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