Travel in Chiang Rai: The White Temple and Golden Triangle

During my visit to Chiang Mai, I chose to book a full day tour to visit Chiang Rai’s White Temple and The Golden Triangle.

27829305994_0c4f4af403_cOur tour began early, with a three-hour car ride to Chiang Rai, only stopping briefly for breakfast. I chose some fresh pineapple, while others went for a buttery egg crepe.27829305914_237b4bc249_c28367565091_b3e8bcd89a_cHere’s my tour group gathering by our van, with solo travelers from Australia, Portugal, Brazil and Taiwan. 😀27829305944_a462953362_cAt first I wondered why insurance was included in this harmless temple tour. That was until I mapped out our journey on Google- endless sharp curves along a narrow mountainous path. 600 baht penalty for puking. 😮28347037742_2e0430830f_cI was hoping to catch some z’s on the ride, but I barely managed to keep myself from sliding off the seat. Hah! Apparently my fellow passengers can sleep just about anywhere. 😛28347037722_6dacda4106_cAnyway, around 11 AM we finally arrived at The White Temple in Chiang Rai.

 The White Temple

28367565101_4a4dff7ee1_cWat Rong Khun a.k.a “The White Temple” is one of Thailand’s most notable landmarks. 28451473155_d79625abd3_cThe temple is constructed using white plaster and pieces of clear glass, which sparkle in the sunlight. 😀27829305954_3c70f14472_cVisitors must cross a bridge leading to the temple, which symbolizes the way to happiness, and a path to rebirth. 28183740020_a9c37803f2_cUnder the bridge you’ll notice hundreds of reaching hands, symbolizing evil and desires.27815057354_875385b7f2_cIf you reach the temple by avoiding these temptations, you will transform in a state of eternal bliss. 28183740050_91c221549f_cWhat’s unique about this temple is not only its stunning white facade, but it’s bizarre display of superheroes.28445870605_7ef42745b4_cThe artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, appeals to the younger generation’s understanding of good vs. evil, by displaying modern superheroes and villains around the temple grounds. 27829414684_51fc12f7b0_c28445870545_ed4ab7a8af_cIn fact, the murals on the temple interior are even more eccentric, with recognizable characters, such as Kung Fu Panda and Spider-Man.

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courtesy of Google images (no pictures allowed)

Anyway, in addition to the white temple, you will find a golden temple as well.  28451473175_4396027293_cThis gold temple represents our desire for money, whereas the white represents our mind. 28445870455_75dba53559_cIn this gold temple, visitors make merit by giving away their material possessions and focusing more on mindfulness. Overall, an eye-opening experience for any visitor, regardless of their faith.28367858881_f22991f2ae_cCost: Free entry, since the temple is still under construction.  Upon completion, an entry fee will be charged.

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unfinished temple structures

Anyway, at that point, we took a lunch break, to enjoy a variety of both Thai and Burmese dishes, like yellow rice, chicken curry and hand-pulled noodles.

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Thai chicken curry and mini coconut pancakes
28341065442_f606e5b5d6_c
Burmese curried chicken and wonton crisps

After lunch, we drove another hour north to visit The Golden Triangle.28413936206_35b82d283a_cThe Golden Triangle is essentially where three counties meet: Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos.28367858871_cb87ce81d8_cThey are separated by the Ruak and Mekong River, and there’s an island in the center, which was originally used for selling black market goods. 28413999276_f43be42b2c_cThai locals would sell opium to neighboring countries, a practice which has since become illegal.28413936246_121514292a_cThe Opium Museum here shows the history of opium use, as well as, collections of drug paraphernalia. 28413936296_8dc670e1c1_cAlthough opium use is illegal in Thailand, you can still consume legal quantities of the drug by purchasing poppy-seed cookies.28413999236_0aa9f0abf2_cToday, the main reason Thais cross this border is to gamble, since casinos are illegal in Thailand. They’ve even named this region of Laos, “Laos Vegas.” 😛28413999266_5f2d693c30_cFor those that take the ferry across the border, they can also sample local animal whiskey, which is said to improve chances of fertility. The whiskey jars are aged with scorpion, snake, and even tiger penis. 😮

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courtesy of Google images 😕
Anyway, the last stop of the day was to another local Karen village, an ethic community of Burmese immigrants known for their long copper coiled neck-ware.27831004383_fa856b9e32_cThese neck rings symbolize beauty, and are currently an optional accessory in this community. Women who decide to remove their rings noted that the coils had not elongated their necks, but rather dropped their shoulders from the weight.28447862445_b67137cedf_cThe women who live in this village make a substantial income from tourism, charging 300 baht just to shop here, with an additional cost for goods purchased.27831004443_29471b470e_c28164253470_ea274ddeb2_cNow, I had heard people call this place a human zoo, but I feel that’s just their perception of the visit.
28367858921_53903a94e3_cPersonally, I enjoyed learning about the lifestyle of the Karen community, seeing how they lived, and overall I felt these women looked proud displaying their unique heritage. Walking around, I was greeted by nothing but sweet families and smiling faces.28367858961_94017a546e_c28164253440_67de1426a7_cIt was a time I really wished that I could speak the language. Even my beginner Thai wouldn’t help me here, as they speak a Sino-Tibetan dialect. I guess a warm smile is the universal language of kindness, so that would have to do. 🙂
28164253370_542a27b5eb_cOverall, I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to carry that weight everyday on your shoulders, but hey, I’ve seen women do some crazy things for beauty. I knew I couldn’t commit to the copper neck rings, but I did purchase a nicely designed copper ring- the perfect memento.28447862355_b04a330af8_c
Because of this purchase, my guide Jun-Jun taught me one important local word, ‘tri-bana,’ which means thank you. 🙂
Cost: 35 USD for a 14-hour tour of The White Temple, Golden Triangle and Karen Village, including round-trip transportation, entrance fees, lunch, and guide.
Now the last stop on my journey was to the mountainous region of Pai, easily one of my favorite spots in Thailand. Stay tuned to hear all about it. 🙂
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