With a far-reaching history before its 34-year stretch as the second capital of the Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Rai is considered one of the oldest settlements in Thailand. If you have the chance to visit Chiang Rai, do not miss out these 10 cultural sites below:
Wat Rong Khun
The main reason that many tourists come to Chiang Rai is to visit this unique temple. Painted white and covered in a mosaic of mirrors, Wat Rong Khun (also referred to as the White Temple) is a blend of fantasy and tradition decorated with a mix of Buddhist images and cartoon aliens. The outreaching hands at the temple’s entrance are evocative of imagery of hell, and are said to represent desire. In a nearby tree Batman’s head spins in the breeze. Construction started in the late 1990s and the work is still on-going. Local artist and architect Chaloemchai Khositphiphat, who designed the temple, believes that it will take 90 years to complete his vision. Plans are in place for a team to continue the work after his death, with a total of nine buildings planned. For now, he can be found working on his creation most days.
Bandaam Museum is sometimes known as the Black House. Created by Dr Thawan Duchanee, the collection of buildings is far less opulent than the White Temple, yet Bandaam Museum exudes its own unique appeal. From the exterior, this collection of dark wooden buildings has a traditional Thai feel, with ornate wooden carvings and Buddha statues. A closer look reveals decorations created with animal skins, skulls, and an entire elephant skeleton. The atmosphere is slightly unnerving and there is even a torture chamber in one of the outlying buildings and black swans around the lake at the bottom of the garden. Duchanee hoped to create a space that shows the darker side of human thoughts and actions.
Pong Phra Bat Hot Springs
A favorite with local residents, this waterfall and hot springs is located 14 kilometers outside Chiang Rai and has a rustic atmosphere which is a big part of its charm. The small park is made up of two concrete bathhouses with private sunken tubs and an outdoor pool, with spectacular views in the evening as the sun sets . The hot stream twists its way through the buildings and the venue contains a small restaurant for its visitors’ convenience. All the signs are in Thai so it can be hard to find, but with an entrance fee of only 10 baht to use the pool and 20 baht to get your own room it’s worth the effort.
Chiang Rai Clock Tower
Chiang Rai’s golden clock tower is another offering from Chaloemchai Khositphiphat, sitting at the center of a roundabout in the middle of the city. An equally lavish creation, albeit on a smaller scale, it is best viewed in the early evening when the tower comes to life in a ten minute light and sound show. Traditional Thai music plays and the monument turns from gold to all the colors of the rainbow. In spite of the stunning aesthetics displayed, the city doesn’t stop for this performance and the continued roar of rush hour traffic winding around the tower makes an interesting contrast. The performance happens every evening on the hour between 7pm and 11pm.
Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park
Established in 1977 by HRH the Princess Mother, Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park originally opened as a camp to provide young leaders of hill tribes with the necessary skills to run development projects sponsored by the royal family. Today it houses an impressive collection of Lanna artifacts, on display to protect them from being purchased by antique collectors for private ownership and leaving the region. Highlights include the teakwood exhibition and the Haw Kham golden pavilion which houses the 19th century Wiang Ta murals – tempura painted panels that depict the stories of Buddha and the Lanna way of life.
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