Wat Rong Khun / “the White temple” is a Buddhist temple that was built on the relics of an ancient, decaying local temple. At the end of the 20th century, a local artist called Chalermchai Kositpipat came up with the idea, planned, executed and invested money (over 1 million dollars) towards building the temple which was opened to the public in 1997. What we can see today on the site is merely part of the whole project and the job towards completing it should take many more years.
The artist has dedicated the white temple to Buddha, so it can serve as a Buddhist learning and meditation center, and he believed it will grant him an eternal life. There is no entrance fee for Thai citizens and a small admission fee is collected from tourists.
The artist used many symbols in his creation – the entire structure is covered by a white material which marks Buddha’s purity. Multiple pieces of glass were integrated into the structure to represent the wisdom and teaching qualities – hence the temple has a white and shiny look, and it is known as “the white temple”.
A small bridge cuts across a small lake and leads to the main building, marking the shift from the ordinary life cycle to Buddha’s kingdom. Ahead of the bridge, you will see multiple hands reaching out, representing the uncontrollable passions of human beings – and according to another interpretation, the hell and those who suffer its pains and tortures. Either way, the artist wanted to express the notion that ascending to nirvana and reaching heaven requires one to surpass his/her impulses, carnal desires, greed, and materialism.
Surprisingly, one of the most impressive structures on site is the toilet – an impressive work of art in the form of a spectacular building shaped as a golden pagoda. The comfortable restroom is the most lavishing in Thailand and possibly in the entire world, so no wonder many tourists stand in line to take pictures of their spectacular structure. The symbolic meaning is evident here as well – the artist took the place that marks basic comfort and turned it into a golden palace representing the body, corporeality, and materialism that control our lives – opposite the white that denotes spirit and spirituality.
In Conclusion: a beautiful, unconventional site that differs from any other temple you may visit in Thailand. The views regarding the place vary from sublime art to exaggerated kitsch – and I personally think it contains some elements of both. The location somewhat harms the experience – as the temple is located on a road, close to shops and Cafes. If it were set in nature – I believe the place would have a much stronger effect. At any event, I’ve visited there several times and my impression is that most tourists give it 20-30 minutes of their time, as the place is relatively small.
Please note: while many tourists consider the place an environmental piece of art, you should keep in mind that it is still a temple and behave accordingly.
Location: several km outside the city of Chiang Rai
Opening Hours: 8 AM to 6 PM
My Opinion: a must-see attraction when visiting Chiang Rai
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♣ Feel free to check out the clip I took on site… Enjoy!!