Thailand’s White Temple, Wat Rong Khun
Superman flies through the paintings on a temple wall. A towering demon rises above you wielding a sword. Hands reach out from the depths below you on a bridge to a heavenly temple. Shrunken heads sprouting Spanish moss hang from tree branches. Thai angels and mystical creatures cavort through the temple grounds and on the masterpiece sanctuary at the temple’s heart. Wander through the magical world of Wat Rong Khun, often referred to in English as the White Temple.
Perhaps the most unique temple in the Kingdom of Thailand, the White Temple was born from the devotion of National Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. A deeply devout Buddhist famed primarily for his religious-themed paintings, Chalermchai began the White Temple in 1997. Wat Rong Khun however is no traditional temple. Chalermchai re-imagines Thai art for the modern world. As you move through the temple grounds, you find yourself in the artist’s surreal vision of Buddhist teachings. Superheroes, movie stars and cartoons make their entrance into temple murals depicting traditional Buddhist motifs. Fantastical sculptures and architecture cover the landscape.
The esteemed artist’s imaginative touch makes its presence known even from outside the temple itself. Red skulls top traffic cones on the street. Light gleams brightly from the central temple hall.
Every detail of Wat Rong Khun carries deep religious symbolism – though admittedly most Thais will be unaware of most of the meaning as well unless they have studied up on its mysteries. Departing from the expected gold, Chalermchai chose to construct the temple in white, symbolizing the purity of Lord Buddha. The mirrors embedded in the structure reflect light, representing the Buddha’s wisdom shining out across the Earth and the Universe.
Much of the temple’s messages refer to escaping desire, greed and passion and moving towards the sublime through Buddhist teachings. To reach the main temple hall, you cross a threshold guarded by demons and traverse a bridge over an ocean of ghostly hands reaching up from the cycle of death and rebirth. The temple building symbolizes the realm of the Buddha and rising to a state of nirvana.
Wat Rong Khun is a work in progress. All details of the white ubosot, the main temple hall, have been recently completed. A number of other buildings are in various stages of construction and decoration. The masterplan is expected to take decades to complete.
Definitely visit the shimmering white temple hall.
Wander the temple grounds to see its sculptures.
Have a look at the golden toilet. Remember how Chalermchai felt white was a more appropriate colour for a temple? He specifically chose gold for the restroom to indicate worldiness. An extremely opulent building — the most luxurious toilet in the kingdom — it’s apparently a comment on how people worship worldly desires and what the real value in these things is.
Visit the art gallery. This relatively small building houses a number of the artist’s masterpieces. You can also buy high quality reproductions or books and postcards if you’d like.