On the northern edge of Thailand you’ll find a city with some of the most incredible architecture and designs. Chiang Rai is home to a few of Thailand’s most famous contemporary artists who are leaving their mark on the city with extravagant Buddist temples and an eccentric home.
White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is an old Buddhist temple that is being restored by famous local artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat. The temple is definitely an awe-inspiring spectacle. Every inch of the temple’s exterior is covered in intricate details. The bright white exterior has glass imbeded in it, making the temple shine even more. A small pond in front perfectly reflects the building’s image, adding to the brilliance of the site.
On its top the temple is covered by a three tiered roof elaborately decorated in mythical creatures.
To reach the temple you must first walk over an ornately decorated bridge that takes you over a sea of hands. They are meant to remind you of those suffering in hell.
You’re not allowed to take pictures inside the temple which made us curious. Thinking it would be even more ornate inside, we were a little disappointed to find it to look like a normal Thai temple. The exception is that the murals depicting Buddha’s life have modern pop-culture characters rather than traditional ones.
The grounds around the temple are quite large and more buildings are being added as renovations continue. The artist says he has another 15 or more years of work yet to do. Around the temple are many sculptures and pagodas each as intricately decorated as the temple. Even the public washrooms are in an elaborate golden building.
Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten) is a new Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai. It opened to the public in 2016, but is still not complete. The entire temple is coloured in a bright sapphire blue with gold embellishments over top. Golden eaves complete the extravagant appearance.
The stairs are guarded by colourful nagas with brilliantly detailed carvings and colours.
Unlike the White Temple the blue motif continues inside. Bright sapphire blue pillars lead to a large white Buddha. The pearly white statue even reflects the blue interior. Blue Temple was designed by Putha Kabkaew, a student of the artist who built the eccentric White Temple.
The oddest place we visited in Chiang Rai is called Black House. It’s the former residence of famous Chiang Rai artist, Thawan Ducahnee. The house is now a museum and includes over 30 buildings. The main house is a black building with a typical Thai roof. Inside though, it is anything but typical. You enter into a large open room filled with his artwork. Some of the art is diplayed as traditional art such as paintings and sculptures. But actually almost every piece in the house is a unique piece of art. Chairs are built out of antlers; crocodile skins painted black lie on table tops; and elaborate arches separate the rooms. It’s an overwhelming place with so many unusual pieces to look at.
Walking around the museum grounds we saw many of the 300 buildings, each more elaboate than the last. One of the buildings is titled ‘guest house’. It would certainly be an interesting place to be a dinner or overnight guest. Utensils are shaped like penises as are the water scoops in the bathroom. One of the buildings was called Reptile House and was filled with skins and skulls from various reptiles.
I can only imagine how his mind envisioned the world. In comparing the White Temple and Black House, locals say to go to White Temple is like going to heaven, and going to Black House is like going to hell.
Chiang Rai’s proximity to the northern borders with Myanmar and Laos make this town an ideal spot to explore the “Golden Triangle’. This area was the world’s leading supplier of opium for years. The three countries are separated by the Mekong and Ruak Rivers.
Not far from the Golden Triangle lookout is The Opium Museum. Displays show how poppies are grown and harvested. It’s a strange museum with detailed explanations on how opium latex is extracted. The descriptions include the proper depth of scoring to achieve the best opium. Posted on the walls were chemistry equations used to make different drugs. It seemed a little too informative.
Lahu Hill Tribes
There are many hilltribes in this area also. We visited a Lahu tribe village. The women wear black jackets with colourful headpieces. They are knows to be one of the most gender-equitable socities in existence. Near the village we walked though the strange and interesting fertility gardens.
We were lucky to be in Chiang Rai during Christmas and New Year’s holidays when there is a large Flower Festival. It was a gorgeous display of locally grown flowers. There were tunnels made of orchids, colourful artistic designs made from potted plants. It was a beautiful festival to see and to smell.
Coming Next – Islands in the Gulf of Thailand
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