Chiang Rai’s Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple definitely a must visit!

Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

If you are ever in Chiang Rai or even Chiang Mai, Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple (in Chiang Rai) is a must visit if you’re into art and or wats/Buddhism in general.  If you’re interested in getting to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, I’ve made a post about my experience with that HERE. After being inspired by Chiang Mai’s silver temple (post is here), I did a quick online search and found the White Temple and two other spots that looked interesting so I quickly made arrangements to go as I only had a few days left in Chiang Mai.

Not having any time to spare (I planned to visit 3 places in Chiang Rai), I used the Grab app and booked a ride to the white temple (at a cost of $200 TBH) immediately after stepping off the bus because I didn’t have time to mess around with the tuk tuk drivers or songthaew drivers. They are all at the back of the terminal, I didn’t see any at the front, it’ll probably be cheaper (highly dependent on your negotiating skills) to go via tuk tuk and songthaew. By the time I got to the front of the building, maybe 30 meters away, I got a message on the Grab app from the driver asking where I was and I replied with “in front of the building” to which I got a reply “me too”. So I looked around and didn’t see any car idling or coming down the street. Then someone came up to me and said, “Taxi?” to which I said “No, thanks” but he showed me the Grap app so I went with him. He was parked on the other side of the street. This was a first for me. Anyways, away we go! (Can you tell I’m excited?!)

If you’re expecting your usual wat, you are in for a huge surprise, as I was. Just to prep you a bit, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia  “It is a contemporary, unconventional, privately-owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple.  It is owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed, and opened it to visitors in 1997.” I didn’t find monks praying/chanting inside the “white temple” nor “monk chat” sessions (at the time of this post) but I did find monks taking selfies outside and around the premises.  The décor is definitely not the norm for wats, here’s some examples of what you can find:

When I saw those statues/figures, I was like “what the @$#! Is this?! Is this even a legit wat?” but I did find it kind of cool in the way that those Hell themed parks are (like the one in Singapore that I posted about HERE). Definitely not what I was expecting to see but I liked it.

I guess a bit of historic reference is needed. Wat Rong Khun was a wat at one point in time but for whatever reason had no funds for repairs so Mr. Chalemchai Kositpipat,an artist, had taken it upon himself to completely fund and rebuild the temple to what you see today and he’s not done yet. The original plans for the entire compound is to have 9 buildings that include the “white temple” (which is the ubosot), a meditation and learning center, housing for monks, an art gallery, a hall of relics and others to be completed by 2070. I’d guess there will be a prayer hall and such for monks and the followers of Buddhism to practice their faith, it is a wat after all, right?

I wasn’t prepared for just how stunning it was and it just kept getting better and better the closer I got to it. Nor did I know exactly how big the compound was.  All the statues and buildings were well maintained and intricately detailed as was the rather large pond and water ways around the temple. Even the “under construction” buildings and areas that were off limits to the public looked neat and tidy unlike any construction site I’ve ever seen.

So the white structure that is being referred to as the White Temple is actually the ubosot but inside the ubosot you won’t find the usual things you would find in an ordination hall. Instead you’ll find murals of more modern day things like depictions of the World Trade Center attacks, Michael Jackson, Superman, fiery murals with demon faces and others. It was quite shocking to me as I didn’t expect to see that and frankly my mind is having problems coming to terms with it (I guess I was expecting all the usual religious statues and relics but done up in the same style as the exterior). Don’t get me wrong though, the artwork is stunning and that’s an understatement.  I can also understand the message that the artist is relaying but my mind is just so conflicted(?) …I don’t know, I don’t have the words. I would have loved to have taken photos to reflect upon and further contemplate what I saw and to show you but sadly no photos allowed inside and there are ushers reminding you as you walk in.  You won’t find any of the usual donation boxes or incense pots or the offerings of food and drinks at the altars inside, to be honest, I can’t even remember seeing an altar in there.

When you’re done with the ubosot and pond area, there are other areas to check out such as the washroom. Wait, what?! Yup, you should check it out. This building is at least 2 levels, done up in gold with intricate statues all around. Just looking at it you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s the toilets. Lucky, I didn’t need to use the facilities because standing in front of the building, I couldn’t tell where the “Mens room” was because both paths leading  into the building had signs in Thai with the English word “women” on it. However, there are images of both male and female on both sides of the building! Being really short on time, I didn’t go any closer but judging from the people buzzing about maybe I should have.

Toilets at Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Beside the toilet building is the gift shop with the usual gift shop items as well smaller prints and art cards of the artist’s work. On the other side there is a mural/display depicting a scene with the Monkey King/God, Sun Wukong, complete with bells you can ring. A bit further down the path is an area where you can offer incense and fruits and prayers in front of a Buddha statue in a jungle themed alcove.

There is a rather large, open air pavilion type structure which has a large floor area for praying as well as chairs. I”m guessing this where the monks would chant/pray. Within this pavilion are the more traditional Buddhist  statues and artwork. Right outside is a booth selling thin metallic leaves you can write your name and message on then hang them on the tree like structures, which when full, the leaves get moved to create the roof of the covered walkway, pretty clever right?

