolises breaking free from greed, desire, and other worldly things in order to find true happiness.
Sure enough, what I’d read was right. I wandered the temple for a bit then headed back to the entryway to wait for the crowds to thin- which really, didn’t happen until 4:45/4:50 pm. I managed a few quick shots with minimal people and then hurried outside to call a Grab.
I’d also heard Grabs are hard to get from the area after the temple closes, so it’s a delicate balance. If you’re travelling with someone and can split up the task of photography and securing a ride home, that’s best. Other options would be paying a driver to wait for you or renting a scooter.
Wat Rong Seur Ten (The ‘blue temple’)
When I first saw photos of the inside of the temple, my jaw dropped-the juxtaposition of a stark white Buddha against the rich blue hues?
Visiting Chiang Rai, I knew I had to make it to the blue temple.
It’s located on the other side of the river from ‘city centre’ and would be a long walk or a short Grab ride. I visited on the way back from another temple, but ended up calling a Grab to take me back to the city post-temple visit when I was ready. However you get there, it’s worth making your way there to visit.
The area of the temple once was the natural habitat of tigers, that’s why the name of the temple translates as ‘House of the Dancing Tiger’.
The temple itself is relatively new, having opened in 1997. There was a previous temple here, but its condition had become so dilapidated that residents decided to destroy it and rebuild.
The outside is stunning- rich blue and gold detailing and inside is no less impressive with a large seated white Buddha, a striking image against the blue interior.
If you wanted to head back to the city after visiting the blue temple, it’d be easy enough to get a Grab from the temple. However, I wanted to check out a nearby cafe I’d heard good things about, so I walked there and then took a Grab back.
Wat Huay Pla Kang
After seeing A Girl Who Bloom’s sunrise capture of the temple’s dragons shroud in mist from the surrounding mountains, I knew I had to visit the temple.
Even though I had a clear morning on my visit, the temple was no less beautiful. Walking up to temple, I couldn’t get over the intricate details carved into the dragons.
Most photos taken of the temple are of Guan Yin, the statue at the top, but the dragons guarding the stairs are the real showstopper, in my opinion.
The temple is mistakenly referred to as Big Buddha, but it’s actually a depiction of Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy. In Thai Buddhism, Guan Yin is a female Bodhisattva, which means someone who has reached enlightenment. Guan Yin is a compassionate being who responds to people who cry out for help.
If the dragons leading to Guan Yin don’t impress you, then the view from the top should. For 40 baht, you can take a lift to the top, which offers stunning views of Chiang Rai’s hillsides. The inside of the temple is also beautiful- such intricate details.
Also on the property is a nine tier pagoda, guarded by golden and green nags (snake/dragon-like mythical creatures). And, there’s a white temple in traditional Thai style also available to view.
All in all, it’s a pretty impressive temple and made all the better when you visit early and pretty much have the entire place to yourself. Watching the sun rise over the heads of the dragons is a sight I won’t soon forget.
The temple is outside of city centre, so when my Grab came (110 baht to take me to the temple), I asked if the driver would wait and then take me to another temple on our way back into the city. He agreed to wait for 100 baht for an hour (plenty of time to explore), and then we put on the metre to go to the next temple, which ended up being 80 baht.
If you rent a motorbike, it’d definitely be easier to reach but it’s also possible to rely on taxis. It’s something I wondered about before I ventured to Chiang Rai, and was relieved to see I needn’t have given it second thought.
And, in case you’re new to visiting temples in Thailand, please keep this etiquette tips in mind to ensure your visit is respectful-
Don’t do Anything in a Temple You Wouldn’t Do in a Church (or other place of worship): Temples are a place of worship. Be respectful with photography or video and in observing anyone who is worshipping.
If You Encounter Them, Respect the Monks: Thais highly respect monks. If you come across one, keep your head below theirs as you pass- duck if you need to. And, do not touch them or take photos of their faces (the latter is just rude).
Remove Your Shoes Before Entering: Thais believe feet are the dirtiest part of the body, it’s why they’re cleansed before a massage and shoes are removed before walking into a home/store/temple. Always take your shoes off when entering a home or temple. When in doubt at a store, look to see if there are other shoes by the door. If they are, take yours off. I always find it better to err on the side of caution and remove.
Pack a Scarf/Sarong: Women, you’ll need to cover your legs past your knees, and shoulders/upper arms when entering Thai temples. I usually wear a midi / maxi dress or trousers and then bring a scarf to ensure I’m covered on top. If you forget, some temples let you rent items for a fee. Always check a temple’s rules (if they don’t have a website, try TripAdvisor- if others have visited, you’ll find advise).
Never Point Your Feet at Buddha: Thais consider this to be a serious sign of disrespect. Pay attention in the temples and you’ll notice Thais worship on their knees (feet behind) or sitting sideways on their feet tucked to the side. Standing directly in front of Buddha? Point your feet in a V, easy way to ensure you don’t unknowingly offend anyone.
Have you ever been to Chiang Rai or anywhere else in Thailand? If you visited temples, which ones were your favourite?
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