Chiang Rai itself is a small city but with a lot of traffic. The main features of the city are the clock tower – which I’ll get on to later – and the night bazaar. The rest of the sights are a few kilometres outside the city centre.
The most stunning – and perhaps the main reason to visit Chiang Rai – is the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun).
|The White Temple|
At the end of the twentieth century the temple was incredibly run down and in need of renovation, but with no funds available to do so, so local artist Chalermchai took it upon himself to raise the funds and completely renovate the temple. His vision is to not be influenced – neither artistically, or through others’ monetary contributions – and he wants his temple to be as famous as the Taj Mahal, or Angkor Wat.
Chalermchai is on site every day continuing his works and expects the project to be completed around 2070, ongoing even after his death. He has apparently raised and spent nearly £900,000 of his own money on the project so far!
Unlike other temples Wat Rong Khun has a much more modern feel. The idea is that you enter Hell as you approach and enter the temple, then once you have passed through the main building, you leave into Heaven. The ‘Hell’ section features sculptures of severed heads hanging from the trees, strange monsters and a moat of hands reaching up towards you!
|Moat of hands|
|'Hell' at the White Temple|
The same artist also designed the clock tower in central Chiang Rai – you can certainly see the similarities to the White Temple.
|The clock tower|
We also took the time to visit another modern temple, known as the Blue Temple. The building itself is in a similar style to other temples in the region, but painted in shades of blue and gold and is quite beautiful. Unfortunately, on the day we visited the Blue and White temples it was quite overcast so my photos don’t really do them justice!
|Inside the Blue Temple|
We also did a cooking class whilst we were in Chaing Rai, making four Thai dishes, including making the red curry paste from scratch. The day started with a visit to the market with the teacher to buy all the ingredients we’d need for our chosen dishes. Everything was really fresh and locally grown and sourced.
The teacher – a local lady – also gave us a tasting tour of the market, giving us the opportunity to try some of the weird and wonderful looking snacks for sale in the market, that we otherwise wouldn’t know how to eat! We tried sticky rice mixed with mung beans and sugar then barbecued in a banana leaf; sweet doughnuts with a savoury bean filling, coconut pancakes, more sticky rice baked inside a bamboo with sugar; and an appetite stimulating pepper leaf made into a parcel and filled with fresh ginger, chilli and lime – it was fiery but, gave us an appetite for our lunch after a morning of tastings.
Our shopping complete, we headed back to our host’s kitchen and were each allocated our own cooking station to make the four dishes under her supervision.
|Making the red curry paste|
|Busy in the kitchen!|
|Hot and sour prawn soup|
|Thai red curry with chicken|
As an aside, the Thais find it quite amusing that us Westerners can’t handle our chilli like they can. When you order a dish in a restaurant they always ask how spicy you’d like it. Now, I’m a fan of spicy food, but apparently, what I call hot, they call ‘medium-low’!
Leaving Chaing Rai, we headed to Chiang Khong, on the Thai-Laos border. It’s a small town, popular on the backpacker trail for tourists crossing the border on land. It’s right on the banks of the fast-flowing Mekong River and it’s Laos on the other side of the river.
|Our first view of Laos, across the Mekong River|