Lest you think every Buddhist temple looks the same, the White Temple in Chiang Rai is here to make you think otherwise. It’s perhaps the most touristed destination in Chiang Rai, and a few looks at the pictures alone will tell you why.

Destination: the White Temple — a shiny, artistic take on Buddhist beliefs - Thailand -

Don’t let the occasionally grotesque keep you from the rest of the beauty. The man you’ll want to thank after visiting this temple is the artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat. It’s called Wat Rong Khun (วัดร่องขุ่น), and the artist has been quoted as saying it won’t be finished within his lifetime (60–70 years worth of building!) Construction started in 1997 and will be a continual process, although I only noticed some construction happening behind a mostly opaque wall.

 

Buy these offerings to the Buddha for 30 baht, then hang them on any of the trees or overhangs in the temple. The color scheme, in case you were curious, symbolizes Buddha’s purity, while the temple sparkles profusely thanks to the arrays of mirrors all around.

Wishing well, anyone?

A very impressive building — and almost no way to see inside of it. Many of the buildings are like art pieces, fenced off in the grass and meant to see from afar.

Destination: the White Temple — a shiny, artistic take on Buddhist beliefs - Thailand -

Behold, the main structure. There’s more going on here than I can keep up with, but be assured everything has a symbolic meaning. The first thing you’ll notice is the moat:

Cross the bridge to reach the chapel (and do wear appropriate clothing — no short shorts or sleeveless shirts), and pass over a lot of suffering:

Destination: the White Temple — a shiny, artistic take on Buddhist beliefs - Thailand -

“The Beauty of Anguish” is how the title translates. The artist, apparently, leaves you to wonder whether the sinners desire redemption, or are merely crying out for help from anyone passing by.

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No photos are allowed inside the chapel / ubosot, but the thing you’re most likely to notice are the murals inside the back wall. The dozens of characters are instantly familiar — Neo from the Matrix. Batman, Jigsaw, Avatar characters, the World Trade Center towers, Angry Birds, Star Wars, and even Freddy Krueger and Kung Fu Panda. There are apparently some modern-day Buddhist lessons in these characters, but I guess it’s up to the monk to tell you what they are if you’d rather not guess for yourself.

Destination: the White Temple — a shiny, artistic take on Buddhist beliefs - Thailand -

Yeah — couldn’t help it. Double rainbows by the fountains!

Destination: the White Temple — a shiny, artistic take on Buddhist beliefs - Thailand -

A couple of other buildings around.

Destination: the White Temple — a shiny, artistic take on Buddhist beliefs - Thailand -

Also on site is a surprisingly large ‘Hall of Masterwork’ — a gallery of the artist’s work. Marie Claire did a write-up on the place in its Italian October 2012 issue, while grand frames and vividly colored paintings are something even the 1970’s disco movement would appreciate. Medals and amulets are on display (along with a courtesy magnifying glass on the top of the case). Buddha is the main focus, though animals are occasionally featured as well. Take in the bronze sculpture from 2010, which is vaguely steampunk to my eye.

Destination: the White Temple — a shiny, artistic take on Buddhist beliefs - Thailand -

Consider this a must see destination if you’re coming to Chiang Rai. It’s bizarre, easy to reach, more than a little out there, and safe for kids in double digits. This and another destination (to be featured later this week!) make up a perfectly good daytrip around Chiang Rai.

Destination: the White Temple — a shiny, artistic take on Buddhist beliefs - Thailand -

A look up at a tall tree with lots of little pendants hanging off of them. Not sure what was going on here, but there were tons of them.

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Name: Wat Rong Khun (วัดร่องขุ่น) AKA the White Temple

Address: Pa O Don Chai Road (route 1208, just off of route 1), Chiang Rai, 57000 (GPS: 19.824189,99.763208)

Directions: This is best reached by songthaew, tuk-tuk (one driver quoted 300 baht round-trip for two people), or your own transportation. From Chiang Rai, head south on Route 1 (Phahonyothin road) and turn right onto Route 1208. This is about 18 kilometers from the Kok river (stop laughing) and about 3 1/2 kilometers after you pass the Pong Salee Arboretum. After turning right onto 1208, begin looking for a parking spot immediately — the temple is only 200 meters from where you turn.

Hours: The temple is open from 6:30am-6pm. Come from 8am-5:30pm (until 6pm on weekends and holidays) to take in the gallery as well.

Admission: 50 baht (as of October 1st, 2016)

Phone: 053–673579

Website: http://www.watrongkhun.org/

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