Excited to get out of Chiang Mai, we took a three hour bus ride to Chiang Rai, the northernmost city in Thailand. We didn't really know what to expect once we got there, but we wanted to spend three days there and were in for a nice surprise.
We immediately noticed that this town was the complete opposite of a tourist town. Our guesthouse was in a somewhat secluded area, in what we like to call, the real Thailand. You could not see another foreigner for miles and the people that live their daily lives here only spoke Thai. It was refreshing after our experience in Chiang Mai. On our first night there, we stumbled upon Chang Carnival, which was a small music festival hosted by Chang Beer. It was coined "Neon the Night" because literally everything was covered in green neon lights. Back home, music festivals are our go to favorite past time, so we were more than excited to participate. Icing on the cake, the event was free! There were two stages, a giant foam pool pit, laser tag, photo booths and of course Chang Beer everywhere. I can assure you that we were 2 out of probably 8 other foreigners there. The performers and announcers, all spoke in Thai. We could not understand a thing but we had the best time taking it all in. As we were dancing on our way out, we met the sweetest Thai girl named Nadia. She told us that we seemed fun (I'd like to think we are) and asked us to join her for a drink at a nearby bar. All three of us jumped on her motorbike and went, because 'why not', right? Nadia met someone there and had to leave so she lent us her motorbike to drive ourselves back home and use it for the next day. Our minds were blown because back home, no one would just lend their one mode of transportation to someone they just met 20 minutes ago. Nonetheless, our budget traveler pockets were forever grateful to have a free way to get around and a cool new friend.
The next day we rode Nadia's motorbike to Chiang Rai's famous White Temple, Wat Rong Khun. It was designed by Thai visual artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1998. It's a really unique temple that is completely white with thousands of tiny mirrors embedded in it so it dazzles in the sun. Trav regretted grabbing his shades before we got there because it was almost blinding to look at without any.
The temple is uniquely bizarre in so many ways. First, you stop before a bridge and see hundreds of outstretched hands coming up from the ground. It symbolizes unrestrained desires and it seems like people are drowning in them. Crossing the bridge itself indicates that the way to happiness is by surrendering desire, temptation and greed. After you cross the bridge you've reached the "gate of heaven" guarded by two creatures who ultimately decide the fate of your death.
When you get inside the main building, there is a huge mural showing fiery red and orange flames with demon faces mixed with terrorist/war scenes and idols from Western culture. It was a bit confusing but it's supposed to represent the destructive effect that we as humans have left on earth. Every single detail and structure of the Wat Rong Khun area has a meaning. There's even a intricately ornate, golden building that looks like a temple but is in fact just a bathroom. The gold color represents the human mind and people focusing on money and material possessions. Kositpipat's works of art are spread throughout the area. His artwork and sculptures are really impressive, weird and full of character.
Another great spot to visit in Chiang Rai is Singha Park. We spent the rest of our afternoon relaxing and frolicking in fields full of flowers as far as the eye could see. This town could honestly not get any better, in our opinion.
On our last day we visited Baan Dam, or Black House, which is a museum designed by another Chiang Rai artist named Thawan Duchanee. This place is the exact opposite of the White Temple which is interesting because Duchanee was a student of Kositpipat. The overall theme, however, is similar. Representing the darkness in humanity, the main colors are red and black and there is a large amount of artwork and furniture made out of skulls, animal skin and bones. Again, we were confused at first because it just seemed like intricate and somber looking dining room tables. But then it dawned on us that it's almost like an artsy portrayal of hell. It was definitely an interesting visit and not something to be overlooked.
Our time in Chiang Rai were some of our favorites so far. We love being able to be immersed in the real culture and daily lives of the locals rather than only tourist impacted areas. The people were incredibly kind, the food was great, the weekend night markets were fun and the sights were one of a kind and unique. It was truly good for our souls. Thank you Chiang Rai.