Behind all of this is an area with another  temple, I think, all done up in gold. I didn’t have enough time to check it out. It was around this time that I realized that I wouldn’t be able to see the other two if I spent any more time at the White Temple so I rushed past this area, reluctantly.

As I was rushing by things, I saw the Mr. Chalermchai Kositpipat’s art gallery/museum and I had to go in.  I’m really, really impressed with his style of art. The gallery doesn’t look big from the outside but it’s pretty big and has a decent sized gift shop area. Yup, I bought some art cards I just couldn’t resist. Lucky, I had time and space constraints or I would have bought more and bigger pieces too. Now, at this point, I had to make a choice. It was clear now that I couldn’t see all three of the places I had planned and if I didn’t leave now I wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy the second spot so completely finish this awesome place or hit the next spot? There is an entrance fee of $50 TBH for foreigners but free for Thai people and even with the bus fare I found Wat Rong Khun, the white temple, well worth the trip and so I left with the promise of . . . I’ll Be Back.

Oh almost forgot, there are eateries, snacks and gift shops in a plaza like area right beside the wat so you can plan to have a meal or two there. I hadn’t eaten anything yet so I just grabbed a couple of Gatorades and croissant like things from a shop and off I went to the next stop. Again the Grab driver was already there, in the parking lot of the plaza, lucky me.

NOTE: Even on an overcast day such as it was the day I was there, the buildings are really, really bright and glittery. I lowered the brightness of the images (a fair bit) in this post to better define the details, so bring a pair of sunglasses just in case it gets too bright.

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All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

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Getting to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai

Sunset at Chiang Rai’s bus Terminal 1

Hi again everyone, if you’ve been following my recent chain of posts you’ll know that whilst in Chiang Mai I had the pleasure of finding the “Silver Temple.” HERE’s the post if you’re interested.  I was so moved by the uniqueness of this temple, I went to look for other such artistic temples and find some I did. BUT… they weren’t in Chiang Mai, they were in another city named, Chiang Rai and luckily it’s close enough to Chiang Mai to warrant a visit.

How to get to Chiang Rai then? Well, there are no direct flights nor direct trains to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai. So that leaves buses, car (self drive or taxi) and motorcycle.  Keeping in mind that it’s at least a 3 hour journey, I chose go by bus because it was the cheapest and IMO most comfortable and safest. As far as buses to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, there’s really only one company that I could find whilst searching online (in English) and that is the Green Bus Thailand. They offer 3 “classes” of tickets…A, X and V (V for VIP, the costliest, roomiest and quickest. Plus there’s a toilet on board). I booked a Grab taxi and off I went to the bus station. There are 2 bus terminals in Chiang Mai and the one that I needed to go to was Bus Terminal 3. The ride cost me $200 TBH from around Tha Phae Gate to Terminal 3.

Entering from the front entrance, the Green Bus’s ticket counter is on the left and quite clearly marked, you can’t miss it. There’ll most likely be a lot of people yelling calling at you to get your tickets from them though as soon as you walk into the building. I just went to the line in front of the ticket agents under the Green Bus signage. Thankfully, the ticket agent’s understanding of English was good enough for me to pick my seat, ensure that my destination is Terminal 1 and book my VIP return tickets, two days in advance, at a cost of $560 TBH. Quite easy and hassle free. Here’s some photos of the front of the terminal taken at night because like this whole trip I’m winging it.

After purchasing my tickets I walked around a bit to try to find where I’ll be getting on my bus. I looked at my ticket and found two berth numbers. Great! Whilst looking around inside, I couldn’t find any berth numbers. You actually have to go outside of the building to find the berth numbers. The signage is on the outside walls. I actually lucked out and found my bus berth on the first try. It’s the first exit on the right when walking further into the terminal.

Chiang Mai’s bus Terminal 3 berths

The terminal has two floors but the second floor is basically empty with a small seating area and empty shops.  The only reason why I went up there was because there was signage indicating that there were clean toilets up there plus it’s relatively deserted so no need to wait in line. All the toilets in the terminal have an entrance fee but the main floor ones have an attendant at the entrance collecting the fee and selling toiletries like toilet paper just in case you didn’t bring your own. In my experience, when traveling in Asia always, ALWAYS have a packet of tissues and wet wipes with you (In Singapore you can also use them to reserve your seat/table at food courts)! The entrance to the toilets upstairs are coin operated turn styles but I’m guessing there’s an attendant around somewhere that cleans frequently because the toilets are clean. Here’s some photos inside the terminal, not of the toilets cuz that’s creepy.

If you have time, there is a mall next door with food shops and bars in  it, and at night there’s street food vendors in the parking lot. The bar on street level looked energetic and happening whereas the bar upstairs was more quiet and moody. I would have loved to grab a beer or three but I was on meds from the dentist. Around the corner is also some sort of religious area with statues and shops selling all sorts of religious items was pretty cool to just stumble onto something like this.

