This post is a direct follow-on from my story “A Day in Chiang Mai”, which you can read HERE. For those who haven’t seen this previous post the reason we were in the North West of Thailand was as a special trip for a couple of my in-laws, which I described as:
“This trip came about because I had promised Gaun’s (my wife) younger sister Yuan and husband Lud that I would take them to Chiang Mai for a few days and include their first ever airplane flight as part of the experience. Getting them away from the farm is always a challenge and a slightly quieter time in the season gave me a window of opportunity to take them on a rare holiday.”
Chiang Rai was my first longer term home in Thailand and you can read about the house HERE although it was only for ten weeks. It was also here that I decided to retire and make my base in Thailand so has always been special to me. I also like it as a place more than any other Thai city, although the ones I have seen are all pretty ordinary, and the surrounding landscapes especially as you head into the hills of Northern Thailand are some of the best I have seen.
A few other Northern hill photos taken on our travels:
I wrote a post called Chiang Rai – the Neighbourhood, when I was living there in late 2013 and you might find the more out of the way places I cover in it interesting. You can find it HERE.
Because of my connection to Chiang Rai I wanted to share some of my favourite places with my in-laws Yaun and Lud on what will probably be their once in a lifetime visit to the North. As with the latest Chiang Mai post we are covering ground I have already written about in previous posts but this time will be with updated information and photos so it is almost a new post.
We booked out of the Baan Kaew guesthouse early on our second day in Chiang Mai for the three hour drive to Chiang Rai. It was a grey morning and got worse as we head into the hills outside Chiang Mai and the rain started. I was worried as the day we had planned was almost totally involved outside activities and it was not only wet but, by Thai standards, cold too.
If you haven’t done it the drive from Chiang Mai to Rai on highway 118 is well worth the time even if that’s all you did. I have written about it before in my post The Road to Chiang Rai HERE, and we will revisit some of the sights talked about in that post on this trip.
The first regular stop for me is about an hour into the drive as you head out of the first set of hills and into a flat more developed area, along the road anyway. The hot springs at Thaweesin are worth a stop and are timed just right for a morning cup of coffee. This place has buses stop and is built to accommodate them but I have never seen many people here. You will find a small Doi Chaang coffee outlet at the back of the car park, which will do you a decent brew but there are several other options. I have a weak spot for Doi Chaang coffee, which is grown just up the road, since our visit there back in October 2013 – a link to the post was given earlier. A great day out from Chiang Rai if you have your own transport.
Speaking of eggs you can buy a bag full of them from one of the ladies who will most likely approach you at some stage. These are the tiny quail eggs and having had them for the first time I can recommend you try them. Although only a mouthful they are far tastier than chicken eggs and have an almost creamy texture. Very nice if slightly harder work!
There are plenty of shops here, several specialising in silver jewellery as well as some well stocked clothes shops. Better prices on the whole when compared to Chiang Mai.
Back in the car we drove into clearing weather for which I was very grateful. We are supposed to be in the wet season here where a day of rain wouldn’t be unusual but some provinces of Thailand are experiencing a drought and I was hoping this applied to Chiang Rai for this day anyway.
Our next regular stop is at a temple set at the top of a hill to the left of the highway. Shrouded in cloud as we drove up to it thankfully our timing was perfect and the view started to open up to us by the time we walked to the viewing platform.
We have been following progress in building this wat for some time now. It isn’t situated near any major centre but the money keeps coming in as is shown by these mini Buddhas, each of which represents a larger donation.
The success in raising money was shown by the new staircase being constructed up the hill. You will find most temples situated on a hill will have a formal staircase entrance although Thais like us westerners prefer to drive rather than walk. The staircase is often moulded in the shape of a serpent or dragon. This one will be very impressive when finished.
Our next regular stop was about 15 minutes down the road back on the 118 again. This pottery factory is a must see especially if you have a pickup truck!
The front of the building is the showroom while out the back is where they make all the pottery you see. Both are worth time and they are happy for you to watch the potters at work.
Once mixed the clay is put through a machine to compact and shape before being cut into the sizes needed for whatever the next project was.
The video below shows a pot starting off watched with fascination by Yuan and Lud who have never seen this happening before. NOTE: If you are viewing this post on an iPad the play button may not work. Try tapping on the far right of the frame and it should start! I am searching for a solution.
Apart from the pot taking shape in this video, which you have probably seen before, it is interesting to see the greeting Gaun, Yuan and Lud give the owner of the factory. It is a wai, the formal Thai greeting, with the fingers at nose level, which indicates respect for an equal or more senior person in social standing. A lesser person would only get a wai with fingers at chin level. The owner returns the greeting at an equal level. You will also hear Gaun say “sawatdee ka“, which is the “hello” equivalent for a lady. A man would say “sawatdee krab” which despite everything you will see on the web sounds much more like “sawatdee cup” in real life.
