In a nation of temples, Thailand’s Wat Rong Khun stands out. Known as the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun is located in Northern Thailand near Chiang Rai.
The project of well-known Thai artist Chalermchai Kosipipat, and the temple was funded by Kosipipat’s selling of his paintings. Construction began in 1997 and was completed in 2008, although new elements are still being added.
Kosipipat wanted to create an elegant temple to honor Buddha’s purity, but the temple is distinct in both its style and symbolism. Much of the temple is dedicated to depicting samsara, the Buddhist cycle of birth and death due to delusion and fixation on the self. Thus, the temple and its grounds are surprisingly contemporary, focusing on fictional elements of our materialistic world: the predator struggling to free itself from the ground, aliens, and elaborate murals depicting Neo from The Matrix, Superman, and an angry bird flying towards the World Trade Center Towers. Photography of the murals is prohibited, but visitors can purchase reproductions at the gift shop.
Unlike most Thai temples, the building is all white, with glass and mirrors embedded into the outside to make it shine and sparkle in the sunlight. However, Kosipipat ultimately designed the White Temple to be viewed in moonlight when it appears particularly ghostly and otherworldly.
An ornately decorated gold building to the left of the temple houses a public restroom, which is often humorously referred to as the most beautiful restroom in Thailand.
The White Temple was severely damaged in a 2014 earthquake, but it has been fully restored.
Know Before You Go
15 kilometers outside Chiang Rai on Highway 1. The temple closes between 12pm and 1pm, when no visitors are allowed inside, which makes for a perfect tourist-free photo-op.