Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple in Chiang Rai, is the city’s most popular attraction and one of the most beautiful temples in the world. As such, the endless stream of tourists passing through the temple can become a little uncomfortable, and getting a photo without anyone in it is nearly impossible. Here are a few tricks on how to keep the press of bodies to a minimum, or even get an exceedingly rare few seconds to yourself for that perfect photo.
Don’t Take a Tour
The easiest way to explore Chiang Rai is on a tour, either leaving from your accommodations in the city or leaving early in the morning from Chiang Mai. Tours are anywhere from $20 to $50, depending on where you’re leaving from, how many attractions you want to see, how big of a bus or small of a van you want to be in, etc. Like I said, that’s the easiest way, but far from I would consider as the best option.
Most of the tours going around Chiang Rai use 38-seat or 51-seat buses. If you were on the only tour arriving at Wat Rong Khun, you’d still have three or four dozen other people sharing the temple with you. But it’s not just one tour bus at a time. It’s more like five or ten. The buses don’t all go at the same time, but they do bunch up in the middle of the day, especially those coming up from Chiang Mai.
Use Public Transportation
Taking public transportation to the various attractions in Chiang Rai isn’t actually that difficult and way, way cheaper than the tours. If you’re headed to the Blue Temple or Black House, jump on the bus headed toward Mae Sai (the city along the border of Myanmar). Tell the lady on the bus which attraction you’re going to and she’ll tell you when to get off. Traveling all the way to Mae Sai is only 39 Thai baht (about $1.30), but you only have to pay 20 baht for either of those other attractions.
Going to the White Temple in Chiang Rai is even easier. The bus has a different destination but is clearly labeled as the bus to the White Temple at the central bus station. The tickets are also 20 baht ($0.65) and the bus leaves every 20 minutes or so. You’ll get dropped off on the highway and will have to run across the lanes of traffic to get to the temple, but you should be used to that in Thailand. When you’re ready to leave, head back to the main road and wait a few minutes for the next bus heading back to the city center. To flag the bus down on the street, don’t wave at it. Move your hand in a patting motion, as if patting someone’s shoulder…but without the person there.
Go Early in the Day
Taking public transportation allows you to stay longer at the temple. You can wait for some of the tour buses to leave. More importantly, you can get to the temple far earlier than most of the other tours. It starts getting busy as early as 10 in the morning, but the buses start around 7 a.m. Unfortunately the temple doesn’t open until 8 a.m., but that’s still plenty of time to walk around before it gets busy.
The temple closes at 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and 5:30 p.m. on weekends. I’ve never visited the temple at this time, so I don’t know if that’s a good time to go. As a photographer, that’s certainly when I’d want to go for the best photos.
Visit in the Off Season
Another trick for getting to the White Temple in Chiang Rai without massive crowds takes some advanced planning. The tourism season of Thailand is roughly November to April, although tourism in northern Thailand drops off a little in March and April due to the massive amount of pollution.
May through October don’t see as many tourists simply because these are the rainy months in Thailand, and walking around while getting drenched isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun holiday. However, if you really want that photo without anyone in it, you might want to consider one of these months. Another benefit to this is the plane tickets are often cheaper than during the busier months.
Try to Go on a Rainy Day
May through October isn’t the only time it rains in Thailand. It actually rains throughout most of the year. It’s not exactly easy to plan your trip on one of the days that it’s raining, but it is possible. If you can, try to pick a day with a chance of rain. This has a big advantage, but also a big disadvantage. Many people will cancel their tour on account of rain and you’re likely to see smaller crowds.
The disadvantage is that the bridge leading into the temple is made of marble, and gets extremely slippery during the rain. So much so that the temple administration will shut down the attraction until the rain stops and the bridge dries off enough so as not to pose a safety hazard. If this does happen, see if you can get to the front of the line when they let everyone back into the temple. If you’re clever, you’ll be able to get a couple shots before everyone else mobs in. That’s exactly what I did for a very rare shot of the temple with hardly anyone else in the photo, even though I was on a tour in the middle of the day of the busy season.
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If you’re looking for more attractions in Chiang Rai or perhaps want to visit Pai (a village near Chiang Rai up in the mountains), here are some more stories..
- 10 Activities to Do In and Around Chiang Rai, Thailand
- A Day Exploring the Sai Ngam Hot Springs and Pai Canyon – Pai Part 1
- Christmas in the Hippie Village of Pai and a Secret Waterfall, Pai Part 2
Finally here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
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further great reading – thanks Skye
Great post! I’m going to Chiang Mai in May (was hoping to fit it in just before the rainy season). I’d like to go to the White Temple, the Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten) and the Golden Triangle. Do you know if it’s possible to do these all in one day by bus from Chiang Mai?
Great to hear you’re coming to Chiang Mai. I’m just going to miss you, as I’m leaving at the end of April. Chiang Rai is wonderful, and you can definitely do it all in a single day. There are three ways to see it all in a day. You can either use public transportation to get to all of it, which is possible but you’ll have to move fast to catch all the buses. Another way is to rent a scooter and hit all the locations you want to. The third way is to get a tour, which is about $20-$30. Aside from the White Temple, Blue Temple and Black House (which are all mandatory), the Golden Triangle, Mai Sae, and the tea and coffee plantations are highly recommended. Read my full article on all these attractions and how to get to them at Skyetravels.com/Chiang-Rai.
Thank you for your reply! Your post on Chiang Rai is very helpful. I was slightly against a tour as I don’t want too many people to get in my photos but I understand that the white temple will always be busy. Your tour looked awesome. I wish I could go up to Chiang Rai the night before but I’m limited on time. Thank you for all the info 🙂
You’re very welcome. I would definitely recommend going up the night before, especially if you want to get to all the attractions. It’s a four hour bus ride (the last one leaves around 6 p.m.), or you can get there in a little under 3 hours on a scooter. Otherwise, Definitely get the earliest bus in the morning (which I think leaves around 7 a.m.). The benefit of taking a tour is you get all the information from the tour guide, but, as you said, all the extra people in your photos is a big disadvantage.