Chiang Rai, Thailand
March 10, 2015 – March 11, 2015
After Singapore we were planning on heading into Laos, but we didn’t want to fly directly there. We had read and heard about a two day riverboat from the Thai border and decided to check it out. So we flew back to Thailand instead to spend a day in the city of Chiang Rai near the Laos border. From there we could check out some of the sights in northern Thailand and arrange for boat tickets.
We flew from Singapore to Bangkok and then hopped on a second plane for the short jump to Chiang Rai in northern Thailand. This relatively small city only offers a few sights in town and some quick nearby day trips, but is worth checking out for a couple days. There is a decent night market, a nightly clock tower light show, and a few temples, such as the elaborately decorated ‘White Temple’, worth hopping on a bus to check out, just outside of town.
Upon arrival at the airport we sadly encountered an increasingly familiar sight, air pollution. Smoke from burning fields for “slash and burn” agriculture season and burning trash fill the air in a seemingly permanent thick brown haze. The further north we have been in Asia, closer to China, the worse the air has always been. But we only had a couple days in northern Thailand before heading into Laos where we hoped the air would be better.
We stayed a few blocks from the central downtown area, where they have an interesting night market, selling food and crafts from dusk until late. The food is all the way in the back so if it is food you are after, keep walking. We checked it out both nights we were in town and found some good food and souvenirs.
After checking out the night market the first night, and missing the food all the way in the back, we headed out into the city to find something to eat. As luck would have it we turned down a street which had the city’s clock tower. There we discovered not only a vender selling great noodles but also the nightly show of lights and music around the clock tower. At 8:00pm the clock tower is brightly lit with changing colors and music is played. We had no idea that it was going to happen, its was just blind luck that we happened to be walking by.
The White Temple
About half an hour out of town you can find the White Temple, one of the more popular tourist attractions around. There are several companies offering pricey tours, but you can just as easily hop on one of the many buses heading there from the bus station behind the night market. The buses looked to be frequent and drop you off about a block from the temple. With its towering white roof, it is hard to miss as you approach.
The White Temple is a large Buddhist temple, and one of the most elaborately, to the point of gaudy, decorated temples we have ever seen. Every bit of the temple building and its surrounding structures are covered in decorations. Sadly so many decorations that in some places the weight of them has caused some of the taller or heavier bits to break off, as can be seen in the pictures. Despite the apparent carelessness of its construction it is still an impressive sight, and if nothing else they sell cheap Thai iced teas right out front!
All in all we found Chiang Rai to be a bit scruffy, and can probably be skipped unless you are planning on taking the river boat into Laos, which is why many people including us visit. But if you happen to be in the area it does have a few sights worth checking out. In addition many popular day trips explore the surrounding countryside, although we did not partake since we planned to explore the countryside in Laos. After a couple nights we left town and headed to the Laos border to meet our boat, along the way we encountered some of the worst smoke and haze we had ever seen. At one point it covered the road so thoroughly that we could not even see the lines painted on the road in front of us! But after a too long, nerve wrecking drive, watching phantom vehicles pop out of the smoke and zoom past us, we made it to the border and after a straightforward crossing into Laos, soon boarded our boat!