Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

When I visited Chiang Rai during my first visit to Thailand, I made the mistake of not visiting the famous “White Temple”. I didn’t know a lot about it at the time apart from the fact that it was all white, and I was feeling pretty “templed out”, so I didn’t bother to make the 13km journey out of town to see it.

After I got back, I kept seeing and reading blog posts and articles about the White Temple and I realised that I had really missed out. I promised myself that I would make the trip if I ever found myself back in Chiang Rai again. Well, during my recent trip around Southeast Asia, I certainly did find myself back in Chiang Rai, and so I rented myself a scooter for the day and headed off to see for myself what all of the fuss was about.

Wat Rong Khun, commonly known to tourists as “The White Temple”, is more than just a Buddhist temple. It is a work of art. The masterpiece of Thai artist and millionaire Charlemchai Kositpipat.

Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Wat Rong Khun – The White Temple

In Thailand, you get used to visiting elaborate centuries old temples. Wat Rong Khun is different. It was officially opened in 1997, and it is very unconventional when compared to the usual Buddhist temple.

The all white exterior of the temple makes it stand out alone, and the entire building seems to sparkle and shine in the sun.

Walking into the temple, you are confronted by grotesque heads hanging from trees, and walking through the temple takes you on a journey through beauty and horror. As you enter the temple, you must walk a path where unknown hands reach up from below, while distorted demons and skulls stare blankly back at you.

Heads hanging from a tree at Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Demon heads hang from trees outside the temple

Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Wat Rong Khun

Hands reaching up at Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Hands reach up from below the path into the temple

Demons at Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Demons that you have to pass by to enter the temple

Hands reaching up at Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Hands hold up a skull at Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Two guardians guard the entrance to the ubosot (the main shrine) as you walk across the white sparkling bridge lined with nagas (dragons).

The interior of the ubosot looks much like your usual Thai temple, with one very big difference. The artwork on the walls doesn’t depict stories from Buddhism. Instead, it is almost a dedication to Sci Fi movies and pop culture. Photos aren’t allowed inside, but I can assure you that it is quite the sight.

Guardian at Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

One of the guardians at the entrance to the ubosot

Dragon at Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Back of the temple at Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

The back of the temple

Golden building at Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Another building in the complex, completely gold to contrast with the white and silver of the main temple. It is also a toilet…possibly the most elaborate that I have seen.

Heads hanging from a tree at Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

More heads hanging from a tree, this time with more familiar faces (if you’re into movies).

Wat Rong Khun may not be what you would expect from a Buddhist temple, and it’s probably not the best place to go if you’re after a religious experience; however it is definitely a spectacular site to visit. It really is a work of art, and it has become a true treasure for Thailand. Thai people come from all over the country to see it, and so should you.

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11 comments… add one
  • Graeme Voigt Apr 21, 2014

    WOAH! This is mental! Thanks for sharing man

  • Jen Seligmann Apr 22, 2014

    Wow the White Temple is so unique, I don’t think I have seen anything like it before. Ans I don’t think I ever thought I would say this but I love the toilet!

    • Dean Wickham May 2, 2014

      Haha Jen. I was the same. Probably the most awesome toilet ever 😉

  • Amanda Apr 24, 2014

    I missed this on my first trip to Thailand, too, and I’m still bummed about it. I will definitely get there next time! It’s just too unique to skip!

    • Dean Wickham May 2, 2014

      Hey Amanda. I was sad that I missed it on my first time too. It is a really cool place to check out. It’s just another reason to return to this amazing part of the world 🙂

  • The architecture is truly magnificent. I love to experience and learn about the culture while I travel so I would to see this in person. Definitely adding it to my bucket list. Amazing post, thank you for sharing!

    • Dean Wickham May 17, 2014

      Hi Sara. I highly recommend visiting. It is quite a spectacular temple.

  • Deb May 9, 2014

    I can’t believe we missed this temple when we were in Chiang Rai. We were on a motorcycle trip, so it was more about the countryside, but what were we thinking? Looks spectacular!

    • Dean Wickham May 17, 2014

      Hey Deb. I had the same thought the first time that I visited Chiang Rai. But it’s just another reason to go back, right? 😉

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