My favorite thing in the world is discovering and learning about generally low-key areas that are disguised as simple places yet they hold so much wonder in their beauty and charm. You know, there are some places like Doi Suthep or Rayong that just exude prominence and obvious value at first glance. They undeniably delivered the best experience to me and I was certainly not disappointed. But there is a certain excitement and rush to when you discover some unknown beauty about a place that is not normally known for that.
That was how I found Chiang Rai, a pleasant town nestled deep in the Mueang Chiang Rai District of Chiang Rai Province. It is known for so many things all at once save for its natural scenic beauty. Known for the historical importance of every nook and cranny, I found all sorts of impressive traditional entities. Those included delicious customary dishes of curried noodles from roadside stalls. The phenomenal flavor and taste, I can still remember and savor in my mouth. On top of that, there were classic and articulate architectural pieces all around the city. Carefully carved temples and the famous clock tower that never fails to stun its viewers were my second favorite thing in the whole town.
The first was undoubtedly being the breathtaking beauty that surrounds this place. It is said to be the largest northern city in Thailand but it is always overshadowed by the beauty and allure of the comparatively bigger Chiang Mai town. As I was walking around one of the most beautiful and prominent placed in Chiang Rai (the Golden Triangle; which I will discuss later) I heard from some of the locals there that most people pass up the experience for the hubbub of Chiang Mai town. Which is silly, to say the least, because as much as city bustle may be attractive to the eye and heart, it is the raw natural beauty of a place that truly captures my soul.
Here are some of the best places in Chiang Rai that I visited (although there were many more I was tight on schedule, so these were the best of the best):
The White Temple
This was the first place I headed to after my feet landed on the land of Chiang. It was the first spot that I had heard about when I made the plans to flying over to this small and gorgeous town. Also known as Wat Rong Khun the White Temple is a sight for sore eyes. On an especially sunny day, the whole temple glows like a beacon of sunlight in a cave.
My first thought when I saw it was how the citizens ever keep it that clean. The structure and overall design of the temple were shockingly contemporary to me (given that everyone talks about how historical it is). As I have seen plenty of old buildings from different cultures, I loved how this one still portrayed the vintage feel but incorporated a modern structure. Chalermchai Kositpipat the designer who customized the architecture and detail of this temple; I found had paid extra attention to the smallest of things.
Apart from the temple, there were other buildings close by which featured rich art and traditional history of the place. I also found a small art gallery that stocked odd yet striking paintings. They were hard to decipher and fully understand but that was the most thing I liked about them. There wasn’t much space and time for me to fully take in the surroundings and the monuments as I had visited around 2 pm. The place was a jostling sea of bodies, but I could capture a winning photo of the white temple itself.
The Monkey Temple
There are two animals I like the most in this world and monkeys are the first. The cheeky buggers are just too hilarious to resist. When I heard about the Monkey Temple, you best believe I hastened my footsteps towards there very quickly. It was a grand temple with a dramatic entrance of huge staircases that were flanked by structures of Thailand’s favorite mythical serpent; the Nagas. I heard a lot about this serpent from my visits to Thailand’s special little spots and from my experience they are said to be magical. People visit them and touch them for good luck, so it only makes sense that they welcomed me to the Monkey Temple with some good luck. I needed it!
The place was teeming with monkeys of all types. They would scramble around and hide behind trees or anywhere unsuspicious. Then, to everyone’s surprise, they would jump out onto a dubious passerby. Sometimes they would snatch food and bits of travel paper from the hands of the people around me. It was then I was glad, I left my residence empty-handed to come to visit this peculiar little spot. Who brings handbags and purses to a monkey establishment?
The Night Market
Ah! Possibly my favorite spot in Chiang Rai after the scenic places. I love markets and everything about them. Night markers are especially my favorite as you can take a look at how the city looks like at night and explore the nightlife in a different light. When I entered this market I was welcomed with stalls cooking up the most delicious dishes and steam rose to the ends of the sky where my eyes couldn’t reach.
Each stall owner was busy making his delicacy and I had to resist from buying a dish from each. I decided to try out one of Chiang Rai’s most famous dishes; the Khao Soi specialty from a vendor who could speak the most broke English. It is a dish of curried noodle soup with a flavor that is a unique blend between so many different things. Like I mentioned before I can still the taste the flavor if I think about it very deeply. There were so many other stalls that sold small delicacies like balls of sticky rice flavored with various fruits and soups of all sorts.
I could find some sovereigns and things that I could handle rather than put in my stomach but the majority of the market was teeming with food stalls. It is more like a food hub than a market. Either way, I’m not complaining. It was a riveting experience and the food was phenomenal. Delivered the best Thai experience ever.
The Golden Triangle
Remember when I mentioned before that practically no one pays attention to the beauty of Chiang! This is what I meant. The golden triangle is a spot on a hilltop where the nations of Laos and Myanmar meet. The gorgeous rivers of Ruak and Mekong also intersect at around that area and I got to witness the breathtaking scenery. The lookout point which is called the golden triangle because of the poetic connection between the rivers and the nations.
As I stood on that balcony watching the sunset over the rivers (I decided to go a little late on a Monday just for the sake of the sunset), I didn’t have to deal with a big crowd. Unlike the White Temple, this place didn’t attract as many visitors and viewers because the majority of the people who visit this small town of Chiang, will prefer to experience city life. The multiple religious temples make for a good view and places such as the Golden Triangle…not as much. Beneath the place where I stood was a Buddha statue positioned to look out at the sea, and I noticed some people were sitting around it. Around this area were some other points of interest that had attracted the attention of people.
Overall it was a serene and beautiful setting with the distant chatter of people lifting into the air and a quiet breeze whistled around me as I stood watching the sun dip lower and lower beyond the rivers.
The Clock Tower
Chiang Rai commemorates the existence of Chalermchai Kositpipat by featuring many of his designs and works around the city. The White Temple was initially the biggest and most popular of his works but as I came to find out about the clock tower, I was simply amazed. Gotta give it to the Thais, they know how to put on a show. The tower is situated in the middle of the city with the busiest of traffic zooming around it. But once the sun goes down and the dark settles everywhere that is when the real fun starts. A stunning and colorful light show commences around the tower with music blaring to match the energy of all the onlookers. It is quite a popular event as I could see hoards of people surrounding the tower and watching from afar. Some had sat up on elevated platforms to get a better view of the visuals.
As it is hard to find a spot in the crowd, I headed over to one of the nearby cafes that had thankfully placed chairs outside. In that way, I could sit and sip a cup of tea while watching the show without having to worry about jostling bodies around me.