The Wonder in White

Posted: 28 September 2010 in Travel
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On sunday I had the amazing experience of seeing Wat Rong Khun, known amongst the tourists as The White Temple. While we (the kids of the orphanage and the volunteers) were eating at a barbecue owned by Jirasak’s (the director of the orphanage) friend a week previous, we met here and she offered to take us there. She enjoyed practicing her English so it gave her the opportunity to practice and gave us the opportunity to see a true gem of Chiang Rai. Before we went, I took the opportunity to look it up on google to learn some about this place. The pictures were stunning and the information revealed that it a new temple currently still under construction. I had assumed that the temple itself was complete but it was not the case, but more on that in a bit.

The day started out a bit hectic as I had attempted to find my own church located on the other side of town. Being in Thailand only about 10 days, it was inevitable that I was going to get lost, and I did. As I neared what I assumed was the outskirts of the city I realised I ha somehow gone too far. I had kept my eye out for all the streets, as I had made sure to write down the directions before I left, but I still got lost. So I began backtracking and just turned down a street where I saw people. The first lady showed obvious signs that she had no idea what I was saying and pointed me away further down the street. So that’s where I when. To my luck, the next people I found could speak some English and even knew mostly where I needed to go and then drove me (as I had been walking). Because of those nice women (who also correctly asked me if I was Mormon after I said I was American) I was able to make it to church, albeit almost an hour and a half late.

So the day had already had somewhat of an adventurous quality. When Pimjuta came to get me and Sidd (the other volunteer), not long after we had left, her car began to exhume a smell of burning oil or rubber. So we ended up having to abandon her car and take a blue truck (taxi). It wasn’t so bad. From the open window I got to see the amazing green mountains surrounding by swirling blue and white rainclouds. We passed rice fields, colourful Buddhist Pagodas and modern stores. We then came to our turnoff and then stop.

What I saw before was truly an awe-inspiring sight. Yeah it’s called The White Temple but it is not until you see it that truthfulness of that claim is exposed. As can be seen in the picture, the building is of such a pure white that it is almost hard to make out all the intricate details. While the construction is still incomplete, there were only certain areas where we could go. Once construction is complete it will comprise of nine buildings: the ubosot or chapel, the hall containing Lord Buddha’s relics, the hall containing Buddha images, the preaching hall, the contemplation hall, the monk’s cell, the door façade of the Buddhavasa, the art gallery, and the toilets (see Citation).

We had just gotten into the plaza when Pimjuta got very excited and ran up to a man. We were now in the presence of the architect, Chalermchai Kositpipat. We got some pictures with him and he took it in stride. To me seemed a bit pompous but oh well. When you design something so amazing I guess you can be allowed some pride. At the entrance of the actual grounds were two statues on either side of the sidewalk. One had a bottle of whiskey on it. It struck me as odd that someone would leave a bottle of whiskey like that. I mean someone had left a bottle of Fanta with a straw for Buddha at one of the little altars littered all over the place so it could have been just another offering like that. Turns out it was actually a statue symbolising not to drink and the one on the other side with the cigarettes was for no smoking. Pretty clever no?

As you walk onto the grounds of the Chapel, you notice a sense of serenity and you subconsciously keep your voice down. As is typical of me, I gingerly touched the white decoration as Pijuta’s friend who was with us gave some explanations of the place. I couldn’t help but feel a little pride when she said that the glass used in the decoration was imported from Germany. The decoration was so intricate and beautiful. I was sad that I couldn’t get to see the bridge and entrance to the edifice as the were doing construction. There are two massive demons guarding the bridge and keeping the hands reaching from hell at bay. It is so vivid and exquisite. And then you go inside.

At first I had seen a sign saying something about foreigners not being able to go in so I thought I’d have to stay outside but apparently I was being absurd and was let right in. The inside was incredible. There were two people listening to Metallica as they hand-painted the decoration on one of the walls. Only two of the walls were complete and the third one was mostly done. The girl said it took three years to complete EACH wall. That means once it is complete that it would have taken a minimum of 12 years to complete the decoration on the walls. I’m not even counting the ceiling that I somehow missed. Well it shan’t be the last time I go there in the four months I am here so I will be able to see it. On the back wall though there were many depictions of modern life such as: Star Wars, Superman, Batman, Avatar, Predator, Alien, some dirty scenes and even George Bush and Osama Bin Laden in the eyes. It was incredible.

There were a few of the other buildings we could not access because of construction so we walked over to a tent area which held the plaster figures that were to be placed on the building. I picked a small piece up and promptly put it back down. I would have felt so guilty if I had dropped and broken it. We probably weren’t even supposed to be in there but as the girl had worked there for two months we just followed her lead. Some of the figures were fairly grotesque as well.

The last building we strolled by was the giant golden edifice known as The Toilets. I had to read it twice to make sure they were referring to what I thought they were. When  I was standing in front of it, you could clearly see the male and female pictures depicting that it indeed was a bathroom facility. It is funny to see this beautiful building to find that it is where you go to do your ‘business’.

In truth, the day itself was quite the adventure with getting lost, broken vehicles and the amazing experience of seeing Wat Rong Khun. It is definitely a must see for anyone coming to Thailand. It is only a few hours from Chiang Mai and well worth the trip.The White Temple

Works Cited

Wat Rong Khun – White Temple of Northern Thailand.” Thailand Temples. 1 June 2009. Thailand Travel Online. 28 Sept 2010 <>


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