The other thing you may miss in the video is the guy in the background plodding along mixing clay by foot so have a look out for him becuase he deserves all the support he can get.
The end result is some simple but lovely pottery for house or garden. The prices are so reasonable for these handmade pieces:
Even though we were flying back to Isaan we didn’t leave empty handed. Two frogs have joined the family and now watch over our lotus pond. They are cheap to feed.
Chiang Rai is a bit over an hours drive from the pottery place and we arrived there at 11.30 am having left Chiang Mai at 7.00 am. Our first stop was the White temple because it is on the Southern side of the city about 15 minutes out from the centre. Wat Rong Khun must be one of the most photographed places in Thailand. Certainly in Chiang Rai anyway.
I won’t go into the background of this series of buildings because Renown Travel, who do such a great job covering Thai sights on their website, have done it all for me HERE. I couldn’t have said it better myself!
The first thing that struck me just how busy the place was with tourists. The carpark was full of minivans and larger buses and the result was not hard to see as we looked at the main temple building:
My advice to you from our times here previously is to either come first thing in the morning, when the tour groups are having breakfast or at noon, when they all disappear for lunch. The place is almost empty then apart from the people who read my blog. Just to prove it the first photo above showing the family in front of the temple was taken just as we left, which was after 12.00 pm. Compare it to the one directly above.
One of my previous trips to the White temple was after the earthquake of 2014. It wasn’t quite like “San Andreas”, if you have seen that latest disaster movie, but it did do some damage to the temple, which I captured here:
It is hard to find a photo of the inside because you aren’t allowed to take photos there. I think this has more to do with trying to keep people flowing through the temple rather than clutter the place with people taking selfies. On the basis that I wasn’t being disrespectful I did manage to snap a couple of photos so you have a rare look at the inside:
It is a small space, which probably accounts for the need to minimise visitor’s time inside. There is plenty in the White temple complex apart from the ubosot. If you go straight ahead once you exit you can’t miss these fund raising towers.
If you have time have a walk behind the big golden building, which is also the main public toilet block. It is almost worth a pee just to see inside.
Here you will find the next stage of development in its infancy.
There is also a workshop/display area where some of the creations are made.
And if nothing else you will find right at the back a smaller toilet block which if the main one is full, and there was a long queue for the ladies in the gold option, could be a welcome sight.
The toilets are protected by more odd looking statues:
With your back to the temple and the road to your left you will see a complex which contains a good range of shops and eating places. To the right of this is an art gallery, which was closed for lunch (the downside) 12.00 -1.00 pm. It looked as if it might be worth a visit next time. If you get there first let me know what it was like.
Our next destination was supposed to be the wonderful restaurant at the Singha estate just down the road from the White temple but with some heavy looking clouds in the distance I thought we would get our sightseeing out of the way first and have an early dinner at Singha later in the day.
Our next stop was the royal palace of Doi Tung about an hour’s drive North of Chiang Rai. We had this on the list to see because the gardens are beautiful. If gardens aren’t your thing then the palace itself is open to the public and is worth a look. It is a large log cabin based on a Swiss mountain chalet design. Inside is remarkably plain and simple. Not what you’d expect a palace to look like. Your entry fee includes headphones with multiple language options, which are linked to various points within the house, so it is a more tourist friendly tour.
There is also a separate excellent display covering the activities of the royal family, which gives you some insight as to why the current king and queen are so popular with the Thai people. Whatever you think of the Thai royals, and I am a republican, the influence of the royal projects is extensive across Thailand. There has been a particular emphasis in the North where a lot of effort has gone into encouraging alternatives for the opium crops of the past. The Doi Tung palace was the home of the king’s mother who moved there after retiring from official life to be closer to the Northern hill tribes she had a particular connection to.
The drive to Doi Tung is also worth doing once you leave highway 1 as it takes you into the hills (remember “doi” means hill in the North) with great views over Northern Thailand.
As you get further into the hills you have a choice of roads to get to Doi Tung, also signposted to Mae Fah Luang gardens. If you have a car with a bit of power (it is a very steep climb) take the left hand option on the way there. If you have a gutless car with good brakes then do this trip on the way back 🙂 To do the latter follow the road through the centre of the palace entry complex and just keep going. On the way you will get glimpses of the other side of the hills which look like this:
You can also chat with the natives about the mushroom season, which of course my farming companions did:
There is an entry fee to Doi Tung and you pay separately for tickets to the gardens, the palace and the royal exhibition hall. From memory I think is is about 90 THB each and foreigners pay the same as Thais.
