Wat Rong Khun, a privately owned contemporary art exhibit, is much better known as the White Temple. It is approximately 15km south-west from Chiang Rai. It is definitely the most spectacular site that you can see in Chiang Rai and its vicinity. The owner is the Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed it and constructed it using his own funds. The temple opened to the public in 1997 and it deservedly became a very popular tourist attraction.
Its history is very interesting. Towards the end of the 20th century, the original Wat Rong Khun became very dilapidated. There were no funds for its restoration. That’s when Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to build a completely new temple.
The artist’s intended for the whole area surrounding the temple to become the learning and the meditation centre. He also wanted people to benefit by gaining an insight into the Buddhist teachings.
The artist views the temple as his offering to Buddha and believes that it will bring him immortal life.
The ongoing works on the temple may finish around 2070, which will be well after the artist’s death.
Thai people do not pay to enter into the temple, however foreigners are charged 50 baht. In order to preserve his artistic independence, the artist accepts donations, but not more than 10000 bath.
When completed, the White Temple compound will have nine buildings, including the existing ubosot, the hall of relics, the meditation hall, the art gallery and the living quarters for monks.
The temple has more than one roof. The building has a three-tiered roof, inspired by the traditional design of Buddhist temples in Thailand.
The white colour symbolises the purity of Buddha. Temples in Thailand are very often decorated or adorned in gold colour, but for this temple the artist chose the white colour instead.
Nearly everything about the temple depicts a religious or symbolic message. Every detail of the temple carries a meaning. It encourages visitors to reflect on the Buddhist teachings that show the way to escape from worldly temptations, desires and greed and to focus on the mind instead.
In my Chiang Rai post, I mentioned that the temple was very busy when I went there. Probably the best time to visit is early in the morning. I believe that at that time of the day there will be fewer people. If you go there early, hopefully you will be able to enjoy this beautiful site, in relative tranquillity. The temple is a superb masterpiece and it is understandable that many people want to see it.
If you are staying in Chiang Rai, the best thing to do is to hire a tuk-tuk, but arrange with the driver to wait for you. My driver waited for me for one hour. Then, he took me back to Chiang Rai and to the Blue Temple, which I visited afterwards.
However, if you are in Chiang Mai and you want to visit this temple, you will have a very long day. It takes approximately 4 hours from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and also 4 hours back. Additionally, the excursions usually include visits to other sites, which means that there will be really a lot of travelling. But, this also means that there will be very little time to visit the actual sites that you want to see.
In any case, the White Temple is magical. It is probably the most beautiful of all things that I saw during my stay in Thailand.