The Mystical White Temple in Chiang Rai – The Surreal Southeast Asian Gaudi sculpture?
Why should you visit famous Chiang Rai’s White Temple?
Whether you’re only on a short holiday or working remotely somewhere in Thailand, you must include Thailand’s temples in your bucket list. If you don’t know which ones to pick, by all means, make sure you don’t skip the Wat Rong Khun, which goes by the name of White Temple, in Chiang Rai. The extraordinary concept combined with spirituality and modern touch is what made it to the top of our rankings as one of our favourite temples in Thailand.
South East Asia boasts with many religious sights, each one offering magnificent architecture to admire, with many of the awe-inspiring temples dating a few centuries back. Seeing all of them may bore you to death if you’re not particularly into spiritual and historical buildings so make sure you pick the temples that you will want to remember visiting.
You may want to know that the design of Wat Rong Khun doesn’t exactly fall into the centuries-old look and you won’t get bored shortly after entering the site. The imagination of the designer of Wat Rong Khun temple will keep you entertained throughout the entire visit with its hellish creatures scattered all over the place. You don’t have to be passionate about Buddhist religion or architecture to enjoy a sunny day out whilst encountering Freddie Kruger.
Say what? Carry on, I am going to explain it below. If you’re a lazy reader or need some visual motivation, check out our short intro to our visit to the White Temple in Chiang Rai!
Wat Rong Khun – Thailand’s White Palace from the future?
Wat Rong Khun temple used to be quite dilapidated before renovation took place and apparently what we see today is somehow very different to how the original temple used to look like. Some say that the designer-muralist found his inspiration from the Wat Buddhapadipa, UK’s first Thai Buddhist Temple. Now, the White Temple is a contemporary and privately owned Buddhist temple designed by the visual artist Chalermchai Kositpipat which was opened to the public in 1997.
The works started in the same year and were self-funded and have been ongoing ever since. However, it is estimated that the works are not likely to finish until 2070! Does this not sound a little similar to the world famous Antoni Gaudi’s works in Barcelona ? Well, I wouldn’t necessarily give a like for like comparison to Sagrada Familia but the White Temple is your must-see attraction in Thailand.
The designer must have done a pretty good job considering that over the last two decades this temple has had so much buzz and now it is one of the most visited temples in Thailand. However, all that glitters is not gold and not everything you’ll find there will really fit the picture of a heavenly image of the Wat Rong Khun, known as the White Temple you would possibly imagine.
The extraordinary artwork of the White Temple was perhaps once inspired by god but judging by the demonic creatures onsite and inside the temple, it is now far from representing purity. Have a closer look. What you’re going to see is far from being divine!
Once you are inside, the White Temple turns into bewildering images of demons and Western celebs. Now you know that if you want to see Michael Jackson, Hello Kitty, Neo from the Matrix, Harry Potter, Spiderman, Terminator or Freddie Kruger or even T-800 Terminator, they have all gathered here to see you. Beware, these well portrayed ‘demonic’ creatures are here to repossess your pure soul!
If you’ve seen any of the artwork of the famous Barcelona artist, Antoni Gaudi, you will soon realise that his imagination does not compare to the one of the man behind the White Temple’s design, the sky is the limit, they say!
Can you expect a spiritual uplift from the White Temple?
The temple can be mesmerising and terrifying at the same time. I am not too sure about the shiny T-800, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Spiderman chilling out on the bench and other bizarre statuettes you will undoubtedly come across but our overall experience was definitely positive. I don’t really know anyone who wouldn’t like it. Then again, after all, art is art, right?
If you arrive during peak hours like we did, you will struggle to stay in one spot without being interrupted every few seconds but this is a norm for all touristic places. There are some parts that will be a bit quieter where you’ll be able to stay and enjoy the heavenly view of the site shining through Chiang Rai.
Wherever you go, the sun shines onto the glittering parts that give the snow white artwork even more divine look, an utter sublime perfection to one’s eyes.
The Golden Building – the most spiritual toilets you will ever visit
I can’t stress enough how beautiful is the golden building that facilitates the toilets! I recommend you to check them out yourself. Even if you aren’t desperate to see the inside, take a closer look of the outside. The architecture is truly breath-taking and this is why we decided to take a couple of pictures and even a brief video as a reminder for you not to skip that part!
How to get from Chiang Rai to White Temple
There are several ways of accessing the temple from Chiang Rai. Since it’s about 13 km south-west of Chiang Rai, you can either rent a bike, motorbike. Click here for the direct link to the map.
Otherwise, take a songtaew from the Old Town, you are more likely to approach the songtaew that goes in that direction. For budget-conscious backpackers, head to the bus station in Chiang Rai for regular public buses, the ride takes about 20 minutes.
There are many taxi-drivers who will be more than happy to give you a lift there and back but if you do this, you might as well hire a driver for half a day and see other places within your reach.
Quick recap before you go
- Entrance fee: 50 Baht (foreigner/farang), free if Thai
- Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm (closed for lunch)
The above are guidelines subject to the weather seasonality. Getting there before everyone else is probably the best thing to do. If you get there around 10.30am and later, be sure to see crowds of visitors taking selfies!
We left with really mixed feelings, totally overwhelmed by the beauty of Chiang Rai’s White Temple. If you’re not in a rush, don’t forget to put your name on the silver hangings. This area is strikingly beautiful and really makes you want to stay around for a little longer.
Let us know your thoughts after your visit!
Quick recap before you go
- Entrance fee: 50 Baht (foreigner / farang), free if Thai
- Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm (closed for lunch)
Getting there before everyone else if probably the best thing to do. If you get there around 10.30am and later, be sure to see crowds of visitors taking selfies!
We left with really mixed feelings, totally overwhelmed by the beauty of this astonishing religious site. If you’re not in a rush, don’t forget to put your name on the silver hangings. This area is strikingly beautiful that makes you want to stay around for a little longer.
If you’re planning to visit North of Thailand, check out the post about our lovely stay in Chiang Rai. We’ve included a few spots you will absolutely fall in love with.
Let us know your thoughts after your visit, we hope you will leave feeling more connected and stunned by the modern Buddhist design of this surreal temple!
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