We only visited the gardens on this trip so if they aren’t your thing skip to the next section. They are extensive, divided into diferent themes and beautifully maintained as all the royal residences and other supported public places are (like the gardens at the Royal Park Rajapruek which you can read about HERE) are as you’d expect.
There are many photo opportunities throughout the gardens but in a special effort for Thais, who love a selfie or three, an area has been set up to give you that perfect background. Us farang aren’t d
The following couple of photos don’t seem much but I included them because there is a story contained within them which is reflective on one aspect of Thai life that you might not pick up on otherwise. Thailand is still largely a very conservative society, despite what you might think from images of the girlie areas of Pattaya and Patong etc. These are very much unique and contained areas geared to extracting money from young, and not so young tourists, out for a good time in their own special way! The conservatism of Thailand is breaking down especially with the young of course, as it adopts more of our “values” whatever that means but especially in the rural areas this is still a society based on old fashioned values.
Displays of affection aren’t generally seen in public and maybe even in private. I was worried about holding hands in public with Gaun in the early days, as warned by some forums, but that level of restraint doesn’t seem to be a requirement. Certainly a farang with a Thai partner can get way with more because most Thais realise that we are different and odd when compared to them and their society’s standards. Kissing in public isn’t so acceptable and should be avoided in respect to your host country if you are out and about in “real” Thailand. Yuan saw a couple of farang kissing and it was one of the highlights of her trip to Chiang Mai 🙂
I have known Lud and Yuan for over two years now and I have only ever seen them semi-hug once and never seen any physical evidence of the very strong connection they have for each other (married for 21 years although that can often have an inverse effect on the affection levels!). This trip was different because I was able to capture moments like this and the photo above:
Now this was all at Yuan’s initiation. Do you see Lud’s hand which is sort of draped rather than holding? Maybe Yuan has watched the more open display of affection that Gaun and I have and was trying to get Lud to loosen up a bit. Who knows. Anyway it was lovely to see but I doubt that it will be happening too much back in Isaan and the family/village situation.
Back on the road again this time closer to Chiang Rai itself still on the North side but only about ten minutes out. The Black House (Baan Dam) is an acquired taste. Built by a Chiang Rai artist called Thawan Duchanee, who died recently, it is a collection of slightly eccentric buildings and animal bones and pelts/skins all sort of thrown together mix of mostly black presentations. The collection is set in peaceful gardens and as there doesn’t seem to be any order or explanation to the various exhibits it is a visit to enjoy the odd more than anything else.
Leaving Baan Dam we joined the Chiang Rai rush hour and slowly made our way Southside again this time on highway 1211 to the Singha estate described on their website as follows:
Singha Park Chiang Rai managed by Boonrawd Farm Co., Ltd. Is currently the #1 tourist destination in Chiang Rai with over 3,000 acres of land located in Thum bon Mah-Korn, Umphur Muang. Tourists can ride our farm’s tour trolley and enjoy the scenery and take in the natural environment. We have many different types of agriculture to see, lots of products to buy that is locally made at the farm. Delight yourself with a great meal at Bhubhirom Restaurant enjoy fun adventures with mountain biking, Zip lining, and climb up our international climbing wall.
In searching for information on the estate Google presented me with my own post written back in September 2013 so I will include it HERE as it is far more interesting than what I have given you to read above!
Our focus was food not bike riding, zip lining or climbing any walls thank you so the Bhubhiron Restaurant was our destination. You can’t really miss the entry to the estate because Singha himself is there to greet you.
The statue is taken from the Singha beer logo, which you will be very familiar with if you have ever been to Thailand. I prefer Leo beer myself in the unlikely event anyone is interested.
A lot of money has been and continues to be poured into the Singha estate and it is a must do if in Chiang Rai in my opinion. If you are into bike riding you can hire them on the estate and there are extensive paved bike paths that cover the estate plus more adventurous areas I believe. You will find heaps of information HERE. An extract follows:
We went around the Red Barn route this morning. Thought it might be over-manicured and smooth all the way, but it wasn”t! We had great fun on it. Some nice rough grass and earth tracks. Lovely views over the Singha estate and – best of all – we got to meet the giraffes and zebras that are part of the park experience now. Rumour has it that ponies are being imported from New Zealand. Whoopie doo.
Red Barn bikes looked in excellent condition (though we had taken along our own ones), including some tandems to hire. There are plenty of toilets and shower facilities too. Icecream, Singha cycling products, coffee and soft drinks in their shop. Hokkeido flavour icecream got a high score. They also have a stock of the CR cycling route maps.
