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.

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Our 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.DSC_3387crepeHere’s my tour group gathering by our van, with solo travelers from Australia, Portugal, Brazil and Taiwan. 😀DSC_3388At 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. 😮driveI 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. 😛20160717_124409Anyway, around 11 AM we finally arrived at The White Temple in Chiang Rai.

 The White Temple

IMG_20160717_131917 (1)Wat Rong Khun a.k.a “The White Temple” is one of Thailand’s most notable landmarks. IMG_0102The temple is constructed using white plaster and pieces of clear glass, which sparkle in the sunlight. 😀DSC_3392Visitors must cross a bridge leading to the temple, which symbolizes the way to happiness, and a path to rebirth. DSC_3408Under the bridge you’ll notice hundreds of reaching hands, symbolizing evil and desires. DSC_3405If you reach the temple by avoiding these temptations, you will transform in a state of eternal bliss. DSC_3413What’s unique about this temple is not only its stunning white facade, but it’s bizarre display of superheroes.DSC_3431The artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, appeals to the younger generation’s understanding of good vs. evil, by displaying modern superheroes and villains around the temple grounds. DSC_3432DSC_3430In 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.  IMG_0115This gold temple represents our desire for money, whereas the white represents our mind. DSC_3418In 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.IMG_0127Cost: 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
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Burmese curried chicken and wonton crisps

After lunch, we drove another hour north to visit The Golden Triangle.DSC_3443 The Golden Triangle is essentially where three counties meet: Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos.DSC_3470They 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. DSC_3467Thai locals would sell opium to neighboring countries, a practice which has since become illegal.DSC_3454The Opium Museum here shows the history of opium use, as well as, collections of drug paraphernalia. DSC_3457Although opium use is illegal in Thailand, you can still consume legal quantities of the drug by purchasing poppy-seed cookies.DSC_3458Today, 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.” 😛DSC_3463For 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.DSC_3487These 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.  karenThe 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.DSC_3489DSC_3503
Now, I had heard people call this place a human zoo, but I feel that’s just their perception of the visit.
DSC_3475IMG_0128Personally, 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.DSC_3486DSC_3495It 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. 🙂
DSC_3491Overall, 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.DSC_3498
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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