Wat Rong Khun, better known to foreigners as the White Temple, is the biggest attraction in Chiang Rai. Unlike the hundreds of ancient Buddhist temples scattered around the nearby city of Chiang Mai, this distinctively unique looking art exhibit is privately owned, and only opened in 1997.
As the original temple ran out of funding, local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to complete the project himself, and in his own style. Work is still ongoing and allegedly unlikely to be completed until 2070. It will be made of 9 buildings, including an art gallery and meditation hall.
The main temple is impressive, and can be reached by crossing a bridge surrounded by statues of outreaching hands which symbolise hell. The bridge is proclaimed as the path to happiness, beyond the temptations of greed.
The inside of the temple is pretty funky, too. Whereas traditional Thai worship places are full of Buddha statues, murals here depict a random range of Western pop culture heroes and icons, ranging from Superman to Neo from The Matrix, the Terminator and Michael Jackson. As you do (disclaimer: sorry, couldn’t take pictures inside!)
Another striking feature is the golden building, which stands out by its colour compared to its white surrounding. Contrasting with the righteousness of the main edifice, the extravagance of the building’s design is meant to symbolise excesses of material possessions and wealth.
Admission to the White Temple compound is free for Thais, and THB50 for foreigners. Would definitely recommend if you’re in the region.