Wat Rong Khun; Chiang Rai’s White Temple
Living in Thailand, I’ve come across a lot of temples, and anyone who has traveled throughout Asia can testify to the feeling of being ‘templed-out’. After Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or Bagan in Myanmar, you can sometimes feel like you don’t want to visit yet another temple. But Wat Rong Khun or ‘the White Temple’ in Chiang Rai, I promise, is worth it.
Wat Rong Khun actually isn’t so old, built in 1997 by an independent Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, who has refused all donations from wealthy sources, government sources, any sources (!) and self-funded the entire project. He wants to be free to build a temple from his own heart, with no external influences, and it’s absolutely a work in progress. When he is finished, he wants it to rival the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China in terms of world sights. To be honest, he’s getting pretty close already, this place is breathtaking.
Where is ‘the White Temple’ Wat Rong Khun in Thailand?
So Chiang Rai is in the north of Thailand, 3 or 4 hour bus ride from the more famous Chiang Mai. Although you can fly directly to Chiang Rai from Bangkok ( I flew with Nok Air for $20 each way!).
Wat Rong Khun then is about 13km outside of Chiang Rai city, so you can jump in a taxi for about 100THB ($3) and you’re there. Give yourself around an hour or 2 to explore the temple and it’s surrounding features, it’s all pretty spectacular.
WAT RONG KHUN ‘The White Temple’:
Once you take your taxi from Chiang Rai city to Wat Rong Khun, you’ll be greeted by arguably the most beautiful temple you’ve ever seen. I had wanted to see this place ever since I taught English in Chaing Rai in 2007 but never made the extra effort, finally once I had seen it, I was angry with myself for not having done it sooner. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
The temple isn’t that huge, but the architecture is so intricate. Instantly you get hit with the sheer whiteness of it, reflecting in the ornamental ponds dotted around the outside of the temple. You filter through the ticket office, pay your 50THB ($1.40) and then you have free reign of the grounds, and what grounds they are.
As you cross over the bridge, you see thousands of hands reaching out from the moat, they symboliz desire and envy and it’s a pretty spooky scene. You cross over, and through the main temple. It’s impossible not to notice the amazing workmanship, and actually an earthquake in 2014 destroyed a large chunk of the temple, but everything has been repaired and even improved upon, so nothing to worry about there.
The surrounding grounds are home to the most beautiful toilet perhaps in the world, check out the picture of the gold toilets below! Other than that, they are a fascinating assortment of the most surreal structures imaginable. From Wolverine to Terminator to Buddha, yup. They assume the historic Buddhist battles of good vrs evil but they are a contemporary approach to the good vrs evil! Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll see some crazy things!
There are additional Buddhist stupas dotted around too, and various Thai Buddhist ‘donations’ where you can buy small trinkets, scribble your memories and dates on them, and hang them on the various structures around grounds. It’s beautiful, and there are thousands of things!
So finally I ticked off the White Temple of Chiang Rai. Wat Rong Khun was everything I hoped and more. I love Chiang Rai, it’s one of my favourite spots in all of Thailand, and if you make it here PLEASSSE make sure you go and check out Thailand’s most beautiful sunrise spot, Phu Chi Fah will make you fall in love with Chiang Rai just as much as me. Happy travels!