The White temple (Wat Rong Khun), in Chiang Rai, Thailand, is possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen. The worst bit? I only got to visit it by chance, when my connection bus on the way to the Thai border made a stop there. I’d heard about it, but hadn’t been ‘sold it’ enough to make the journey to see it. I’m going to try make the sell to you now!!!!
The temple is actually privately owned, after a local artist decided to fund the rebuilding of the very run down structure, using his own money. He now intends for the area adjacent to the temple to be a center of learning and meditation and for people to gain benefit from the Buddhist teachings.
As with other Thai temples, you’re expected to cover up (and will be given robes to do so if you haven’t… which few places do). Even the first sights of the temple are magnificent, with hundreds of little shards of mirrored glass covering the building and the surrounding pieces. The sun bounces off not only the white paint, but reflects the mirror, making for a glorious (almost unreal Disney like) sight.
But forget holding onto that initial Disney impression. The temple is surrounded by well thought out symbolic pieces, all made to make us think a little whilst we are there:
Surrounding the site, are trees with big stone heads that vomit plants, shrines to Jack Daniels, and an adjacent golden temple; all symbolising how people focus on worldly desires and money.
In front of the main white structure is a sea of outstretched hands, symbolising unrestrained desire (look out for the single red painted finger nail). A bridge crossing over them proclaims that the way to happiness is by foregoing temptation, greed, and desire.
I cried inside the temple, in fact, it was the first ever place that blew my mind so much that it made me cry. Maybe it was the quick transition from pure glittering white to fiery red interior. The inner walls are decorated with swirling orange flames, wrapped around western idols; Michael Jackson, the Nike logo, Kung Fu panda, and Neo from the Matrix. Images of nuclear warfare, terrorist attacks, and oil pumps hammer home the destructive impact that humans have had on earth. I’d gone into the temple with a friend. We knelt in front of the main shrine and took in everything around us, watching someone paint new ‘idols’ onto the wall. The quiet, teamed with the sheer detail of the place was extremely overwhelming. You’d need ages just to take in all the tiny painted images.
Photography is forbidden inside the temple, but you can catch a glimpse of some of the work inside by doing a quick google search for official photos.
Getting to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai
VIP buses go back and forth from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai throughout the day. The trip will take about 3 hours each way (don’t be dettered by time…if you’re a traveller looking for a more authentic feeling town, this is a great place to go explore for the day). There are two bus stations in Chiang Rai, and the VIP buses go to the old bus station which is right in the centre of town adjacent to the night bazaar.