This post begins our third and last day of our Chiang Mai, Thailand, itinerary. If you haven’t read about our adventures on days one and two yet, then click here. In this post, we’ll be discussing temple tours and three of the most famous ones to visit while in Chiang Mai: the stunning White Temple (pictured here), the ornate Blue Temple, and the eerie Black House.
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Quick note: Our trip to Thailand includes photos that some may find offensive. Lots of phallic imagery in this country: soaps, sculptures, paintings, and more. If you don’t wish to see these images, then check back in next week for a new Amarvelous Wedding post instead!
We began day three with breakfast at our hotel before we were picked up by our tour bus. Since we were spending the day at temples, I needed to have covered knees and shoulders. I wore my new long wrap skirt I had purchased in Thailand on day one and a white t-shirt. Hubby wore a t-shirt and shorts. For shoes, I wore flip-flops that were easy to take off in and out of temples. Hubby wore sneakers he had to re-lace when he left each temple.
Once on the bus, we began our ride north outside of the center of town towards Chiang Rai (yes, “Rai,” not “Mai”). This was a long trip, so the tour company broke it up with several stops along the way. The first mini-stop was to a natural hot spring. It was a small watering hole that had been developed into a few stands to buy souvenirs, a convenient store, some bathrooms, and a relaxing sitting area shaded by trees with warm hot springs nearby. It was very touristy and felt like all bus companies used the same pit-stop. There were areas you could get pretty close to the hot spring for a photo op, but the water is too hot to touch, so don’t get too close! We spent a half hour here using restrooms and picking up a few snacks and cool drinks in the store. Then, once everyone was back on the bus, we continued on our journey.
Our first stop was Wat Rong Suea Ten, better known as the Blue Temple, although the name literally translates to House of the Dancing Tiger. 100 years ago, there was an ancient temple that stood in this very same spot, but over time it had deteriorated. The land had been known for wild tigers that would frequently roam the temple’s six-acre property. The town decided in 2005 that they wanted to rebuild a modern-day temple on the old property and began construction. Although the main hall is complete, there were parts still under construction (we visited in 2018), but that did not detract from the beauty. The first temple we had experienced in Thailand (on day one) was very traditional with simple coloring and style. In comparison, the Blue Temple is exploding with color and extravagant statues. The temple colors are primarily shades of blues, with pops of neon colors and many gold accents. The main hall has an underwater effect with blue from floor-to-ceiling. Something to note about this temple is that admission is free, but there is no public transit here—so instead of booking a tour, you could rent a car, or hire a tuk tuk or taxi, but I’m not sure if it would save you money in the end. For us, the convenience of being on a schedule and seeing all the temples in one day really worked well for our short trip. Once everyone made it back to the bus, we headed off to our second location.
The next stop wasn’t an actual temple but the Baan Dam Museum, literally translating to Black House. The famous Thai artist and architect Thawan Duchanee designed this property, and it was his architectural masterpiece and home until he passed away in 2014. Although mixed with gardens, the large property has a dark feeling with 40 mixed-size matte black buildings. If there are other colors mixed in, they are colors of nature, creams, and brown shades. The buildings house a very unique collection of artifacts from around the world. The two themes you will see over and over again are animal bones and parts and phallic objects. Vegans and children beware haha! Our tour guide had said the property was representative of death, suffering, human desire, and cravings. Art is subjective, so I am sure others have different interpretations than mine, but I saw natural beauty represented at the Black House. Death is a part of life, and Duchanee does well to honor the animals that came before us. There is an entry price for this museum around 100 TBH ($3.25 USD). The price was included in our tour fee.
By the time we left the Black House, I was famished. It was a super-hot and humid day, and by now we had spent a few hours either on the bus or exploring at each stop. I was so ready for lunch. We all got back on the bus and headed to our next location. Lunch was conveniently located across the street from the final temple. Sure, it was included in the price of our day, but I did not care for the lunch choice. Being so hot outside, my body could have used a retreat into some air conditioning. However, the restaurant was totally open walled and exposed to the outdoors. I hate nothing more than being hot, so this was already a bad start. We all sat and ate family style, and I was underwhelmed with the food offerings. We had the best Thai food at the cooking class on day one, so when comparing this food to that, day three was inferior. The restroom situation was also not that great. Overall, I wouldn’t go back to the restaurant. The area had a bunch of places to eat, and I would have selected a place with air conditioning if I had a choice.
