The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) in Chiang Rai has been on my list of bizarre places to visit for quite a while, so when I finally set foot in Thailand in October I deliberately forgot about the islands in the south and headed straight to the mountains in the north.
In fact, I got so infatuated with Bangkok and everything north of Bangkok that I did not even see a beach. No sand, no waves, no full moon parties. Nothing. Just mountains, culture, art, markets, the crisp cool northern air and delicious Kao Soi.
The White Temple is a modern architectural masterpiece designed in 1997 by a Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, semi-destroyed in 2014 by an earthquake, restored and still an everlasting ongoing process of an artist’s vision.
Wat Rong Khun stands out like a beautiful bright not-so-sore thumb. The reflections are heavenly; shimmering and glistering mirrors catch sparks of light and bounce back on another piece of a shimmering and glistering mirror.
The White Temple sits in quiet meditative position when the skies are grey and breaks out in a joyous dance when the sun and clouds are out. It swirls and twirls with the elements, plays a game of catch and release with the dazzling rays and hugs nature in an intense glare.
But before you enter the temple grounds Gothic faces of evil greet you hanging from a tree…
And the twinkling temple’s tender face reflects righteously in the water.
Hands are desperately reaching out to you from a lake of desire, drowned in human suffering and hell as you cross the “Cycle of Rebirth” bridge.
And as you leave behind the worldly temptations, greed and desire you reach the guarded “Gate of Heaven”.
The most important structure of The White Temple is the Ubosot, a building representing Northern Thai temples but not without a twist. Inside the building one can find murals depicting good and evil through colourful elements of minions, spaceships and batman. Strange, but true.
Silver leaves are covered in prayers and wishes scribbled in ink and stacked closely together to form shade and prayer trees.
The famous-not-to-be-missed restrooms inflict its own form of pain in a shade of golden gold, from floor to roof; symbolising money and worldly desires.
The more you walk, the more white you discover.
The more white you discover, the more severe the sun feasts on your skin.
The more severe the sun feasts on your skin, the more you wish for shade, sunglasses and semi-darkness.
The White Temple Facts:
- There is no entrance fee to the temple.
- The artist has spent almost $1.2million (of his own money) so far on the temple.
- Wat Rong Khun is not expected to be completed until 2070.
- The artist welcomes donations, but donations should not exceed $280.
- When completed, The White Temple will have nine structures.
- The artist sees this temple as an offering to Lord Buddha and believes that the project will give him immortal life.
Going Somewhere Slowly Tips:
- Don’t rush through the grounds of Wat Rong Khun. The slower you go, the more you’ll see!
- If you have the luxury of waiting for perfect weather, wait for it. It’s a completely different experience under blue skies, sunshine and white clouds.
- If you go to the temple during the aforementioned weather conditions, please pack sunglasses and some suntan lotion.
- The main area of the temple is closed for lunch between 12:00 and 13:00 – it’s extremely difficult to get a shot of the “Cycle of Rebirth” bridge with no one in your photo. Make sure you are first to enter when they open the gates and go get your perfect shot!
Looking for a place to stay outside of Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai? Panviman Chiang Mai Spa Resort is a world class resort quietly tucked away in the mountains.