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The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is one of the absolute “must see” attractions of Chiang Rai, the rustic laid-back city three hours north of Chiang Mai. We’ve been to The White Temple three times now and still see new and amazing things every time we visit – and we don’t even really like temples!

The White Temple, located about 5 kilometres south of Chiang Rai, has become one of Thailand’s landmark attractions even though it is one of the newest temples in a country that abounds with ancient and mystical temples and palaces. That’s because it is the ultimate personal expression of famous Thai artist and sculptor Chalermchai Kositpipat, who has put his own money and time (and those of his many assistants) into building something he feels truly expresses both the joy and the sadness of Thailand in the modern world.

It truly is an awe-inspiring site, even as you approach it from or drive by it on the main northern highway into Chiang Rai, glowing radiantly from it’s all-white facades and sculptures. As you drive down the entrance road to The White Temple, you begin to get a sense of its special nature just from the skull markers along the road side.

Walking up the main entrance path towards the chapel of The White Temple, you start to realise what it is that Chalermchai, a household name in Thailand, is trying to express as hands claw up at you out of the ground, seeming to want to steal your soul and holding up containers for you to put it in. Strange giant warriors and amazing mythical creatures threaten you as you approach the bridge, but Lord Buddha, sitting on a lotus leaf, dominates all and protects those who visit with a good heart.

You could spend a whole day just wandering the grounds of The White Temple and still not really see everything, but it’s inside the Chapel that the real wonders can be found. Within the Chapel, Chalermchai expresses his true feelings and frustrations about the modern world through an awe-inspiring series of wall sized paintings where, if you look closely, you can find everything from Elvis Presley to Darth Vader, from George Bush and the Twin Towers to Osama Bin Laden and the hero from The Matrix movie.

Seated serenely at the front of the Chapel is an old monk who seems never to move, meditating serenely as locals come and go with prayers and offerings, for this is a living temple and a shrine to the Lord Buddha (although to be truthful the old monk is made of wax, but he looks very real). For this reason, you need to take of your shoes before you enter the main Chapel, remain quiet while inside and never take photos (well, not unless you can sneak a few without flash).

The gold-lined toilet of The White Temple Chiang Rai

Even the toilets at The White Temple in Chiang Rai are special … what at first appears to be another temple lined with gold turns out to be a public toilet and even the windows are decorated with gold-colored glass. Chalermchai has erected a sign on the gold toilets to say the unfortunately visitors will tend to talk more about the gold toilets than they will about the white temple itself, which turns out to be very true and I think expresses his frustrations with the world very well too.

Make a point of visiting The White Temple in Chiang Rai. You will not be disappointed. Meanwhile, check out the video for a preview of what you will see there.

See visitor comments about Wat Rong Khun on TripAdvisor.