The White Temple, also known as Wat Rong Khun, is a major tourist attraction located a short car journey to the south of Chiang Rai town centre. You can get there cheaply by local bus services departing from Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1, which is near to the main night market.
The White Temple is open every day from 08:00 to 18:00 and admission costs 50 THB for foreign visitors and nothing for Thai nationals.
About the White Temple
The White Temple is unusual. The original temple is under the process of being entirely re-built using the designs and money of a famous Thai artist. The artist’s unique style of painting and sculpture, mostly related to Buddhism, is reflected in the new design. The highly ornate and mostly very beautiful structures at the temple also incorporate the artist’s own ideas about the complex theology of Buddhism.
A central part of that theology is the idea that life is a journey through stages of birth, death and re-birth. The temple itself has been arranged to reflect this journey with visitors all entering in a particularly point, following a set path around the temple, and leaving at another designated point. Along the way the artwork in the temple reflects on important Buddhist religious ideas in some original and bizarre ways.
The entry point to the White Temple is over the “bridge of the cycle of rebirth”. For Buddhists a new life starts when a person is re-born in the cycle of reincarnation.
Before reaching the start of the bridge, however, visitors must follow a path on either side of which hands reach up from openings in the ground. The poor souls confined to hell appear to be struggling to get out so that that they too can cross the bridge.
After crossing the bridge visitors then pass through the “Gate of Heaven” into the temple.
The ordination hall at the White Temple is a magnificent building, inside and out. The outside of the building is the most spectacular example of the artist’s technique of using plaster with glass mixed in to be moulded into decorative shapes to fix to the exterior of the various buildings.
This technique has now been used at a number of different temples but the first was the White Temple in Chiang Rai. Inside the ordination hall is a white porcelain statue of the Lord Buddha and an all white colour scheme. Photography is not allowed inside the ordination hall which means that the only way to see it is to go.
The White Temple is a project in progress and the end of that process is likely to be 10 or more years away depending on funding. After you leave the ordination hall there is a shrine hall and then you leave the temple via a series of ornate gates. Beyond the shrine hall are several completed structures waiting for the distinctive plaster work to be added.
Not all the buildings at the White Temple are white. There are some buildings such as the magnificent toilet block and the Golden Pagoda, which is positioned between the inner part of the temple and the car park, which are gold coloured.
The use of white symbolises the purity of the Lord Buddha and the intellectual aspect of human beings. The gold colour represents the body and desires for material goods and physical gratification.
Next to the White Temple is a gallery of the artist’s work, which is for sale. The gallery also shows the decorative plaster work being made. A visit to the gallery, even if you don’t want to buy art or souvenirs, is worth visiting as it gives an insight into both the temple and the artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat.
Location of the White Temple
- The White Temple is located 13.4 km by road from Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1.