When someone says temples in Chiang Rai, most of the people immediately associate it with the White Temple. Even Chiang Mai is associated with the White Temple a lot. However, we just couldn’t believe that that’s everything Chiang Rai has to offer! Apparently, in the old town of Chiang Rai, you can find dozens of old temples as well. Of course, we’ll include in this guide the most popular Chiang Rai temples as well, but we made sure to write about all the hidden gems we have found in the center of the city too!
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How to get around in Chiang Rai?
In the city center of Chiang Rai, you can easily walk from one temple to another, the old town is full of temples, basically 10-15 minutes on foot. However, the bigger and more touristy, popular temples are further from the city center. Depending on where your accommodation is, you’ll like to take at least 30 minutes to the White Temple and 15-20 minutes to the Blue Temple by car or tuk-tuk. The easiest way is to go to the main bus station(Chiang Rai Terminal 1) in the center of Chiang Rai and ask around, ask the prices and negotiate when you want to go somewhere.
There are bigger buses that go basically on the same route. It’s hard to find information about the public buses because at the main bus station all the other tuk-tuk and taxi drivers want you to take their transport, and they tell you that there is no bus. There is one bus for sure, that goes the direction of the White Temple. There is an old blue bus with a tarpaulin saying “White Temple” on it, and it costs 20 TBH to get to the temple.
An online taxi in Thailand. We took this when we wanted to spare some time or we were afraid to get lost in the city center. Also, we ordered an online taxi when we wanted to get to the White Temple in the morning, as we were afraid that we won’t find the public bus and we’ll be late (wanted to arrive before the big crowds).
Normal taxis. This is the most expensive way to get around, but definitely the easiest, as you can find these taxis all around the city. We never took it, Grab is always cheaper.
It’s like a pick-up truck, kind of like a bus. It really depends on the city wheater it has a specific route or not. Usually, the ride costs about 10-30 TBH, but it depends on how many people are in the vehicle or if other people go to the destination you want to go. If you want the truck to stop, you need to push a button or tell the person who checks the ticket inside. What we did, we always asked the drivers if they go where we want to go and ask the price. Always ask to make sure 🙂 We came with a bus like this from the White Temple back to the city center (it took about 30 minutes). The driver charges depending on how many people are on the bus, you need to share the costs with other travelers.
Tuk-tuks are a little bit more expensive than Grab taxis. But if you share the costs, then it can be cheaper. The tuk-tuk is usually for max. 3 people. When we wanted to go to the Blue Temple from the city center, we went to the bus station and started to ask around for a public bus. Of course, everyone said that there is no bus, and started to offer their own taxis and tuk-tuks. In the end, we met another girl who wanted to visit the Blue Temple as well, so we negotiated with the driver and share the costs of the tuk-tuk.
Rent a bike or a motorbike
If you’re comfortable with the traffic in Thailand and you have experience riding a bike or a motorbike, then you can also rent one of these. Lots of people ride a bike in the city as well, but you definitely need to take care, because the traffic can get crazy.
How to visit a temple in Thailand?
General rules for visiting temples in Thailand:
- Always cover your shoulders and knees. Usually, a longer scarf will do as well, to cover your shoulders or put it around your waist.
- Be silent and be polite.
- If it’s written, take off your shoes before you enter the temple.
- Most temples are open from 8 AM to 5 or 6 PM, but it’s usually not written anywhere. They close the temples for visitors at about sunset time.
- The entrance is usually free, the exception is the famous White Temple.
Temples in the old center of Chiang Rai
Although Chiang Rai is not as famous for its hundreds of temples, like Chiang Mai, you can still find lots of hidden gems in the old city center.
You will usually find that the steps that lead to the entrance of the temples are guarded by “dragons”. These are actually Nagas, the serpent creatures that stand guard at all the Buddhist wats in Thailand. Nagas guarding a Buddhist stupa to scare off evil spirits. Naga is the Sanskrit word for cobra, but the translation could be a snake as well. It’s religious roots originated with Hinduism.
Of course, “Wat” means Temple, so that’s why all names start with that little word. The temples in the city center are little visited, so most likely you won’t find any other tourists there when you visit. Be respectful and silent, monks are sometimes praying there or walking around.
