White Temple Exterior

After three months, our loop through Southeast Asia has come full circle, to the black-hole of good times…Thailand. We left northern Laos from the Huay Suay border caught a boat across the river then a bus to Chiang Rai, of recent White Temple fame (pictured above). Thailand has such rich history but the draw to this town is its modern architectural additions. One of the country’s most revered artists, Chalermchai Kositpipat, is from Chiang Rai and in 1996 he decided to build his greatest masterpiece in his hometown and many other artists have followed suit…giving Chaing Rai a edgy little architecture scene that’s worth checking out.

King Rama in Thailand

The gems of Chiang Rai are outside of the city center so we rented a good old $7 motorbike and started to explore the region. After being out of Thailand a few months, we forgot about the ever-present Rama #9! Images of King Bhumibol, Thailand’s longest reigning monarch and one of the world’s richest royals, are everywhere in the country so when we saw this familiar billboard, we had to get a selfie with his highness!

Damage to White Temple

We arrived to Wat Rong Khun, or popularly called the White Temple, and it was so over-the-top it was dazzling. Kositpipat says he wanted his Buddhist temple complex to be an imitation of heaven, and spared no expense to make it worthy. There is barely a square inch that is unadorned and without religious symbolism….read here for a detailed explanation from the artist.

What is inside the White Temple

To add to the total fantasy and surreal quality of this temple, the interior walls tell the stories of Buddhism with the help of superheroes, movie stars and cartoons. (Yea that’s Kung Foo Panda, a Rolex and a rocket ship.) Artists were still working on the frescoes while we were there and after recent events there is even more work to be done….On May 5th, 2014 a massive earthquake hit the area and severely damaged the temple and the building is now closed indefinitely! Upon hearing the devastating news, the distraught artist was on the verge of demolishing the entire temple but instead has committed as long as it takes to repair his life’s work and legacy.

Prayers at White Temple Chiang Rai

Since the recent earthquake visitors can only visit the outside of Wat Rong Khun and pay their respects from a distance and give offerings. This silver leaf is one of thousands dangling from a series of prayer trees…We are sure its boughs are full of wishes for a speedy architectural recovery!

Best place to eat in Chiang Rai

We returned to town and beelined for the night market. The food in this region is known for its extra spicy kick and a unique blend of styles from the nearby hill tribes and Myanmar exiles. Looking around the sea of tables, this clay hot pot dinner seemed to be the popular choice. We ordered our basket of veggies and cooked them in our own pot of broth..delish!

Nightlife in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chang Rai is pretty touristy and sadly wherever the tourists are in Thailand, seedy bars will follow. Rant: The fact that Thailand allows sex tourism to flourish and that sicko-westerners are creating the demand for it makes us absolutely ill!

The Waterfall at Chiang Rai

Anyhooo. The area around Chiang Mai has a bunch of nice outdoorsy options like rock climbing, biking, hot springs, and waterfalls. We got a good recommendation to take the hike to Kun Korn Falls about 15 km south of town and an easy stroll through a lush forest led us to this beautiful 70-meter waterfall and happening local hangout.

Lost with the Belgians

We met a lovely Dutch couple Bas and Myrthe (the Dutch are always the sweetest!) at the waterfalls and decided on a little road-trip to Baan Dam, aka The Black House. What probably should have been a 30 minute drive turned into a two hour conquest…asking locals for directions and somehow always winding up on a dead-end street. By our third dead-end, we had to snap this photo to document our laughable back-roads tour.

Black Temple Chiang Rai, Thailand

At last, we made it the Baan Dam! The architect studied under Kositpipat and it seemed like he made the Black House as a direct rebuttal to the heavenly White Temple. Themes of death and decay were everywhere, namely in the form of skulls, hides, daggers, skins, and a toilet in the center of the main house….though somehow it was done beautifully. It’s an interesting place, if you can figure out how to get here.

Chiang Rai Slideshow

We thought Chiang Rai was a great stopover from Northern Laos to Thailand or a side trip from Chiang Mai…what do you think?


  1. Roni Feldman says:

    Those buildings look amazing! Would it still be worthwhile to visit the area even if the white temple is closed?

    1. Since the interior paintings were so spectacular, it may be worth waiting a couple years for an artist like you to see it. I’ve seen the photos post-quake and though there are some cracks and issues, the architecture overall is absolutely stunning and you’d still really enjoy it. Go when and if you can!

  2. Anna Kate says:

    neat! The temple looks amazing!

    1. Both temples were super unique and beautiful. They completely bucked tradition and pushed the boundaries, you’d love it Anna!

  3. We totally got lost trying to find Baan Dam as well! We got 90% of the way there easily, following the main highway from Chiang Mai, and then spend forever figuring out the little side streets in the last 10% of the journey. Then when we finally arrived, the temple had just closed for lunch hour. I’m glad we stuck around until it opened again (as I’m sure you guys are), because it’s definitely one of the most unique temples we visited in Thailand.

    1. Jessica, we feel so much better knowing we weren’t the only ones to get lost! So glad you found it and enjoyed it as much as we did!

  4. I came so close to going to Chiang Rai, but I ended up skipping it! Those temples look awesome and unlike anything else I’ve seen in Thailand. That’s too bad about the earthquake. Hopefully they’ll be able to restore it! Anyway, I will definitely be heading to Chiang Rai next time I’m in Thailand!

    1. There ares so many beautiful temples in Thailand but the white temple and black house are truly unique–we hope you go some day too! The artist Kositpipat has honestly made the White Temple his life’s work so the inside will be on back open in a couple years I’m sure and the outside looks great already!

  5. World Journeys says:

    Really want to see that temple – every travel blog I read seems to have amazing pics of it (yours are the best of course!)
    I do remember from 1999 when I was in Thailand just how in your face sex tourism is in Thailand. It’s pretty sad. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a country where it was so out there.

    1. The White Temple is such a trip and totally worth a visit. It’s a very photogenic place but thanks for the compliment! The sleazy bars and the sex tourism that follows really is the worst part about Thailand…that’s why it’s nice to get off the track when you can.

  6. Ok last chance! We are you guys now? We are living Chaing Mai tomorrow. We are you going next or where are you now?

    Matthias from Germany


    1. Matthias!!! So great to hear from you man! I sooo wish we could see you in Chiang Mai but alas we are in Los Angeles at the moment (our blog is a bit behind lol). Love to hear you are still traveling and rocking out! Reach out to us on Facebook/HoneyTrek we’d love to hear more from you!

  7. Ross & Alyse says:

    We loved both the White Temple and Baan Dam. Both equally impressive and fantastically creative. I heard about that earthquake and was wondering what the plans were. Glad to hear he’ll continue on with his masterpiece!

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