When I am told about the North of Thailand, I immediately think of the white temple (Wat Rong Khun) that I have seen in all the travel guides. This is one of the reasons why we came to Chiang Mai, which is only 3 hours away from this famous temple.
Part 1: Travel Diary
Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
we had to take a 3h bus from the Bus Station Terminal 3. We queue in front of GreenBus to buy the tickets, it’s 9:40 am but the next bus with free seats doesn’t leave until 11 am. We are asked for a passport for the purchase of the tickets, we realize that we don’t have them on us, but fortunately the copy that we keep in the survival kit is enough to buy them. JB has time to go back to the apartment to get our passports, just in case… and fortunately he did it because we will need them later.
The 3h trip is rather pleasant, we are even given water. There are a little too many curves during the last hour. As we each have only a small backpack, we ask the driver to drop us off at the White Temple, which is 14km away from Chiang Rai city.
The White Temple: Wat Rong Khun
Spoiler alert : Warning : this travel diary contains a lot of spoilers concerning the White Temple, the Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower 🙂 If you just want to have some practical advice, scroll to the end of the article.
The first thing that strikes us is the whiteness of this temple. White, white, white! Despite the cloudy sky, we are dazzled by the whiteness of this temple and especially by the many small mirrors that are stuck to the plaster decorations.
We pay 50 baht each for admission.
Well, I’ll tell you right away: the temple is much smaller than I thought, and a very small part of it is finished, the rest of the complex is still under construction, so the visit of the main temple (you see on the picture) is very quick. There it is! Indeed, this temple has the particularity of being created by a contemporary artist, and it isn’t finished.
On the left side of the temple, there is a pool where big white fishes swim ! We then cross a false bridge, where we pass over hundreds of hand carvings.
The sculptures are really impressive. Do you see small mirrors that give the temple that shimmering look?
Unfortunately, we cannot take pictures inside this tiny temple (it is forbidden). But as soon as you enter, you have to turn around to look at the details of the two walls next to the entrance. You can see small drawings of Harry Potter, Hello Kitty, Neo from Matrix etc. In the middle is a picture of the Buddha and a wax statue of a monk, so realistic that you might have thought he was alive.
And that’s it. JB and I look at each other wondering “that’s it? we came to Thailand on purpose for that?
It must be said that I often have obsessions, often I visit a country just to satisfy this obsession. And since it is an obsession, I have too many expectations and I am disappointed afterwards. It’s like when I was finally able to get a scholarship to go to Australia, and see the Sydney Opera House up close – only to discover that its glittering exterior was actually made of cheap ceramics; or when I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time in broad daylight, its scrap heap look shocked me too much. My resolution for this year and all the years to come is to create less waiting (or even 0 waiting) for myself.
We continue the visit of the site, to contemplate the parts under construction: without the sculptures and the mirrors, it’s much less beautiful eh?
To finance the work, there are many activities allowing tourists to have a little fun and make donations. This for example :
or write his name and a wish with an indelible marker on a metal sheet.
The leaves will then be hung here :
you can also make wishes by throwing money here:
We can also stamp our passports (fortunately JB went to get our passports this morning) – this corner is on the left of the toilets, in front of the gallery where the artwork is sold;
This too nice golden building isn’t a temple, but just a (free) toilet. At the exit of the temple, there is a museum dedicated to the artist but we do not understand anything about modern art so we preferred not to visit.
To get to Chiang Rai, we are lazy to call a Uber or hail a blue truck on the highway or negotiate with a tuk-tuk.
Note: the blue trucks are to be shared, the directions are written in Thai on these trucks. If you don’t understand Thai, you manage to stop a truck going in your direction, announce your destination (like “bus station”) and the driver will tell you whether or not he is passing by. The price is 30 baht per person per trip.
We spot a blue truck parked just at the exit, the driver announces a rate of 150 baht (same price as Uber), this is the price to pay when you privatize a truck like that. Otherwise we would have had to wait for this truck to fill up to go to the center. In exchange, the driver deposits us in front of our hotel, like a cab.
Nak Nakara Hotel
It’s a 3 star hotel (Booking link) that JB spotted. It’s at -50% at the moment it’s 55€ per night. But the service is equivalent to that of a 5 star hotel. 5 people say hello and goodbye every time we enter/leave the hotel. There is a fridge full of fruit and pastries in the lobby, and we can use it for free. The mini bar in the room is free, they offer us 4 bottles of water, two plates of fruits. A tuk tuk is always waiting in front of the hotel to take guests to the bus station or night bazaar for free . At our arrival, we are given a map and mark all the points of interest of the city. Wow!
Not to mention this beautiful infinity pool that we will not be able to enjoy.
… because it’s too cold! 16 degrees this morning, 13 degrees now. Yes, we are in the mountains and the humid cold in Asia makes it really, really cold.
