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I’m no stranger to bike tours in Southeast Asia — I’ve done self-guided jaunts through Siem Reap and Ayutthaya, and joined an organized trip around Bangkok. What can I say, I like to cycle! So when I came across Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour in my search for ways to get to the infamous Wat Rong Khun White Temple, I was all over it.

While Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour has several different tour options, the most popular are the half day tour which goes through the countryside and to the White Temple, and the full day tour, which continues on to Khun Kon, Chiang Rai’s highest waterfall.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Unlike many one-day or half-day cycling tours, these actually cover a fair amount of distance. The full day tour takes in 25-30 miles of road! I signed on for the full day, and mentally prepared myself for a few moments of cursing my decision during the uphill portions.

After a pickup truck escorted us outside of town and away from the worst traffic, we started to gear up. Bee, the owner and main tour guide, gave us a safety run-down while his brother and fellow guide Amon fitted myself and my three fellow cyclers for bikes.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Off we went! Despite Chiang Rai’s reputation as a cool retreat from Thailand’s heat, the combination of sun and intense physical activity had me sweating in no time. I had plenty of distraction, though, as we would soon pass beautiful temples…

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

… active rice fields…

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

… and even a rural local crematorium.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

“So… we are looking at… dead people?,” came the stuttered query of the German woman in our group, as we stared at the pile of ashes at our feet. Amon nodded matter of factually before pointing out the elaborate spirit houses used as eternal homes for the ashes of Thailand’s wealthy. “Some people, poor. Some people, have money.”

It didn’t take long for me to assess that Bee was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had in Thailand. He was polite and kind, but with a winking sense of humor, and he seemed to know everyone we encountered, from workers in the rice fields to locals shooting the breeze on their porches. His excellent English, he explained, was due to his years as a monk and his subsequent years as a biking guide in Chiang Mai. When I asked him how long he had been running Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour, he didn’t hesitate in his proud answer — “Four years, two months…. and twenty-three days.”

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Just when I was beginning to think my bum couldn’t take another moment on the seat, we pulled over at a wooded jungle temple. Here, we snacked on delicious fruits and Thai treats and peppered our guides with questions about life in Thailand’s northernmost provincial capital.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Soon, we were in the final stretch before the White Temple. We had ridden about 15 miles thus far, and some of it has surprised me in its difficulty — potholed roads, dirt paths, and slight inclines. But it was all part of the adventure. Forget the town center — I felt like I had now seen the real Chiang Rai.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Just in time for the heat of midday, we were able to park the bikes for a bit — we were at The White Temple! Wat Rong Khun is one of Chiang Rai’s biggest tourist draws thanks to its unconventional origins and contemporary style.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

This unusual temple is a work-in-progress by famed Thai painter-turned-architect Chalermchai Kositpipat. Started in 1997 and not expected to be finished for another 50-60 years, the project is being funded by donations and by sales of Kositpipat’s very pricey gallery prints.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

The temple depicts ghoulish versions of a twisted hell in contrast with a glistening white heaven. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside the main building of the temple, so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I promise you that I’ve never before seen Angry Birds, Osama Bin Laden, Spiderman, and George Bush worked into a religiously-themed mural. Another blogger snagged some sneaky pics, if you’re really curious about what is inside.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

While I was more puzzled than anything by the interior, I absolutely adored the crisp white aesthetic of the exterior of the temple. As someone who has visited endless temples around Southeast Asia, I can attest to the true uniqueness of this one.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

And as the temple is still a work in process, Bee even brought us behind the scenes to see the studios of the many workers involved in the temple construction.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Before leaving, we walked by these prayer stands, where for a small donation we could hang our own hopes and dreams on a tree of silver.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

After a simple but delicious lunch, the half-day tour was over and we waved goodbye to one of our fellow bikers. The rest of us continued on for another hour or so before we stopped for a break and I broke out my night-bus ticket to ask Bee a question about the bus terminal. It was at this moment that he pointed out to me that I had bought a ticket for the wrong day! So much for accomplishing basic tasks.

