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This was our first time visiting Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand and one of the main reasons for travelling there was to see the wondrous White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) for ourselves.
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When is the best time to visit the White Temple in Chiang Rai
The temple itself opens at 8am and the temple and surrounding grounds gets pretty busy straight away. We were staying in Chiang Rai city and visited the temple as part of a private day tour and arrived early around 8.30am, but unfortunately the grounds of the temple were already packed with tourists!
The best time to visit apparently is at sunrise before the large coach tours arrive and the grounds around the temple are free to explore. The temple closes at 5:00pm on weekdays and 5:30pm on weekends.
How to get to the White Temple in Chiang Rai
You are best to visit the White Temple from Chiang Rai (like we did), as the journey from Chiang Mai is around 3 hours each way. From Chiang Rai town, the White Temple is about 13 kilometres away.
You can reach the White Temple using a public bus from platform 8 at Chiang Rai bus terminal number 1 (also known as the ‘Old Bus Station’). You do not need to book this bus in advance, just turn up and pay the 20 baht ($0.65) fare to the driver. The journey takes around half an hour and the bus leaves every 20 minutes.
We personally recommend taking a GRAB taxi using the app (make sure you have a Thai SIM card) – the fares are super cheap! Alternatively you can take a metered taxi or tuk-tuk (make sure you agree the fare before you start the journey).
We visited the White Temple in Chiang Rai as part of a private one day tour with Lanna Cultural Tours. We went with Tony, the company owner (he runs a lot of his tours) and our very first stop was Wat Rong Khun. Read more about our ‘perfect day trip in Chiang Rai’ with Lanna Cultural Tours >
White Temple in Chiang Rai
This temple is one of the most recognisable in Thailand (especially on Instagram!) and has contributed to increased visitor numbers to the Chiang Rai region in recent years. The original Wat Rong Khun had fallen into disrepair and the newer incarnation is the vision of renowned, local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat who funded the initial work himself. There is a fantastic museum of his work next to the temple, which includes one of his first illustrations completed when he was just fourteen years of age (free entry).
Kositpipat can sometimes be seen painting additions to the temple interiors, or (rumour has it), just watching and seeking inspiration from afar in one of the local coffee shops, one of which is managed by his wife.
One thing I hadn’t realised before visiting was how different and unconventional certain elements of the this temple are compared to others. For example the ‘sea of arms’ at the main entrance way and especially the use of modern day characters, political figures and superheroes on the inside of temple walls (such as Superman, Doraemon, George Bush, Terminator, Freddie Kruger etc) to demonstrate that the will of Buddha is greater than all. Photography is not allowed inside the temple so we do not have any pictures to show you of the amazing hand-painted illustrations inside.
Another example is the presence of a life size Predator model (from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie) that greets you by the main entrance (much more real than those Madame Tussaud’s wax efforts!). As a slight aside, there is also a Golden Toilet for you to use at your ‘convenience’. We were also told how these golden toilets almost created an international political incident as international tourists from some countries weren’t using the toilets ‘correctly’ and were banned temporarily, until matters were resolved – no sh*t!
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We were very fortunate with the timing of our trip as the White Temple / Wat Rong Khun head monk was available (he is usually very busy) and our tour guide Tony was able to introduce us to him and we each received a blessing, along with a parting gift (a traditional blessed, red bracelet).
The only downside is that the White Temple is seemingly attracting ‘Instagram princesses’ – and by that we mean selfish travellers who seem to want whole areas of the temple to themselves for their own private photo shoot. We are always happy to wait a few seconds for someone to get a shot but when they expect you to wait several minutes whilst they get the perfect shot… let’s just say our thoughts weren’t totally holy!
Download the Grab app
Grab is widely used by both tourists and locals, and the fares are really cheap! Download the Grab app here and use the code GRABCKTRAVELS to earn a free ride when you sign up.
Chiang Rai accommodation
During our stay in Chiang Rai we stayed at two decent mid range hotels – both of which were in an excellent central location in town (just minutes walk from the night bazaar and many bars and restaurants) and were both clean and comfortable:
On a budget?
Here are some highly rated hostels in a good central location:
Got some cash to splash? Treat yourself to one of these lovely hotels:
Other Thailand blog posts
- Top things to do in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand
- The perfect daytrip in Chiang Rai
- The Cat ‘n’ a Cup Cafe, Chiang Rai
- A Day at the Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai
- A Thai cookery class ‘with a twist’ in Bangkok’s flower market
- Exploring Bangkok at night by Tuk Tuk
- 99 The Heritage – a stylish stay in Chiang Mai
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