Last month my wife and I spent a few days in Chiang Rai before retreating to the hills in Thailand’s north to do nothing but read and wander around tea plantations.
So before the hills we enjoyed Chiang Rai, an urban delight for us city-wanderers who enjoy local culture, food and coffee (but not always in that order). The first evening we dropped our bags and ran to Moom Mai for a meal. That was yummy and eclectic.
We stayed at the Maryo Resort (most places named here are linked to their respective Google Maps entries where you can get all the details, photos, reviews, etc., others are linked to various other useful pages). The “resort-hotel” was clean and comfortable and the breakfast buffet got us off to a fine start every morning. I even took a book about Jesus from the reception book-swap shelf (without leaving one behind, because, Kindle. I know, right?).
Everybody was abuzz about the White Temple, a.k.a. Wat Rong Khun, so we decided to check it out. It’s 12-kilometres from the hotel, so we decided to walk (other options included taxi and tuk-tuk). It was a long walk, but totally worth it considering the…
Yeah, German pretzels at this small bakery along the road which appeared at the perfect time for a coffee break. We sat down at a table in front of Saifon’s German Bakery Shop and tucked into a big fresh soft salted pretzel topped with mustard, kinda like the ones I enjoy when in New York City. Yeah, the day was off to a good start.
Well, not exactly, but aside from another stop on the way where we bought water and nuts, the next meal was lunch at Khao Lam Don Chai Shop a.k.a. ร้านข้าวหลามดอนชัย a.k.a. Viking Restaurant Roger Granath Sweden. Identity crisis? No matter, the food was great in this in-the-middle-of-nowhere al-fresco Thai restaurant with nice rural views. And there are vegan options (which matters to us vegans. Did I mention that I’m vegan? No? Well… never mind).
From there we continued towards the White Temple. A local guy in an old American convertible sports car stopped and offered us a lift. We hopped in the back seat, and as we drove off a group of Norton motorcycle enthusiasts surrounded the car, creating a motorcade as we cruised to the temple. Groovy. That’s also the moment when my profile photo was shot.
The White Temple is not really a temple. It’s more like if Salvador Dali wanted to build a temple. But there’s monks and other shrine stuff, mixed in with Star Wars and Star Trek and The Matrix and Pikachu. Ok, enough spoilers, there’s a heavy footfall at this place, not one of those quiet temples for peaceful reflections, but a cultural avant-garde must-see. Don’t miss the on-site Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat Museum while you’re there. He is Thailand’s Salvador Dali, and the museum is free anyway. I bought a refrigerator magnet in the museum souvenir shop.
After that, we headed towards the Pong Sali Arboretum. It sucked. Don’t waste your time. Read my Google Maps review. However, we did stop at a petrol-station canteen along the way and enjoyed a coffee with free WiFi. That was at สถานีบริการ NGV พยัคฆ์ค้าวัสดุ.
So, we’re across the road from the shite arboretum and no taxis would stop to give us a lift back into the city. Fortunately, a kind soul volunteered to drive us in his pick-up truck. Maybe there is a God? (No silly, people are just compassionate.)
By then it was dinner-time, and we went on a hunt for Oasis Vegetarian which was not easy to find as this part of Chiang Rai has lots of regular street-market activity in a maze-like small neighbourhood, but the challenge made the hunt more interesting and fun. Eventually finding Oasis was a big relief, a cafeteria kind of buffet; tasty and a friendly atmosphere.
After dinner, we grabbed dessert at Connect Cafe, a great vegan-friendly restaurant that appears to be a backpacker mecca. Dessert was mango sticky rice – it was great, and we decided to return one day to enjoy the mains (which we did on day two).
After all the walking during day one, well, less walking was the idea for day two. So off we went to the Oub Kham Museum. The place was, as someone else wrote, a bit “wacky” but absolutely worth the entrance fee that includes a tour guide. I mean a real person who shows you around. One hour here is plenty, gotta love the monkey bone chop sticks that somehow detect poisoned food (I know, not vegan-friendly. So shoot me!)
