Wat Rong Khun | Chiang Rai’s White Temple

We’ve lived in Chiang Rai almost eight months, and have driven by the temple at least once a week. So when our friend Jade came up to visit last weekend, we figured it was a good time to check it out. It’s not like most of the Wat’s you see in Thailand. Actually, it’s not like ANY of the Wats you see in Thailand. Or Burma. Or Cambodia. Or Vietnam. It’s one of a kind, and it’s what draws many tourists to the North. Built by artist Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, his goal was to build the most beautiful temple in the world.

Inside the temple you’ll find a mural including superman, converse shoes, characters from Avatar, and a variety of other images – including the collapse of the twin towers. Interesting. Confusing. To take it even further, in the eyes of the demon are the faces of George Bush and Bin Laden. Chalermchai’s explanation?

“I want everyone to know that our world is being destroyed by those who craved to build weapons that kill, thereby ruining the environment because nothing is ever enough. They segregate and therefore cannot find peace. I saw the violence and it hurts me and mankind to observe the killing of the innocence by these two powerful individuals. Peaceful people do not want to see the murder of the Muslims and the collapse of the New York Twin Towers. I want to show that eyes, as important organs, should look at each other with kindness and not with hate that can lead to war. I painted, at that time, to caution both George Bush and Bin Laden so that they can look towards a peaceful and happy world. I painted Superman and Ultraman to let people know that there really are no heroes in our world. Actually, people need heroes since our morality declines every day. However, no heroes from the movie screen arrive to help the havoc of the Twin Towers. Eventually the world becomes ill, not only with the environment but also with the people. People lack moral standards. That is why I portray evil people as the demon with mouth opened encircled the entrance of the temple. When people walk out , they will feel that they leave the demon behind that is they have rid themselves from evil spirits.”

I understand the concepts, but they seem so temporary. In 50 years, will Buddhists, who don’t cling to the past or worry about the future, really be concerned about having Bush’s face painted inside the eye of the Devil? Or, is part of Chalermchai’s vision to re-paint the inside of the temple constantly. Even when we visited, one entire wall had been painted over in white and a new mural was beginning.

Overall it was an interesting experience. Not the peace I experience in other wats throughout Thailand – in fact, quite the opposite, but I did find the architecture of the temple stunning and unlike anything I’d ever seen before.