The advantage and pleasure of not being a two week tourist in a place like Chiang Rai is that one has the luxury of time to explore the little places of interest away from the main visitor destinations such as the White temple and the Black House (separate blogs on both of these).
This entry is a mix of places we have visited around our home in Chiang Rai during the nine weeks we’ve been here. It will give you a taste of some of the more everyday sights in the area.
The Buffalo Temple (Wat Pang Sanook)
One of my favourite places to drop in for some time of quiet reflection. We discovered the temple on an afternoon out exploring the road that leads to the Khun Korn waterfall. The blog entry for the waterfall can be found HERE.
The Buffalo temple isn’t its real name but on our first visit you might be able to guess why I’ve called it that from the photo below. Many temples have a theme – chickens, cows, dragons etc and I genuinely thought these two buffalo were statues at the entrance as I drove past. They are actually real, tied there because the grass was good.
We stopped to have a look at the temple building and were taken under the wing of this lovely Buddhist monk.
He showed us around, gave us food to feed the fish out the back and even sent another monk to give us drink as we left, a move that had Gaun surprised as she’s never had a monk being pro-active towards visitors in this way before.
We have been back to the temple regularly since that day and feel quite the local.
The temple is still under construction, as this seems to be a permanent state with many temples. Once something is finished another construction starts. Buddhist merit can be best gained by building new I guess.
One of the more unusual features of the temple is the merging of Royalty and Buddhist themes. This reflects the status of the Thai Royal family and is a reminder of the high regard they are held in the country. The frieze around the temple walls has a story based around Royalty and above it a more traditional spiritual scene.
The Chiang Rai Clock Tower
I have always associated the centre of Chiang Rai with the clock tower, which sits at a major intersection in the city. There are several decent coffee shops located here if you want to sit and watch the Thai world go by. The entrance to Jetyod Road can be found here too, which is Chiang Rai’s attempt at Phuket’s Patong nightclub/bar scene. A limited selection of small bars many serving some form of western food, and massage parlours, some legitimate and others not so much!
If you are in the area at night make sure you come to the clock tower at either 7, 8 or 9 o’clock to see the light and music show. It’s worth the effort.
Being Thailand one is never far away from a market of some sort day or night and Chiang Rai is no different.
If you want a memento of your trip to Thailand there are several options to pick up small handicraft items, clothes, shoes, phone covers by the thousands and other packable knick-knacks. Shopping makes Thais hungry (well anything makes Thais hungry) so you will find a wonderful selection of freshly cooked food super cheap too.
If we take the Clock Tower as the reference point there are three main options I have found for market shopping. One street to the North of the Clock there are huge undercover markets that cover an entire block. Narrow isles criss-cross this area with open faced shops offering a wide mix of fairly junky stuff in huge quantities but you may find a few treasures in there.
The second option is located in the street running parallel to Jetyod Road on the East side, called Phaholyothin Road in Google maps. Wander down this road in the evening and after a couple of blocks you will see the entrance to a night market on your left, centred on what is the bus station in the daytime. Well worth a visit it offers more in the way of local handicrafts, is better set out and transforms what is a pretty ugly area in daylight.
Make the time to spend an evening here as there is a huge outside eating area with an excellent choice of local food. A stage up the front provides Thai entertainment, which seems to involve a lot of talking rather than anything happening. In the off-season you might find yourself the only foreigner here, which is often the case in Chiang Rai.
There is a second stage in this area and here they seem to put on a mix of music, some of it Western based and Thai dancing, which is so graceful to watch. There is a big central bar here so you can settle in to catch the show with a cold drink.
The third option is if you are in town on a Saturday evening from 6 pm. One street North of the clock tower is closed to traffic and a huge night market appears. Entertainment is provided with a Thai (surprisingly!) flavour in a huge food eating area set up with tables and chairs. A great mixture of food, clothes and speciality items. Busier than the market I mentioned above.
I’m a bit short of decent photos for this entry so will try and include some more before we leave Chiang Rai on 1 November.
Thailand is a place of surprises. Many attractions aren’t advertised either on the internet (in English anyway) and neither signposted or promoted. If you see something that looks interesting just go for it. The Thais are really accommodating and even if you’re not supposed to be there they make allowances for strange farang. Canary Coffee was one of those occasions. It is just a sign on two large metal gates one of which happened to be open so…………………..
Once again on the road that leads to the Khun Korn waterfall Canary Coffee is a turn to the left several kilometres from the turn off Route 1211.
This is a large estate owned by a Bangkok man who inherited it from his father. It is both a high class resort, a coffee production business, the beans are grown in the hills outside Chiang Rai not on the estate, and a restaurant/cafe.
When we visited we were the only people there and the staff were pleased to have something to do. I presume it picks up in the high season but I have no idea how many places I have visited survive financially.
The manager is an older Bangkok lady who had only been there a couple of months when we met her. She doesn’t have any transport and I did wonder how she was going to cope with the lifestyle change from a city of ten million, that never sleeps, so being in a Thai rural setting that never properly wakes up!
The main building is on a hill so has great views over the property and surrounding country.
For the record the coffee was reasonable, the cake baked on-site was good but the food pretty ordinary with a very limited choice. More expensive than normal perhaps reflecting the aspirations of the place as up market resort. Worth a coffee visit though.
Not all shopping has to done at the roadside markets, which are totally geared to the local Thai population. There are items us foreigners would consider essential for our Western tastes that just can’t be found in the local markets. I am sure that some permanent farang residents do all their shopping at places like Tops Supermarket, which in Chiang Rai is based in the big Central Plaza.
It’s not just us that shop here. There are far more middle class Thai filling their trolleys with sweets, ice cream, chips and soft drinks than Westerners. All the things that have made Australia such an obese nation is being enthusiastically embraced by Thais. Welcome to the developed world.
We do most of our daily shopping at a local market just down the road from our house. Here we buy meat, fish, vegetables, bread (sliced) eggs and spices. For basics like butter, milk, tea, cooking oil, sugar, western style cuts of meat then a place like Tops is where we go maybe once a week.
There is a price to be paid literally for sticking with our food tastes here. You will pay much the same as you would in Australia for anything imported – maybe more. The jar of Salsa below at 215 THB is about A$7.20.
Locally mass produced items are cheaper – maybe half the cost of Woollies.
The Hidden Wat
Had a couple of goes finding this Wat that I could just see poking up through the trees from the road but had no idea of get to it. Gaun’s ability to chat to locals was the answer and it’s just down the first Soi (street) 5, not the second Soi 5, and through the paddy fields on the right.
The Wat was nothing much. A Buddha statue, the stupa tower you can see here and a toilet block. No buildings. However it supported three monks living there (a Wat – temple – has to have three resident monks to be classified a Wat). We met one of the monks who had visited Perth three times on Buddhist “business”. How he finds himself in the wilds of Thailand in this tiny outpost must be a story in itself. Maybe he had too much of a good time in Perth!
I will finish up here. I have enough material for another selection of local sights in the Neighbourhood, which I will publish soon.
Thanks for reading.