Covered or mentioned in this post
Thaweesin hot springs, Mystery Wat, Pottery, the White Temple, the Singha Beer Estate and Baan Jaru B&B.
This post is obviously out of sequence as we’ve now been in Isaan a month, a long way from Chiang Rai. More recently I have been focussing on our move to Si Bun Ruang and the house build but with a spare afternoon I thought I would catch-up with a couple of days we recently spent in Chiang Rai.
We brought my step daughter Peng to Chiang Mai in mid-October from the family home in Si Bun Ruang to spend some in a big city before we moved to Isaan. One of the places she had read about and wanted to see was the White temple or Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai and Gaun wanted to re-visit the Mae Fah Luang gardens at the Doi Tung Royal palace located in the hills North of Chiang Rai. I booked a B&B so we could make it a two day visit and we hit the road, one I am very familiar with, to Chiang Rai.
The drive on Route 118 from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is one of my favourites for a couple of reasons. Firstly I always enjoy re-visiting Chiang Rai, our home for ten weeks last year:
Secondly the road itself is a great drive with varied country, things to stop and see along the way and it’s not too long to become a chore.
I have to pre-warn you that this is more of a family photo blog entry than normal. With Peng along on her first holiday outside her small rural village every moment had to be captured with either her or her and mum Gaun, but they’re fun and help tell the story so I hope you don’t mind.
I wrote about this drive late last year and I’m not going to cover it in the same detail but rather focus on a couple of aspects and then thrown in two of the sights we visited once we arrived in Chiang Rai that afternoon. If you want the full story of the drive on Route 118 then have a read of my previous post HERE.
Leaving Chiang Mai the first part of the trip takes you into the hills that sit at the back of the city as you head North and it’s a lovely drive through lush greenery. It’s worth taking steadily and enjoying the scenery. Very soon after you come out of these first set of hills and onto a flat plain that sits halfway between the two Chiangs you will see Thaweesin Hot Springs on your left. It’s pretty hard to miss as there’s a tall geyster of boiling water and steam happening just off the road to attract you in.
If you want to do things like boil an egg, browse through lots of silverware and the usual range of gift items then you can spend a bit of time here. It’s not a very attractive place in itself but worth the stop for a couple of photos if nothing else. If you feel like a coffee then right at the back of the parking area you’ll find a Doi Chaang kiosk where you can get a decent brew. The headquarters for Doi Chaang coffee is a great day out if you have transport and are staying in Chiang Rai for a few days. You can read about our trip HERE. You will it signposted to the left later on your 118 drive.
Immediately to the right of the hot springs is an abandoned structure that looks Indian. You can’t enter it to explore but it’s worth a photo.
The next attraction worth a stop is a wat being constructed on top of a hill to the left of the road. I have called it the Mystery Wat, because it obviously has a name but any signage that might tell me what that name might be is in Thai. Catering to a farang’s visit is not high on the agenda for obvious reasons.
The only directions I can give you is that after you leave the hot springs the road very shortly runs through a small town. Almost at the beginning of the main street there are a series of red traffic cones that split the road and in this area there is a very small street on the left with a number of signs, one of which is probably the one naming the wat! You will see the wat in the distance so follow your nose down tiny roads through paddy fields and small Moo Baans and you’ll get there. It’s worth the trip.
If pottery is your thing then keep an eye open for a large pottery factory and shop maybe 20 minutes after you return to the 118 from the wat.
Staying on the 118 you head into more interesting hilly country again before the road ends at a T junction with Route 1, which originates in Bangkok over 1,000 km South and ends at the border with Myanmar at a town called Mae Sai, described briefly in my post “A Run to the Border” HERE. Here you’ll turn left towards Chiang Rai.
Maybe 10/15 minutes after the turn onto Route 1 you will come to a set of traffic lights and see the White temple on your left a hundred meters from the road. This was a must stop for us as it should be for anyone visiting the area. It is a world famous attraction and pretty hard to beat for photo opportunities.
The temple was designed by a Thai artist called Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1997 and isn’t a true temple at all i.e. there are no monks in residence to my knowledge. It is a pure piece of eccentric architecture and great fun so don’t miss it. It does get very busy so my recommendation is to get there first thing in the morning or early afternoon, when it seems to be quieter because all the tourists are either having breakfast or lunch!
Extracted from Wikipedia:
On 5 May 2014 at 18:08 (local time), the temple was heavily damaged by the earthquake in Mae Lao that struck the province. It was closed indefinitely. Chalermchai said on 6 May that he would demolish the whole temple and would not rebuild it.
On May 7 morning after an engineering expert team inspected and confirmed that all building structures in the temple were unharmed by the quake, Chalermchai announced that he would rebuild the temple back to its original beauty in two years and promised to devote his life for the work.
Entry to the temple is free so why not buy a couple of these and make a wish.
Just at the entrance to the temple is a collection of places to take the weight off and enjoy a cold drink. The arcades are new additions since we first came here in November 2013.
If you left Chiang Mai in the early morning you will now be feeling like a well earned lunch. I hope you haven’t eaten yet because I have a surprise restaurant for you to try. Instead of turning back onto Route 1, go the opposite direction on the small road that runs parallel to the temple and follow it past the rice paddies until you come to another T junction.
On the way on your left you will pass this construction and I had to take a photo when we saw it this time. When we first moved to Chiang Rai last year I followed its construction as a shining example of how the Thais built a house for future reference for when I did the same thing! The money must have run out and some of its shine is now looking a little tarnished 🙂
Back to the topic of lunch. At that intersection turn right and you are on Route 1211 running parallel to Route 1 heading into Chiang Rai. About five minutes on this road you will see this creation on the left at the top of a small grassy hill.- hard to miss. This is Singha, the logo for the Thai beer of the same name.
The Singha estate is huge, well maintained, being constantly developed and is open to the public. Turn left here and follow the road for a couple of km until you see a some buildings on your right at the top of a hill. The furthest one is the restaurant and it’s well worth a visit. You will be directed to a parking spot below the restaurant by an attendant and then an electric golf cart will drive you the short distance to the steps of the restaurant. The reverse is done when you leave. No cost. You feel like a special guest.
The food is excellent, the service attentive and the outlook across the estate very beautiful. Don’t make the mistake I did last time and go for dinner. Thai countryside at night is a light-free experience and the restaurant decor a bit bland and boring for that romantic evening out! Prices are more than you’d pay in a “normal” eating place but a fraction of the equivalent for this quality in your home country.
That night we stayed at a B&B called Baan Jaru in the centre of Chiang Rai. Highly recommended on Trip Advisor HERE it was a good choice.
The place is immaculate, the rooms a good size, nice ensuite with toiletries supplied and it is a little more upmarket in feel. The manager Toddy speaks excellent English and is keen to help and engage. Breakfast is adequate and you can order a hot order of eggs and bacon if that’s your thing. We booked two rooms and they cost 1,100 THB each.
It is situated at the end of Jet Yod Street, which is actually Chiang Rai’s girlie street, such as it is. But don’t be put off by this. The bars are at the other end and even they are not offensive in any way. The girlie scene is VERY subdued here and it’s a good area just to have a drink and meal in the evening. You are a ten minute walk to the clock tower, which is the centre of town, the night markets, cafes etc. Great location.
I will write about day 2 in Chiang Rai in the next post covering the Black House and the beautiful gardens at Doi Tung.
Thanks for reading.