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While you may be “templed out” from your travels in Thailand or other SE Asian countries, make sure you don’t skip out on Wat Rong Khun (วัดร่องขุ่น). It’s commonly referred to as the White Temple, and it’s unlike any temple you’ve ever seen. Here’s a brief introduction to this dreamlike complex, starting with the artist and his purpose.
The White Temple is the brainchild of famous Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat (เฉลิมชัย โฆษิตพิพัฒน์). This unconventional Buddhist/Hindu temple has to be seen to be believed, and you’d be forgiven for wondering whether or not it was dropped from the heavens. As for the choice of color, white stands for Buddha’s purity, while white glass and the reflection it gives off stands for Buddha’s wisdom that “shines brightly all over the Earth and the Universe.”
When your eyes adjust to the sheer brightness of the temple and you get over your initial sense of awe, take a few minutes to look a bit closer at the surroundings. You’ll find some creepy skulls hanging from the tree, evil looking shrines to booze and tobacco, and even a few alien creatures coming out of the water.
Just before the bridge crossing over to the temple, you’ll find hands reaching up from the ground, some holding skulls. The hands symbolize those things that distract people from the path to Heaven, while the skulls represent those who have faltered on their path by succumbing to such evils. Oh yeah, and there’s a character from the movie “Alien” here as well.
Manage to cross the bridge, though, and you’ve made it to Heaven. As the nice man with the loudspeaker reminds you – “Once you’ve crossed the bridge into Heaven, you cannot come back.” If Heaven is anything like the inside of this temple, that’s a good thing – you won’t want to leave once you set your eyes on the stunning murals that adorn the walls inside.
Photography is not allowed, so you’ll just have to go see it for yourself. If you want to know how Spiderman, Hello Kitty, Neo from the Matrix, and George W. Bush somehow fit into the murals of a Buddhist temple, you’d better get here and check it out.
As if visiting this temple wasn’t great enough, they probably have the coolest bathrooms you’ve ever seen.
There’s more to this complex than just the original temple. The artist plans for the project to take nearly 90 years to finish, and he has plenty of apprentices around to ensure that work will continue even after he’s gone.
Unfortunately, an earthquake struck the temple a few years ago. Although the initial reaction was all doom and gloom, it turns out that it wasn’t damaged beyond repair and the artist and his team are pushing forward with this incredible project. If you’re traveling in Northern Thailand, make sure a visit to the White Temple is high atop your list.
The White Temple is located about 13 kilometers south of Chiang Rai. There are quite a few options for getting there – simply hail a cab, join a tour, or rent your own wheels and get yourself there. It’s open daily from 6:30AM-6PM and is free to visit. There’s also a museum of the artist’s paintings, which is open Monday-Friday from 8AM-5:30PM. As with visiting other temples in Thailand, you should dress properly and be respectful. You can take photos all over the complex, but not inside of the temple.
There are thousands of temples across Thailand, but there’s nothing quite like the White Temple. Be sure to add it to your Northern Thailand itinerary and don’t miss out!