Chiang Rai is the capital of Thailand's northernmost province, and one of the country's most historic cities. Located in the far north of the country, Chiang Rai was founded in 1296 as the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom. The region is known for its beautiful nature, dramatic mountain scenery, and peaceful lifestyle. The city is also famous for three amazing and colorful landmarks: The White Temple, The Blue Temple, and the Black House.
The White Temple - Wat Rong Kuhun วัดร่องขุ่น
Probably the top destination and best-known site in all of Chiang Rai is Wat Rong Kuhun, the White Temple.
Part temple and part private art experiment, the temple was opened in 1997 by Chiang Rai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat who dedicated his work to the Thai king and Thai people in order to encourage and promote Buddhism. Although he has been working on the White Temple for decades, Chalermchai sees the construction of Wat Rong Kuhun as his life's work and magnum opus, and estimates that it won't be complete until the 2070's.
From afar the beautiful temple looks like something out of a fairy tale, but up close, the intricate patterns take on a creepy and grotesque look. Walking across a narrow bridge over a pond to the temple simulates crossing from Hell into Heaven. The path is narrow - this represents that one must make the journey alone.
No photography is allowed inside the temple building itself, so you will have to go and see how weird and wonderful it is with your own eyes. The beautiful golden murals adorning the walls of the temple depict hundreds of pop-culture icons, from Michael Jackson and Yoda to Spiderman and even George W. Bush. It's... really weird, but also so cool.
When you are there, don't miss visiting the beautiful golden bathrooms!
If you only have time for one stop in Chiang Rai, don't miss the White Temple.
You can reach the White Temple by bus from Chiang Rai bus terminal, or by hired songtaew or tuk-tuk. Admission is 50 baht per person and goes towards the continued construction of the temple.
The Blue Temple - Wat Rong Suea Ten วัดร่องเสือเต้น
The brand-new Wat Rong Suea Ten, the Blue Temple, just opened in 2016, and is still a hidden gem in Chiang Rai. It's not nearly as well-known as its older sibling, the White Temple, which is a shame, because the Blue Temple is absolutely beautiful and unique as well.
Admission is free, and the Blue Temple is much less crowded than the White Temple, probably because it's still more or less unknown. This temple was designed by an apprentice of the artist Chalermcha, and he got his start working on the White Temple before moving on to construct his own colorful project in the city.
Most temples in Thailand are gold, red, or white. Blue is a really unusual color, but it makes the temple very special and memorable. The color blue, according to the artist, represents the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha.
Even the old stupa, a relic-containing chedi from an original older temple building, has been rebuilt and re-painted in blue and gold.
If you have the chance to visit Chiang Rai, visit the Blue Temple now while it's still relatively unknown. It's a brand-new attraction, and something unlike anything else in Thailand.
The Black House - Baan Dam Museum
Often mistakenly called the "Black Temple", Baan Daam actually translates to the "Black House". Although this one is a private residence and not actually a temple, there are several shrine buildings on the grounds, and the buildings are designed like traditional northern-Thai temple buildings. The entire complex is a project designed to represent the Buddhist idea of death, which is just another part of the cycle of life.
It's admittedly quite creepy. The buildings are all painted black and constructed out of dark wood, and the interiors are all decorated with bones and animal skins. The entire complex has a feeling of death, but not in a scary way. It's meant to be peaceful and reflective.
The late artist Thawan Duchanee designed the Black House as his life's work, and while it doesn't feel joyous and light like the White Temple or the Blue Temple, the Black House does have a very quiet peaceful atmosphere.
Yes, it's a little creepy, but it's also very beautiful and definitely unique. Visit it for yourself and see what you think.
Admission is 80 baht per person, and goes towards the upkeep of the museum.