A major tourist attraction in Chiang Rai is Wat Rong Khun, better known as the White Temple. I have seen many temples throughout my travels and this is definitely one of the most impressive temples to date. The detail that has been put into creation of the temple is incredible; the all-white exterior makes it an eye-catching and unforgettable piece of art. If you’ve seen any temples in Thailand, you’ll know right away that this temple is drastically different in style, design, and meaning than the others.
The White Temple is privately owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat who purchased the temple at the end of the 20th century when it was in need of serious repair, yet was lacking any funding. He designed and rebuilt the temple to what you see today, but it is not expected to be fully finished until 2070. He believes that by building this temple, he will have “immortal life”.
There is a bizarre mix of modernity and traditional Buddhist design throughout the grounds with statues of characters from the movie Predator and bizarre heads hanging from trees. Inside the actual temple, the walls are covered in a mural of superheros, Michael Jackson, spaceships, and other modern figures, which was obviously bizarre to see inside a temple (unfortunately no photos are allowed to be taken inside).
The symbolism you’ll see throughout the temple grounds is an interesting incorporation of Buddhist philosophy and tradition, as well as modern thoughts and ideals. (Note: The explanations below of the temples’ symbolism was found from Wikipedia)
The bridge of the “cycle of re-birth”
The main building is reached by crossing a bridge that goes over a lake. Prior to crossing the bridge there are hundreds of hands reaching up out of the ground, symbolizing unrestrained desire. The idea behind the bridge is that in order to achieve a state of happiness in your life, you must forgo temptation, greed, and desire.
This is the main building within the temple. Like I mentioned above, inside the temple there is a mural that has many famous figures painted throughout as well as images of various forms of destruction. The message behind this is meant to show how people are inherently wicked.
The golden building
This building is a stark contrast to the all-white temple and structures throughout the grounds. While you might think it is a special building of some sort, it’s actually just a washroom. Apparently, the meaning behind this pretty gold washroom is to focus on ones mind instead of on material possessions.
I highly recommend reading into the history of and symbolism within the temple before you go there (there’s much more to it than what I’ve wrote above), as I think it would greatly enrich your experience and understanding of the idea behind the building and meaning of the temple.