Chiang Rai, Thailand
We had Cambodia pretty much figured out, and although we could have stayed another night or two, we opted to see something different for both of us.
We had approximately 7 days to figure out where we would like to stay before our booked departure on a slow boat to Luang Prabang, Laos. As we needed to get to the border crossing in Thailand to Laos, we figured we would choose a place close in proximity of the border.
Seven days is too short to go to 2 places when you calculate timing for transportation, as well as the cost involved, so a decision was made to visit Chaing Rai for 5 nights, and then 1 night in Chiang Khong near the Thai/Laos border. Mark has only seen Bangkok and I have never been to Chaing Rai, so that seemed like a no-brainer to us.
Chaing Rai is a sleepy town, and although tourists come here to explore the northern part of Thailand, it has yet to gain the appeal to the masses like the tourists flock to Chaing Mai.
Things to do in Chaing Rai, well, not a lot. It is fairly small, and wandering around the town takes about a day. If you add in all the nooks and crannies maybe two days.
There are two clock towers, one in gold and one a small one which is white, and, of course, there are a few Wats. I would recommend Wat Ming Muang, it is made of wood and the history goes back to something like 1292. It’s located near a couple more ornate ones, as there are a few in the same area. Of course there is also the usual market, day and night, that deserve a visit.
Most of the tours are outside of Chaing Rai. You can take a full day tour which covers temples, hill tribe people, tea plantation, Golden Triangle, Elephant tours amongst other sites around the area.
As Cambodia was pretty busy with moving from one part of the country to the next, Chaing Rai would provide us with the rest we were looking for. We had some tasks which needed to be done, but other than that Chaing Rai allowed us to sleep in, and explore the town, get Mark his much needed haircut, and figure out how to get to Chiang Kong.
During the day, Chaing Rai is quiet, where it comes alive is in the evening. People are back from their tours, and bars/restaurants are open. To note, there are smaller restaurants and few bars which open at 11:00am, however in Chaing Rai, and apparently in all of Thailand, no alcohol sales are permitted from 2-5 pm. Smaller places appear to sell during this time, stores definitely do not.
There are western restaurants as well as local ones, but Mark and I found the best food at the night market. Not only is the food extremely tasty, it’s also inexpensive, plus there are 2 stages where one is entertained by the local talent of Thailand. We were there almost every night and it never disappointed us.
The only trip we wanted to take was to see the White Temple. Then we discovered there is a pretty cool Blue Temple and wanted to se this one as well. That was the extent of our touring. One was about 15km away and the other about a 20 minute taxi ride or a 40 minute walk.
We took local buses which are easy to take and quite inexpensive. One needs to go to the central bus depot to take the bus, luckily we had a hotel a block away.
The bus to the White Temple has a large sign and once on board you pay the driver which was a whopping $.62. It takes about 30 minutes from Chaing Rai.
We decided to leave early as we checked with the agencies and they all stated the White Temple is the first/second stop. As we wanted to get ahead of the the massive groups descending upon the temple, I actually convinced Mark to wake up at 6am. Took the 7:10am bus and arrived shortly before they opened at 8am. We were able to take photos without tourists, and enjoy the temple.
The White Temple, although fairly new, opened about 20 years ago, is still not completed. The entrance fee is 50 Baht per person. They enforce strict dress codes, with either pants or skirts passed the knees, and shoulders covered. They predict the temple will be completed in 2070. Remind you of another religious building in Spain which took a few generations to complete?
Transportation in S.E. Asia comes in different forms, tuk-tuk, larger version of tuk-tuks, buses, motorbikes, taxis, or whatever gets one from point to point. The return was a larger version of a tuk-tuk, and when potential riders appear it didn’t matter that there were no seats. They just pulled up a plastic stool between the benches for one to sit, or one stands on the railing outside. Got to love regulations, or the lack thereof.
Upon returning to Chaing Rai, we decided to go to the Blue Temple. Unlike the White Temple there is no public transportation to take you there, so one needs rent a tuk-tuk, taxi, or walk. Guess what we did. Someone didn’t want to pay the $3 tuk-tuk ride but would rather do the 40 minute walk in 98F. What we don’t do to save $3.
The temple was extremely blue and very ornate. Unlike the White Temple, this one is free, and like the White Temple it is not completed and they are still working on it.
Since we walked to this temple we were going to take a tuk-tuk back or taxi, except where the Blue Temple is, not a lot of tuk-tuks are around. Most people that take a taxi or tuk-tuk will have them wait while they explore the temple and then take them back where they started from in Chaing Rai. There is a reoccurring theme here, as the last time this happened to us, we were in Angkor Wat 10 years ago, Mark will mistakenly choose walk in the heat to save a few dollars. After a short time we did see a free taxi and waived him down to take us back to downtown Chaing Rai. The cost was 50 Baht, equivalent of 1.50USD. Hiring a tuk-tuk or taxi to the temple and back seems to start at about 300 Baht, we never got one to go below 200 when trying to barter a better round trip price. We felt they really weren't that hungry and would rather sit on their tuk-tuk then earn an amount of money that they deemed beneath them.
It was a nice way to spend 6 days, relaxing, and enjoying the quaint town. It will be interesting to see how this town responds to the incoming onslaught of tourists, as more and more hotels are being built to accommodate the anticipated onslaught of the masses.