On the day of departure, I went about an hour early and bought some snacks and drinks, even though I’m supposed to get a drink and a snack on the bus (which turned out to be a small bottle of water and a small little cake, like a swiss roll).  At the berth, there are lots of attendants walking around in Green Bus  uniform (they are very easy to spot) so I asked one which berth will my bus be at and she looked at her clipboard and pointed. Easy Peasy. Looking at the buses coming in and out, you can’t visually discern which ones are the VIP ones and which aren’t. I would say 98% of all the buses I saw looked, um, dated.  Some more than others. There were a couple of really nice looking double decker tour buses but sadly not Green Bus ones. A bus arrived relatively close to the time on my ticket but didn’t look VIP at all to me but it looked newer than most of the buses that came and left this berth. There was only a paper sign on the window saying Chiang Rai, so I proceeded to get on the bus. I figured if it’s the wrong bus the attendant would stop me. Anyways, when the bus pulled in, I started having flashbacks of riding the Greyhound buses back in College.  I got on the bus and was pleasantly surprised. It was cold, seats were big and leg room was more than sufficient. I had my back pack on the floor in front of my chair and couldn’t feel that it was there.  My happiness subsided a bit when I sat down. The seats weren’t as comfy as they looked and mine felt a bit lumpy but at least mine reclined. I saw other fidgeting with theirs and eventually gave up. There were individual aircon jets you can adjust and I adjust mine away from me and I still had to put on my jacket.  Still for this price, well worth it and so much better than the Greyhound buses I used to ride back in day.

Things to note: I was told by hotel staff that there was construction on the roads to Chiang Rai that started last year and that my bus ride would probably be more than 3 hours. They recommended that I should not put my bag in the cargo hold of the bus as there have been reports of attendants climbing into the hold (while the bus is moving) and stealing things. I only had my backpack so I wasn’t worried about that plus I always have a TSA combination lock to lock bags’ zippers together. Anyways, I’m happy to report that we got to Chiang Rai in 3 1/2 hour and I didn’t get robbed. I did see some road construction going on outside Chiang Mai in multiple spots on the ‘highway’ between my naps.

Once In Chiang Rai’s Terminal 1 you can immediate tell it’s much more subdued and less busy than Chiang Mai. Terminal 1 is within downtown Chiang Rai with shops and buildings all around so most likely you’d want to alight here. Terminal 2 is on the outskirts of town and is the first stop, so make sure you’re aware of where you are and where you want to alight, as any instructions given by the attendant is in Thai. Frankly I didn’t have much time to look around Chiang Raias I only had one day including travel to see the three artistic temples that I planned on visiting. Long story short, I only saw two because they were just so awesome! Keep a look out for my posts regarding the white temple and blue temple, I’ll be putting them up soon. Anyways, I made it back to the bus terminal to catch my bus back to Chiang Mai about 30 minutes before the departure time. A bit too close for comfort. I shouldn’t have stressed because my bus was late.  How late? Well, 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time, a bunch of passengers bombarded the attendant with questions to which she only answered with wait (in English) she said a bunch of stuff in Thai but most of us couldn’t understand and those that did, didn’t translate so I went into the terminal to ask the ticket counter and they told me they don’t know where the bus is but it should be here shortly. 30 minutes turned into an hour, an hour turned into two. Yup 2 hours late. The most stressful part, for me, was the hopes and dashing of hopes every time a bus pulled into the berth. Then the thoughts of “I hope that’s not my bus” when a clunker drives in. I couldn’t wander too far off either because I don’t want to miss my bus. But just so you know, there is a night market that sets up just behind the parking lot. I saw a bit of it but not too much. There was even some comic relief that made my day a bit better. I found it quite entertaining to see some of the more irate passengers causing a fuss, and at one point a Chinese guy was literally jumping up and down screaming “VIP, VIP” while his buddies tried to calm him down but they too eventually moved away and left him jumping by himself. After he calmed down an attendant went up to him and noticed that he had some prohibited food items(the very pungent, durian) in his bag and when they tried to tell him that he can’t bring them on the bus, he began his VIP chant again but this time he pulled out his ticket out and waved it around. While waiting for the bus he and his buddies ate the durians. The best part about the wait was the sunset probably why I wasn’t all too upset about the delay.

Thankfully on the bus everyone just slept. Even more impressive that being two hours late, this bus driver might actually be a retired rally car driver. We still made it back to Chiang Mai in about 3 1/2 hours, on winding roads and in the dark! Keep in mind that there are scattered construction areas along the way. Yup you can tell because those were the only areas with lights aside from the roadside establishments that our driver liked to stop at so frequently.  He stopped far enough away where I couldn’t see where he was going or what those stalls/huts were for. Maybe checkpoints, I don’t know but he wasn’t gone long, a few minutes at most each time. There were a couple times at the construction areas where I couldn’t tell if we were on the correct side of the dirt road because sometimes headlights were on our right and sometimes on the left. The area wasn’t lit well enough for me to see any railing or traffic cones or maybe there weren’t any but like I said, this driver is impressive.

All in all, I will take this method of transport again because well, it was fun and I don’t think there’s a better way from Chiang Mai. I’ll probably be back in Chiang Mai before the year is done and I’ll definitely go back to Chiang Rai but next time I’m gonna spend at least 2 days in Chiang Rai.

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes!

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

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