Wat Rong Khun – The White Temple – Chiang Rai – October 2014

Busses run from Chiang Mai to Chiang Ria regularly throughout the day so we just showed up at the bus stop and booked the next available bus. It turned out to be at 3pm which landed us in Chiang Rai just after 6pm. Our hotel was a 5-10 minute walk from the bus station and about 1 minute from the clock tower. The clock tower is one of the nicest clock towers I’ve ever seen.
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We stayed at the Chiang Rai Hotel which has a sign outside their front door advertising rooms for 580B. If you book on Agoda, you can pay less than that but they won’t honor that price in person. No problem, I get extra travel points on my AMEX anyways.

The hotel itself, is brand new. So new that over half of the rooms are being renovated during the day. This is alright unless you want to relax in your room for the day. Then it’s not so relaxing unless you like the inconsistent noises of power tools. The hotel will be really nice when it’s finished.

If you can get the room without having breakfast included, I would recommend that. The breakfast is awful. One day it was ice cold and another all of the flavors were off. The ham tasted like chemicals and the sad wilting salad was drowned in a thick mayo. The restaurant is new too so maybe they’ll improve but for now, eat across the street at Destiny Cafe. They have great food.

The only reason we were wanting to go to Chiang Rai: Wat Rong Khun or better know to travelers as The White Temple

Step 1: Get there.

We don’t want to pay for an overpriced tour. We want to avoid paying a taxi driver since it’s 13km out of town. Lets find a bus! We walk up to the bus station and sure enough there is a big blue bus with the word “Temple” painted on the side in white. That was easy. 15 baht each.

This bus is a piece of shit. It’s literally falling apart. Most of the busses we’ve taken in Asia have been quite decent. This bus makes chicken busses in Nicaragua look like luxury. It was rattling so hard, I half expected the wheels to fall off of it while we drove down the highway… I guess we got what we paid for.

When we arrived at our stop 20ish minutes later, the lady working on the bus kindly pointed out the temple and where we wait for the next bus saying “it go evee sirty minute”. Fantastic. With a regular bus, we don’t have to worry about leaving at any specific time.

Wat Rong Khun is a spectacle. It truly is amazing to walk up to.
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Back in May 2014. There was an earthquake in the area which unfortunately caused a lot of damage to the temple. It was then announced that the temple would and not rebuilt. It took 9 years to build this temple back in 1997. After viewing the structural damage and realizing that it’s still in safe shape, they announced that they would begin repairing the temple back to its original condition. They expect it to take 2 years. I am very glad they didn’t tear it down as it really is special to see.

This temple is not like any other temple. I’m not even sure that it is a real temple. There are no monks and there are far more tourists than locals around it. I just don’t see this being a place of prayer. The inside is closed to the public but from what I read prior to visiting, it was done up with murals of famous people and blockbuster movie posters. At first thought, I would think this is just a big tourist trap… except it’s free to visit. Sure there are donation boxes and a souvenir shop, but there is no one forcing you to buy anything or even pay admission to enter. Even the bathrooms are free! Try walking around Thailand and show me how many bathrooms you can use for free. They’re also nicer than every bathroom I’ve paid to use.
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Yeah that’s the bathroom!

Anyways, the artwork and detail that went into this temple is insane. It’s creative, and creepy, and almost sadistic all together. It just leaves you in awe.
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Don’t ask me what the chick in the background is doing. We ended up with like 8 pictures of her doing stupid poses in the background of our pictures. We deleted most of them. Again, back to admiring the details.
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We of course did spend a little bit of time doing some donating. The money is going back into building this place anyways. I made a wish in the wishing well. I won’t tell you what I wished for because then it won’t come true but I can promise you I am a very selfish wisher. Go big or go home. AmIright?
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Kristi bought a wishing decal where you write your wish directly on it. She wrote “Healthy Family and Safe Travels” Kristi is a better person than I am.
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Eventually they empty this wishing tree and hang them all around the temple up with these guys.
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Imagine having that job. No Thanks!

We easily spent a couple hours walking around admiring this place. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s another creepy statue or carving
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I don’t even know how to describe that.

As you walk around you occasionally see a cardboard cutout of the artist with a goofy smile on his face and hand up waiting for tourists to take pictures of themselves hi-fiving him. Sorry to disappoint you but we didn’t take that photo.

There is also a gallery full of his artwork. Unfortunately he hired 93 guards to stand at every angle to make sure you don’t take pictures of his pictures. Some of them are available as post cards and magnets in the gift shop.
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As we headed back to the bus stop, we noticed what looked like a rooster fighting ring. We walked up to see 4 guys sitting around a cage with 2 roosters in it, talons clipped and clearly in training mode. They stared at us at first like “what are these white people doing here?” Then they moved aside and let us have front row seats once they realized we weren’t there to scold them. It’s not my place to tell these guys what’s right and what’s wrong. I also don’t deserve a say as to what’s right and wrong when it comes to another culture. So we just watch and embrace it. The roosters fought for a good 10 minutes before we decided to leave. There was some protection used since they were just training so there was no blood to be seen. We thanked them for letting us watch and headed to the bus.

A bigger bus came by about 10 minutes later. They charged us 20B each to get back into town.

The rest of the evening was quite uneventful. The food in Chiang Rai sucks for the most part. The cheap options are basically designated for those with gutter pallets. One night I saw a picture of a nice looking burrito for 100B which is more than I usually spend on a meal(50-70B). I got us drinks while Kristi watched the girl pull my burrito out of the freezer, microwave it. Cut it open, add salsa, and microwave it again. It was depressing. Serves me right for ordering Mexican food at a hawker stall in Thailand.

Once again, Destiny Cafe is really the only place with decent prices and good food. We also ate at The Curry Hut which offered an alright meal for 60-100B. Their tandoori chicken was awesome, the rest was good but nothing to get excited about.

Fast forward……

11:40pm……

knockknockknock on the door… wtf?!?

Are we about to get robbed in hotel room?

I look in the peephole and it’s the lady from the front desk. I knew Kristi’s farting would get us a noise complaint. Nope that’s not it. You’re lucky, Kristi. She looks at me and says, “Sorry for late call. There is a celebration at the clock tower. It starts at midnight for the monks. It only happens… well… tonight.”

I guess we are getting dressed and going to see what’s up. As we walk out into the street, it seems the entire city is here crowded around the clock tower. It’s also lit up and a strange, eerie sounding chant or prayer is playing on repeat… every 8 seconds or so.

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So luckily I have a friend on Facebook that grew up in Thailand. He explained to me that usually the monks at the local temples grow up in the city so they are quite well known. Because they are well known, people tend to be very generous when it comes time to support the monks by donating goods. I’m sorry if you read this and I butchered it, bud.

Around 12:30am the small parade reached us, in the lead with two trucks driving very slow in order to get people to back up and make space for the rest coming through. There were dancers and drummers, and guys carrying huge pots that people rushed towards to give their donations. Mostly flowers made from rattan, but a lot of people were donating cases of water and I think I saw some people donating cash. There were 3-4 pick-up trucks full of donations and people kept on giving. My only regret was that I didn’t bring any money or anything with me to donate.
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Around 1am the crowd all merged together as a few monks walked through showing their gratitude by thanking everyone. We decided it was time for bed We have a big day tomorrow because we are renewing our Visas. Our timing for being here is pretty incredible though to catch this ceremony tonight. I’m feeling pretty lucky right now. Hopefully we can continue it tomorrow.
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