Hands and arms slithered upwards towards the sky like a serpent from Hell. They grasped for thin air as if they were reaching for the Heavens in an attempt to escape their fiery fate. A gremlin snickered at their defeat, his tongue wriggled out of his mouth like a snake. Skulls sat on the lookout for trespassers, their crooked teeth would scare anyone who dared come too close. Stacked bones along the exterior of the temple conveyed a message of their inescapable demise if they wandered into the temple.
Heads hung by a frayed thread as they swung from trees. Their facial expressions were frozen in time like a mask as if they were having their last laugh for the rest of eternity. I could almost hear them snigger as I walked away. I took one last look into the slits of their eyes, convinced they were staring straight into my soul.
Dense clouds rolled in from the mountains as the White Temple slowly started to blend in with the sky. Thick fog wrapped around the temple like smoke at a campfire. The fence glistened in the partial sunlight that broke its way through the openings in the clouds. As a result, the entire temple glistened.
Wat Rong Khun, or, The White Temple in Chiang Rai is one of the most easily identified temples in Thailand. It was designed by visual artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. The works are ongoing on this temple, which was built to continue learning and meditation, and to continue teaching the benefits from Buddhist teachings.
The temple takes visitors on a journey through life and death. It tells a story through statues and artistic details. It begins with “the bridge of ‘the cycle of rebirth’.” This area, with hands reaching towards the sky, symbolizes hell and human suffering, as well as lust, impulse, and desire. It also symbolizes the crossing over from death and into a state free from suffering and pain. The key to this freedom, and eventually happiness is overcoming greed and desire.
Once you cross over the “Gate of Heaven”, your fate is determined by two huge, gremlin like creatures. Then, you enter the Ubosot and stare into the reflective glass which shows more contemporary murals of good and evil, different than what is normally depicted in Buddhist temples. This represents the mind.
Admission to this temple is free, however, they ask for a small donation in order to help with the design and ongoing creation of the temple.
Once you arrive in Chiang Rai, ask a tuk-tuk driver to take you to the White Temple. I went with a friend, and it cost us 125 baht each round trip (the driver waited for us at the temple). This was a surprisingly good price, since it could cost upwards of 300 baht one way. There are coffee, food, and clothing shops next to the White Temple.
There are a few other nearby buildings on the grounds also worth exploring, such as the golden building, which represents the body and desire for money and material items.
This was my favorite temple in Thailand. Its obscure sculptures and history made it one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever visited.
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