We arrived into Chiang Rai at the Old Bus Station (Terminal 1) at about 3.30pm (about 3-4 hour journey). We walked for 10 minutes to Mercy Hostel which we had booked for a few days. Mercy hostel was lovely it was very clean, beds were very comfortable, it had a good kitchen, communal areas, pool table and was general quiet but sociable. Plus just in the girls bathroom alone there were about 10 toilets and 10 showers (rainfall ones with hot water…heaven!).
We went for a quick walk around Chiang Rai to get our bearings where we saw the beginnings of the Saturday walking street and the gordy gold clock tower (also designed by the White Temple architect). We relaxed at the hostel for a few hours, doing important things like washing and then went out to explore the Night Bazaar, which is on every night and the Saturday Walking Market. The Saturday Walking Market is a large market that has food as well as clothes, tourist items and gadgets. We explored this thoroughly nibbling at nice bits of street food as we went. We also found the Tung and Kome park near Mueang Park where we saw all the elaborate flower displays that remained from the Chiang Rai flower festival. This was well worth seeing as there were thousands of flowers with large centrepieces throughout the displays. We also saw a concert and band on in the park, which we think were on due to it being Buddhist Lent that day. We also saw lots of Thais dancing at various stages throughout the market celebrating this by performing lots of rehearsed dance moves. After getting a bit overwhelmed by the size of the market we thought we would try to find a pub to watch the second half of the rugby, however due to it being Buddhist Lent all the bars and pubs on Jed Yod road (the main bar street) were closed so we went back to the hostel for the evening.
The following day we got up nice and early, leaving our hostel at about 7.30am to walk to the old bus station. We wanted to get the public bus to the White Temple as we had heard this was the cheapest way to get there. We asked at the bus station and got on the correct bus (light blue one that goes towards Chiang Mai), stating that we wanted to go to the White Temple/ Wat Rong Khun so that they could drop us off. The bus had small benches with a fan above the driver and multiple good luck items around him. When the bus started to move the bus assistant took our money- 20B each to get to the White Temple. The bus was very slow, often driving right at the side of the road to let quicker traffic past but it was fine and they dropped us off on the main road by the White Temple so all we had to do was cross the road and walk down to it.
The White Temple itself was very impressive, a huge white glittering temple that looked very ornate with its moulded decorations. It is not until you get up close that you realise a lot of the decorations are dark, twisted or reflections of popular culture. As you first walk to the entrance there are trees with creepy hanging faces as well as faces of characters from scary films such as Freddy Krueger. You can enter the temple site for free however to actually walk around the area by the temple and go into the temple itself you have to buy a ticket for 50B each. It is definitely worth doing this as most of the intricate detailing you do not see until up close. Walking up to the temple itself there are lots of hands spralling up out of the ground and around the temple. On one hand there is a middle finger nail aptly painted read. Inside the temple itself you cannot take photographs but it was very interesting. On first entering you notice the walls are painted but on a glance it just looks as if it is normal murals relating to Buddhism. When you look at the paintings on the side walls and the back you see superhereos, modern pop icons and paintings of horrendous events such as the twin towers being hit. The whole mural on the back wall is supposed to represented Buddha overcoming the devil, as well as wickedness of greed, ego and passion in humanity. There is also lots more to look around and see on the site including lots of lucky leaves that have been written on by visitors, a wishing well and a very ornate gold painted toilet building. The White Temple is still being worked on apparently until 2070 and you can see even on the temple itself where they still need to add detailing to it and mirrored glass. You can also see how the site is going to expand over the next few years . Already there is another plain gold building that I imagine will be decorated also and be something you can look around. Also included in the price of the ticket is a gallery of Chalermchai Kositpipat (the designers and owners) work. This includes, paintings and sculptures and it was interesting to see how his work has developed over the years into what led to the White Temple designs.
After exploring the White Temple we grabbed food at a restaurant inside one of the food courts there before trying to hail down another bus on the main road. We had read that you should be able to get one at least every 30 minutes. We waited for a bit in the heat but when a taxi stopped we managed to haggle him down to a lift back to the old station for 100B (split between three of us).
As we were already at the bus station Dave and I decided to try and see the Black House (Ban Daam Museum) the same day. You can get another public bus (the green one to Mae Sai) and be asked to be dropped off at the main road close to it the for 20B each. This bus was full with people going to Mae Sai but we managed to get seats for the 15 minutes we were on the bus. We were dropped off on the main road and then followed the signs down a path for another 15 minutes. It cost us 80B each to enter the Black House site. It was the artist’s home at one time as well as his artistic expression. The main Black House is a dark wooden house that is very large and filled with tall structured chairs made out of animal heads and horns, large wooden tables with animal skins, wood carvings and some other unusual structures. Also at the site are also about 40 out houses, many of which you can only appreciate from the outside out of respect for the artist. The site is littered with his dark unusual creations and it is very surreal but worth visiting as a contrast to the White Temple. We made our way back to the road with peanut butter ice creams before crossing the road to wait at the bus stop (a wooden shack) back to the city. This time we were more successful and flagged down one of the green bus’ heading back to the city. The bus was very cramped and this time we ended up standing for the journey back.
The rest of the day was spent chilling out at the hostel reading books before exploring the Sunday Night Walking Market in a different part of town. We decided to only have a couple of snacks here and then we went for Pad Thai at a stall set up by the clock tower which was very good. We also got to see the light show that occurs at the clock tower. I believe it happens on the hour for 7pm, 8pm and 9pm. Suddenly the street lights near the clock tower go out, it lights up with different colours and plays out music. Not the classiest of attractions.
The next day we had a quiet morning relaxing and chilling out before heading out for lunch. We had Khao Soi at Khao Soi Pho Chai restaurant just down from the clock tower which was delicious for 40B each. After a quick walk around town we returned to the hostel to read up about Laos and sort a rough plan of days out for whilst we were there. In the evening we went back to have a last Pad Thai for our last night in Thailand and we went to the night bazaar where we picked up a handy water carrier and ate some more Thai crepes with sweet fillings.