Visiting Wat Rong Khun (AKA White Temple in Chiang Rai)
UPDATE JANUARY 2021: Living in Bangkok, I’ve come across a lot of temples, and anyone who has travelled 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 Chiang Rai’, I promise, is worth it. So what’s all the fuss about? Well, it’s often referred to as the most beautiful temple in Thailand, so that’s quite a claim.
What’s the White Temple Chiang Rai all about?
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 in Chiang Rai’? (AKA Wat Rong Khun?)
The White Temple in Chiang Rai is actually found just outside Chiang Rai city centre. Chiang Rai is in the north of Thailand, a 3 or 4-hour bus ride from the more famous Chiang Mai. Although you can also fly directly to Chiang Rai from Bangkok (I flew with Nok Air for $20 each way!). It’s possible to do as a day-trip from Chiang Mai, but there are a few nice things to see in Chiang Rai, so I’d recommend you stay a couple of days.
Wat Rong Khun then is about 13km outside of Chiang Rai city. It’s too far to walk, trust me. So jump in a taxi for about 100THB ($3) and you’re there. Give yourself around 2 hours or so to explore the temple and it’s surrounding features, it’s all pretty spectacular.
How to Visit Wat Rong Khun ‘The White Temple’:
First you have to get to Chiang Rai (bus from Chiang Mai, or flight from Bangkok normally). 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 Mai 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.
50thb Entry Ticket
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 White Temple Chiang Rai ticket price ($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 symbolize 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.
Most beautiful toilet in the world
The surrounding grounds are home to the most beautiful toilet perhaps in the world. Check out the picture of the gold toilets above! 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 vs evil but they are a contemporary approach to the good vs 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!
TIPS FOR THE WHITE TEMPLE CHIANG RAI
- As I said, it IS doable as a day-trip from Chiang Mai but it would be a hell of a long-day (12 hours+ probably), better to spend 2 or 3 days in Chiang Rai and also visit the tea plantations, the ‘Black Temple’, Singha Park, and Phu Chi Fah, Thailand’s difficult-to-get-to, but most beautiful sunrise spot
- Dress appropriately. Cover shoulders and knees ladies, and no vests or short-shorts for guys either
- Wat Rong Khun ticket is only 50THB, so if you’re on a budget, you can do it cheaply. If you want the whole history then there are guides outside.
- Don’t just check out the main temple. Make sure you find the gorgeous toilets, and spend at least half an hour wandering around the grounds. There are surprises in every nook and cranny.
Enjoy! The north of Thailand is the gem of the country in my opinion, better weather, friendlier people, cheaper prices. Sure, it doesn’t have the beach, but with the different cultures, the mountains, the food etc. That all more than makes up for it! So yeah, when you’re spending your 3 days in Chiang Mai, make sure you swing over to its little brother, Chiang Rai, to check it out too.
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