Chiang Rai was not a destination originally on my radar. But a few people that I met in hostels and around Chiang Mai recommended that I visit. Luckily, I've been quite flexible and open while booking and planning this trip, so I booked a bus to Chiang Rai and a night in a hostel that later became two nights.
Chiang Rai was pretty quiet, even for low-season. However, I did greatly enjoy the night bazaar. This is the perfect place for shopping, entertainment and music, and food. I ate here both nights, there is a lot of variety for street food and it's bound to be cheap. Walking through the stalls and decide if you want a hot pot (where you cook veggies, noodles, meat, and an egg in boiling water with herbs) or pad thai or fried anything.
The main attraction for many who visit Chiang Rai is the White Temple. And there's a reason why.
I can honestly say this is the most beautiful temple I've seen yet. After so many temples covered in gold and glitz, decorated in a way that seemed opalent and borderline gaudy. The White Temple is not just a work of art, but a masterpiece. Formally known as Wat Rong Khun, it is a modern temple still in construction. It was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a Thai artist, and work on the temple started in 1998. Completely white and accented with mirrors, the temple glows elegantly in the sun. I was drawn in not only by the startling color but also the extreme detail. In front if the main building sits a bridge representing the path to heaven, over a pit of hands and eyes and other carvings that represent hell. Take a look...
You could probably look all day and still not see everything. Each line and fixture have a purpose and the whole that they make up is stylized and gorgeous. Personally I probably could have just sat and looked at it all day long.
But there are some other things to see, like the golden toilet building--the most beautiful restroom I've ever seen, made this way to contrast the lowliness of human need against the enlightened white purity seen in the temple's other buildings. If you go to visit the White Temple you cannot miss seeing the art gallery featuring work from throughout the lifetime of Kositpipat. Here you can see traditional Buddhist drawings, movement-filled etchings, and sarcastic paintings.
All-in-all Chiang Rai makes for a nice detour. If you go, please visit the White Temple and allow yourself to be astounded.