JB had the misfortune of listening to his wife (me) who looked at the weather this morning before leaving and said “just take a light jacket. No, you won’t need those jeans”; while the cold lady came with her self-heating pants, a fleece and a comforter.
As a result, JB became ill very quickly after visiting the temple. Guilty about my bad advice, and since the hotel room has no heating, I looked for an alternative way to heat JB asap: a kettle (after having emptied the hot water anyway)! So it’s with this kettle that JB took a nap and miracle, it’s really better!
Afterwards, JB puts all the clothes he took in his bag, which gives a more or less passable look (note the sandals and socks, great class!)
But at least he’s not (too) cold anymore.
Visit of Chiang Rai city
And we continue to visit the city. Small stop anyway at the Destiny Cafe, a café with heating (alleluia!) and apparently a place frequented by a lot of digital nomads.
We quickly go to the Clock Tower, whose bling bling side does not please us of the masses.
We then go to the Flower festival, which is at the 75 Anniversary Flag and Lamp Park (we were not aware of this festival but fortunately the guy at the hotel told us about it). It is the ideal place to take photos for Instagram.
We then go to a local market(Central Day Market), advised by the hotel. At the beginning, we wanted to buy a sweater for JB, but as it’s not cold anymore, we ended up enjoying the street-food at the real local price, like 10 bahts a bao , 10 bahts a skewer… that’s 3 times cheaper than a night market for tourists.
We return then to the hotel before going out again at 7pm for the Night Bazaar. The tuk tuk of the hotel brings us there for free, but we return rather quickly because this market is much less interesting than the one in Chiang Mai. The only interesting thing, it is this type of restaurants which propose mini hot pots (fondues) in terracotta services.
Wat Phra Kaew
The next day, we return the room (rather late I must confess) then walk to the temple of Wat Phra Kaew. This is where they discovered the jade Buddha which is now kept in the Royal Palace in Bangkok.
The story is worthy of a Hollywood movie. This Buddha was believed to be lost forever, until lightning destroyed part of the temple and revealed the hidden Buddha. The Buddha was discovered where a stupa stands today.
The rest is very nice too
I particularly like the orchids here:
In one of the temples is a copy of the Buddha which is now in Bangkok.
We have lunch at vijitta khao soi restaurant, a very local restaurant (we are the only tourists). I really liked their Nam Ngeaw, a spicy soup made with pig blood and meat.
And of course, true to form, we end our stay at AkhaYa Massage & Spa for a good Thai massage.
We take the bus from Bus Station Terminal 1 to return to Chiang Mai. Luckily we bought our tickets the day before in Chiang Mai because this station looks super badly organized, there are just two guys sitting in a corner, equipped with computers, we don’t even know if they sell bus tickets.
Part 2: Practical Tips
4 135 bahts for two, 2 days 1 night, excluding massage
- Transportation :
- Round trip: at our place => bus terminal in Chiang Mai: 100 baht
- 332 bahts/person round trip Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai with Green Bus Company
- White Temple => Chiang Rai : 150 bahts
- Hotel: 2431 baht/night double room, top service link Booking
- Food: 90 baht/person/meal on average
- Visit: White Temple: 50 baht/person
- Massage at Akha Ya Massage & Spa: 200 bahts for 1 hour foot massage, 500 bahts for 1 hour massage with oil
- The trip Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai is very busy, it is better to buy the bus tickets the day before or you will have to wait 1h30 (or more) like us. We recommend the Green Bus company which leaves from Bus Station Terminal 3 (platforms 20-21).
- In Chiang Rai, there are 2 bus terminals, one in the city center (Bus Station Terminal 1), another one outside the city. Ask for a drop off in the city center. If this isn’t possible, tuk tuk will take you to the other bus station for 15 baht/person.
- Remember to bring warm clothes, it is strangely cold in Chiang Rai. 16 degrees in Chiang Mai and 16 degrees in Chiang Rai, it’s not the same cold. If you are too cold, the Night Bazaar, open every night, sells some ugly coats and down jackets.
- We did not visit all the places of interest in Chiang Rai. I put below the map given by the hotel (click to zoom) and the list of points of interest displayed in the blue truck
How to go to the White Temple – Wat Rong Khun?
- From Chiang Mai: If you don’t have a lot of luggage, ask the driver to stop at the White Temple (this will save you time and a few bahts for transportation from Chiang Rai to the White Temple).
- From Chiang Rai: Go to the Bus Station Terminal 1, platform 8, a bus leaves for 20 baht/person to the temple
- Another option is to privatize a tuk tuk who will be happy to make the round trip and wait for you on the spot for 300 baht.
- To get back to the city center from the white temple, you can walk to the highway and hail one of the blue trucks going in the direction of the city center. This option is cheaper but will take more time (there is no guarantee that there are any that pass by regularly). Otherwise, call an Uber (150 baht) or privatize a blue truck like us
- Don’t forget to stamp your passport, it’s to the left of the golden toilet.