One of the highlights of our Thailand trip was visiting the White Temple, also known as Wat Rong Khun, in Chiang Rai. This contemporary, Buddhist complex is an incredible sight to behold. The temple’s pristine white exterior glimmers as it represents the purity of Buddha.
Owned and designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, this temple opened in 1997. Kositpipat funded the project with his own money because he didn’t want the government or big donors to have any influence on the project. He dedicates the work to Buddha, the Thai king, and the Thai people. It is an ongoing project, and it is projected to be finished in 2070. About eighty people help Kositpipat with construction and additions. The main building is the most completed in the complex and more buildings are being added.
At the front of the temple, you take a bridge over a sea of sculptures into the temple. This sea, representing hell, is filled with outstretched arms. If you look closely, you’ll spot one middle finger with red nail polish, representing a woman.
Inside the main temple, you’ll see a drastic difference from the exterior. Pinkish murals with small images of Harry Potter, Jack Sparrow, Michael Jackson, Neo from The Matrix, and more cover the walls. These familiar “superheroes” represent idolatry and are a reminder that these idols won’t save you in the end. Strangely, the murals also feature nuclear weapons and terrorist attacks like the Twin Towers on fire. Photography is not allowed inside.
Around the Main Temple
More buildings and structures are continuously added, so you’ll see buildings with similar glimmer. Nearby you’ll see an awning with prayer ornaments that you can buy nearby. You’ll also see superhero heads hanging from trees.
While the white temple represents the ideal, pure mind, the gold building represents the human desire for worldly possessions. It’s unexpected that this beautiful building is actually the bathroom complex.
The White Temple is located in Chiang Rai, which is a city three hours away from Chiang Mai. To save time, we took a day trip from Chiang Mai. We joined a tour but I recommend hiring a private car to save time. You can also take a public bus from Chiang Mai and then take a taxi from the city to the temple. The temple is 13 km outside of the city of Chiang Rai.
- Open 6:30am to 6:00pm.
- The temple started charging an admission fee of 50 Baht beginning September 2016.
- Be sure to wear clothes that cover your legs and shoulders. You’ll be asked to take off your shoes before going into the temple.
- We spent about an hour exploring the complex. I would expect you would spend no more than two hours there.
- As with all temples, refrain from touching walls and sculptures.
- While Wat Rong Khun is a tourist attraction, it is also a place of worship. Please be respectful.
- Information on Thailand Tourism website
Kositpipat wanted to create an attraction comparable to the Taj Mahal, where people would come from all over the world to marvel at it. He certainly did this with Wat Rong Khun. It’s also a testament to his dedication to his faith, and it’s clear to see that through every detail of the complex. If you visit Thailand, don’t miss visiting the White Temple!
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