The White Temple: Visiting Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Visiting Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai

The White Temple in Chiang Rai is unlike any other temple in Thailand, let alone the world. It is one of the new wonders of the world. Firstly, it’s a privately owned temple. Funded by private money and donations. It is the life work of the prominent Thai artist Ajarn Chalermchai. And has been a huge tourist attraction since it opened in 1997. For example, it’s the only temple in the same mural where you’ll find George Bush, Bin Laden, and the Minions.

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ultron-and-White-Temple-1 The White Temple: Visiting Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Visiting Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai
aka The White Temple

Wat Rong Khun is also known as the White Temple by foreigners. The temple is made from white plaster and millions of tiny mirrors. The White Temple is located in Chiang Rai, the northernmost large city in Thailand near the borders of Laos and Myanmar.

White-Temple-Aerial-View The White Temple: Visiting Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Ajarn Chalermchai

Ajarn Chalermchai is a popular Thai artist who made millions of painting and sculpting. He began construction 16 years ago and has pretty much devoted his life to making the temple a world-renowned tourist attraction. Once creating more than 100 pieces of art a year, he now completes less than ten a year, devoting most of his free time to the temple’s construction and maintenance, He can be seen doing this almost every single morning.

He made millions as an artist but decided not to live the lifestyle that usually accompanies that fame. His day begins at 2 am. He lives and works, meditates, and grades student projects in the same space. He claims “to be happy not going out to restaurants, going out for drinks or singing karaoke.” Ajarn Chalermchai opts for a very simple life of servitude because those activities have no value to him. But he does note in the literature I found at the temple, that I’ve been there, done that, and that time is over.”

The Cost

Chalermchai has spent more than 40 Million Thai Baht (or $1.2 Million USD) of his own money on the endeavor. He does accept donations, but only if they are less than 10,000 Thai Baht because he refuses to be controlled by special interest. The temple is free of charge because he wants it to be a place to congregate and learn about Buddhism.

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Other Things to do in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai serves as a wonderful jump-off point to explore the northern territories. But is probably most known for the Wat Rong Khun temple, also known as the white temple. And while you’re in town, check out the hilltop people who live there. You can also trek through mountains or visit one of the elephant sanctuaries.

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Temple Construction

The White Temple is definitely white. I had to correct the settings on both my camera and cell phone to capture the detail of the temple because the lack of color was hard for both devices to understand and relay. I originally thought it was made of white marble, but it’s not.

The temple is made out of a white resin material and lots and lots of tiny mirrors. According to the literature, it is white and not gold like many of the Thai temples because the artist thinks gold is ostentatious and represents lust and evil deeds while white symbolizes purity. The mirrors symbolize wisdom, and you can’t help but capture glimpses of yourself in them which I think is representative that wisdom is innate, and must not be avoided.

What to Expect

You pass my two large trees as you come up to the entrance to the temple. On the left side, you’ll see a statue with a bottle of whiskey, on the left its a statue with a few packs of cigarettes. Ajarn Chalermchai is making a statement that bot drinking and smoking is unhealthy and ungodly. You really understand the symbolism as you pass the heads hanging from both trees.

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Wat Rung Khun Exterior

After entering the temple grounds, you walk past a large reflecting pond that casts a luminous reflection of the temple’s exterior. Ajarn Chalermchai designed the entrance to represent hell. Thousands of hands reaching out in agony greet the visitor. Skulls, snakes, demons, and a huge pair of man-made tusks, glittering in the sunlight, line the passageway.

Once you pass the hands, you’ll be greeted with several ornate dragons and statues of what look like deities that form the railing to the bridge to Heavens Gate. They are beautiful in both detail and presence. The best way to describe the exterior of the main temple is wedding cake icicles or lace.

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The Interior of the Monastery

Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures of the interior of the monastery, but there are a few murals worth seeing. One of the large murals depicts the coming of the Lord Buddha from Nirvana (Heaven). It is very calming and peaceful. The other mural depicts the struggle between good and evil. It depicts Buddha’s final “test” to overcome his own demons and it clearly makes a modern political statement.

The Eyes of Evil

The eyes have images of George W. Bush, the 43rd United States President, and Bin Laden, the man said to have orchestrated the World Trade Center Bombings. There is also an image of the burning towers. Mr. Chalermchai clearly equates the two figures as perpetrators of death and tragedy. They are both “destroying the world”, he notes in the temple literature.

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Having a Little Fun

In addition, you will see images of popular superheroes Ultraman and Superman to let the world know there is no one coming to save us. We must look into the eyes of our soul and do it ourselves. I am not quite sure why images of the minions, the Terminator, Hello Kitty, and Jack Spat adorn the temple walls. The temple is always in a state of maintenance and construction.

The artist wants Wat Rung Khun to have pilgrimages that return to Chiang Rai, not unlike those who return to Spain’s Sagrada Família or India’s Taj Mahal. And not unlike Antoni Gaudí and Shah Jahan, Ajarn Chalermchai does not expect to see his great work completed as it’s expected to take approximately 60 and 90 years to complete.

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Comments

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Its very unique not like any other temple I’ve seen an I’ve a lot. I hope you do get a chance to visit one day for yourself.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thats what my mom said too. Those parts are supposed to represent Hell which I can only imagine would look a whole lot worse, right?

    1. duffelbagspouse

      It is my favorite Asian country I’ve visited, having gone three times so far. We are even thinking about traveling around there for a little while after returement.

  1. David

    I would love to visit Thailand. I know my dad went when he was much younger and came back with so many amazing pictures and stories. It looks beautiful.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Hi David Thailand is by far our favorite country here in Asia, having gone 3 times. It is such a beautiful place with warm and friendly people and tons to do and see.

  2. Anna C.

    My husband would love it! He’s a photographer and he’s all about the little details! It looks amazing!
    Your photos are absolutely stunning! :O

    1. duffelbagspouse

      He would definitely take better photos than me. Its so hard to take pictures of a white on white subject and not lose the details. But then add all the people and the fact that you want to sit and enjoy it too. I was lucky to get a few very pretty shots, but I was so freaking excited to just be there in the first place.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Hi Alisha, we are full fledge sisters then because I am an Army Brat, spouse and both my kids are in the military as well. We love the travel, not so much the moving, but can’t have one without the other. Please come back again soon.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thanks Elizabeth. I saw a picture of it and had to see it for myself. I’m glad that I did, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are absolute gems in Thailand. I highly recommend the experience.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Carol its even prettier in person, it was difficult to photograph because it was so bright and the sun was high in the sky when we arrived.

  3. Elizabeth O.

    This is one glorious work of art! WOW! It’s a stunning temple and I’m really impressed especially after knowing that it’s all made from. It’s a must see, without a doubt.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Yes, Hi Stacey, it was funny cause I’d look through the lens and it would be all white. I’m glad I took my camera book.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      It is stunning up close, no where to rest the eyes. I loved his perspective and his dedication to having it built with his own money and small donations.

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