As I really needed to be in Chiang Mai by that night, Bee came to the rescue and had his brother (who was nearby in the support vehicle) pick me up there and bring me back into town. I was so disappointed to cut my tour short and not to see the waterfall, but equally as impressed by the wonderful customer service at Chiang Rai Bicycle Tours.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Without a doubt, this was the highlight of my trip to Chiang Rai (okay, staying at the luxury hotel wasn’t bad either…) I can’t recommend Bee and Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour any more highly! There’s no better way to experience the countryside, or to see the White Temple. Just make sure to check your bus ticket more carefully than I did.

Half day tours cost 1,400 baht, while full day tours cost 1,800 baht. Both include gear, snacks, water, lunch, transfers, and a guide. Many thanks to Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour for hosting me on this tour. They in no insisted that I write a favorable review, though they did seem to insist on being fantastic tour operators.

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33 Comments...
  • Sebastiaan
    March 9 2013

    No better way then exploring a country(side) and its people then by bike! But as a Dutchman I might be slightly biased.

    That white temple… Is it built by and/or a promotion of some new Spielberg-movie? Even at daylight it is frightening (and yet intriguing)…

    “Some people, poor. Some people, have money.” Sadly, that is the way the cookie crumbles.

    • Alex
      March 9 2013

      I love the way Buddhist people describe life inequalities like that…. really there is no bitterness. It IS just the way the cookie crumbles, and the shrugging acceptance is very refreshing!

  • Ayngelina
    March 9 2013

    I may be a bit lazy but this really does seem to be the best way to see the area. I’d love to do something like this.
    Ayngelina recently posted..A city full of chef crushes

    • Alex
      March 9 2013

      From a car, you can’t hear little kids running out of their houses to yell “hello!”; on foot, you can’t cover so much ground; and on a motorbike, you risk life and limb 🙂 So yes, I totally agree!

  • What an awesome way to explore! I love the White Temple, so insane.
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..A Year of Awesome.

    • Alex
      March 9 2013

      Craziest temple I’ve ever seen! Should definitely be on everyone’s must-see in Thailand list 🙂

  • Daniel McBane
    March 9 2013

    I’m going to go against the trend and say that biking is NOT the best way to visit this temple and until they invent a bike seat that doesn’t feel like it was created to get prisoners at Guantanamo to talk, I won’t be changing my mind.

    That said, I remember the ride to the temple taking so long that I was even starting to get get sore on the bus, so I have to say, I do admire the stamina of anyone who pedals themselves out there.
    Daniel McBane recently posted..6 Steps to Becoming a True Backpacker

    • Alex
      March 9 2013

      Hahaha, I love this comment. Yes, my bum was getting a bit sore! But I like the feeling of my being sore… I think of it as my fat crying and then I feel better 🙂

  • Kathryn
    March 9 2013

    The temple has to count as the most bizarre thing that has been recorded here at Alex in Wanderland.

    Love the sights along the bike ride…oh, how cool to be so so far away from Western “civilization.”

    • Alex
      March 9 2013

      You would have loved it… George Bush and Osama Bin Laden were each painted into the eyes of the devil. Ha.

  • Abby
    March 9 2013

    You are so sporty I can’t stand it!! I wouldn’t last half an hour on any bike tours. Luckily, none of my friends pressure me to do so!

    • Alex
      March 9 2013

      Ha, I wish I could go back and tell my high school self that someday someone would call me “sporty!” I do see myself moving in a more active direction, though I’ve never played at organized sport in my life!

  • Micamyx|Senyorita
    March 9 2013

    I must learn how to ride a bike soon. Exploring the countryside via bike looks fun! I skipped Chiang Rai last year because of depleted funds T_T
    Micamyx|Senyorita recently posted..Subic Homes – That Nostalgic Feeling

    • Alex
      March 9 2013

      It’s definitely a great stop over if you are traveling through to Laos or looking to do some trekking!

