Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Thailand post #4: Chiang Rai

Continuing with my month of posts about the eight weeks I spent in Thailand recently with my girlfriend Emily, this post is all about Chiang Rai. You can read my posts about Bangkok here, Chiang Mai here and the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai here. 

Chiang Rai was by far my least favourite of the twelve main locations we visited in Thailand. I would go as far as to say that I wouldn't recommend you go into the city itself to visit and stay the night. There are a few tourist attractions in the area worth visiting, but there are plenty of long day trips from Chiang Mai you can do, which tour all the main attractions and avoid visiting the uninteresting centre of Chiang Rai itself. We stayed in Chiang Rai for one full day, before travelling back to Chiang Mai the following day and would have left quicker if we could. 

We got a minivan from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, which took around four hours. The minivan journey included a convenient extended tourist stop and toilet break at the White Temple, about 14km outside the centre of Chiang Rai. It's very different to any other temple we saw in Thailand, as it was only built in 1997. The entrance to the White Temple has lots of stone hands coming out the ground, to depict the entrance to hell. We saw some people trying to walk back down the main bridge entrance to the temple and a man on a tannoy said "you cannot come out this way, you cannot walk back down into hell!". A very strange experience indeed.

The interior architecture and imagery is quite strange and it seemed more like a tourist attraction than the place of worship it is meant to be. Inside there are very modern images painted on the walls, including Keanu Reeves in the Matrix and Superman, to name a couple! 

Painted walls of the inside of the White Temple. Photo from Travel Photo Report, visit their site here

Outside the White Temple there are casted heads of famous movie characters hanging from the trees, including Batman and Hellboy. The temple does have some 'normal' and pretty architecture too, but there was just a very strange feeling at the temple, like we were in a theme park. We just weren't quite sure what to make of it all! 

Emily outside the White Temple

Entrance to the White Temple. The hands represent hell

We found a guest house in Chiang Rai, located on the end of Jet Yod Road. This seemed to be the main tourist and backpacker area of the city, according to the Lonely Planet guide book. All of the restaurants and bars charged quite a lot more than we were used to in Chiang Mai and we soon discovered that this was because there wasn't much in the way of tourist friendly options in the city. We didn't want everything to be too touristy, but we still need some familiarity to be able to order food and know what we are ordering. We ended up eating in one little cafe three times, as it's the only place we found that seemed well priced and welcoming, after much venturing.

All of the day trips on offer are the same ones on offer in Chiang Mai, but just a lot closer. The main tourist attractions in the area are a visit to the hill tribes, a visit to the Black Temple and to see the Golden Triangle area, which has a lot of history with the opium trade. These trips often include a 'visa run' to Laos, which is a bit of a pain if you don't need to do this. We didn't do this day trip, but some people we spoke to who did said it was a very long day and not particularly exciting. We were pleased that people who had been to see the hill tribes agreed with our assumption that the hill tribes were far too much of a tourist attraction, and not the natural environment and old fashioned people they are made out to be by tour operators.

Outside a wat [temple] in Chiang Rai

During our one full day in the area, we visited some temples and saw all the main sites, including the new and old clock towers. I really don't want to be horribly negative about Chiang Rai, but we really did find it uninteresting and it just didn't have a good vibe. We headed back to Chiang Mai, where we stayed for a further two days, before heading to Pai. My next blog post will be about Pai, a lovely hippie town in the far North of Thailand.  

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