The White Temple of Chiang Rai
There is a general ‘tourist trail’ that most people follow when heading to Thailand for the first time. This usually includes a trip to the beaches in the south, pit-stops in Bangkok, and a trip up to one of the northern provinces of Chiang Mai. It is a fair bit less common for people to venture much beyond that, as the city of Chiang Mai holds so many relics and activities already. This being said, for those adventurous enough, a short 3 hour bus ride to the northern most province of Chiang Rai can be well worth the time. Amongst the mountains, rice patties and natural beauty, amidst the ancient history and old cities, there lies another incredible – and bizarre – attraction: The White Temple.
Locally known as Wat Rong Khun, the unconventional temple is a tourist attraction for locals, foreigners, and even monks alike. Though completely different from the usual temples you may see in the north, it is still considered a place of spiritual worship for practicing Buddhists and should be treated as such.
Before arriving to the gates, you can already tell that there’s something truly spectacular about this place! The immense complex of the White Temple is, as the name states, almost entirely white, with small reflective mirrors ornately decorating it. It’s is a beacon of light to all those within even the slightest bit of an eye-shot away from it, luring them in with it’s beaming glow.
This modern temple began it’s construction in 1997. You may say it’s a work in progress, as you can see new structures going up even to this day. With that said, however, there are already a myriad of temples and stupas found on the holy grounds which already completed.
The reason the White Temple is a little ‘different’ from your traditional temples is because it has completely modern elements, which lack in the older temples you may visit. It brings in an unusual contrast of good vs evil. Evil being represented largely in part by sins, modern warfare, and funny enough – Hollywood movies.
With a mixed bag of appearance such as Neo (from the Matrix), Superman, Osama Bin Laden, and even Sponge Bob Squarepants, there is no shortage of recognizable characters in the stories being illustrated. Completely decorated with murals, statues, and even bridges crossing over purgatory, you find yourself becoming part of the journey to enlightenment.
To anyone thinking of visiting outside the regular tourist trail, this is a highly recommended, and unique, destination to consider. You should give yourself about 3 hours to walk around, and another 30 mins in each direction getting to and from the temple from the city of Chiang Rai’s centre.
Please note: You should dress appropriately while visiting the White Temple. Although it’s bizarre, it is still a place of worship, and should be treated as such.