After our Christmas celebrations in Pattaya at my sister's house we flew up to Northern Thailand to Chiang Rai for a few nights. We wanted to take our 3 and a half weeks away to really see Thailand and the north was a part all of us wanted to see. Chiang Rai was a beautiful, smaller city which we enjoyed walking around and exploring. We arrived in the afternoon and relaxed in our beautiful hotel, Nak Nakara before venturing out for the evening. Our first night we went to the night bazaar, which we wandered around before we all got hungry. Then we headed to a family style restaurant that was very casual with delicious food, Phu Lae. I had read about it in Lonely Planet and I'm glad we managed to make it there, it was nice to experience a restaurant frequented more by locals. Next was the flower festival. As it opened the first evening we arrived we had a walk around before heading home. You can read all about it in my next post!
The next day we visited the flower festival during the day as well as the morning market. We walked around the city, exploring the temples and people watching. It was a very walkable city and it was never too hot. The temple we visited was the Emerald Temple, a definite spot to stop in Chiang Rai. The walls were this translucent green that was incredible. The grounds of the temple was surrounded by smaller temples and a very interesting museum. We spent quite some time there before heading on our way to see more of the city. After a relaxing afternoon I woke Dave and my mum up to get to the night bazaar before it opened. I know this sounds weird but we had to make it in time for a delicious dessert. The night before we walked by a massive line of people waiting for this woman to make them their treats and I wasn't sure what it was but I decided I had to try it (I was so glad I did!) It was a cup of coloured sticky rice balls in warm coconut milk topped with your choice of topping. Dave, my mum and I decided to try two different flavours, one with coconut and sesame on top which had a salty flavour and the other with dried fruit on top which was sweeter. Both were equally delicious and I could not recommend it more! We got there at 5:45pm and there was already a line, the perfect pre-dinner snack if you ask me!
Our last morning we had breakfast at the hotel and headed out to the Hilltribe Museum (just Dave, my mum and I.) Everyone else wanted to relax but we wanted to learn about the different people of Northern Thailand. It was very interesting and I would definitely suggest visiting it. Sadly I wasn't allowed to take any photos. Then we were off to drive to Chiang Mai, our next stop, about 3 hours away. On our way out of town though we decided we had to make a stop at the White Temple.
This contemporary, unconventional and privately owned temple is more of an art exhibit rather than your typical temple. It was made in the style of a Buddhist temple by a contemporary artist from Chiang Rai who designed, constructed and opened it to visitors in 1997. It is an offering to the Buddha from the artist, in hopes for immortal life. The main building of the White Temple is surrounded by a small moat with a bridge you have to cross to enter the building. In front of the bridge are hundreds of hands that reach out and are to symbolize unrestrained desire. When you arrive at the building you take off your shoes to enter. Inside photographs are prohibited but there are murals on the walls. From pristine white like the outside of the temple the inside turns into dark, fiery colours with western figures and motifs on the wall. The moral of the murals is people are wicked and that is evident in the nuclear warfare and terrorist attacks on display.
I was very excited to see the White Temple, however, I have to admit I was sadly disappointed. It may have been due to the massive crowds everywhere. I guess because I had read and heard so much about it I thought it would be grander than it was. The best way I could describe it is to compare it to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa in the Louvre, a little bit of a let down when you see if behind the massive amount of glass protecting it. I would suggest visiting the White Temple and looking at it from the outside, rather than purchasing a ticket and going in the swarms of tourists because the outside is beautifully made.
I would definitely recommend visiting Chiang Rai if you have a chance. The smaller size of it gives the city an authentic feel with more locals around rather than tourists. It is a bit cooler so be sure to pack some sweaters and pants, and bug spray!