Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple – is it a tourist trap?
Wat Rong Khun is a modern Buddhist temple located in Chiang Rai and to be honest – just randomly in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road.When Linda and I visited, there were A LOT of people there as well. I’m assuming because it was Songkran (Thai New Year). It was hard to tell if it was a tourist trap since lots were milling about but there were lots of locals as well.
Despite the crowds, we were in awe at at the sheer beauty and architecture. The temple was designed by artist turned architect Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1997.
It’s considered a MODERN (surreal & weird) temple + really different from the other ancient Wats or temples in Thailand. This one is BRIGHT WHITE with tiny mosaics of mirrors to reflect the sun and does a great job of blinding you too. I’m guessing religion has gotten edgy? You make your way into the temple by crossing the white sparkling bridge surrounded by a moat. The moat has sculptures of outreaching twisting arms to symbolize desire. It’s super creepy + eerie but nobody can deny it’s a bit cool. If I didn’t remember this was a Buddhist temple. I’d assume the outreaching hands were from the depths of hell.
Wat Rhong Kun is painted white to symbolize Buddha’s purity and while no pictures on the inside are allowed, there are contemporary paintings + murals to represent the Buddhist cycle of death & rebirth/reincarnation. There’s no angels vs. demons but rather colorful pop cultural icons like Superman, Batman, Predator, Neo from the Matrix, and planes crashing in the twin towers. I wasn’t sure what to make of this.
Definitely was new + different for me since I’m used to ancient architecture and moments of awe & reverence in places of prayer, meditation + worship. I am not expecting to see fictional superheroes and spaceships! It’s still pretty cool to see the modern interpretations of Buddhism though. The outside of the white temple grounds is about three acres and most are completed. The rest will be finished in the years to come. There’s more weird + awesome severed heads hanging off trees looking in every direction.
Besides the main temple. there is a HUGE GOLD….BATHROOM BUILDING. Yes ladies & gents, this is the fanciest bathroom building I’ve ever seen – not a temple. Curious to see if there were gold toilet seats? This gold building is supposed to represent the “body” while the main white temple represents the “mind.” But yea…gold bathroom. To the right is a gold wishing well but you can’t see it due to the crowd of people throwing coins inside and wishing for….happiness? detachment? good karma?You can also see the construction behind that is unfinished. We took our time exploring the grounds and managed to capture some great photos without getting people in the background. There is a gift shop that we perused and ended up getting small souvenirs (t-shirts, magnets) but there are post cards and reproductions of the murals as well.
This place wasn’t a typical tourist trap although it gave off similar vibes — maybe it was due to so many people there at the time. Perhaps it was the foreigners that treat it like a tourist sight by rushing to take pictures as fast as possible without really LOOKING or giving any thought to the meaning and context of the temple itself. They stepped over people praying or meditating and forget hey! let’s try to look a little pious! I suppose it was easy to forget it’s STILL a temple and not just some meaningless pretty building.
All in all. Visit if you’re in the area, be respectful + courteous and dress appropriately. 🙂 Afterwards, it was time to head back to Chiang Mai where we had a blast playing with tiger cubs, zorbing, and bungee jumping.
Practical Information: Location: Pa O Don Chai Road, A. Muang Chiang Rai, 57000, Thailand
+66 53 673 579