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Wat Si Sai Moon
This temple was renovated some years ago, the decorations are impressive. The stairs are guarded by the ”Nagas” as well. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information about this temple, but the blue decorations on the top are beautiful.
Wat Sri Bun Rueang
This temple is quite similar to Wat Si Sai Moon, but the Nagas are even bigger and the temple is even more decorated.
Wat Klang Wiang
This temple was built cc. In the 15 century. It’s built in the Lanna style and this temple is at the city’s geographical center, even the founding pillar of Chiang Rai is located here.
Circa 1432, this is an excellent but little-visited temple showcasing the best of Lanna temple style. The temple is at the city’s geographical center, and the founding pillar is located here.
It is found about 500 meters southeast of the Wat Phra Kaew and 200 meters from the Wat Phra Singh.
Wat Phra Singha
Wat Pra Sing (or Singh or Singha) was built by Pra Chao Maha Proma (P.E. 1345 – 1400), c. 1385 (B.E. 1928).
One of Chiang Rai’s oldest temples, the temple boasts a Lanna-style viharn (assembly hall, check the explanations above) with wooden doors crafted by National Artist Thawan Duchanee. Wat Phra Singh was once home to one of Thailand’s most revered Buddha images, Phra Singh or Pra Buddhasihing.
You can now find the Buddha image is at Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, however, you can still find well-crafted replicas in the ubosot of Chiang Rai’s Wat Phra Singh as well.
Wat Phra Kaew
Chiang Rai’s Wat Phra Kaew is where the Emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew Morakot) was discovered before it was eventually moved to the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) in Bangkok. In 1434 the temple’s octagonal Chedi was struck by lightning and it fell apart to reveal the Emerald Buddha covered with stucco inside. It’s unclear when the temple was exactly founded, but it’s about the 14th century. This temple is actually one of the oldest temples in Chiang Rai, nowadays it’s a royal temple.
Today Chiang Rai’s Wat Phra Kaew enshrines its own Emerald Buddha that’s actually carved from jade.
There is also a museum. Saen Kaew museum is open from 9 AM until 5 PM, the temple is open from 7 AM until 6 PM. The museum has a small selection on display is beautifully arranged to illustrate many aspects of religious art in Lanna (1296 – 1558) over hundreds of years. Each item is labeled in Thai, English, and Lanna.
This temple is located 300 meters West of the Wat Phra Singh temple.
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Wat Mung Muang
This golden temple is very close to a big market. It’s also walking distance from Wat Phra Kaew. Three Nagas are guarding the door, and there is a big Buddha statue near the entrance, that is actually about 600 years old! The ubosot is beautifully decorated red and gold.
The temple is a miracle and a survivor, as it survived a bombing in World War II when 8 grenades fell into the temple but did not explode.
Temples further from the center
Wat Rong Khun - The White Temple
Entrance fee: 100 TBH for foreigners and free for Thai visitors. You must be covered, shoulders and knees as well. If not, they will send you to buy something in the souvenir store to cover yourself.
Opening hours: It only opens at 8 AM, and it doesn’t matter how early you get there, the tourist groups will arrive at 8 am as well. We actually took a photo without people in the background, because as soon as the gates opened, we paid the entrance fee and run!!
How far is the White Temple from Chiang Rai?
As the White Temple is located 13km from Chiang Rai center, you’ll need some sort of transportation to get there. You can take an organized tour as well, but it’s gonna be more expensive than a normal visit on your own.
You can either take a public bus, take a tuk-tuk or take a Grab online taxi.
The taxis and songthaews charge about 300 TGB to get to the White Temple from the city center (bus station terminal 1).
We took a Grab online taxi which was about 200 TBH, but the cheapest is definitely the public bus.
The public bus is 20 TBH one way, but it’s difficult to find the bus, especially when you want to return to the center. If you want to take the bus to the White Temple, go to Terminal 1 and search for a big old blue bus with the sign ”White Temple”.
If you want to return from the temple to the bus station, you need to look for the bus coming on the highway to the direction of the city. So you should wait on the left side of the highway until you see a bus coming. Unfortunately, we could not find the public bus station and when we asked around, no one could help us, so we just walked back to the temple.
