With visiting friends, we road-tripped to one of my Thailand bucket list items, the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun. Created by the Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, it is the most extravagant temple I’ve seen and certainly the most creative with the wild mix of mythological creatures and enthusiastic use of white (symbolizing purity).
Kositpipat began work on the temple in 1997 and continues to expand with new buildings. Per an older article in Chiang Mai Mail,
“Chalermchai wants to create this Buddhist art for his beloved homeland and all human beings by donating all of his ability and his life to the Dharma.”
His abilities are certainly extraordinary for the White Temple is beautiful. The grounds are filled with intricate sculptures and incredible structures, making it a photographers dream (or mild nightmare, in my case – so much white!)
The temple, embedded with mirrors, was like a star that drew the eye and allowed you to look past the other bus loads of tourists visiting. While it initially stole my attention, my eye then began to focus on little details, such as the Predator-like guardian in the water or the traffic cones mounted with skulls. Everywhere was an artistic touch like the hanging heads spewing moss or the large displays against smoking and drinking.
Circling the small pond lead us to human size guardians wielding dramatic swords surrounded by hundreds of arms reaching out from a pit, said to represent desire. The effect was impressive with a mix of angelic faces to more gruesome images portraying heaven and hell.
A bridge linked to the main temple but was roped-off due to the May earthquake that did structural damage and temporarily caused the entire temple to be closed. So I was disappointed to not be able to see the unusual murals insides that once included images of the New York Twin Towers being attacked; Nero, from the movie the Matrix; and other super heroes.
We wandered the remainder of the grounds and walked beneath a canopy of devotional ornaments, a sea of thousands of them. This was a reminder, like the attendee checking proper dress, that it was indeed a Buddhist temple. With all of the tourists and more extravagant subject matter, it was sometimes easy to forget this fact. An ailing temple however existed at this location before Kositpipat began his work to transform it into the current masterpiece.
We found the kiosk with the devotional ornaments being sold, purchased one, personalized it, then added it to a huge tree already decorated with thousands of others. Another building held a small gallery of Kositpipat’s art and sold postcards which I indulged in to somehow give back to our free trip through the temple.
As it was noon, the temple was closing for the lunch hour so we were not able to go into his main gallery or gift shop. We did get to walk by the extravagant golden building containing the toilets though and gaze in awe at the huge collection of items in their lost-and-found twin cabinets that flanked the door to the gift shop.
The White Temple is an awesome example of the work of a living artist and provides a window into Buddhism, albeit through a very artistic lens. If in Chiang Rai, I would recommend the trip.
Visitor tips –
- About an hour (or less) is needed to stroll through the grounds.
- Proper dress is required as this is a temple.
- While the golden building hosting the toilets is impressive there is another set of toilets in the back of the property that are clean and largely unvisited.
- Open daily from 8-6 PM.
- The temple closes from 12-1 for a lunch hour.
- Price is free.
- Located in Chiang Rai Province.
Web resources –
- Great article about the temple’s symbolism – http://www.renown-travel.com/temples/wat-rong-khun.html
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