Mitch and I visited Chiang Rai in a whirlwind three days before starting our border crossing adventure into Laos and got to see most of the major sights and spend one afternoon off the beaten path relaxing. Here is part one in a three day series about our stay in Chiang Rai.
Day 1: Hilltribe Museum and White Temple
I am very interested in the hill tribe culture in Thailand and around Southeast Asia in general, especially after reading the fascinating true story of a Hmong family trapped between their Hmong culture and Western science (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down). The Hmong are just one of the many different tribes to come into Thailand from surrounding countries, and the Chiang Rai Hilltribe Museum, although small, provides some interesting information about a good number of these different tribes. What I like about the museum is that proceeds of admission go to help fund community development projects for different hill tribes in the area and to provide higher education for young, hill tribe students.
While in the museum, we met Atittaya, an accomplished craft weaver who told us about the long process of weaving a beautiful textile by hand as well as the natural dyes she used to color her hand spun cotton and silk. She was so friendly and knowledgeable and promoting her personal business of local, organic, and hand crafted textiles, so now Mitch and I have a new duvet cover 😀 Check our her website for some interesting videos and a selection of some of her beautiful work.
That afternoon, we hopped out our rented scooter and scooted out to see the famed White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) of Chiang Rai. I’d seen photos of it from afar and thought it was very interesting looking, but I didn’t realize it was a modern temple built in 1997. Honestly, my first impression is that I didn’t understand it at all. I mentioned in a previous post about Thai museums that there is not a lot of information about exhibits and monuments. I’d skimmed Wikipedia briefly before heading over, but it still didn’t prepare me for what we saw.
While the temple is white, the imagery is very dark. Walking up to the entrance, there are sculpted hands reaching up to you from either sides of the walkway. It truly reminded me of what my mind saw when reading Dante’s Inferno.
Inside, photography is not allowed. The walls are painted in a mural style like most wats, but the designs included scenes from Star Wars, Despicable Me (minions!), super heroes, the Simpsons, the World Trade Center Twin Towers collapsing, etc. among old-style mural paintings. The best interpretation I could muster is that the artist was depicting some sort of life balance (?): white temple with dark imagery of starving hands, modern painting amidst classic murals, etc. But there is no information at the temple to corroborate or debunk my cursory theories, and it’s not quite the same researching online after you’ve left the site in question. Overall, it was a somewhat interesting experience, but I didn’t end up enjoying it that much. After we returned home, I did look up the meanings of the artist’s work and found information about the temple art here. (yes, a website called Thailand for Children).
For dinner that night, we had Thai hot pot in a popular outdoor food court at the Night Market. This is relevant later 😀