Chiang Rai is a small metropolis in a mountainous region north of Thailand. It’s a city with a fascinating history and religious significance. The holy sites in Chiang Mai are exceptional thanks to their style and diversity. From the white and silver stupas of Wat Rong Khun to the dark and disturbing exhibits in The Black House, here are the best temples in Chiang Rai.
BEAUTIFUL TEMPLES IN CHIANG RAI
Wat Rong Suea Ten (Blue Temple)
Wat Rong Suea Ten (Temple of the Dancing Tiger) is affectionately known as The Blue Temple, thanks to its stunning colour. This brilliant sapphire blue represents the wisdom and purity that all Buddhists strive for and trim of glistening gold.
In Thailand, most temples are gold or white, so Wat Rong Suea Ten is famous and is considered one of the most beautiful temples in Chang Rai. The design, by Putha Kabkaew, is a sumptuous mix of traditional Buddhist teachings and exemplary Thai architecture.
The Blue Temple is new compared to other famous temples in the area. It was officially completed in 2016 after the people of the local village resolved to replace the temple previously abandoned and left for tigers to roam around (hence the name).
This stunning structure is enhanced by the beautiful statues that surround it. They depict the magic and myth of the Buddhist religion, from the semi-divine naga serpents that adorn and guard the main entrance to the temple to the angel who protects the windows with its vast wings and sturdy staff.
A visit to the Wat Rong Suea Ten is a visual feast, with something to see and be astonished by on every wall and ceiling. The centrepiece and the focus of worship is the giant seated Buddha statue, a peaceful presence, even for non-Buddhists.
There’s no entrance fee at The Blue Temple, and it’s open from 7 am to 8 pm daily. Most tourists will reach it by a local taxi or tuk-tuk. Guides and tours are available.
Black Temple (BlackHouse, Baandam Museum)
The Black Temple is also known as the Black House or the Baandam Museum. It’s an eerie and slightly scary place that depicts hell as a local artist, Thawan Duchanee, imagines it. As its name suggests, everything in the 15 houses you will walk through is dark, either in colour or symbolism.
Lovers of the macabre will be thrilled with the animal remains that ‘decorate’ The Black Temple. There are bones, teeth, skins and stuffed creatures everywhere. One of the most striking displays is a colossal crocodile skin that has been painted deep black and is lit by candles. The artist has created a collection that feels tribal, mysterious and evil.
The Black House is striking and memorable, a dark contrast to the representations of heaven that other temples in the Chang Rai region depict. However, it is slightly off the beaten track and tricky to find independently, so a bus or taxi is the best choice of transport. If you’re asking for directions, use the Thai name of Baandam, and the locals will be happy to direct you.
Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)
Wat Rong Khun is also known as the White Temple and is arguably, the most beautiful in Thailand thanks to the sparkling white exterior studded with pieces of mirror that glitter in the sunlight.
The White Temple is a magnificent fusion of modern and traditional styles that was primarily financed by a local artist Chalermchai Khositpipat. It was a labour of love for a man determined to create an extraordinary work of art in his home village.
Pristine white and reflective glass symbolises heaven and the purity and wisdom of the Buddha. When you walk over the tiny bridge into the main temple, you’re leaving the toil and temptations of earthly life to enter the blessed land of the Buddha.
The small details in the temple grounds symbolize the sins you’re escaping. You’ll see whiskey bottles stashed in the foliage and trees with heads like demons; even the traffic cones have skull carvings.
Inside the temple, the artwork is thought-provoking, unique and surreal. Murals of Buddhist theology shared space with images of the collapse of the Twin Towers, cartoons and superheroes. The White Temple isn’t finished, and if you’re lucky, you see one of the artists at work.
It may be unusual and quirky, but it is essential to remember that Wat Rong Khun is a place of worship, so respect is expected. Entrance is free, though donations are received with gratitude, and it is open every day from 8 am to 8 pm.
It is also close to Chang Rai, so it’s easily accessible on a 20-minute bus ride from the central bus station. Alternatively, you can hire a tuk-tuk, or take a group cycling tour to the White Temple.
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Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of Emerald Buddha)
Wat Phra Kaeo means Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It was given this name because it was the home of the sacred and priceless Emerald Buddha for hundreds of years. This revered artefact and symbol of Buddhism is thought to be 2000 years old and was found in 1434 when lightning struck the chedi (stupa) the King of Chiang Rai hid it in.
The real Emerald Buddha now resides in a temple in Bangkok, and it has been replaced by a stunning replica crafted from green jade. On a visit here, you’ll also have the privilege to view a unique 700-year-old bronze and brass statue of Buddha subduing a demon called Mara.
Wat Phra Kaeo has the twin distinctions of being a Royal Temple and one of the oldest in the city; it was built in the 14th century. It is beautiful, with elaborate and detailed panelling and a tiered roof; as with many Thai temples, enormous naga snakes guard the entrance.
This peaceful place is a working temple and a museum displaying treasures from the Lanna era between 1296 and 1558. You see monks studying and teaching on the grounds; this is also their home.
Wat Phra Kaeo is west of Chaing Rai, close to the Mae Kok river. It’s close to the Wat Phra Singh temple too, so combining your visits into one afternoon or morning would be a good idea.
Wat Jed Yod
Wat Jed Yod is the quietest of all the main temples in Chiang Mai. Its name means ‘seven peaks’ after the seven chedis (stupas) that make it so unique for a temple in Thailand. It is, in fact, based on an important temple in India and was constructed in the 15th century as somewhere for the Eighth World Buddhist Council to meet.
The Wat Jed Yod is a striking red and gold structure; however, some of the carvings have been damaged, and some purists find it ‘unbalanced’ in design. Ornate pagodas stand in the grounds of this enormous temple; one of them is the final resting place of the king who built it.
If you’re tired of the city’s hustle and craving serenity, this is the temple to visit. The giant trees in the garden are lovely to chill out under, and you’ll be one of only a few people, most of them locals, exploring the buildings.
After you’ve had your fill of the peace and quiet here, the Chiang Mai National Museum is only a short walk away.
Wat Huay Pla Kung (9 Tier Temple)
Wat Huay Pla Kung is a breathtaking temple with a magnificent nine-storey pagoda, defensive white dragons and a massive statue of the goddess of mercy and compassion, Guanyin. The design combines Chinese and Lanna (1296 – 1593) architecture, and it is well worth scheduling at least a couple of hours to appreciate it.
Pay a small fee, and you can reach the top of the goddess statue via a lift; there’s also a free bus from the temple’s entrance. The city view from her crown is terrific. Take a moment to peek inside the goddesses’ head and see the lovely white sculptures.
The temple is mesmerising; each floor reveals deities, murals and dragon statues that will leave you in awe. The chanting from the worshipping monks will make a tour even more special.
Wat Huay Pla Kang is a sacred Buddhist site just over 8km from the centre of Chiang Mai. Entrance to the temple is free, and it would make a great day out when combined with the Black Temple, the Blue Temple and the White Temple.
Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong
It’s thought that Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong predates Chiang Rai, having been built around the 10th century. It sits proudly on a hill in the oldest part of the city, and the views from its serene gardens over the metropolis below are fantastic.
This extraordinary temple boasts an exquisite pagoda that is one of the very few in the traditional Lanna style. There are hints of Burmese architecture too. The imposing 14-metre golden stupa is shaped like a hexagon and draws the eye from miles around.
There are precious Buddhist relics, ornate depictions of the deities and beautiful murals to discover inside the grand buildings.
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