The White Temple

After four and a half weeks in Pai, we finally got out of that lovely, sleepy small town.  We lounged for a couple of days in Chiang Mai and then boarded a bus to make our way to Laos.  On the way to the border, we made a stop in Chiang Rai, at the Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple).  Funnily enough, during our couple of days in Chiang Mai, we met a guy from Los Angeles who only had a couple of weeks left in Thailand, and who was intent on seeing he White Temple in Chiang Rai.  I tried to convince him to spend his time in Pai instead.  I mean temples (Wats) are nice and all, but this is Southeast Asia.  You can’t spit six feet without hitting another temple.  I got Watted out pretty fast when we got here.  And while all these Wats are beautiful, I found them to be fairly similar.  Gold.  Red.  Buddha.  We got it.  

Disclaimer:  I didn’t have my camera on me at the time, so none of the temple pictures here are mine – I borrowed them from the good folks on the interwebs.  Special thanks to T-roy, from whom I gratefully stole a good chunk of these pictures.

When I realized we were stopping at the White Temple, I wasn’t too excited.  I thought, “A temple, but white.  Big whoop.”  Man was I wrong.  I hope that dude from Los Angeles didn’t listen to me and ended up going to Chiang Rai anyway, because this temple is worth seeing.  The temple was designed by artist Chaloemchai Khositphiphat, starting in 1998 and it’s not yet complete.  It’s definitely got a modern day spin to it.  The outside of the temple is all white – nary a speck of gold paint to be found.  It is covered in tiny mirrors that reflect the sunlight and make it sparkle all around, and there is a theme here that goes beyond gold Buddhas and burning incense.

To get into the main sanctuary, you must travel a path that first crosses over the pits of hell:

(note that the only colour here is the middle finger painted red.)

You cross the bridge over the pit of hell  – the bridge from heaven to hell – to get to the sanctuary of the temple.

When you first enter the temple, it’s all red and gold and colour again.  Looking into the temple from the front door, there is a lovely painting of Buddha, along with the usual statues (in white and gold).

When we were in there, there was a monk seated at the front, in lotus posture, eyes closed, meditating.  Well, there appeared to be a monk there.  I think it was a wax statute.  Stu insisted that he saw the monks chest moving with his breath, but he didn’t look like he was moving one iota to me, and his hands looked waxy.  We were whispering pretty loudly about it, and the thing (statue or otherwise) didn’t twitch an eyelash. So the jury’s still out on whether or not he was real.  It was all pretty fascinating, and then we turned around, and our heads exploded.

The entire back wall of the temple is adorned with a mural which is so full of colour, imagery and detail, it is almost indescribable. The Lonely Planet describes the mural as a contemporary scene representing samsara – the realm of rebirth and delusion. Images in the mural include a plane crashing into the Twin Towers, Keanu Reeves as Neo from The Matrix, Spiderman, Superman, a man and a woman in a position which seems highly compromising, particularly for the inside of a Wat, and many, many more.  Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures inside the temple, and I only managed to find a couple of good pictures online of part of the mural.  See one here of the Twin Towers, and I found this one with Neo in it:

The amazingness didn’t stop with the temple itself.  Here’s what the bathrooms look like:

And the artistry doesn’t stop at the temple and the bathroom.  This place has the coolest no-smoking signage I’ve ever seen:

I’m still Watted out.  But I’d go back to this temple anytime.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Matt MacLean on February 27, 2011 at 1:18 am

    That looks like a cool place! Wacky, wild and weird.


  2. […] About « The White Temple […]


  3. […] – which was kinda…disappointing.  Nice view of the town from the hill, but after the White Temple in Chiang Rai, this was a […]


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