The Creepily Peculiar White Temple of Chiang Rai

Posted by - June 27, 2012 | Category: Peculiarities

Wat Rong Khun, White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

I don’t normally get all googly-eyed and awestruck at temples (unless there’s a monk hell-bent on self-immolation out front, Zippo in one hand, leaky gas can in the other), but The White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand is special. 

Crazy, creepy, cool kinda special. Wat Rong Khun, White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand 2

If a savant on suicide watch could throw up the contents of his mind, I reckon this would be the result.

Disembodied heads dangling from trees. Ghoulish hands reaching from the pits of hell.

It’s Gandalf vs. Dumbledore in a “wand-off”, lovingly encased in blinding white. It reminded me of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, except without much solitude — this is a tourist attraction after all. And a free one to boot. Crowded or not, I’d probably be back there right now if flights to Thailand were just a little less expensive this time of year.

Water Fountain at Wat Rong Khun, White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Wat Rong Khun, as the contemporary Buddhist temple is known in Thai, is the vision of artist and Chiang Rai local Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat. He figures it will take another 90 years for the project to be complete.

Koi in pond -- Wat Rong Khun, White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

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Guard -- Wat Rong Khun, White Temple, Chiang Rai, ThailandSculpture of skulls -- Wat Rong Khun, White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

If he spends as much time and detail as he did on the bathroom facilities (pictured below), it could conceivably take much longer.

Ornate washrooms -- Wat Rong Khun, White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

White Power

So just why is the White Temple white? Kositpipat believes gold is “suitable to people who lust for evil deeds” so he wanted this one to be different from the traditional golden temple. More pure. More contemporary.

A quick look at the place and you can see that this is no ordinary temple.

Side view of temple -- -- Wat Rong Khun, White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Skull with snake through eye socket -- White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Now here’s a riddle for ya — what do George Bush, Osama Bin Laden, Kung Fu Panda, Michael Jackson, Neo from The Matrix, Freddie Krueger, Darth Vader, one of the Transformers, that dude from Avatar, the Hulk, Batman, the Joker, a cellphone, (I’m running out of breath here), Jigsaw from The Saw movies, Ultraman, Spiderman, Superman, a couple of Angry Birds, Harry Potter, Jack Sparrow, and a Converse sneaker have in common?

They’re all part of a peculiar mural inside the White Temple.

Avatar, Transformers and the Matrix -- Wat Rong Khun White Palace, Chiang Rai, Thailand

The entire back wall of the monastery is dedicated to a painting of a red demon with George Bush in one eye, and Osama Bin Laden in the other. Inside the mouth of the demon is a scene depicting the fall of the Twin Towers, complete with a gasoline pump snaking its way through. That’s Spiderman looking on at your right.

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The other pop culture references are found dotted throughout the demon’s mouth.

What’s the meaning of all this? To paraphrase the handy pamphlet from the gift shop, according to creator Kositpipat, it refers to “the killing of the innocence” by the likes of Bush and Bin Laden, and how no heroes (like our friendly neighbourhood Spiderman) can save us.

Pretty gloomy if you ask me. He could’ve added a Smurf or two to brighten the mood in the room.

Take a look around the grounds and let me know your thoughts on the White Temple in the comments section below…

Naked creature -- Wat Rong Khun, White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Half-buried futuristic robot -- Wat Rong Khun, White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

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What are your thoughts on the White Palace of Chiang Rai? Creepy or cool? Or maybe a little of both…

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57 comments
  1. Umm… W. T. F.

    Haha. I was in Nepal in 2011 and saw a smaller version of this at Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. They have a compound where each country gets to build their own Buddhist temple.

    But wow… this is from another world. Totally feels like something from fantasy or another planet.

  2. All that comes to mind is: That shit is BANANAS – b-a-n-a-n-a-s…..
    I can only hope there’s a sign outside warning those who may be pregnant, have neck injuries or heart conditions against venturing any further into this Temple of Doom…

  3. It think it’s an amazing piece of art, but I wonder if the Thais – who are very conservative in this regard – actually use it as a temple, or it is only a tourist attraction?

  4. This is possibly the strangest thing I’ve ever seen and it’s now on my bucket list. The hands reaching up are beautiful and macabre. Like Tim Burton resurrected Gaudy and Palin to build a temple.

    1. bucket lists are soooo lameass. but hey..if you think you are somehow made cooler by visiting a place, that’s just one of your many issues. if you die and there is nothing…then what was the point. if you die and live on, you can see whatever you like. this renders any trip rather pointless. meditate on that for awhile…

  5. Very creepy, and very cool. Now I must see it! I love the macabre and creepy. Went to the bone church in Kutna Hora (Czech Republic) last year and it was pretty interesting!

