My first travel to Thailand was back in 2007, where I explored Bangkok and the central plains together with the ruins of Angkor in neighboring Cambodia. I remembered loving Thailand to bits and it really makes me wonder why I took so long to get back to this truly amazing land of smiles.
This time around I wanted to see the splendors of the ancient kingdoms of Lanna and Sukhothai, visit hill tribes while trekking through the wilderness of the Shan Hinghlands, experience winter in a notoriously tropical country and of course to rekindle my love for the cuisine, culture and people of this country. Where else can I do all this but Northern Thailand.
My journey truly began in Chiang Rai, once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom in the 13th century. Chiang Rai was named after King Mangrai and contains some of Thailand’s most revered wats or temples.
Incidentally it is also the town where a contemporary artist set out to revolutionize the design of such temples. His name is Chalermchai Kositpipat and his masterpiece is the extraordinary white temple called Wat Rong Khun.
This temple is certainly very different from the thousands of wats in Thailand.
There is no entrance fee but you can hire a guide to explain the symbolism of this ‘modern’ temple.
Constructed in 1997 and opened to the public in 2008, make no mistake Wat Rong Khun is not yet completed! You could say it is the Sagrada Familia of Chiang Rai.
I really do like the temple but maybe I should have hired a guide to explain why hollywood icons such as Aliens and Preditors, Spiderman and Batman and even the ONE himself Keanu Reeves made appearances at this Temple!
Wat Rong Khun is outside the town centre of Chiang Rai and is closer to the new bus station about 30 - 40 mins’ away. Best is get a tuk-tuk or songthaewe (local transportation pedicap or pickup truck), which I did for a couple hours to visit Wat Rong Khun and Wat Phra Kaew before returning to the town centre for 150 baht.
Wat Phra Kaew which, is located near to the river Kok is a temple revered by all Thai people because it is said that the Emerald Buddha was miraculous found here in the 15th century. Legend has it that a lightning struck open the chedi or pagoda and revealed the Emerald Buddha which is worshiped today at the Grand Palace in Bangkok
Originally this temple was called the Bamboo Monastery and today it still retains the serene image of a monastery in a bamboo forest.
Of course they have since repaired the chedi or pagoda.
Wat Phra Kaew is a pretty nice place to relax and this monastery probably has the best garden, its like a monastery in a botanical garden here!
Last temple for me to visit for the day was the Wat Jet Yot. Architecturally, it is a mix of Lanna, Thai and Burmese design. Do note that Chiang Rai only became officially part of Thailand in the 1930s. It was for many centuries under Burmese rule.
I really enjoyed the sunset on top of this temple. However women are not allowed to come up here…
After a long day of temple visit, it’s time for some night market action. Chiang Rai has a purpose built night market square where you can shop, dine and enjoy cultural performances. Food is pretty good though a bit pricey and beers are reasonably priced. Market scene is pretty relaxed which, I like.
Chiang Rai’s Airport does not receive international flights but you can fly in from Bangkok with AirAsia. Alternatively, you could fly into Chiang Mai and then take a bus to Chiang Rai. Taxi from Chiang Mai Airport to the Arcade Bus Station takes about 30 mins’ and cost about 140 baht. Bus from Chiang Mai takes about 3 hours and cost bout 300 baht. I took the VIP Green Bus which was very comfortable.