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CHIANG RAI - 20 to 28 December 2016

White Temple near Chiang Rai

Day 6 - Tuesday 20 December 2016

Phrae departure........Such has been the intensity of touring in Sukothai Province that I’ve decided to split the current tour in two parts. It is impossible to treat the wealth of history in the province as a mere side show. Today is day 6 of this tour and finally it’s time to head further north. Breakfast is not included at Palapol Place so it’s around to 7Eleven within walking distance for something warm. Coffee is however free in the lobby at Palapol (right). With a busy day and late arrival yesterday I’m nowhere near ready to upload my blog. Just the bare bones have been laid out by the 10.30am departure.
Phae Muang Phi Forest Park........ As we head on to join the 101 once more there is one site visit I insist on making before we leave Phrae and curiously it’s one I’ve mentioned before. On the 2nd December 2014 I called in here at the end of the day. I just didn’t have enough time to feature it effectively. This morning I intend to put that right. The park itself, as well as having unusual features, has forest trails. You could happily spend a couple of hours here. It’s the reason I had to give up closer inspection when I arrived here two years ago. The description I gave two years ago remains the same:
Phae Muang Phi Forest Park is located about 18 km from the town on Highway 101. It is regarded as Thailand's Grand Canyon. Phae Muang Phi is noted for its fantastic sandstone formations. Phae means a shrub area and Muang Phi means city of ghosts in Thai. As it is a large quiet haunted place and nobody lives around there, people will easily lose their way when going inside. However, it is well worth a visit for those who appreciate spectacular natural rock formations.
The Park itself is a small protected area covering the site established on 8 March 1981. The name "forest park" is a category, for there is no forest as such at the site except for a few scattered trees. The protected zone covers an area of 0.27 km². It is actually a shallow depression in the ground where soil and sandstone erosion has produced strange-shape formations like giant mushrooms, cliffs and chimneys. Geologists presumed that the great erosion occurred in the Quaternary period about 2 million years ago.
Now we really must get some mileage done.

Phae Muang Phi Forest Park

Phayao........ We continue north on Highway 101 then turn left onto Highway 103. This takes us into the northern part of Lampang Province. Here we pick up National Highway No. 1 from Lampang heading north towards Phayao. Phayao will be a rest stop. One of the features of this city is the huge lake nearby known as Kwan Phayao. It seems appropriate that we take lunch overlooking the lake in perfect conditions. But apart from this, I’ve no intention on recording anything in Phayao Province. We must press on.
Chiang Rai........

Kwan Phayao Lake, Phayao

Phayao........ Despite the distance to Chiang Rai from Phrae of an easy 240 kilometres, for some reason the day has dragged on and its 4pm before we reach the city. Then there’s accommodation to find. We have a list but Chaing Rai is busy at the height of the tourist season. When we find a cluster of guesthouses near the city bus station we find out 1st choice full which is repeated at the second On top of that the prices have been raised with New Year looming.
Worabordee Guesthouse........ We try a third guesthouse which seems to be a poor neighbour to the others but there is a room available. There’s quite a difference at Worabordee Guesthouse (right) from last night at 650 baht but the room is spacious and will do the job. We book for two nights. It’s soon time for dinner and there’s no shortage of restaurants to cater for tourists of all nations. Strangely as we walk towards the main street there’s a local Thai restaurant no different than we’re used to. Unlike the tourist restaurants, it’s almost deserted but it does the job for us. Finally we stroll around to the night bazaar which is anything but deserted. Chiang Rai is heaving with tourists and relative to my usual travels quite out of the norm. I suffer in silence: I’d rather be back at the room working on my blog. Still there are a few things I would like to record nearby tomorrow.

