Once upon a time, a young travel addict was scrolling through Instagram. She came across a blindingly white temple with perfect blue skies. Deciding it was probably too good to be true and everyone must be photoshopping these images she made a mental note to visit one day. For investigative purposes of course.
Well that day finally happened! And let me tell you, its real!
The White Temple, or ‘Wat Rong Khun’, is located in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand. It’s a creepy but cool place! Bright white, with silver mirrored details – it isn’t much like your traditional Buddhist temples.
To look at the White Temple, you’d think it was just a decorative piece, but after reading up on the place it is all very carefully thought out and full of Buddhist symbolism. Like this guy, who is one of two guards in front of the ‘Gates of Heaven’. They decide a mans fate before they cross the ‘Bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth’. You can read more about the symbolism here if you want to, it’s pretty interesting but I won’t bang on about it!
The Brains Behind the Beauty:
The artist behind the White Temple is Chalermchai Kositpipat. An incredible painter and devout Buddhist. His work is controversial and he faced a lot of criticism throughout his career. He mixes traditional Thai Buddhist temple art with contemporary images – something not seen before! In the 80’s he was commissioned to move to London to paint murals in Wat Buddhapadipa. It took him 4 years but once the paintings were finished he started to be accepted and sought out by rich Thai people who had seen his work. Making his money selling his paintings he decided to take on the challenge of restoring Wat Song Khun which was in a bad way.
He is funding the project himself, and he does accept donations but only for a set amount. He wants to work his way, and doesn’t want anyone who donates particularly generously to try and have any control over his work. I like his sass and determination to remain independent!
I was so excited to visit the White Temple and it didn’t disappoint! The detail is incredible. First impressions had me gob smacked! It was so white that without sunglasses I could barely look directly at the place!
Entry only costs 50 Thai baht which is less than £1.20. The donations go towards the ongoing work and preservation of the White Temple. It gets pretty busy with both tourists and Thai people, so don’t think you’ll get it to yourself! There’s a man sitting on the bridge and if you stop for too long taking photos you’ll get shouted out over his megaphone to ‘KEEP MOVING!!!!’ You’ve been warned!
I passed a sinister sea of arms coming at me, before crossing the bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth. (where megaphone man is positioned). It’s a disturbing glimpse of what awaits those who allow material desires to rule their lives. Luckily since travelling my ASOS shopping has stopped and I’ve actually been getting rid of things – so hopefully I’ve saved myself from those hands getting me!
While it just looks like some crazy, creepy artwork, it is still a temple – so remember to cover your knees and shoulders people!
What is Deadpool’s head doing in a tree though?
Pretty strange if you ask me! And I’m not sure what he did to offend Buddhism!
Inside the temple building there are murals on the walls but you can’t take photos sadly. The murals are of a random mixture of pop culture characters. You’ll find Harry Potter, Hello Kitty and Pikachu alongside Spiderman, Superman and Neo from The Matrix. There is a demon and reflected in his eyes are Bin Laden and George W Bush – these are meant to represent good and evil. In an interview Kositpipat was quoted saying:
“I want everyone to know that our world is being destroyed by those who craved to build weapons that kill, thereby ruining the environment because nothing is ever enough.”
And bringing that back to Buddhism he wants people to realise this, and turn back onto the path of enlightenment. See … contemporary but also Buddhist! It’s pretty mental, and I can see why his work is controversial but I loved it! It’s different and after visiting 500 temples across Asia I can safely say this is by far my favourite!
Getting to the White Temple:
The White Temple is in Chiang Rai, there isn’t much else happening there! I was spending time in Chiang Mai and went to visit the White Temple on a day trip organised through my hostel. It was a long day, three hours each way in a mini bus – so be warned it isn’t particularly close even though you can do it in a day!
While you are there you can also visit the Blue Temple and the Black House. See what they did there … named all their attractions by colour so you can do them as a ‘themed’ trip! More to come on those later but there is no doubt the White Temple is Chiang Rai’s star attraction.
The work is going to take at least another 30 years to complete, so no rush to visit – you’ve got plenty of time! I highly recommend seeing it though, the detail and thought that has gone into every inch of the place is brilliant.
Even the traffic cones outside are on brand!
The final cherry on the cake for me is the toilet. It’s gold! Who doesn’t want a golden palace to take a pee in!
So there we have it, my favourite temple in Asia! Have you visited the White Temple? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!
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