Located in Northern Thailand, Chiang Rai is a laidback town with a pleasant, relaxing atmosphere. Established in 1262, it used to be the seat of power of the Mengrai Dynasty, as evidenced by its long list of cultural and historical attractions that could rival those you’d find in more popular destinations in Southeast Asia.
Unlike Bangkok or Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai isn’t much of a nightlife or shopping destination. Much of its allure comes from its strong cultural identity. While the city may be lacking in some aspects, it has more than enough attractions and sights to keep visitors occupied.
Here are 6 must-visit tourist attractions in Chiang Rai.
1. Wat Rong Khun
Probably the most interesting and most popular attraction in Chiang Rai, Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple as most travellers call it, is the work of local artist and painter Chalermchai Kositpipat. Built in 1998, the temple is teeming with Buddhist symbolisms and currently features the following sections: the bridge of the cycle of rebirth, the gate of heaven, the ubosot, which is the principal building, and the golden building. Inside the ubosot, you will find striking yet bizarre murals of contemporary icons like Michael Jackson, Freddy Kruger, and Neo of The Matrix mixed with demons in a sea of fiery orange swirls.
The temple is still an ongoing project and it will eventually have nine building by the time it is completed. The What Rong Khun is open daily and admission fee for foreign visitors is 50 baht.
2. Baan Dam Museum
Another must-visit contemporary attraction in Chiang Rai is the Baan Dam or the Black House. Created by the national artist Thawan Duchanee, the Baan Dam is a complex of traditional Northern Thailand buildings mixed with quirky modern structures.
There are more or less 40 buildings surrounding a beautiful garden in the sprawling complex. The museum also features eerie yet thought-provoking artworks involving skin, skulls, and other animal parts represent the sufferings of Buddha as well as the desires, cravings, and bleakness of the world we live in.
3. Mae Fah Luang Cultural Park
If you are pressed for time but would like to know more about city’s 400-year long history, head to Mae Fah Luang Cultural Park. Just a 5-kilomtere drive from the city centre, the Mae Fah Luang Cultural Park houses Northern Thailand’s largest collection of religious and nonreligious relics and artworks as well as buildings like the Golden Pavilion which was built in beautiful Lanna architectural style.
The Mae Fah Luang Cultural Park is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, from 8:30am to 5:30pm.
4. Wat Phra Singh
Located in Tambon Wiang, the Wat Phra Singh is a Buddhist temple built by Pra Chao Maha Proma in the late 14th century.
The highlight of the temple is the viharn or the chapel that used to house the sacred Phra Singh Buddha image before it was brought to Chiang Mai. Built in traditional Lanna style, the Wat Phra Singh’s main chapel is adorned with ornate had-carved decorations and sculptures. Not to be missed during your tour of the temple is the stunning front gate, a modern addition created by Lanna artist Tawan Duchanee.
5. Clock Tower
The golden clock tower is one the most popular and most photographed attractions in Chiang Rai. Easily recognizable through its twisting and swirling spires, the massive clock tower, built in 2008 in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, the same visual artist who created the White Temple.
While the clock tower may look ordinary during daytime but it transforms itself into a spectacular work of art at 7pm, 8pm, and 9pm in the evening. The light and sound display at the golden clock tower makes for an exciting, immersive experience in Chiang Rai.
The clock tower is located on the junction of Thanon Jet Yot and Thanon Baanpa Pragarn.
6. Wat Klang Wiang
Another must-visit attraction Chiang Rai is Wat Klang Wiang, a Buddhist temple that features Lanna architectural style mixed with Hindu influences. Once known as Wat Chantalok, the temple was built originally built in 1432. The other attractions within the complex, however, were added after the 1903 storm that badly damaged the temple.
Wat Klang Wiang features five main structures, namely: the viharn, the chedi, the Hindu-influenced ubosot, the city pillar shrine, and even a scripture library. Perhaps the most striking structure within the complex, the chedi, is an elegant white three-tiered pagoda. Each of the chedi’s levels house shallow recesses containing sacred Buddha images. The base of the chedi , made up of a square platform, is adorned with ornate white sculptures of elephants.
Planning to explore Chiang Rai and Northern Thailand? Check out these can’t-miss tours and activities on Travezl.com.
By: Brendelyn Balaga