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.
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.
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.
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.