We crossed the street and were standing in front of Wat Rong Khun, the famous White Temple. Opened in 1997, this was the oldest property we had been to. The original Wat Rong Khun had also been deteriorating and in bad shape when local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to rebuild the temple with his own funds. A great portion of the project is completed, but there are still portions under construction that aren’t expected to be completed until 2070! This was my absolute favorite temple of the day. Every structure is white on a backdrop of the blue sky and green grass. The super-white buildings and statues look almost angelic from a distance. Some structures to note are “the Bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth,” which you use to walk up to the temple; the Gate of Heaven guarded by two statues, one representing death and the other Rahu; Ubosot, the large white building with fragments of mirrored glass embedded into the façade; and the Golden Building for restrooms. You’ll see a slew of stunning exterior photos below, but the artist doesn’t let guests take photos inside the temple, so we don’t have any photos indoors. At first, we thought that was due to a sign of respect for the place of prayer, but after being inside, we felt the paintings may be the reason why. Upon entry, turn around, and you are greeted with an incredible colorful mural sprinkled with well-known cartoons and superheroes. Just my own thoughts here, but maybe the no-photography rule has something to do with copyright laws? We purchased these thin sheet metal ornaments that you are supposed to hang on the property to add to the newest artistic walkway. However, we collect Christmas ornaments, so we figured we could use that as a memento. I felt I could have stayed at this property all day. Every turn you saw something new and beautiful. Even the bathroom area was beautiful! Based off my pictures below, and my rosy cheeks, you can probably tell how hot I was feeling. By the end of the visit, I was doing everything in my power to cool down: I had tied my hair into a top bun, had a wet towel around my neck, a cold-water bottle on my forehead, heavily utilized my paper fan, and purchased ice cream to consume while we were waiting for the rest of our party to make their way to the bus. Heat stroke, anyone? Definitely plan ahead if you are visiting in the hot season. Admission fee is a minimal 50 TBH ($1.63 USD), but they do accept additional donations. Again, the fees were included in our overall fee for the excursion.
We rode the bus back towards town and were exhausted! We got back to our hotel and took a break to wash laundry while we lounged poolside for a bit. When the wash was done, we hung it up then changed to go out for the evening. We headed to Rachadamnoen Road for the Sunday night street market and walked around from tent to tent and purchased a bunch of souvenirs for family and friends. If you are ever purchasing multiple items from one vendor, then try to work a deal into the pricing. They are usually flexible to throw in something for free.
I stopped along the way and got a foot massage while hubby kept exploring nearby. There are so many massage shops to choose from, and they are all priced similarly. I’d recommend to just pick one that doesn’t have a wait. After such a long day walking around, it was rejuvenating, and a 90-minute massage for 461 TBH ($15 USD) was expensive for Thailand but well worth it. Massages in Thailand are much cheaper than the US though! I should have gotten one a day. Don’t make my mistake.
On the bus ride back from the tour, we had run into some other Americans who told us they had been in Thailand for a couple of weeks so far and ate a lot of street food without getting sick. They recommended purchasing something directly off the grill and not to purchase something that looked grilled but had finished cooking and sat out after. As New Yorkers, we already play street food somewhat safely when in the States. Of course, we were going to play it even more safely on the streets of a night market in Thailand. We hadn’t intended on eating dinner at the market that night, but keeping in mind our new friends’ advice we felt more confident to eat some grilled snacks along the way. We didn’t end up getting sick, so I was glad that we took a chance and tried some grilled meats.
We got back to our hotel, brought our newly-washed-and-hang-dried clothes back to our room, and, after such a long day, just crashed.
With all of our clothes cleaned and a bunch of new souvenirs to pack, we had an alarm set to wake up early and pack up the room. It didn’t take too long, because we were basically living out of our suitcases. We brought our bags downstairs for the front office to hold while we crossed the street to enjoy breakfast for the last time. We took our time while eating, because although we have airport lounge access they only had a lounge in the international terminal. Our next stop was to Phuket, Thailand, and it was a domestic flight, so we only needed to be at the airport an hour in advance. Our flight was scheduled for 11:35am. The front desk called us a taxi. We left the hotel around 9:45am and got to the airport by 10:00am. The airport is super small, so we got through security and to our gate very quickly.
Pro Tip: Domestic flights within Thailand are super cheap! With flights being so affordable between cities, you should take advantage of seeing more than one city while in Thailand. There are other options to take a train or a bus between cities, but the flights are so quick that it’s the most time-efficient option.
Our first two days in Chiang Mai were spent exploring town, taking a cooking class, and enjoying a day with rescued elephants. Our final day in Chiang Mai was jam-packed with temples, each one more unique than the next. Overall, I think it is possible to see Chiang Mai in a minimum of three days. There were many other tours or activities you could do while in Chiang Mai, but I feel we experienced a great mix of shopping, food, temples, and nature. Stay tuned for our future Thailand blog posts on Phuket and Bangkok!
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