In a religious country like Thailand, where over 93% of its people are Buddhists, it is common to see Wats (Buddhist temples) and saffron robed monks wherever you go. Of course, we wouldn’t miss the beautiful temples in Chiang Rai during our trip. Given the short time we had in the province, we could only visit 2 temples, Wat Huai Pla Kung & Wat Rong Khun, both outstanding in their own way. Below is a recount of my tour experience at these temples. 🙂
Wat Huai Pla Kung
Also known as 9-Tiered Temple, Wat Huai Pla Kung had been neglected for a long time until monk Phochok Tissawangso revived it again. The temple ground is home to a 9-storey pagoda (hence its name) as well as the largest Guan Yin Bodhisattva in Thailand, delicately carved out of sandal wood. It is famous for its unique blend of Thai-Chinese architecture with an exquisite dragon staircase leading to the pagoda.
In between the pagoda & giant Guan Yin is a little pure white temple. We didn’t go in there but it looks like a miniature version of Chiang Rai’s top attraction – Wat Rong Khun (White Temple). 😉 As this was the first temple of the day in the morning, when my eyes met the mini white temple at Wat Huai Pla Kung, I was stunned for a while, as I was confused where I was. 😛
Glad that we were blessed with a day of clear skies such that the views at the temple were all so amazing. In fact, I believe Lady Luck was shining on us as well, because just as we were about to enter the pagoda for a tour, we met the Abbot of Wat Huai Pla Kung! Apparently, he didn’t have a fixed schedule as to when he would appear at the temple, so everyone were delighted when we saw him in person. He remained smiley & affable despite people crowding around him, & even personally welcomed & blessed us.
According to Buddhist tradition, the Abbot isn’t allowed to come into contact with any females, so only males could stand by his sides. So even when he gave us a Buddhist bracelet each, there wasn’t any direct contact. Notice in the top right photo in above collage, the Abbot was chatting with a little boy? This boy was 1 of the orphans in the orphanage he built on the temple grounds.
Before entering the pagoda, visitors must remove their footwear, similar to most places of worship as a form of respect. Stepping into the pagoda made one feel calm, upon seeing the impressive Buddha statues, immaculate interiors with white pillars & marbled tiles. We were told that the views from the highest level of the pagoda would be stunning, as you would be able to enjoy panoramic views of the city. I only managed to climb up to the 8th floor because by then, I was trying hard to catch my breath & the stairs to the top 9th floor was rather steep (to me). Nonetheless, I thought the views from 8th floor was already breathtaking. I decided to take a short rest then since we were going to visit the giant Guan Yin at its highest level, & I believed the view would be equally breathtaking, if not more spectacular given it is 25 storeys high.
Indeed, the view from Guan Yin Tower’s top floor was simply wonderful, which somehow gave a soothing feel, with the picturesque backdrop of rolling hills & lush greenery below. The observatory deck from the 25th floor was also an all-white theme with several intricately carved statues. Don’t be mistaken though, that we climbed 25 storeys up to get such rewarding views. 😅 There were 2 modern & fast elevators on the ground floor of Giant Guan Yin Tower, & visitors had to pay a fee for using the elevator to go up. I forgot the fee but I think it was not more than 50 THB (~S$2.10).
It was a great visit to this unique Thai temple with a Chinese influence in Chiang Rai. Majority of Buddhist temples in Thailand are Theravada Buddhism that has its origins in India/ Sri Lanka. So Wat Huai Pla Kung is 1 of the rare temple finds that is not too far from the city (about 20-min drive) yet not too crowded with tourists. Seek spiritual inner peace as you explore the temple, just like the many Chiang Rai people who have made 9-Tiered Temple their spiritual centre. 😉
Wat Rong Khun
Perhaps better known to tourists as the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun is a privately-owned art centre created in the style of a Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai. Mention Chiang Rai temples & almost everyone would immediately think of Wat Rong Khun, because of its unorthodox & remarkable portrayal of a Buddhist temple.
We visited Wat Rong Khun after Wat Huai Pla Kung & could immediately feel the stark contrast in visitor numbers. At the carpark, we could see several tour coaches. As we approached the White Temple, we could see visitors of different nationalities swarming towards it, unlike Wat Huai Pla Kung where most visitors were the local people. I must say it was really not easy taking photos without any obstacles here. 😛
This contemporary architecture is the masterpiece of Thai local artist Chaloemchai Kositpipat. The main hall is all white to symbolise the purity of Buddha, & the glittery fragments in the facade represent his wisdom. To enter the main hall, visitors must cross a bridge where hundreds of ghostly hands reach out in desperation underneath (top left photo in collage), which symbolises mankind’s greed & desires. The bridge is called the Road To Heaven, where you should only look ahead as you move & not turn back.
Beyond the main hall, there are plenty of ornate art pieces to marvel at. What is interesting is Kositpipat uses icons from modern culture, such as superman & popular movie characters. Because of the crowd, it was hard to tour around leisurely to admire all the artworks in the temple within 45 min. Nonetheless, the beauty of this top attraction is indeed a sight to behold. The entire temple complex is expected to be fully operational only by 2020, I wonder how awesome the attraction would look like then with 9 structures fully decorated with the swirly reliefs and mirrors that the temple has become renowned for. 😉
Fortunately we managed to check out the golden toilet at the White Temple. It was an equally fascinating structure, sparkling in gold. Despite the long queues at the Ladies, we didn’t have to wait too long before we could use the toilet as there were many cubicles. We were pretty amazed that the toilets were so clean & well-maintained given the extremely high usage. Just a little pity that the toilet bowl wasn’t decked in gold as well. 😛
Not sure if it was because it was a Sunday when we visited the White Temple, that it was particularly crowded or everyday would be like this? Anyhow, we were thankful that we didn’t queue too long for entering the main hall through the Road to Heaven, unlike after we left the compounds. Although Wat Rong Khun is the most-visited attraction in Chiang Rai, I still highly recommend you to visit because of its contemporary & quirky designs. It is certainly worth joining in the crowds at the White Temple for a nominal admission fee of 50 THB (~S$2.10)! But it’d be good to go there as early as possible (temple opens from 6.30 am & museum opens from 8 am), before the tour coaches arrive with hordes of tourists after 10.30 am.
Hope you will enjoy the enchanting temple tour in Chiang Rai as much as we did! 🙂