Wat Rong Khun: Chiang Rai’s white temple

The journey to Chiang Rai with Eleventy Traveler Blog

It was day 2 of our time in Northern Thailand. Day 1 had been pretty amazing thus far. We saw a number of temples, each of them beautiful in their own unique way. We also had an expensive dinner and watched a cultural show (the food and show’s not too bad, but i’d give it only 6 out of 10, only because i’ve seen something better in Bangkok before, the Siam Niramit).

We were pretty excited to book the white temple because we knew from our online research that it was quite unique and we wanted to explore other cities or towns in Northern Thailand. The white temple (Wat Rong Khun) is located in Chiang Rai and the journey from Chiang Mai took us about 2-3 hours. Part of the tour was a stop to a local hot springs area where we rested and bathed our tired feet with warm hot springs water. Ahhhh, this was nice!!! We had been tired traveling: flying to and exploring Bangkok and Chiang Mai on foot and this was exactly what we needed. A breather from our tiring, jampacked itinerary.

There were also shops and cafe at the area, where Matt got his much needed coffee .What was quite fun was cooking an egg in the boiling hot springs water. We bought them from a lady and she helped put the net of quail eggs to boil. We snacked on those quail eggs on our ride all the way to Chiang Rai. Yummm!!!

The White Temple

Wat Rong Khun is a contemporary unconventional Buddhist and Hindu temple in Chiang Rai, designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat. The temple is located about 10 kms south west of Chiang Rai. Its construction began in 1997 and is expected to be completed by 2070. Ongoing construction is clearly evident when we visited (Oct 2012).

Kositpipat’s vision for the temple is beautiful and grand and he expects that the project won’t be completed in his lifetime. This is why he’s teaching young local artists about his vision so they can continue his work after he dies.

What’s quite unique about this temple is the color. Most of the temples you see in Thailand are in a splash of gold. This temple was all pure, blinding white. We learned that the reason for the choice of color is because the artist believes that gold is only suitable for people who lust for evil deeds (hmmmmm……in my view, an interesting, controversial perspective considering gold is the color of most temples in Thailand).

The Nomad Couple at Wat Rong Khun (the white temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand)

Other than the pure white color, the small details sculpted around the temple was beautiful and elaborate. The attention to detail in the temple is quite remarkable.

The temple’s design represents the artist’s interpretation of what hell and heaven looks like. Surrounding the temple are some small, scary elements designed to make people realize what’s in hell and make them cautious of their actions on earth. Some of them include heads of monstrous creatures hanging on the trees. There was also another sculpture reminding people the bad effects of alcohol.

In order to reach the “heaven” in the temple, you have to cross a bridge over a pit of hell. Unfortunately, they were doing some maintenance/repairs on this side of the temple during our visit, so we weren’t able to get close and take a good photo of it. However, you can see from a distance that there are sculptures of hands presumably from souls crying for help, wanting to escape from hell. It is quite scary and creepy in a way.

Inside the temple, there’s a beautiful coloured wall painting of the Buddha. There’s also the devil’s representation and the artist had painted Osama Bin Laden, George Bush, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, even the animated creatures we love such as Spiderman (if i remember correctly!) is in the mural. I forgot the other characters as unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the temple.

The temple glows in its radiant, white color. It’s very beautiful!

There’s a souvenir shop where you can buy some of the artists’s artwork. There’s also a golden toilet which is probably the most beautiful toilet in Thailand – also free for visitors to use. It was a bit smelly though when we visited, just like the many other toilets we’ve been to in Thailand. Still, it’s undoubtedly a remarkably beautiful toilet (at least from the outside).

The verdict?

Even though i was initially disappointed to learn that the white temple is quite new in comparison to the other temples we’ve seen (I’m a big fan of centuries-old ruins), it was still undoubtedly one of the finest, most beautiful and unique temple we’ve seen in Thailand. A visit to this remarkably beautiful temple is a must if you’re in or near Chiang Rai.

Tips when you visit:

There’s no entrance fee to visit the temple. It’s free of charge.

The temple is small, and we only spent a maximum of one hour to explore it. If you’re doing the golden triangle tour of Thailand, Burma and Laos, it’s good to combine a visit to the white temple as it’s only about an hour away.

As with any other temples, dress modestly. For women, cover your knees. I thought i was modestly dressed wearing my blue dress, but since it didn’t cover my knees, they lent me a white sarong to cover my legs before i entered the temple.

Cheers and Happy Travels with Eleventy Traveler Blog!