The sleepy town of Chiang Rai doesn’t have an extensive to-do list. A list consisting of ‘5 things to do in Chiang Rai’ is pushing it; however, there are several sites worth seeing. I, like many other travelers, am guilty of wanting to go to Chiang Rai solely to see Wat Rong Khun, the white temple.
Ever since I saw pictures of this ornate, albino temple, and what I imagined as a perfect dwelling for Queen Frostine of Candyland, I was lured. Unconventional, eerily white and icy, decked out with skulls and severed body parts, it is the most uniquely twisted temple I have visited here in Thailand.
Before going inside, you must first walk across a bridge over a sea of outstretched hands reaching up to pull you under and one painted middle finger flipping the bird to the West. (I appreciated the outright, offensive gesture after living in land of passive non-agressiveness.)
Inside the temple is another world of paintings in warm, orangey hues that seem to portray Western ideals and globalization as a gateway into modern-day hell. The artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, blends pop culture, superman, spaceships, and falling twin towers in a stunning surrealism.
Another picturesque site is ‘Boon Rawd Farm’ (aka Singha Park). This park boasts beautiful gardens blooming alongside a giant tea plantation. It’s well-cared for, and the yellow trees are striking.
There’s also the giant ‘Singha’ (the icon of Singha beer) on the Boon Rawd grounds. It would be crazy for anyone to come to Chaing-Rai and miss out on this mythical dragon-lion in the middle of nowhere.
We took an hour-long twisty ride in a trusty volvo up to Doi Tung, a mountain plantation which is well known for its coffee and macadamia nuts. (The best of both worlds is a macadamia nut latte with chunks of macadamia nuts!) Doi Tung is also home to the Royal Villa, which is still used by Thailand’s royal family. Doi Tung’s Mae Fah Luang Garden has exquisite orchids and the most vibrant, spectacular flowers.
In the same day, the volvo and our sweet, giggly driver-man got us to the Golden Triangle, the ambiguous area overlapping Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos where a huge amount of Opium is grown. We learned about opium paraphernalia and how to use it while venturing through the overly informative House of Opium Museum.
Upon arrival back in Chaing Rai, we went to our night hang-out spot where we dipped steamed veggies in spicy, spicy, Nam Prik Noom (a Northern Thai green chile and garlic dip) while listening to live, acoustic covers of James Taylor. Evening entertainment peaks at around 7pm when tourists crowd around the measly, out-of-place, gilded clock tower that changes colors every night. ooohhh, ahhhh. After the fascinating light show we would walk back to our little guesthouse on empty streets.
We stayed in a quaint little guesthouse called Chez Moi. We had homemade breakfast every morning and we used the free bikes to see some temples, of course. (I recommend Wat Prah Kaew! It’s a gorgeous wood temple in a cool, shady spot. Plus it had free coconut ice cream!) The Chez Moi store had a beautiful selection of colorful, fun, handmade trinkets, and it had a nice, cheerful vibe.
We stayed here for 3 nights, and that seemed to be plenty of time. There may not be weeks worth of activities to do in Chiang Rai, but I appreciated the accessibility to nature that Chiang Rai offered, the unique aspects of Northern Thai culture, and the macadamia nut lattes.
There’s nothing like a weekend getaway with a good friend and a creepy temple.