Before crossing over the Mekong River onwards to Laos, we decided to hang out for a few days on the northernmost city of Thailand. We reached Chiang Rai after taking a four-hour bus ride from Chiang Mai. And after taking the rest of the afternoon and evening off at Chayadol Resort, we braved the streets of the city on bikes for the obligatory temple run the next day.
|A YOUNG MONK AT WAT PHRA KAEW / OUR BIKES FOR THE COMING TEMPLE RUN|
From our map, we marked four temples within the downtown area of Chiang Rai, plus one more, the famous White Temple, farther off the city limits. It was easy enough to race through the five ones, well if you consider dodging motorized vehicles easy, but the White Temple put us on a quandary.
Crossing myself three times, we boarded our free bikes and clumsily pedaled our way to the busy streets of Chiang Rai.
|YOU CAN’T MISS THE GOLDEN CLOCK TOWER OF CHIANG RAI|
Early morning traffic in the city is relatively relaxed. But consider this; this is actually my first time to bike on an actual city road and it was absolutely nerve-wracking for someone who’s totally unconfident with his biking skills.
With our resort located some ways off along the inner roads of the city, it took us a while to reach the fiery Chiang Rai Clock Tower [19.907134, 99.830955], which signifies we’re finally at the downtown area.
|REAL AND FANTASTICAL BIRDS ATOP WAT KLANG WIANG|
The first temples on our list were the Wat Klang Wiang [19.910769, 99.832448] and Wat Srin Bun Ruang [19.911478, 99.837783]. We’ve been running through one Thai temple after another from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and to be honest, each one was already starting to look similar to the next.
|WAT KLANG WIANG ANIMAL DETAILS|
Although we still kept tabs on the temple names, everything becomes one big jumble of a memory mess. Yes, each has its own unique characteristics. Yes, each one is beautifully and ornately decorated. And yes, each one has a golden Buddha enshrined inside.
|STUPA AND FACADE DETAILS OF WAT KLANG WIANG|
But what mostly differentiates one from the other for us were its size. We’re like, oh this one’s quite small for a Thai temple; and the next, oh this one’s huge! Or sometimes we’d find monks praying inside, and other times, a few of them just walking around the complex with their eyes fixed on their cellphones, smoking a cigarette.
|THAI WRITINGS ENGRAVED IN GOLD ON WAT KLANG WIA|
That first two we visited looked ordinary enough for eyes who’ve scoured Thailand’s major temples. But Chiang Rai’s White Temple is another thing altogether and deserves its own separate 800-word article.
|OUR RIDE TO THE WHITE TEMPLE|
So after parking our bikes at the Chiang Rai Market [19.905101, 99.834289], we helped ourselves to a midday grub, boarded a bus to the White Temple, came back for our bikes after the tour and proceeded in checking out the rest of the minor temples along the city.
|WAT PHRA SINGHA GATE BEAUTIFUL DETAILS|
|NO NAGA AT WAT PHRA SINGHA ENTRANCE|
|A GREEN STUPA AT WAT PHRA SINGHA, QUITE DIFFERENT FROM THE USUAL GOLD ONES|
Wat Phra Singha [19.911491, 99.830421]and Wat Phra Kaew [19.911810, 99.827327] were set next on our itinerary. While the former was better than most temple we’ve visited, the latter was way above ordinary.
|WAT PHRA KAEW’S MAIN TEMPLE|
|BLACK WOODEN TEMPLE AT WAT PHRA KAEW|
Wat Phrakaew is said to be the place where the most venerated Buddha statue in Thailand was found. Dubbed as the Emerald Buddha, it is entirely made of jade imported all the way from Canada. This image was said to have moved from Sri Lanka to Cambodia then to Thailand’s old capital Sri Ayudhaya before it was rediscovered after an earthquake cracked open up a chedi at this exact same temple in Chiang Rai in 1434.
|THE EMERALD BUDDHA AT WAT PHRA KAEW|
|A GONG MADE FROM ANIMAL HIDE AT WAT PHRA KAEW|
|ALL POINTING TO HEAVEN|
Now, the statue resides at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, although a replica still stands at Wat Phrakaew.
Aside from the White Temple, this is one of the temples in Chiang Rai that you shouldn’t miss visiting.
|WAT PHRA THAT CHOM THONG TEMPLE AND STUPA|
The day was fading fast when we decided on visiting another temple. This wasn’t really on our list, but we saw it on the map and since we were near enough, we pedaled towards it like a moth to a flame.
And what a flame it was.
From the main road, we got off our bikes and walked. The road was impossibly steep and I would definitely cramp in no time on my first three pedal. Eventually, we reached Wat Phra That Chom Thong [19.915091, 99.822703], the navel of Chiang Rai.
A golden stupa stands on side of the site, while a concentric circle lined with figures sat on the center of the hill-temple. It was under construction at the time and we were a bit underwhelmed especially after the effort we put in climbing.
|BREATHTAKING SUNSET VIEW AT WAT PHRA THAT CHOM THONG|
But as we were about to go down, I chanced upon a vista opening up on one of the thick undergrowth covering the hill. With canopies of nearby trees as foreground and the silhouettes of majestic mountains beyond, we silently watched as the sun made its final descent. We were unable to suppress a gasp of wonder. It was all worth it after all.