Day 7 - Wednesday 21 December 2016

Restless........Seemed I had to a bit of a restless night as I wake up late. No attempt is made to work on my blog which seems to be coming a bit of a chore so I really need to slow the pace down a bit but the whole of Chiang Rai is open to me now. I identify a dozen or so sites which are within easy reach of the resort but by the time I’ve had breakfast it’s gone 10am. The latter is a bit basic with just coffee, toast and jam but it should be enough to take me into the afternoon. With Warabordee Resort quite central to the city and I head for the nearest sites first. They are all working temples but these are exactly the situations where I lose time. They are a magnet for Katoon.
Wat Jed Yod........Wat Jed Yok translates as the temple of seven peaks (spires). It’s located at the end of Jetyod Road. The temple was built in 1844 by a Buddhist monk named Brakrubakuntha Kunthawungso. A ritual was performed in 1938 with the boundary rights granted in March 1944. It was upgraded to a third grade Royal temple in 1978.

Wat Jed Yod

Wat Phra Kaew Wat Phra Kaew........Wat Phra Kaew Wat Phra Kaew, adjacent to Trairat Road, is the most revered temple in Chiang Rai on account of its history. Today it’s known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha although its original name was Wat Pa Yeh (Bamboo Forest Temple). In 1434 the chedi was struck by lightning and split in two revealing the magnificent emerald Buddha. However the image didn’t remain in Chaing Rai. It was moved several times and now sits at the more famous Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok where is has remained since the reign of Rama I. The present emerald Buddha, Phra Yok was made from jade imported from Canada while the image most sacred for local people is named Phra Chao Lanthong. The temple also contains a useful museum with important artifacts housed on two floors.

Wat Phra Kaew Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Phra Kaew Wat Phra Kaew naturaly

Wat Phra Kaew Wat Phra Kaew museum

Wat Phra Sing........Wat Phra Sing is located near the townhall used to house a major Buddha statue, the Phra Buddha Sihing, which is now enshrined in Chiang Mai. Like Wat Phra Kaeo nearby, the temple now houses a replica instead. A special feature is the Lanna-style Ubosot and the wooden door panels carved by Chiang Rai contemporary craftsmen.

Wat Phra Sing

Wat Klong Wiang........Wat Klong Wiang, dating back to 1432, is an excellent but little-visited temple displaying Lanna-style at its best. It lies in the centre of the city as it then was. Noteworthy are the colourful guardian statues offering protection to the city according to Lana belief with elephants in the back and the "No Killing Area" warning at the entrance. The temple consists of an assembly hall, a contemporary Chedi and a scripture hall.

Wat Klong Wiang

Wat Ming Meuang........Wat Ming Meuang lies at the intersection of Banphaprakan and Trairat Roads. This is a small temple housing the spirit of the city (ming meuang) in an exquisitely carved and decorated Lanna-style, almost Laotian viharn. This temple dates from 1262, built during the reign of King Mengrai the Great (1239-1311).

Wat Ming Meuang

Wat Mung Muang........Wat Mung Muang is located near the Ngam Muang Fresh Market. It has an impressive Lanna-style assembly hall while outside sits a large pot-bellied Buddha image. It is assumed that a temple had existed here since before the foundation of the city. There is a remarkable story that during WWII, bombs were dropped on the city. Of the ones that fell on the temple, none exploded.

Chedi at Wat Ming Meuang (left), Wat Mung Muang (centre and right)

Royal Footprint........At this point Katoon is anxious to visit another site but not a working temple. It’s hard to find but she is persistent. All I know is that it’s something to do with the army. When she does locate it I find myself in an army training ground. Access to a military establishment like this would be unheard of in the UK. After several enquiries we find ourselves at a shrine where there is a molding of the feet of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The molding was taken during an inspection visit to the North by the King. Nearby is a memorial to soldiers who died fighting neat Thoen during the communist uprising in the 60’s. It’s now mid afternoon and two important sites I’d like to have visited by now lie outside the city as we head southwest on Highway 1211. Singha Park is an Agro-tourism destination about 15 minutes drive out of town, owned by the Boon Rawd Brewery, brewers of the Singha brand. Unfortunately when we arrive there it’s too late to arrange a tour so we mark it down for a visit in the morning.

