Compared to its sister town Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is a more down-to-earth provincial town, which is just merely 3.5 hours away by car. Don’t be fooled by this seemingly a sleepy little town, there are actually tons to do here. For those who have been to Bangkok, this is comparable less dazzling and modern. However, this is in fact home to a lot of beautiful temples and cultural exchange hub, as it is close to the border of both Laos and Myanmar.
People visiting Chiang Mai would usually come here on a day trip. We were lucky that we actually stayed here for our entire vacation, but even so, didn’t manage to explore everything.
There are 3 places that are definitely worth visiting with your children for them to truly experience the Thai culture and heritage while also having some fun.
1) Union of Hill Tribe Villages and Longneck Karen
(262 Moo 6 Ban Paoo Nanglae, Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand 57100)
Located at the top of the hills close to the infamous Golden Triangle, the Union of the Hill Tribe Villages and Longneck Karen where 5 indigenous tribes are stationed to provide visitors some insight into their everyday life.
We walked into the village area through going down steep stairs. We were each handed a stick to assist us with the hike. The trial led us to the first tribe- the Akha. We were greeted by a number of Akha villagers standing in front of rows of stalls, similar to those that you would find in the flea market. They were selling handmade goods and souvenirs of more or less similar to those you would find at the night market. It is quite commercialized in the sense where the villagers would wave you over and ask you to make purchase.
Yet, it is still a sight to see the unique features of each of the tribes. The Akha is well known for their fancy accessories. They can be easily identified amongst the hill tribes because they enjoy wearing a lot of silver and heavy headdresses. The Lu Mie also known as Yao people are more reserved in terms of their accessories. However, one can identify them by their bright red or pink puffs around their collars. The Lahu separates themselves from the other tribes through their passion for music. They are into dancing and hunting. Although they do not wear unique traditional clothing, they are a very cheerful bunch. Walking into their area, you can enjoy a short musical performance by the villagers. Kayaws are well for their enlarged ear piercings. Their earholes are gauged to as large as the circumference of a baby’s wrist.
Lastly and most interesting tribe amongst them all is the Long Neck Karen. The uniqueness of the tribe lies in the brass rings that they wear on their neck. Rumor has it that each ear a ring is added onto their neck to elongate it. It is said that their long necks are seen as a form of beauty in the tribe. The women of the tribe do not actually have long necks. It is merely a visual illusion as the weight of the ring pushes down the collar bone and upper ribs of the Karens to create such an effect. To be honest, it is very interesting to see, but we do empathize the pain they suffer for beauty.
There is so much to see and experience at this site. You should at least expect to spend half a day in this village to truly experience each tribe and their culture. Also, it does cost 300 baht for the visit, but it is all worth it as the money is used towards supporting the running costs of the village.
2) The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
Lahaul-Spiti, Pa O Don Chai Subdistrict, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand
In case you are wondering, “Wat” means temple. This temple is more like piece of art. Under the bright sunlight, it stands sparkling in purse white surrounded by beautiful carvings and sculptures. It was actually a very surreal sight as the huge white complex was seriously breathtaking. The white actually symbolizes the purity of the Buddha. The Wat is designed by a famous Thai visual artist called Chalermchai Kositpipat, and till this day is not finished. There are multiple complexes within the area for people to visit, including an area for meditation and an art gallery of paintings by the same artist.
There is one thing to note when visiting is to avoid the mid-afternoon times when hordes of tourist buses start to arrive. Being a must visit site, tourist from all around the world would stop by this temple after lunch. It would be best to go either earlier in the morning when the doors open or late in the afternoon before they close.
In addition, there is a small entrance fee of 50 baht for each foreign visitor. This is used towards the construction of the buildings as this a privately owned property, so they funding of the construction all comes from either donation or entrance charge.
3) The Blue Temple (Wat Rong Seua Ten)
306, Moo 2, Rim Kok, Chiang Rai 57100, Thailand
This temple is a newer addition to the exhausting list of temples in Chiang Rai. Nonetheless, this temple is worth a visit for two reasons. Firstly, its vibrant blue and gold along with its contemporary carvings and bright patterns are nothing like any temple we have visited. It is indeed an amazing work of art. You may find some resemblance between the Blue Temple and the White Temple as it was actually designed by a student of Chalermchai Kositpipat. The blue paint symbolizes dharma, which is linked with wisdom, healing and purity.
Unlike the traditional temples, visitors are allowed to take pictures inside the temple. The interior walls are covered with vivid with celestial themed paintings, which create a mystical feeling to the temple. A huge colossal white statue sits in the middle at the opposite end of the doorway. This Buddha celestial white Buddha seems to glow within the temple. Even our little one was in awe at the sight and paused for a moment inside the temple to admire the view in front of him.
Since this temple is rather new, unlike the White Temple, it is not flooded with tourist. In fact, it is free to visit this temple at the moment. For those who are into art or would like their children to experience how art takes forms in religion and culture, this is definitely a must visit place. The sculptures of different creatures, including the dragons guarding the entrance will definitely amaze your children.