The White Temple in Chiang Rai: A Temple Like No Other

Not Your Average Day Trip: Wat Rong Khun, The White Temple in Chiang Rai

You might think you’ve seen every kind of temple that Thailand has to offer, but think again! Wat Rong Khun, more commonly known as The White Temple in Chiang Rai will turn your concept of what a temple looks like on its head.

The White Temple in Chiang Rai is like nowhere else. A religious monument with a distinctly contemporary and irreverent feel, this is not so much a traditional cultural visit as a trip to a piece of modern art. Gleaming white and packed full of weird and wonderful sights this is a place not to be missed!

At only 180 km north of Chiang Mai this is a great day trip while you’re in the area, so read on to find out how to explore this unusual and eccentric place.

Chiang Rai white temple
History of The White Temple in Chiang Rai

If you’d visited Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple, in the early 1990’s then you would have seen a very different sight. An old temple stood there but it was dilapidated and run-down. Enter local architect and temple savior Chalermchai Kositpipat who decided that leading the restoration was his destiny!

But instead of overseeing a traditional temple rebuild as many thought he would, Chalermchai instead decided that this would be the creation of a masterpiece of modern art. Now ‘just another temple’ has turned into a wonderland of sculpture, mosaics, cartoons and murals featuring the most unlikely characters…

The Best Day Trip from Chiang Mai

The first thing that hits you when you arrive at the temple is the sheer whiteness of the place. Take a moment to take it in- this is no shy and retiring building! As you get closer you’ll start to notice some of the detail that makes this place unique. Look down into the moat- it’s filled with sculptures of hands reaching up from below. Look out for the one finger wearing red nail varnish!

Walk over the dragon bridge to the main Wat structure, examining the mirrored mosaics and spotting the disembodied heads hanging from the trees all around. Yes, we said this place was unusual…

Most surprising of all is the sight that greets you inside the temple building. Murals depicting the red and orange flames of hell curl round some familiar faces. Look out for Michael Jackson, Freddie Kruger, Harry Potter and the Terminator rubbing shoulders with Hello Kitty and Superman. There are no photos allowed in here but you can linger as long as you like to appreciate the artwork and the message that humanity might just be a little bit screwed!

dragon statue at the white temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand
All About Wat Rong Khun

A visit to the temple only takes an hour or two as the site is compact and easily accessible. If you want to get the local Buddhist perspective on the place then have a chat to some of the monks that live in the compound, as they are a wealth of information on the history of the site and the significant of the artwork.

This is a popular place with tourists and the site can get crowded in the middle of the day. If you want to avoid the coach trips then arrive before 10am or after 4pm; the light is better anyway and you won’t have to queue for that perfect shot.

How to Get to the White Temple

You have three main options for a day trip. The first is to hire your own motorbike and make the drive yourself. This can be a bit punishing as it’s about 4 hours each way, but the smooth, curving route 118 through the Khun Chae National Park is totally worth it.

The next option is to take an organized day trip. Pay about 800 baht and you’re off in a minibus with some new friends to take in the sights. The negative is that you won’t control the schedule. The positive is you will probably visit a couple of bonus places like the historic Black House museum, and the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet.

The final option is also the cheapest – take the bus! It’ll be an early start if you want to get there and back all in one day, but why not stay the night in Chiang Rai and head home after a good night’s sleep? Hitting the buzzing night market for dinner makes a day trip into a mini holiday and you can have a lie-in too.

Did you know?

It might just happen that you enjoy your visit to the temple so much that you want to make a donation for its continued construction. That’s great! Don’t worry though, your millions are safe- there’s a maximum donation limit of 10,000 baht or about $300 US from each individual person. This is because the architect doesn’t want to be influenced by big donors who may disagree with his vision. This temple looks set to remain weird and wonderful for years to come!

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