When headed to the most northern province of Thailand, I heard from several people that there was a must-see attraction that awaited me in Chiang Rai.
I use the word attraction a little loosely, as it is still a spiritual ground for practicing Buddhists in the area. There is, however, something very special about this place. It is known locally as Wat Rong Khun, or simply “The White Temple”. Before arriving at the gates, you can already tell that there’s something truly spectacular about this place. The immense complex of the White Temple in Chiang Rai is, as the name states, almost entirely white, with small reflective mirrors ornately decorating it.
Completely unconventional, this modern temple began its construction in 1997. You may say it’s a work in progress, as you can see new structures going up even to this day. That said, there are already a myriad of temples and stupas on the holy grounds which are already completed.
The reason the White Temple lacks a bit of its traditional composure, is not necessarily in the design of the temple itself, but the decorations that fill and surround it. Its purpose is to represent the battle between good and evil – much evil, of course, comes from Hollywood movies and modern warfare. Walking around the grounds, you will see head sculptures hanging in trees, sins such as smoking and alcohol, and even some recognizable characters such as Predator, from the self-titled movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Crossing over a bridge of purgatory with countless sculpted hands reaching towards you, you enter the main structure. The entire walkway is an experience in itself, as you become part of the transition from a world of sin, to a place of enlightenment. Inside the White Temple, the walls are completed with a mural telling a story of this transition. The back wall represents ‘hell’, with images of Neo (from the Matrix), Superman, nuclear explosions, and I believe I even saw Sponge-Bob Squarepants on there. The side walls have people floating on clouds of enlightenment, while the front mural is where a blissfully enlightened Buddha awaits you.
Even the washrooms here are tremendously decorated. I would highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Chiang Rai and northern Thailand. Spend at least a few hours walking around and exploring the nearby museums, which has works from the same artist who designed the temple. Factor in that it is also a 30-minute bus journey to and from Chiang Rai’s city centre.
Take note: Being a Buddhist temple, you will not be permitted to enter if you are inappropriately dressed. Knees and shoulders should be covered, and all the bits in between.
All images are copyright of Ian Ord.
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