Now that I know I’m leaving Southeast Asia soon, I started putting together a list of the many things I want to see in the region. While some of them will have to wait (traveling through Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam), I knew I wouldn’t be happy leaving Chiang Mai without taking a trip to see the white temple in Chiang Rai.
Chiang Rai is only a 3 hour bus ride from Chiang Mai, which is a short jaunt considering I regularly do 9-13 hour bus rides in Asia. I had seen photos of the white temple from friends, but the photos truly can’t do it justice.
The temple is actually called Wat Rong Khun although most people know it simply as the white temple. Out of all the temples I’ve seen in Southeast Asia so far, this is by far the prettiest. It’s so gorgeous and sparkly!
I went with my friend Dyanne, who is also leaving Chiang Mai in a couple of weeks. We grabbed return bus tickets for less than $15, and left at the crack of ass (I mean dawn) to get there by 11am.
If you’re wondering how to get from Chiang Rai to the white temple make sure you don’t end up being suckered into paying too much. We asked the manager at our hotel how much it cost to get out to the temple, which is actually 14km from the centre of Chiang Rai. He told us it would be 400 baht for a round trip, and the driver would wait for only one hour. That was more than the price of a return ticket from home, which struck us as slightly suspicious, and he was very eager to get on the phone and book this taxi driver for us.
Instead, I did a quick bit of research and discovered that you can take the local bus for 20 baht. The bus leaves from terminal 8 at the same bus station we arrived at, which is in the middle of town as well. It took us a half an hour to get there, and while the bus was by no means comfortable, it was a tenth of the price.
Even the bathrooms at this place are beautiful (although they’re definitely not so beautiful on the inside):
I spent a good hour just wandering around and gawking at everything. While the white temple is the main attraction, there is also another smaller white building at the back which was just as sparkly. You’re not allowed to take photos inside the white temple, but you should definitely go inside as the walls have the most incredible paintings on them.
Look at all the detail here:
While the place is all white, shiny, and pretty (did I mention it’s pretty?) there are a few weird things going on:
I’m not quite sure what’s up with the creepy hands and sculls (who spotted the red fingernail?), and I’m wary of all the hanging heads, (although all the kids seemed delighted by them) but I think it makes a nice contrast to the pretty white temple.
We stayed until sunset, and I highly recommend it. The temple is closed from around 5-5.30 so you can get some good photos without a bunch of people in them, and the light was awesome as well.
To get back to town you can either grab a taxi or head to the police station where there’s a bus stop. We were picked up by a songthaew (shared taxi) for 25 baht. We stayed the night in Chiang Rai, but you can easily do it in a day if you just want to see the white temple.
If you’re sick of the crowded, claustrophobic night markets in Chiang Mai, the night market in Chiang Rai is a welcome surprise though, and you can actually stroll around without being continually elbowed. I recommend staying for at least a night.