Enough about bikes and back to me! You will find the restaurant a way back from the entrance. Follow the only road into the estate and as you crest a small hill you will see the signpost to the restaurant on your right. Take the turn on the left for the mountain bikes. Before dinner some photos in the tea bushes was a must. Don’t ask me why tea is being grown in a estate owned by a beer company but there you go.
The restaurant is now on Trip Advisor and well rated although by only five people as of today. I laughed to read one of the reviewers correcting Trip Advisor’s map location of the estate “This was the fourth restaurant in Chiang Rai where the location on TripAdvisor was completely wrong!!!”. I am amazed anyone ever finds their planned destination using a Trip Advisor map. I think they employ someone to place the locations somewhere other than where they actually are.
DO double and triple check using Google and anything else you can think of. Try Sygic GPS HERE. I have only recently come across it (thanks Jerome) and haven’t had the opportunity to test drive it. I do know that it comes up with a stack more local information around Si Bun Ruang than my Garmin GPS but I don’t know how accurate it is.
The Bhubhirom Restaurant is quite flash with a simple but smart decor, uniformed staff and a golf cart that will transport you from the carpark to the entrance. I recommend you get a table at the rear of the building. From the reception desk just keep walking. The reason is that you end up with these views while you eat.
NOTE: If you are viewing this post on an iPad the play button may not work. Try tapping on the far right of the frame and it should start! I am searching for a solution.
The menu is reasonably extensive with a mix of farang and Thai dishes. Prices are not too outrageous and if you pick you can have a decent meal for not a lot of money. The beer comes in super chilled mugs and they are exchanged for newly chilled ones when they refill your glass. A nice touch.
So as the sun set over the hills of Chiang Rai, a Northern curry consumed (recommended), a cold beer in my hand and a Thai cowboy band serenaded the guests (I kid you not) life was looking pretty good.
But wait there’s more! The Thai panic attacks averted now they were topped up with food we drove back into the centre of Chiang Rai city to book into our guesthouse for the night. Grandmother Kaew House is a very small guesthouse right in the middle of town. I have stayed there once before and because of it’s great location decided to revisit this time. You can find more information HERE at Booking.com. For 600 THB (A$24.00) a night you get a spotless, air conditioned and well appointed room. It is quiet and only a ten minute walk to the clock tower and night markets.
Having dropped our bags we headed out to catch the clock display which happens every hour at 7, 8 and 9.00 pm. While it isn’t exactly at Disneyland standards it has always been a ritual for me when visiting Chiang Rai. The clock changes colours, plays music and things happen on the inside for about ten minutes. Make it part of your evening if you can.
Our final event in a long day was the evening markets you can see marked on the great map provided by the guesthouse below:
These markets are set up in the streets surrounding the bus station. Visit in the daytime and you won’t recognise it. By night with the lighting it is one of the nicer markets I have come across in Thailand. The goods are much the same as everywhere with a little local flavour. If you are here on a Saturday then head to the walking street markets on the other side of the Clock Tower. Go early because it does get very busy. Heaps of food stalls and some more unique items to purchase apart from the mass produced. What is nice is that unlike Chiang Mai markets these ones are 99% Thai shoppers. You don’t feel like a tourist surrounded by other tourists. A more authentic Thai experience.
Having left Chiang Mai at 7.00 am it was now 9.00 pm and time to call it a day. For more active readers if you wanted to carry on then the bar area marked on the map is the place to go. There are a small selection of farang type bars there in the one street, lots of massage shops, some of which are legitimate, and a few places to eat. It isn’t exactly Pattaya but it is the best you’ll get in this little part of Thailand. There are a few more nighttime places around the Clock Tower that may be more active.
What this post does prove it that with your own transport and a good idea of where you are going (the biggest challenge in Thailand) then in one full day you can cover a lot of ground. We weren’t rushed at any of these many activities and weren’t on a timetable.
I hope you have enjoyed travelling with us to Chiang Rai as much as Lud and Yuan did their first time in this part of the country.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. If you want detailed instructions on how to get to the Black House, which is a challenge, and Doi Tung you will find them in my post HERE.
A couple of other posts of Chiang Rai describing places you might want to visit:
- Doi Din Dang Pottery HERE. Beautiful but expensive pottery. Set in lovely grounds with cafe.
- Mae Fah Luang Park HERE. A peaceful and well maintained park on the outskirts of Chiang Rai off highway 1211.
My thanks to http://www.la-thailande-et-l-asie.com/doi-tung-et-la-route-1149/ for the Doi Tung palace photo.