The White Temple in Chiang Rai, also known as Wat Rong Khun, is likely the most interesting and unique temple that you will ever visit in Thailand. The temple is the brainchild of acclaimed Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, who considers the project the culmination of his life’s work. Construction began in 1997 and is a work in progress, but that is no reason to miss out on visiting this amazing place.
The White Temple aka Wat Rong Khun. | Photo by: Laurence Norah, on Flickr
The temple itself gets it’s nickname by, no surprise here, it’s color. The entire structure is painted white with a very small bit of color added her and there for effect, but for the most part everything is white, even the Koi fish are all white (albeit not painted that color). Why white instead of the traditional gold? The artist feels that white is a pure color and gold is more suitable for those who lust for evil.
Wat Rong Khun is a mixture of the beautiful, the grotesque and the downright odd. At it’s heart, it is a depiction of the conflict of good and evil, at least that is one interpretation. As there are many kinds of evil in the world, there are many depictions of it at the temple.
The entrance of the temple is a representation of Hell and all the terrible evils that exist either in the world, or in the imaginations of men. You will find your typical demons and monsters straight out of mythology, but you will also find more modern evils such as the fictional character Predator straight from the movies. Also dispersed around the grounds are piles skeletons and demons, with a few severed heads hanging from the trees.
Hanging Heads at the White Temple. | Photo by: Heiko S, on Flickr
As you cross over the bridge leading to the main temple, you may gaze down at the hopeless souls below how are suffering in Hell and presumably, trying to escape. Depicted in meticulous detail are the outstretched arms of the suffering. You must literally go through Hell in order to reach Heaven.
The main hall is a representation of Heaven with a grand mural that combines traditional Buddhist images and motifs with more modern themes. This includes such modern images of evil including the depiction of a nuclear explosion as well as the destruction of the World Trade Center.
The mural also contains a lot of familiar images that seem a bit odd to have within a Buddhist temple. Why there is a depiction of Neo from the movie The Matrix or Spiderman the comic book hero depicted on a mural, I can’t really say. You’ll also find such recognizable pop culture references as Bumblebee from Transformers, a Pod Racer from Star Wars, even a Na’vi from Avatar, to name a few. According to the pamphlet, this entire image refers to the “killing of innocence” and how no heroes can save us from it. At the very center of all this madness is a depiction of the Buddha, high up and serene, risen above it all.
The White Temple of Chiang Rai is loaded with detail at every corner. It truly is a work of art. Images can’t really due justice to the feeling of actually being there. For such a widely visited attraction, it may come as a surprise that there is no entrance fee, although donations are welcome. So if you are in Northern Thailand, there really is no reason not to visit Wat Rong Khun.