After my short stay in Chiangmai I joined up with the photography tour. Besides having photo shoots in Chiangmai, one of the places that we visited was the White Temple in Chiangrai. Not to be confused with Chiangmai, the former is the northern most city in Thailand before crossing the border into Myanmar (Burma).

Chiangrai is around 2 hours drive from Chiangmai and the road there crosses picturesque paddy fields and mountain passes. On the outskirts of Chiangrai stands Wat Rong Khun or better known as the White Temple. Now there are countless Buddhist temples in Thailand but none quite like this one.

When approaching the temple grounds, traffic cones with skulls on top line the roadside. Upon entering the temple grounds, visitors are greeted by shrunken heads serving as flower pots. Statues of mythical beings from Buddhism and Hollywood monsters are scattered all over, and you might just trip over a Predator rising out of the ground. The initial reaction may be eeriness but this soon gives way to fascination  and curiosity.

The grounds around the temple are filled with figures and sculptures which are most of the time jarring and awkward to look at. Some of them are downright scary.
The grounds around the temple are filled with figures and sculptures which are most of the time jarring and awkward to look at. Some of them are downright scary.
That shrunken head flower pots looks like that guy from Avatar.
That shrunken head flower pot looks like that guy from Avatar.

A little history of this temple before reading on. Wat Rong Khun was in a dilapidated state in the 1990’s and had run out of money to fund it’s upkeep. Enter Chalermchai Kositpipat, a local artist who decided to fund the temple and redesign it in his own way. Today, the temple is still undergoing reconstruction and the work won’t be expected to be completed until 2100. It’s beginning to sound like the Sagrada Família Cathedral in Barcelona.

Imagery and symbolism are used here very artistically to teach Buddha’s principles.

The main building, called the Ubosot. During our visit, visitors were not allowed to enter the building.
The main building, called the Ubosot, represents our mind and the white represents the purity of Buddha. During our visit, visitors were not allowed to enter the building.
In order to get to the Ubosot, visitors have to cross a small bridge.
In order to get to the Ubosot, visitors have to cross a small bridge representing the cycle of death and rebirth. Scary looking scene isn’t it?
Hundreds of grasping hands reach out in front of the bridge. They represent unrestrained desire.
Hundreds of grasping hands reach out in front of the bridge. They represent unrestrained desire and greed.
Look for the hand with the red fingernail. It's also giving you the finger at the same time. The artist's humor at work.
Look for the hand with the red fingernail. It’s also giving you the finger at the same time. The artist’s humor at work.
Only by giving up our desires, can we cross the bridge to the Gates of Heaven.
Only by giving up our desires, can we cross the bridge (death and rebirth) to the Gates of Heaven, guarded by 2 statues of Death and Rahu who decide the fate of Man.
We were not allowed to enter the main building and had to detour to the left side.
We were not allowed to enter the main building and had to detour to the left side.

After finishing with the Ubosot, I walked around the temple grounds. There are some other buildings to see.

White and gold. The temple grounds are crowded with visitors.
The temple grounds are crowded with visitors. This white building looks like it’s still undergoing renovation with decorations being added to the roof.
The gold building which represents the body, and our worldly desire for material things. It's is also where the public toilets are located. So if you want to go to the toilet, look for the golden building.
The gold building which represents the body, and our worldly desire for material things. It’s is also where the public toilets are located. So if you want to go to the toilet, look for the golden building.
You will find murals drawn by the artist.
You will find murals drawn by the artist.
A wishing well beside the golden building.
A wishing well beside the golden building.
An interesting roof for a walkway. Thousands of silver leaves hand from the roof of the walkway.
An interesting roof for a walkway. Thousands of silver leaves hang from the roof of the walkway. I understand that visitors can buy a silver leaf, write a prayer message on it and this will be added to the thousands of leaves.
Silver leaves and real leaves.
Silver leaves and real leaves.

A visit to the White Temple should take you about 1-2 hours depending how long you want to admire the artist’s work. Admission is free, so don’t get conned by people telling you to pay for tickets.

Getting There

Although we had our own private transport, a search on Google will tell you how to get there on public transport:

“The Wat Rong Khun is located just off Highway 1 (Phahonyothin road) about 15 kilometers South West of Chiang Rai town. The most comfortable way to get there is by private air conditioned taxi. The ride from town takes about 20 minutes, the fare is between 250 and 300 Baht. Most Chiang Rai hotels will be able to book one.

It is fairly easy to get to the white temple using public transport. Busses leave from the old bus station near the night bazaar in the center of Chiang Rai town. The trip takes around 30 minutes, fare is 20 Baht one way. Alternatively, charter a blue songthaew at the old bus station at about 300 Baht.”

 

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