Wat Rong Khun (better known as the white temple) is a beautiful Buddhist temple nearby Chiang Rai, Thailand. Designed in 1997, expected to be finished not earlier than 2070.
On the 5th of May 2014 it got damaged so badly by an earthquake (magnitude 6.3), it was closed indefinitely. One day after the earthquake, it was announced the temple would be demolished for safety reasons, and not being rebuild. This decision would be recalled the following day.
You can still see the broken top of the tower behind the temple, in my picture on top of this post.
The temple was smaller than I expected, but didn’t fail to impress me nonetheless. The white colour makes you feel like you are in the middle of a fairytale, and the level of detail in the handcrafted ornaments of the temple is simply astonishing.
The bridge of the cycle of rebirth
To enter the main building, you will have to cross the white bridge over a small lake. In front of the bridge there are about a hundred hands, reaching out from the underworld. It shows happiness can only be reached by resisting temptation and letting go off greed and desire. As I had never seen something like the this before, it is one of the aspects I liked the most about Wat Rong Khun.
Both creepy and beautiful at the same time.
In front of the bridge, two kinnaree can be found. These creatures, half-human and half-bird, are represented in Buddhist mythology. Kinnaree, being half bird, are able to fly between the human world and the mystical world.
The gate to heaven
After crossing the small bridge passing the outreaching hands, you will reach the gate to heaven. This gate is guarded by two creatures, representing ‘death’ and ‘Rahu’. They obviously didn’t do a good job guarding this sacred gate, since I got in without any problem.
Rahu is a mythological figure that decides the faith of the dead. According to Buddhist mythology, Rahu attacked the moon deity (Chandra) and the sun deity (Surya). The Buddha himself got involved, and Rahu decides to release both Chandra and Surya. Rahu preferred this option, rather than ‘having his head split into seven pieces’ by the Buddha.
Probably a wise choise.
Inside the madness of the main building
The main building is covered with a mosaic of small mirrors (imported from Belgium for some reason), and the roof is covered with Naga serpents. Nagas are generally seen as guardians of treasure.
Stepping inside, I was a bit disappointed to be honest. I expected the same detailed white fairytale world inside. Instead, orange madness could be found. The paintings on the wall were far less detailed as the ornaments on the outside of the temple. Surprisingly, paintings of James Bond, Michael Jackson, and – I shit you not – Kungfu Panda can be found on the wall. Even Neo from the Matrix, Harry Potter and Hello Kitty are represented.
You can imagine my disappointment.
However, I dó like the symbolism here. Coming from the mystical world (represented by the outside of the temple), into the human world (represented by the walls inside of the temple), I felt life on earth was quite messed up. The message definitely came across.
Unfortunately, taking pictures of the inside was prohibited, so sadly enough, I have no pictures to illustrate this madness. As you might know, I do not always obey rules. However, I dó prefer the lack of illustrations on this blog article, over having my head split into seven pieces by the Buddha.
The most beautiful toilet building in Asia
The golden building, located close to the white temple, is gorgeous as well. Funnily enough, it is actually a restroom building. The gold symbolizes how people focus on material possessions and money, instead of their state of mind. Sadly, this is true in most cases.
The golden building is definitely the most beautiful toilet building I have ever seen. Unfortunately, it was closed when I got there. The reason might be nasty incidents, as talked about in this hilarious video about abuse of the golden toilet.
The owner clearly doesn’t see the irony of tourists giving this building a golden shower. To add another bad joke on top of that: I can see why he is pissed though.
How to get to Wat Rong Khun
I rented a motorcycle and took the highway from Chiang Rai. The temple is located on the South of the city. Potholes can be seen in some part of the road, so for risk avoiders I would definitely recommend taking a taxi. A motorcycle however, gives you more freedom to explore the rest of the area. There is a cool waterfall in the area as well.
As the temple is located close to the highway, it is easy to find (once you find your way out of Chiang Rai, that is). After a drive of an half hour, we arrived at this piece of art. As with all touristic attractions, I would recommend to go early in the morning. It will save you from Chinese tourists popping up in all your pictures.
There is no entrance fee for entering the temple. Donations, of course, are welcome.
Was Wat Rong Khun ‘Bucket list worthy’?
Yes and no.
As beautiful detailed as the white temple is from the outside, it is also quite small (yet). You will have seen most of it within an half hour. Also, the inside of the temple was kind of a let down for me. However, it is definitely a temple that stands apart from other temples.
Bucket list worthy? Didn’t decide yet. The temple didn’t blow me off my feet, but I am happy I went there anyway. You definitely won’t find anything like this anywhere else in the world.
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