I decided, at long last, to take a trip to Chiang Rai (before the earthquake) and at the same time visit the famous Wat Rong Khun (aka The White Temple) about 10kms before Chiang Rai on Route 118 from Chiang Mai. Similar to Chiang Mai the population of Chiang Rai Province is under 1.5 million and Chiang Rai itself houses about 200,000 of those. Drive another 70 kilometres North and you reach Mae Sai and the border between Laos and Thailand.
The 118 from Chiang Mai takes you all the way to Chiang Rai, a distance of approximately 250 kilometres. After leaving Doi Saket the road climbs and winds through forest, waterfalls and streams to an altitude of approximately 2000 metres. (Click an image to see slide show)
In the nature reserve there are many small resorts, trails, roadside eateries and fruit stalls. The 250 square kilometres of Khun Chae National Park is managed by ‘Forest Fire Control’, a government organisation responsible for preserving the forests from fires which happen naturally in the dry season months December to May. Fires are also caused by careless visitors which do much damage to the habitat.
They are a very hospitable team who will make you feel welcome and put you up for the night if you want to sleep in the mountain air and walk the nature trails. There is also a camping area for hardy souls.
Wat Rong Khun
The scenery is quite magnificent throughout the forest drive. As you drop down from the highest point in the road onto flat farming land small towns and villages line the roadside. The mountains to the East and West funnel you on to Chiang Rai as you rise and fall once more before arriving at Wat Rong Khun. (Click an image to see slide show)
The Temple grounds are on flat land and they are now in the seventeenth year of construction. It is estimated that the whole project will take the best part of 100 years to complete so is quite some undertaking and completion will not be seen out by its creator, artist Ajarn Chalermchai, as he is now 50. But he has ensured that his life’s work will be completed through the skilled team he has developed since inception. In 16 years he has already given to the Province of his birth, and the world, a quite spectacular creation so it is impossible to imagine what experience people will have when they visit his legacy Wat Rong Khun 80 years from now. It could well be up there with the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat. One of the many remarkable features of the buildings in the Temple complex is that they are pure white and decorated with tiny mirrors. The only exception is what is probably the finest toilet in the world which is in gold.
Wat Rong Khun is therefore in complete contrast to other Thai Wat’s which are sometimes all the colours of the rainbow (see Doi Suthep – inset) and decorated with coloured reflecting glass.