Wat Rong Khun, widely known as White Temple, is a spectacular masterpiece of modern Buddhism architecture. The temple is privately owned and operated by Chalermchai Kositpipat who designed, constructed and mainly financed the temple. It opened in 1997 and is to date one of the major attractions in Chiang Rai.
The White Temple
The main ordination hall can be reached via a bridge over a small pond containing even white fishes. In front of the bridge are hundreds of outreaching concrete arms symbolizing desperation and the quest for uncontrolled desire. This (bridge to temple) represents that one needs to first pass temptation before being awarded with prosperity.
Parts of the temple have been heavily damaged by the earthquake on 5 May 2014. Chalermchai Kositpipat confirmed that he will restore the damaged parts within two years.
Oh and before we forget to mention it, the toilets. Yeah, you may think now what do toilets have to do with a temple. Actually why at all do we have to highlight toilets here? Because they are located in a mesmerising gold shimmering building that will blow your mind!
Inside the ubosot
A myriad of surrealistic paintings are depicted across the inside walls of the main ordination hall or ubosot. While the lower parts of the walls show desperation and tragic incidents in human history such as the 9/11 attacks, the higher parts depict a bright yet glorious and peaceful life. The major captivating highlights are famous superheroes and comic characters like Harry Potter, Neo of Matrix or Spiderman (among others) who seem to fight against the evil. Assumable, all actions lead to the top part however interestingly not towards a Buddhism picture as we expected, but towards a golden skull. It’s not clear to say whether the top part depicts heaven or the nirvana (reincarnation) but it’s up to the viewer’s interpretation.
Behind the thoughts of mastermind Chalermchai Kositpipat
Unlike many artists, Chalermchai Kositpipat is certainly a different type. While you can usually read about an artist’s work and his biography somewhere on a leaflet, he puts life size stand ups everywhere around the temple grounds. He also runs around the complex, seemingly invisible as his clothing style doesn’t differ much from a tourist. Chalermchai Kositpipat has become a kind of celebrity among visitors with lots of people asking not only for photos but even for his autographs.
But his project isn’t done yet. His vision is to create several intricate buildings throughout the next years, each teaching lessons on life and ethics. He projects to have the complex finished by 2070.
How to get there
If you plan to come from Chiang Mai we suggest that you either talk to the service attendant on the bus (we took the Green Bus) and inform him/her that you want to visit the White Temple or ask the ticket seller to write a small note on your ticket stating that you want to be dropped near the White Temple.
If you’re planning to head further towards Chiang Rai take a blue Songthaew and tell the driver to drop you at the Chiang Rai Bus Terminal (20 THB/person).
Open: daily, 08:00-12:00 13:00-17:00
Photos: Yes, but only outside. No pictures are allowed inside the temple or of the exhibit in one of the other buildings.
Baan Dam, the Black House
Roughly 30 minutes from the White Temple you can find its opponent, the Black House. The estate was created by renowned artists Thawan Duchanee and currently serves as museum, depicting lots of his surreal artwork. He previously used the complex as his art studio and home as well. In Thai, ‘Baan’ means house and ‘Dam’ means black. Often referred to as ‘Black Temple’ –mainly also due to its design-, it’s however incorrect to describe the building as temple. The entire complex consists of 40 buildings in various shapes and sizes with the Black House as its centrepiece.
Inside the main hall
Against all expectations, the atmosphere at the Black House was anything but spooky. Admittedly, it’s dark but the natural surroundings in addition to the natural used elements within the temple give the whole complex somehow a warm vibe. Weird and bizarre however were numerous skins from crocodiles and snakes plus skulls of deer around the main ordination hall which is widely kept empty. Also the ceilings and doors are unusually high.
An inside view of controversial artist Thawan Duchanee
Thawan Duchanee looked somewhat like a Kung-Fu grandmaster right from a movie. Although heavily criticized in his early years for his arguable and often diabolical paintings (his signature colours are red and black), Thawan Duchanee has developed a unique style of modern Thai art and has been nationally and internationally recognized for his artworks. His paintings can be found across several Thai embassies and institutions such as Siam Commercial Bank’s headquarter. Thawan Duchanee didn’t intend to create a ‘hell-temple’ as often stated but a shrine for his lifelong art work. He passed away last September but his legacy will live forever through his amazing work.
How to get there
From Chiang Rai Bus Terminal take one of the public busses departing from platform 5 and 6. Tell the driver that you want to go to the Black House (they will know). The bus takes 20 minutes but you still have to walk for about 10 minutes (just follow the signs). In order to get to back to the bus terminal just go back to the main road and flag the next bus down (20 THB/person/way). Both temples make up a great day trip from Chiang Mai.
Have you been to the White –or Black Temple, maybe to both? Let us know in the comments, would love to hear from you!
Open: daily, 09:00-12:00 & 13:00-17:00
Photos: Yes, inside and outside.
Kian & Sri