After spending some time in a buddhist country like Thailand you inevitably see dozens of temples and they can’t really get you frenetically excited anymore… after a while it’s more like “ah, nice – another one…”. But I promise, that is certainly not the reaction when you see the crazy, creative and pretty contemporary “White Temple” in Chiang Rai (Northern Thailand).
All White Everything
A range from “wow” to “wtf” is probably the suitable description of my thoughts when I got to Wat Rong Khun – which is the official name of the “White Temple”. It is hard to believe that this is an actual buddhist temple – with its decoration of skulls, robots, mirror mosaics, heroic statues and the thousand little other freaky details, it looks more like a huge artpiece. Absolutely unreal, like a mystical ice-crystal-fairy-tale-castle…
The Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat designed this extraordinary temple in 1997 and he is still working on it – the approximate date of completion is in 2070! It was also significantly damaged through an earthquake in 2014, but encouraged by the local and international support, the artist decided to restore everything that got destroyed. When I was there in January 2016 I could see minor constructions going on but the whole place looked incredible and not damaged at all – seems Mr Kositpipat and his team are doing a good job there.
Inside the White Temple: Sailor Moon meets Kung-Fu-Panda
Not only are the expressive architecture and details, as well as the white color of the buildings, fences, Koi fish, etc. very uncommon for a buddhist temple, but the wallpaintings inside are an ultimate eye-catcher as well. From Sailor Moon to Kung-Fu-Panda – hundreds of older and more contemporary characters from film and TV are artfully painted in a huge mural. It would take hours to discover all figures in the painting. As it is not allowed to take pictures inside (I just took one little sneaky snapshot you can see below in the gallery), you should absolutely go there and see yourself.
The area around the Temple and the city of Chiang Rai are presumably not that thrilling for travelers (besides the Black Temple maybe), so it is a good option to arrange the visit at the White Temple as a short stopover on the way from Chiang Mai to Laos. A lot of mini-vans offer exactly this: they stop at the temple for an hour, so you can see this exceptional building complex but you don’t loose a full day on your travels.
Unless the very liberal look of the place, it is still a buddhist temple and therefor has strict rules about behavior and clothing. You can only enter with pants that cover your knees and shirts that cover your shoulders. Consider this – it would be a shame not to take a quick glance at the inside, just because of an inappropriate outfit.
There is no entrance fee to the Temple, but you can leave a donation to support the ongoing constructions.