  • Stephen Jones
    March 10 2013

    Great blog entry, Alex! I’m actually considering buying a bicycle (or bicycles), for my RTW trip. I don’t think I’ll be able to use the same one all the way through – I don’t know how much an airline would charge for it! Possible – yes. Cost effective, maybe not. Might be cheaper to buy, then sell, and then buy a another one when I need it.
    Stephen Jones recently posted..May extend the 6 months in North America to 12 months

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      I would think it would be easier to buy one in each region you are planning to go to it, because even little things like finding a cab with a bike rack to get out of airports might be hard. But cool idea!

  • Chet Opalka
    March 10 2013

    Like the post. I agree with those who compare it with Gaudi’s work. It came to my mind immediately. Here is another place that seems to be similarly awesome and weird: http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/black-house-chiang-rai-thailand/

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      I wish I had gotten to see that one as well! Oh well, gives me something to go back for.

  • Emily in Chile
    March 10 2013

    This temple certainly sounds unique! I have seen pictures but didn’t realize it was so modern or that it’s still under construction. And while it’s a shame you couldn’t see the end of the tour, I’m very impressed with the company helping to sort out your bus situation.

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      I know, right? It was one of those situations where I was so impressed by the consolation that I kind of forgot about the original problem!

  • Lucy
    March 12 2013

    The White Temple is really something! I was in Chiang Rai about 10 years ago so it can’t have been very much built by then as I don’t remember hearing anything about it or I’d have been there for sure. Must make it back sometime, and I love the idea of the bike tour if I do.
    Lucy recently posted..Just a drop: A port wine tasting in Porto

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      It’s definitely a bit outside of town, so its not something you would stumble upon unless you were really looking for it 🙂 Definitely a reason to go back!

  • Erica
    March 12 2013

    I do love bike tours but prefer the kind of the downhill variety. 😛
    Erica recently posted..Happy Blog Birthday Over Yonderlust! THE BIG THREE

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      How is it possible that I haven’t done one yet?! Wanted to do the one at Haleakala volcano in Hawaii but…. Maui relaxation set in 🙂

  • Sky
    March 21 2013

    Man, I wish I had learned to ride a bike when I was little because this sounds like so much fun!

    The photos are gorgeous and even though it looks pretty creepy, I would love to see it someday.
    Sky recently posted..California: My Fantasyland

    • Alex
      March 24 2013

      It’s never too late 🙂 Bike riding is such a great way to exercise and explore at the same time!

  • Jenna
    March 22 2013

    Fun! I’ve been wanting to do a bike tour lately–I think I’m going to have to work one in someday soon. The White Temple looks beautiful, too–great photos! I checked out those photos of the inside, and I have to say, I was not expecting that at all!
    Jenna recently posted..A Photo Essay: Ghent, Belgium

    • Alex
      March 24 2013

      Jenna did you guys hit Iceland yet? I remember you were planning a trip there. The one I did in Reykjavik was amazing!

      • Jenna
        March 24 2013

        Not yet, we go in May. I’m getting so excited–it’s been too long of a wait, lol! I remember reading about the bike tour you went on–it looked like a lot of fun–we will have to try and check it out! Thanks!
        Jenna recently posted..A Photo Essay: Ghent, Belgium

  • Brian
    July 18 2013

    Thanks for your blog post. I’m currently planning a trip to Thailand and wanted to go to Chiang Rai and being and avid cyclist, this will be a great way to experience the country. I’ll be looking up Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour and reading your other posts to help plan my trip. Any other advice you have is certainly welcome.

    • Alex
      July 19 2013

      Hey Brian! Also check out my post on my nighttime bike tour of Bangkok! It was an amazing experience and a must do for a bike enthusiast! Enjoy your trip 🙂

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