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Chalermchai Kositpipat, the Thai artist who created the strange mix of old traditional Buddhism with modern art hopes that The White Temple in Chiang Rai (also known as Wat Rong Khun) will eventually be on the Must See List.
Not the Must See List of Chiang Rai, but the list of Asia, alongside with the greats such as Angkor Wat, or the Grand Palace.
After visiting the White Temple on our trip to Thailand, I could see how one day this could be a possibility.
The intricacy of the details, the strangeness of the design, and the combination of modern pop culture and tradition makes it one of the most unique tourist attractions in Chiang Rai.
But if you’re thinking of visiting this unique monument in Northern Thailand but you’re not sure how, or what it’s all about, then this complete guide will tell you everything you need to know.
About The White Temple, Chiang Rai
Wat Rong Khun, as it is known by its formal Thai name, is a bizarre and beautiful temple in Chiang Rai.
Set under the bright blue sky, and decorated with mirrored mosaic pieces, this startling monument blinks dazzlingly off the sunlight and the whole area is bathed in a glow of pure white color.
I had the feeling that I had just landed in the middle of the Arctic, rather than the hot and humid heat of Thailand.
While the main temple is complete, the entire temple complex is still work in progress, and isn’t expected to be finished until 2070.
The artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, who opened the temple to the public in 1997, is said to be finishing off a section at a time, once it’s perfectly clear in his mind how he wants it to look.
It was built on the grounds of Wat Rong Khun, which was largely destroyed by a strong earthquake in 2014.
Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to restore the original Wat Rong Khun temple and expand it, and work is still ongoing.
He anticipates the completion will happen after his death and is training his predecessors to finish his vision.
He has set limitations on single donations to his project as he cannot risk handing over the power to any outside forces and so having his artwork altered in any way other than what appears in his mind.
Inside his head is the constant play between good and evil, which can be seen throughout the temple and its temple grounds in both the sculptures and paintings on the inside.
The bridge, named The Bridge of The Cycle of Rebirth, stands as the connection between heaven and hell, and leads to the Gate of Heaven.
The pond before entering the bridge is not a pond of water, but a pit of outstretched hands (said to represent unrestrained desire and greed) and skulls pleading to be released from their eternal state of doom, made out of white plaster.
At the entrance to the bridge stand two guards who are preparing to seal your fate: the Pit of Hell or the Abode of Buddha awaits you.
I decided to scurry on past, avoiding all eye contact from fear of being thrown to the demons below.
The theme of good and evil is strangely depicted through a mural on the front wall of the temple as you walk through the door.
Spin around and look at the menacing eyes staring at you, with the villainous George Bush and Osama sitting in each eye.
Staining the monsters face, scenes from movies can be found as Chalermchai tries to depict the idea that the heroes of our movies are not a reality of our lives.
References to the Neo from Matrix, Avata, Kung Fu Panda, and superheroes such as Spiderman, Superman and Batman, and the burning towers can be seen in the apocalyptic end of the world piece of art.
There’s even a dancing Michael Jackson, an Elvis, Harry Potter and aliens and monsters from Predator.
The Buddha sits serenely opposite the chaos in its usual place in a Buddhist temple reminding us that we need to release our need for consumption to make us happy.
After you cross the bridge you enter the Ordination Hall, which is like an art gallery paired with a meditation hall.
While you cannot take photos inside the Ordination Hall, the interesting artwork continues inside. Be sure to look up and see large paintings on display.
And if the temple becomes too blinding for you in its purity, then take a break at the Golden Toilets. Possibly the most elaborately designed bathroom block ever to be seen.
And then finally, just across the street you can retire to GreenHut Coffee, where you can sit on a chair in the front garden and quietly watch the temple from a safe distance with the most delicious and unhealthy ice coffee you could ever dream about.
How to Get to The White Temple, Chiang Rai?
The White Temple is located 13km south of Chiang Rai, and so you need to travel from the city center out to this temple.
I’d recommend renting a bike or scooter from Chiang Rai and drive yourself. This way you can also visit some of the other popular temples in the area, such as The Blue Temple and The Black House Museum.
There are public buses to the White Temple, but they are infrequent. You can catch a songthaew (public bus) from the old bus station in the center.
If you don’t drive yourself, I recommend you get a taxi to avoid waiting times. Download the ride-sharing app Bolt (or Grab) and you can easily find a ride that way.
Be warned that it can take a while to find a driver as there are not too many in Chiang Rai.
When is the Best Time to Visit The White Temple?
The best time to visit is as early in the morning as possible, not only would this be best for photographs, but it’s also when it’s less hot.
The White Temple is open every day fro 8.00am until 5.00pm.
Early morning is when the sun is shining on the front of the temple lighting it up, and sunset the sun is behind the temple which can wash it out when taking pictures.
Although not strictly a temple and more of a work of art, there is a dress code for The White Temple.
You should dress modestly and have your shoulders and knees covered. There are markets nearby where you can buy a wrap or shawl to cover yourself with if you forget.
If you are wearing a long skirt with a slit, the staff will help you to tie it together to ensure your always covered.
Men must comply by the same rules – cover your knees and shoulders, and remove your hat.
You also need to remove your shoes when entering the temple.
The White Temple Entrance Fee
For Thai nationals, it’s free to enter the temple, but tourists will have to pay an entrance fee.
The entrance fee for tourists as of August 2023 is 100 baht per person.
The White Temple is a marvel of architecture and artwork that will have any visitor amazed.
The murals and sculptures are both interesting and a little disturbing, but you’re sure to never find any temple like it anywhere in the world.
It may not be on the “Must See List” of Asia, but it’s definitely on the Must See List of Thailand.
Would you put the White Temple of Chiang Rai on your must see list of Thailand? Let us know in the comments.