  6. I think a little bit of both. Definitely creative and interesting, but I can imagine being there at night by myself, would definitely be a little on the creepy side! Thailand, of course, has countless temples, but it’s really interesting to see a few of them around the country that are so incredibly unique.

  7. I personally love the bedazzled demons. Really gives them “flair”.

    But seriously – the mural? Are you kidding me? That is the most random thing EVER.

  8. Wow, this place is fascinating–I’ve never seen photos of it before, and I love the first one with the reflection.

    But what takes the cake, of course, is this sentence: “It’s Gandalf vs. Dumbledore in a “wand-off”, lovingly encased in blinding white.” LOVE IT.

  9. As soon as I saw the first photo I just said aloud “WHOA.” This place is crazy! It is pretty cool, but those hands are crazy creepy, as are some of the other things. I want to visit this place even though I am pretty positive it would give me nightmares for weeks.

  10. Purely remarkable (if a shade creepy/commercial) – reminds me a bit of the “Crazy House” in Dalat, here in Vietnam (though the WT would seem 100 times more over-the-top).

    I’m headed to Chiang Mai the end of this month (though only for a short stay to recon for possible resettle there after a month in Mongolia). Looks like but a 4-5 hr. bus to Chiang Rai – might just have to see this monstrosity for myself.

    (great pics, btw!)

  11. For some reason, this reminds me of the movie The Cell with Jennifer Lopez??

    The white is creepy – it makes it look like it’s a temple that’s had all the colour sucked out of it. The creepy statues only add to the look that it was once a beautiful place that had a terrible curse on it. A Thai version of the castle from Beauty and the Beast, if you will.

    I’d love to go there, but worried about how this would penetrate my dreams for a few weeks after…

  12. I’ve seen photos of the white temple before, but you have much more detail in your post… before i just thought it was a pretty white temple…. but now i know how strange it is… i can’t believe i missed this when i was in thailand!

  13. Oh wow… I must go here when I visit Chang Rai… this looks amazing. Great pics. I love the one with all the hands… that would just look amazing framed.

  14. Hey Raymond,
    Your photos of this incredible temple are so well done. You have done a super good job of capturing the essence — and totally bizarre nature — of the place. Thanks for a really good post.
    ~Josie

  15. We visited last month (Oct 2012)and think the temple is amazing. It is quite unique to display images if hell in white and the artwork is unusual but still very special. The murial, where incidently you are not allowed to take pictures, reminded me of a conspiracy theorist on the reampage without all the imformation, but netherless, it was very interesting to veiw and may even give some people a different perspective on the way the world is going.
    We will return in around 5 t 10 years to see if it still white and how far it has developed. I think it should become a protected world heritage site in the same way sagrada familia is as I think it is important that now started it is preserved and completed as the artist intended, who is still living.
    I didn’t find it creepy or cool, but just an amazingly indulgent piece of art in the guise of a temple which was definately worth the visit.
    Our guide also informed us that it is paid for by small donations from the people, no big donations were accepted – make what you will of that.
    Worth the visit to Chiang Rai alone.

  16. I have been to the temple and I have to say, it is Very Very Creepy!!!!! The hands are what did it in for me, and the skulls, and the pictures… Still would go back…

  17. The intricately made design is no doubt a beautiful work of art but the first thing that came to my mind is that it is a big show off and a very confused genre. I saw the Wat just a week ago and thought that all the aesthetic kudos should be given to the designer. The color added to its splendor while the mirror and pointed design captured those who are into details. It would have been a perfect stop had the men manning it been proper in reminding people on tour to be careful not to touch the pointed parts. They were shouting at the people at the top of their voices without paying respect to the ones trying to pray inside the temple. Is it just wearing a skirt or removing your slippers or shoes that is important in that Wat? …The architect should have designed a hotel or a commercial building to highlight his talent…A Wat is a Wat is a Wat…respect in silence is very important.

  18. Hello. I am a resident of Thailand part of the year. I was at the White Temple earlier this year and I met the artist and builder. As the temple is special, (I think the outside looks like a wedding cake,) the artist/designer appears to be “special” also. Yes, he does say that it is “a work in process.”

    R.

  19. Don’t know if anyone pointed out yet, but that “futuristic half-buried robot” is a sculpture of Predator with it’s face armour off. Great pics, I’d love to see a full shot of that crazy mural. So controversial for a place of worship, I love it!

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