Chiang Rai’s Wondrous White Temple Sanctuary
Wat Rong Khun is a magnificent temple in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai Province with an unusual mix of traditional Thai architecture and surrealist design that is better known to most visitors as the ‘White Temple’ because of its all-enveloping brilliant white facade.
A privately owned art exhibit, the temple’s concept, design and construction is the work of Chalermchai Kositpipat, a local artist who has exhibited around the world and is well-known for his use of traditional Buddhist imagery in paintings. Built on the site of the old Wat Rong Khun temple which fell into disrepair, the White Temple opened in 1997 and was intended by the artist to be not just an art exhibit, but a center of learning and meditation for Buddhist teachings.
Chalermchai is said to have created the temple as an offering to Lord Buddha and believes that it will give him immortal life. Work on the temple buildings, however, is ongoing and is not expected to be completed until 2070!
The temple grounds can be divided into several areas beginning with the ‘cycle of rebirth’ bridge over a ‘lake’ of outstretched hands expressing unrestrained desire. Visitors pass through the ‘Gate of Heaven’ flanked by two mythological creatures representing Death and Rahu – the bodiless serpent of Hindu mythology. You then arrive at the ubosot or chapel, an intricately decorated building that glitters with pieces of embedded glass.
Inside the ubosot visitors will be surprised by the number of highly unorthodox temple murals depicting mankind’s wickedness through nuclear warfare, terrorist attacks, pollution, and more. The murals include images of popular Western cultural idols such as Michael Jackson, the dream-demon Freddy Krueger from the A Nightmare on Elm Street film series, Harry Potter, Neo from The Matrix, a T-800 robot from The Terminator and even a cuddly Hello Kitty character.
In May 2014, an earthquake in the Mae Lao District of Chiang Rai damaged the temple, causing concern that the structure might be unsafe for visitors. However, after the site was inspected by engineers it was found that most buildings were structurally sound and it soon reopened.
While the temple’s construction and expansion is ongoing, there is still a lot to see at this fascinating exhibit of modern Thai art, giving visitors plenty of food for thought and a chance to admire some beautifully painted murals.
For more information on Wat Rong Khun and other attractions in Chiang Mai, please contact at [email protected].