Hi Gold Coast!
We visited "Snow White's Temple," as we called it, in February 2009. It's literally every bit as sparkling as you've seen in pictures. The white stone has thousands of little mirrors embedded in it, to make the temple sparkle in the sunlight.
The temple is about 15 km south of downtown Chiang Rai, just off the Route 1 highway. It's an easy commute by a taxi or a rental car.
We had already rented a car in Chiang Mai. Mountains lie across the direct route between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. You need to take a circuitous route, either to the south or the north. We took the northerly route.
If you take the northerly circuit (clockwise) here are a few attractions along the way:
- About 25 km north of Chiang Mai is a tourist road dotted with attractions, everything from orchid farms to elephants to a monkey zoo. I found them underwhelming, but know that they are there. You can drive in and enjoy these attractions without any advance reservations, if this be your cup of tea.
- About 120 km north of Chiang Mai is Fang National Park, which has geysers! No need to go to New Zealand! Fang has nicely-appointed bungalows overlooking the thermal valley. You can sit on your balcony and have tea (in-room kettle is provided) while watching the geysers erupt! Bungalows cost around AUS$70/night per bungalow, which can comfortably sleep four. The number of bungalows is limited, so it may be desirable to reserve ahead for the evening you expect to visit. No one in the National Park spoke English, so this is a case where the internet may be of great assistance.
Fang was the high note of our entire Thailand trip!
- The road brushes the extreme northern tip of Thailand, with a number of aboriginal villages close to the highway. They're easy to just drop in on. Burma is just over the hill from here.
With no dawdling along the way, you could drive between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in about three hours. If you went north, as we did, I can't imagine how you could just pass all these interesting spots without stopping. And don't even get me started about the many other shrines along the route, and the big downtown temples in Chiang Rai!
Happy travels, and let me know if I can help further!