From there we continued westward in pursuit of the King’s footprint in something called The Hall with King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Footprints. On the way we had to stop for coffee, and Figure&Ground Museum Cafe was the perfect stop for that, including a two-person hammock for a quick nap. To get to the footprints shrine, one must enter the Chiang Rai Army base. Not an issue, as all that was required was surrendering my driver’s licence (initially they wanted my passport, but the guard was friendly and did not insist). Once past the entrance gate, it was a leisurely walk past an antique tank and a nursery school guarded by three white rabbits, then a steep climb up to the peak where the footprints can be, well, uh, worshipped.
Then, down the hill, and straight to the Ban San Khong Noi Cemetery. A nice crematorium, tombstones hidden in the forest (a good scavenger hunt challenge), stacks of used motorbike tyres, a collection of old park benches, so, well, odd? Only one gate to get in & out, so forget that idea about going out through the gate over there to the east, you’re gonna have to retrace your steps, buddy.
The next stop, what was anticipated as the climax of the day, the Navel City Pillar of Chiang Rai. A few observations: it was not easy walking, a lot of road construction and a steep climb at the end, it’s got nothing to do with the navy, and it was an anti-climax. Live & learn!
So, time for dinner! No spoiler here, as we returned to Connect Cafe where I enjoyed the best Thai green curry of my life! Yup!
Day three became temple day as we hadn’t been inside as many as we usually visit on these trips, so the itinerary was pretty much; locate the temples & connect the dots. Off we went, starting with Wat Chiang Yuen. Then it was time for a coffee, so we sat down at the cozy Yoddoi Organic Coffee-Vegan Cafe Chiangrai. That was delicious, and we decided to return in the evening to try their local-recipe vegan burgers (I did mention we’re vegans, yeah?).
Next stop was the 75 Anniversary Flag and Lamp Park, which was closed due to a major renovation. Onwards, we gave the Hilltribe Museum a miss and headed straight to the Wat Klang Wiang temple. Gotta love the “No Killing Area” (why can’t Earth be such an area?), while the “Ladies No Entry” sign at one pagoda was, uhm, puzzling.
We then gave the nearby Chalermprakiat Karnchanapisek Cultural Hall a miss, except for a brief appreciation of its facade and grounds, as well as a royal carriage on display outside. Across the road we entered the Wat Phra Sing temple (actually wat means temple, so I just wrote Temple Phra Sing Temple, a bit daft, yah). A nice stop, mostly for the colourful Chinese lanterns.
Then we continued west on the road north over the Overbrook Hospital and entered a grand temple, perhaps the most ornate one in Chiang Rai; Wat Phra Kaew. As mentioned in my review, the jade Buddha statue is cool, the museum is well worth a visit, and we saw a wind chime being played by a ghost (because there was no other explanation. There’s video lah!
Ok, now we were getting hungry, so we headed south to Wat Mung Muang which has the happiest fat Buddha anywhere, and then marched on to Kunda Vegan Vegetarian, which is mostly vegan, and completely great. The staff is international and local, they’re all warriors, lovely, there’s NO WIFI! Hee hee! And a nice view of a temple across the road while you eat. I promised to give them a nice Trip Advisor review, so I better get that done! ( I did.)
After lunch we headed back to the hotel and I soaked in the pool for a while. Then, we went to Yoddoi Organic Coffee-Vegan Cafe again, but this time for their excellent plant-based burgers. Yum! While we were there some holiday parade passed by with illuminated floats and marchers and music, so that was just fine. On the way home we stopped at Orgasms Station for a cocktail. No one there knew how to make a cocktail. Enough said.
The last day
For so long, so very long, we wanted to dine at Full Moon Wellness (Breakfast And Smoothies), but because of bad timing and holidays, etc., we just hadn’t managed it. It’s a 100% vegan restaurant. So on our last day we ventured out for one last try, and… THEY WERE OPEN! Yay! We had smoothies and smothered baked potato plus salad and it was fantastic!
Chiang Rai has a lot to offer. We visited a lot of restaurants, but there’s still more to explore (gee, that rhymed). So, yeah, we will return to revisit these places and discover new ones. But first, I gotta write something about the next stop on that journey, which was up in Thailand’s northern hill country, about an hour’s drive north in Mae Salong.