We particularly liked this carved image
of Buddha shimmering in front of a tree
Where We Be
Of all the sights near Chiang Rai, Wat Rong Khun -- the White Temple --
should be at the top of your list for its one-of-a-kind architecture
Chiang Rai, Thailand
We took the VIP Green Bus from Chiang Mai to
Chiang Rai. It's a 3-hour ride on winding roads
through hilly jungle, cleared fields, and small
villages and costs just 280 baht (~$8 US) each.
The bus stops right in town so we were able to
walk from the bus station to our Le Patta Hotel
in less than ten minutes. Easy! Chiang Rai itself
is a small city (pop. 70,000) in the extreme north
of Thailand, tucked up in the mountains just an
hour's distance from the border with Myanmar.
We thought prices were good in Chiang Mai but
they're even better here. You can get a tasty
dinner for two with drinks for $3 or $4 US total
at places like Barrab, our favorite restaurant.

Why come besides the prices? Well, there's a
relaxed vibe in town and a few things to see
like the fancy clock tower and temples like Phra
Kaew and Phra Singh -- but mostly you come for
the prime location within easy range of terrific
sights. The dazzling White Temple (shown left)
is just 15 minutes south by taxi. Black House
(Baan Dam) is 20 minutes north. The Golden
Triangle, once infamous for its opium trade, is
an hour's drive north, and you can even cross
the Laos / Myanmar border as we did (see our
next two pages). There are also night markets,
local hikes, bike rides, scenic drives, historic
sights, and cheap massages to appreciate. All
that should keep you busy for at least a week.
Black House is every bit as weird and wacky as the White Temple. It's definitely worth a stop
as this is one eccentric collection of art and buildings, all masterminded by a single Thai artist.
The detailed wooden carvings on the pillars and doors are something to behold.
Even though the original artist has passed away, the work continues by his proteges.
Some of the displays are frankly unsettling -- like this long snake skin with Thai bills sticking out of the
mouth and piles of coins on top. One thing's for sure: this place would make one hell of a movie set!
The main building houses an eclectic collection that includes animal
skins, skulls, antlers, and half-human creatures carved out of wood
Gaudy black seats line an enormous table set with bizarre
cutlery. It look like a Gothic nightmare dinner for ghouls.
The grounds feature numerous odd wooden buildings, many with
steeply pitched roofs. Some look like temples from the underworld.
At the far end of the grounds are these weird, round buildings decorated
with black painted eyes. Not surprisingly, there's more strange art inside.
Let's start our explorations with two of the most popular sights near Chiang Rai --
White Temple and Black House. These are two sights you won't want to miss.
It's not all sweetness and light at the White Temple. The most dramatic image you'll see is of hundreds of beseeching hands
reaching up from “hell” underneath the bridge that one must cross to get to “heaven,” as depicted by the White Temple itself.
Closeup of the beseeching hands. Creepy but powerful. The pit of souls represents all
worldly sufferings, with Nirvana reached only after we've given up all worldly desires.
Chiang Rai is Thailand's northernmost large city, very close to the border with Laos and Myanmar
(an area known as the Golden Triangle). There are enough sights to see in the surrounding area that
we recommend staying in Chiang Rai rather than trying to visit them on long day trips from Chiang Mai.
From our central location at Le Patta Hotel, we could walk to the clock tower in less than five minutes.
Wat Phra Kaew
The whole temple seems to crawl with energy and movement.
Two gods guard the heavenly gates with ferocious zeal.
The complex is more than just one temple and is still growing. Take
time to walk the rest of the premises to see the other shrines on site.
With so much writhing energy in the architecture, it's a relief to
come upon this quiet statue of a contemplative Buddha in a grove
The White Temple is becoming something of a must-see attraction in
Thailand. You can even pose with a cardboard cutout of the architect!
Without a doubt this is an unusual place. You never know what you're going to find
around the next corner -- like these heads of superheroes and villains hanging from trees.
The pool at Le Patta got a lot of use by us during
the heat of the day and looked pretty at night
The landmark Clock Tower stands at the center of Chiang Rai. With its ornate style, it shouldn't
surprise you to learn that it was designed by the same architect who built the White Temple.
An hourly light show happens each night at 7, 8, and 9 pm, with the clock tower
changing colors as music plays. All around the area are restaurants and bars.
We kept returning to the same restaurant, Barrab, for its outstanding food and prices and friendly staff. All dishes were good,
but we especially loved their khao soi (left), a Northern Thai dish with egg noodles, thick coconut curry, and crunchy noodles on top.
This temple is right in Chiang Rai. If the name Phra Keaw sounds familiar, it’s because
the same temple name is used in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. But interestingly it was at
THIS Phra Kaew in Chiang Rai that the Emerald Buddha was first discovered in 1354.
It's said a lightning strike at the temple revealed the Emerald Buddha inside a plaster cast. From the moment
he was discovered the Emerald Buddha was revered -- and coveted by kings. The original went on quite a
journey from one Southeast Asian capital to another before finally landing in Bangkok, where he still resides
today. Here in Chiang Rai there’s a good copy of the little guy known as the Jade Buddha (above left),
and another copy inside the wat’s museum where you can see him up close and personal (above right).
We wandered through several lovely shrines
at Phra Kaew and enjoyed the museum on site
Phra Singh is just a five-minute walk away from Phra Kaew, on the other side
of a hospital complex. The red-and-gold painted interior of the temple is dramatic.
The original Buddha from THIS Phra Singh ended up in Phra Singh temple in Chiang Mai – so once
again Chiang Rai seems to be the source of revered Buddha images now on display elsewhere
Still, the temple in Chiang Rai includes some lovely statues and art work to this day
The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar was also just around the corner
and offered more tempting food and shopping options
Have we mentioned how much we
love Thai mangoes? So yummy!
Another irresistible option is the Cat 'n a Cup Cafe. Here you can enjoy a cup
of coffee or a smoothie while enjoying the company of dozens of lovely cats.
You can even buy little packets of tuna to feed the
cats -- assuming you want plenty of attention!
Wat Phra Singh
Chiang Rai Night Market
White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
Chiang Rai Night Market
Black House (Baan Dam)
Besides its central location, our room at Le Patta Hotel ($63 per night) featured a comfy bed,
elephant shower, fast wifi, and balcony. The buffet breakfasts with egg station were excellent.
Chiang Rai Night Market
Lodging & Food
Clock Tower
We hardly knew what to make of this place but were
glad we stopped. Love it or hate it, it's highly memorable!
And this beautiful shrine
with its black and gold pillars
Food vendor carts line the Night Market with their specialties on
display. Most entrees will only run you 70 to 120 baht ($2 to $4 US).