CHIANG RAI, THAILAND

From Myanmar we crossed back into Thailand at the Mae Sae border. Since it was nearly 8 p.m. by the time we crossed there weren’t any more buses for the night, so we found a guesthouse and headed to the night market to find dinner. The next morning we got on a bus and headed to Chiang Rai, a relatively small city with a very relaxed atmosphere.  

After moving around non-stop in Myanmar, Chiang Rai was the perfect place to take it easy for a few days. 

A few highlights from our stay in Chiang Rai include visiting the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), hiking up to the Khun Korn Waterfall in a beautiful national park, and wandering through the Night Bazaar each evening.

The White Temple was magnificent. The little pieces of mirror that are placed all over it glimmer in the sunlight; the story behind the temple is interesting also.  The temple was in disrepair and there weren’t any funds to restore it; that’s when a local artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to rebuild the temple (and fund the project).  To date, he’s put a fortune into the temple. The project still isn’t complete, but it’s already a masterpiece.

Since it’s a temple, women are required to cover their legs; they provide long white sarongs to all visitors wearing shorts. As I entered, I felt as though I had entered a magical place – a bit out of this world. Not only is it a temple; it’s also considered a work of art.  As you move through the temple and the surrounding areas you begin to discover the artist’s dreamlike vision of Buddhist teachings.  There are different messages in the statues and details on the exterior of the temple. Most of the messages are about escaping desire and greed. There are cycles of birth and rebirth; finally when you cross the bridge you arrive at the “gate of heaven” and are near “Buddha’s realm.” I found it especially interesting to see how the artist had included modern western movie characters with classic Thai architecture to symbolize “human wickedness.”  Although I only learned the basic story behind the temple, there are thousands more details with significance behind them.

Hiking through the jungle up to the Khun Korn Waterfall was a blast! The bamboo forests and leaves bigger than me were incredible. The national park is quiet and clean. There were a lot of locals that swam in the river near the entrance of the park, but as we hiked (around 2 km) up to the waterfall we crossed paths with only a handful of people.  The waterfall was freezing, but the hike was worth the view!

The Chiang Rai Night Bazaar is the main attraction in the city center. It’s where everyone goes in the evening, both tourists and locals.  There are dozens of small restaurants (food stands) with hundreds of tables in between.  In front of all of the tables there is a stage with entertainment for an hour or two every night. Northern Thai cuisine is very different from dishes in Bangkok and the South. It was full of flavor and spice! Khao soi – a curry noodle soup with coconut milk and crispy fried noodles on top, was one of my favorites. I like spicy, but I liked the less spicy version more – it didn’t make me sweat as much! Tom yam soup – a hot and sour soup served with meat, was also delicious. I liked it best with chicken!

It was a fun couple of days seeing and tasting our way through Chiang Rai!