Kings footprint (left), memorial to the soldiers who died during the popular uprising of 1973

Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)........The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is located at Ban Rong Khun, Tambon Pa O Don Chai, along Phahonyothin roadside at Km816 (Highway 1211) approximately 13 km from the city. This unique modern temple was designed and built by artist Chaloemchai Khositphiphat starting in 1998. A beautiful white ordination hall—Phra Ubosot—is decorated with silver glittering pieces of mirrors. There are large mural paintings of the Lord Buddha in different gestures. A gable is decorated with a gable apex, a leaf-shaped gable-edging in the shapes of Phya Naga, dragon and mythical creatures, which are entirely made of white stucco. There are viharn, small halls for recitation surrounding the ordination hall, museum, and reception pavilion. The gallery exhibits paintings of Chaloemchai Khositphiphat. Work on the temple continues, and it is not expected to be completed for the next few decades. It opens daily at 08:00-17:00. Entry is 50 baht for non-Thais.

Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)

With the White Temple easily the most impressive sight so far in Chiang Rai, it’s time to head back to the city.
Night Bazaar........I really don’t have enough time to go out again: I’m really behind with my notes but then again we must eat and this is the last night in Chiang Mai. After a meal ‘Thai Food Easy Style’ we head to the night bazaar again. The area is busy but perhaps less than the previous night as foreigners head home for Christmas. In the square is the Night Bazaar Restaurant, a focal point where visitors can enjoy local cultural dance. All around are souvenir shops including a good number selling handicrafts of hill-tribe origin. Back at the room I continue to struggle with my blog not helped by an unstable internet connection.

Cat in a Cup and Lanna traditional dance (right)

Day 8 - Thursday 22 December 2016

Satisfied........In terms of covering the main sites in and around Chiang Rai yesterday, I’m quite satisfied but there are still a number of interesting sites I’d like to cover. The plan is to complete them in reasonable time today then head onto the next district but I’m not on the road that soon. My blog though is more up to date. I had intended to add more detail for the ancient sites in Si Satchanalai Historical Park but there were so many of them that it looks like I’ll have to wait till I return to Bangkok. Breakfast is similar to yesterday and it’s quite pleasant sitting out on the patio in the shade of a warming sun. 10.30am is not exactly ideal for a start but there are some sites still on my list in the city not far away.
Hilltribe Museum and Education Centre........The Hilltribe Museum is located in a multi-story building off Wisetwiang Road. The centre is housed on the 3rd floor and relates to the various ethnic groups found in Northern Thailand. Each has its own customs, dialect and dress and some their own written language. The museum, although small give a good insight into their daily lives and how these have been moulded into a Thai social structure over time. The centre advises on protocol for those visiting hilltribe villages and exhibits some of the tools and home ware used in a tradition of hunting, fishing and farming and in the production of costume. It also deals with problem of opium production.

Hilltribe Museum and Education Centre

Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong........The next site is a temple located to the west of the town on a low hill. Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong, located on Doi Chom Thong Hill on the banks of the Kok River within the town area, contains what is believed to be the oldest holy relic, even before King Mengrai founded Chiang Rai. The chedi containing the holy relic was probably renovated at the same time the town was being built. It is a major religious site in Chiang Rai. It was from here that King Mengrai spotted the strategic location on which to establish the town.

Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong

City Navel Pillar........The City Navel Pillar lies on a hill near Wat Phra That Doi Chom and performs a similar function to the pillar shrines of other towns but in this case the pillar isn’t enshrined but open and has provenance going back to the 13th Century. When King Mang Rai founded the city in 1263 declaring independence he chose this hill as the centre of his known universe and constructed his founding pillar upon it.

