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Wat Rong Khun

Chiang Rai Attractions
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This bizarre-looking white temple located about five km south of Chiang Rai City is the brainchild of Chiang Rai-born visual artist and painter Chalermchai Kositpipat. He brings an unconventional approach to temple architecture, fusing elements from his own imagination (white, not gold, as a pure colour to embody the sacredness of temples) with orthodox Buddhist teachings about heaven, hell, karma and earthly sins.

The temple is filled with Buddhist symbolisms, from its layout, architecture, all the way to the ornate reliefs and mirror decorations. You can only enter the ubosot (main chapel) from the front, via the narrow bridge that passes over a pool of upturned, beseeching hands representing suffering souls in hell. From here, there’s no turning back, as the only way is to ascend ‘heavenwards’ to through the pathway guarded over by demons to the ubosot.

Inside, two Buddha images seem to be floating on a lotus pedestal, set against elaborately painted murals in various hues of gold and other colours. Rather than traditional characters, Chalermchai uses icons from modern culture, such as spaceships, superman, and even Neo from the Matrix movie to tell the stories of the Buddha’s life and his teachings on these murals, creating a rather striking – and lasting – impression upon visitors.

From the ubosot, proceed on to the museum displaying Chalermchai’s artworks, the souvenir shop and visit the in-house studio where artifacts are assembled and decorated with mirrors before being hoisted up and fixed onto the buildings’ bare concrete structure.

In a way, Wat Rong Khun is similar to Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcolona. When Chalermchai first conceived the idea of building the wat, he laid out a great grand plan for its design and construction but, like Gaudi’s work, it will never be completed. Constructed in 1998, the temple’s main chapel won’t be completely finished (with all decorations and murals) before 2020, let alone the other structures surrounding it. When completed, Wat Rong Khun will have a total of nine structures fully decorated with the swirly reliefs and mirrors that the wat has become famous for.

  • Opening Hours: 06.30 – 18.00 daily (temple); 08:00 – 17:30 Mon-Fri (museum of paintings)
  • Location: About 13km south of city centre (at km. 817)
  • How to get there: Hire a songtaew or rent a motorcycle
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