Wat Rong Khun (sometimes known as White Temple) is a unique Buddhist complex in Northern Thailand, about five kilometers south of Chiang Rai. It has steadily become one of the country’s landmarks and most recognizable temples.
Visual artist Chalermchai Kositpipat envisioned this idea and work on the temple began in 1999. The construction of the White Temple is his master work, which he has dedicated to Buddha and his country.
Chalermchai Kositpipat is one of Thailand’s most well-known visual artists. Primarily a painter, his works have been exhibited worldwide and is known to use Buddhist imagery in his art. A graduate of Slipakorn University, the country’s primary visual arts school, Chalermchai Kositpipat’s early works were at first controversial. His murals and paintings at Wat Buddhapadipa in the U.K received complaints from many in Thailand for not representing the contemporary styling of traditional Thai art. Nonetheless, his works gained acceptance through time, with King Rama IX among his clients.
What makes Wat Rong Khun different from any other temple in Thailand is the design of the ubosot (ordination hall). It has been built entirely in white with beautiful reflections from mirrored white glass assorted into the building. Chalermchai Kositpipat wanted to create a piece of work that truly reflects Buddha’s character. White was chosen to represent Buddha’s purity while the white glass symbolizes Buddha’s wisdom.
It is estimated that the temple initially cost over 30 million Baht (approximately $ 1 million), which has been accumulated over 20 years from Chalermchai Kositpipat’s art sales. The temple is still being constructed and will take many more years to complete. Temple donations and sales of Chalermchai Kositpipat’s works contribute to further funds of the temple’s construction.
Glaring eyes from two menacing giants watch as you enter the temple and approach grasping hands pleading for help from the floor. This is the gateway to hell. As you climb the bridge and walk towards the main hall, a huge pond with water fountains come to view. This is a representation of Si Tarndon, the river that separates heaven from the ordinary world. As you walk towards the far end of the bridge, you will see various sculptures of Buddha meditating, which completes your short hell to heaven journey.
The murals inside the temple are colorfully painted, portraying Buddha’s teachings in a contemporary and modern manner. He uses images and icons that people today would recognize such as space ships, Superman and Neo from The Matrix films.
Wat Rong Khun is a unique temple and a must-see if you are visiting Northern Thailand. You will visit this temple on our Chiang Rai and the Far North tour as part of your orientation to the city along with more fundamental temples and other interesting sites. The area is marked by mountain ranges, which makes for cooler climates when compared to other parts of the country. It is also home to ancient ruins and indigenous people, some of which will open their homes to you. Experience this colorful region with our Discover North Thailand tour. You may also see our Thailand tours page for additional suggestions in this wonderful and exotic country.