So we took a songthaew. The songthaews stop right at the entrance of the White Temple, and you can ask them if they go back to the city. We waited for other passengers to come, and then we shared the costs and paid about 30-40 TBH per person (don’t remember the exact price).
If you prefer to take an organized tour, check out these!
How to visit the White Temple in Chiang Rai?
The whole temple is unique and beautiful, kind of scary as well. There are lots of interesting spots. White Temple is famous for a reason, but it has no long history, it’s one of the newest temples in Chiang Rai. For some reason, it’s very popular amongst Chinese tourists and they come to this temple, only to this.
There is a big main temple, that you’ll visit first. A bridge leads to it, which is full of references to suffering people, dead and pain. The bridge of “the cycle of rebirth” is actually symbolizing the desires of the people. Then we enter through the Gate of Heaven to the ubosot, the main temple. The white color of the ubosot symbolizes the mind.
It’s forbidden to take photos inside the main hall, but there are paintings with pop culture references. The creator of the temple wanted to send the message that humanity needs to escape desires and suffering in order to reach Nirvana (the main hall). All the pop culture references, like politicians, singers, pokemon, hello kitty symbolize how many idols we created for ourselves that distract us from reaching true enlightenment.
The temple is owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a modern Thai artist, who designed, constructed, and opened it to visitors in 1997. The temple is still under construction, they are still building it. There is also a museum, meditation hall and other buildings.
Black House/ Temple (Baan Dam Museum)
Entrance fee: 80 TBH per person
Opening hours: 9 AM -5 PM
How to get there?
It’s also further from the city center, so it will take about 30 minutes by car, taxi, Grab or tuk-tuk from the city center. At the Chiang Rai Terminal 1 bus station, you can ask around to find the public bus that goes to the Black House. Ask for the Baan Dam bus. You can, of course, take a shared songthaew as well.
What to expect?
The Black Temple is Thawan Duchanee’s artful portrayal of hell, as it’s fully decorated with dead animals, skins and that gives all the houses a dark atmosphere. There is a big collection of snake and crocodile skins, and everything is made of dark metal, wood.
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Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten)
Entrance fee: There is no entrance fee.
Opening hours: It’s open from 7 AM until 8 PM.
This is a modern temple, not as far from the city center as the White Temple.
How to get there?
You will need to get a Grab, Taxi or a tuk-tuk. We went to the main bus station, found another traveler who wanted to visit the temple and then shared the cost of the tuk-tuk. Do not forget to negotiate the price. The tuk-tuk driver can also wait for you and take you back to the city center or the bus station.
If you want to avoid the crowds, you should definitely visit as early as possible. We arrived at 11 AM and it was super crowded, there was no place on the stairs at all.
What to expect
This beautiful temple is kind of small, but very impressive! It was designed by one of the students of Kositpipat, the architect of the White Temple. It’s decorated with blue and gold! The construction of the temple only started in 2005. The temple was opened for visitors in 2016, but it’s actually still under construction. There is a huge white Buddha in the main hall as well.
Wat Huay Pla Kung
Entrance fee: Free; Entrance fee for the statue: 40 TBH per person
Opening hours: 7 AM – 9:30 PM
How to get there?
This temple is a bit far from the city center, so the best option for you is travel by Grab or Taxi. It is better to make an arrangement with the driver once he pick you up. Like that you will have a driver fixed for you and you won’t need to worry about losing the signal of your phone or don’t get a taxi at all.
What to expect?
Located 6 kilometers outside of Chiang Rai. This temple is popularly named as “The Big Buddha Temple” and it is easy to see why! The giant statue of Buddha at the entrance of the temple is remarkable. The Pagoda behind Buddha’s statue is also very famous and it has a beautiful and colorful design that shines specially during the mornings.
Where to stay in Chiang Rai?
Chiang Rai has a lot of good accomodation options. The cheapest option is to book a room in home stay, and it is also a great way to meet the locals! You can also check our deals finder bellow 😉
We hope you liked our detailed guide to our favorite temples in Chiang Rai, Thailand! Let us know which temple was your favorite! Leave a comment below and let us know if you liked our guide!
Have a nice trip!
Zsuzsi and Dante,