City Navel Pillar

Shortcomings........Now, well into day 2 in Chiang Rai, I check on progress scanning the list I have produced of tour sites. As I intend to move further north later in the day I wonder if I’ve managed to cover the city sites reasonably well, accepting that I cannot visit them all. It soon becomes clear that a number of museums and cultural sites have not been included. Unfortunately Chaing Rai does not have a national museum which is a pity but instead a good number of small museums dealing with culture, history, art and religion of this region. Apart from the hilltribe museum and the religious sites, I’m aware that I have not covered the subject well and may have to correct that later. In an attempt to redress the imbalance we now head back down Highway 1211. I’m looking for Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park. Locating it on a turning to the right, I’m disappointed to find an entry fee of 200 baht which of course is the rate for non-Thais. While this is not a great deal of money, there is no shortage of sites to visit for free or certainly less than 200 baht and I pass it by. After a pleasant lunch of kow soi, a northern curry, we return to the highway and head for the site we missed yesterday.
Singha Park........Singha Park was on my list for a morning visit but it’s now early afternoon. When we arrive the tours around the park are fully booked till late afternoon which threatens the visit for a second time but there is the option of hiring q bicycle. The problem is the day is quite hot again and the terrain a bit hilly but then we notice private vehicles entering the park so why can’t we? With this problem solved we find our way around this beautifully landscaped park owned by the Boon Rawd Brewery Company. While there are a few attractions including a zip wire and a small zoo, the main attraction for us is the tea plantation laid out on a terraced hillside overlooking a large lake with stunning views of the mountains beyond, all this for free. It’s another site ticked off and a memorable one at that. It’s time to head back to Chiang Rai, cross the Kok River and deal with some of the northern sites but before we cross the river there’s an important site on the main intersection.

Singha Park

The King Mengrai the Great Memorial........The King Mengrai the Great Memorial (right) is located in town on the intersection leading to Mae Chan. Originally, King Mengrai was the ruler of Nakhon Hiran Ngoen Yang (an ancient town on the bank of the Mae Khong or Mekong River around Chiang Saen) before Chiang Rai was established as the administrative centre in 1262. He consolidated his power by merging the different cities in the north and founded the Lanna Thai Kingdom in 1296 with Chiang Mai as the capital.
Baan dam Museum (AKA Black House or Black Temple)........As we continue north along Highway 1, I focus on a site about 10 minutes from the city that could help balance this tour with art and culture. Unfortunately the site has poor access and the site is so popular that there is a traffic jam in the parking area. Katoon suggests I step down anyway to visit the museum but for some reason I don’t pay the entry fee, just 80 baht, and content myself with taking photos just of the interesting buildings. When I return to the car there is a parking issue so I figure I could return to the site later at a quieter time. A note on this museum follows in anyway just in case I can't get back to it.
The Black Temple, created by Thailand's national artist Thawan Duchanee, include nearly 40 small black houses made of wood, glass, concrete, bricks, or terracotta in various unique styles and design scattered around the temple area. The cluster of houses accommodates Thawan’s collections of paintings, sculptures, animal bones, skins, horns, and silver and gold items from around the world. Several of the houses exhibit Balinese and Burmese architecture and art dating back to the Ayutthaya Period. The artist uses bones as a source of inspiration to paint. It is definitely not a place for animal lovers. There are also various kinds of baskets and drums from many regions and countries on display at Baandam.

Baan dam Museum (AKA Black House or Black Temple)

Wat Rong Suea Ten........At this point Katoon wants to visit another temple but I fail to identify it. When I finally locate it, it’s back toward the city which has wasted time. Not only that, Google map has set the wrong GPS code and there’s further delay. Finally we locate Wat Rong Suea Ten. This temple gets it’s name, (suea=tiger), from the beasts that roamed here when the area was a wilderness. The monastery was established in 2005 in 6 acres of land. The temple is adorned with exquisite blue and gold. The sky blue colour represents Dharma, the Lord Buddha virtuous codes of morality. While tigers are a strong feature of the decor there are some vivid mural paintings on the internal wall of the viharn and the Singha principal image in white. At the rear of the hall is a chedi with spires, again decorated with blue and gold.

Wat Rong Suea Ten

Mae Chan........Finally it’s time to move north and we head towards Mae Chan district. After an initial enquiry about accommodation we settle for a resort with rooms of traditional construction more like cabins. It is located south of the town on the right-hand side. Here again Google map has failed to help as do other online sources. Perhaps the town is just too small but on this occasion simple observation has been sufficient. Getting to the town itself requires a 5 minute drive. When we arrive at the open night market I’m expecting something wholesome and cheap but end up with fish soup and fried vegetables for a ridiculous price. Back at the room I make a rather half-hearted attempt at my blog. That means more work in the morning.