Exploring Chiang Rai – Wat Rong Khun or The White Temple.

The ‘white temple‘, as it’s also known, is … well, very white and incredibly ornate. The white plaster everywhere symbolises Buddha’s purity, while the pieces of white glass stuck all over it represent Buddha’s wisdom. (Even the apparently very pure koi carp in the surrounding pool are white.) The temple is a work in progress by famous painter of all things Buddhist, Chalermchai Kositpipat.

Chalermchai began his career as a movie billboard painter, before moving on to religious themed paintings. His work, which combines an eclectic mix of traditional Buddhist imagery with modern symbols, was initially highly controversial. However Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself purchased some of the artist’s works, allowing him much greater mainstream acceptance, and certainly helping him to become much richer.

Wat Rong Khun also displays a mix of traditional and modern imagery, combining scenes from the life of Buddha with sci-fi and superhero images, including Keanu Reeves from The Matrix. It does remain controversial to some traditionalists, as well as to many tourists, who can’t decide whether it’s an awesome or totally kitsch sight.

The temple is entered by a bridge over a sea of demons, skulls and grasping hands, which is supposed to represent the transition via hell, (or more specifically the mouth of the demon Rahu), from earthly existence (the start of the bridge), to nirvana (the far side of the bridge).

Anyway totally kitsch, sacrilegious, a work of art: whichever you think, it certainly brightens up a drive between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and to our minds well worth a visit. It’s open from 06:00-17:00 and there’s no entrance fee, though donations are welcome.