After returning our (well used) bicycles in Chiang Mai, Ryan, Cale and I set off to Chiang Rai on the bus. I’m not one for bus travel but these buses were pimpin’. Only 3 seats across, the large “leather” recliner seats had plenty of leg room and a tray table. The bus had a hostess who gave us chilled hand wipes, water and snacks too, making this trip more like a flight in business class than a dodgy 3 hour bus ride.
Chiang Rai is smaller and quieter than Chiang Mai. The main touristy area is around the Night Bazaar where you can find the usual mountain of tourist trinkets, cheap eats and cold beers.
This is also where we stumbled upon our old friend Swensens Ice creamery. Back in Bangkok, Ryan and I had previously mocked the suspiciously popular resturant, as hoards of people lined up to get inside. But we were truly converted when we found out it was an old school style ice creamery and what’s more- it is AWESOME. There are dozens of ice ream flavours to choose from and then hundreds of ways to stack them into moorish creations with nuts, wafers, cherries, brownies, sprinkles and sauce. Anyway the point is that Swensens is awesome and you’re a fool if you’ve walked by and not snuck in for a sneaky sundae. Shame on you.
We stayed in a quiet pocket of the city near the local food market. Everyday the streets would be lined with fresh produce.- mounds of chillis, garlic, curry pastes, veges and meat. And limes! My god the limes!
We were also walking distance from the city’s bedazzled main roundabout. Apparently each night at 7pm, 8pm, and 9pm this thing lights up, plays music and does all kinds of crazy and wonderful things (as if being a massive gold glittery clocktower wasn’t quite enough). Unfortunately every time at these times we were always off doing something else, so I can’t fill you in on just what happens (if anything).
The highlight of our swift visit to Chiang Rai was the White Temple – Wat Rong Khun. The White Temple is the brainchild of a Thai artist called Chaloemchai Khositphiphat. In 1998 he used his own money to start to build a modern wat… and is still going. He reckons it may be completed about 60 years after he’s dead and once you see the detail that has gone into this place you’ll probably agree.
This temple is insane. It’s like Disney and Las Vegas smooshed together, moulded into a temple and spray painted white and then rolled in glitter.
The idea is that you cross the “hell” (groping hands and skulls in the river), over the bridge and up to heaven (ridiculously glammed temple).
It’s refreshing to see a modern take on such an ancient religion. In the main temple (big glitter hut across the bridge) there was an artist working on a mural that swept across all 4 walls. The mural was a bit trashy and included all sorts of modern pop culture imagery. I suppose it was a bit of fun and ran with the theme of “more is more”. Khositphiphat and his team of artists have really gone all out and are still building. Can’t wait to go back and see it when it’s finished- when ever that may be!
On the way home we decided to try and flag down a passing local taxi. Looking somewhat lost and hopeless on the side of the road, we were taken in by some lovely Thai ladies who were in Chiang Rai on holiday. They offered to drive us back into town and didn’t think twice about piling everyone in to their car. 3 sweaty tourists, 6 giggling Thais and a bunch of luggage in the back and we were off, hurtling down the highway. The ladies were the cutest, giggling the whole way about how we were like “fish in a can”. They even dropped us off at Chiang Rai’s best (and only) shopping centre- so I was particularly happy. We spent the rest of the afternoon schlepping about aircon of the shopping center and playing arcade games. Noice.