by Bonny Styles
(Boston, Mass, USA)
Chiang Rai, in Northern Thailand, is home to what tourists call “The White Temple”, but is more correctly known as Wat Rong Khun. It is about 8 miles from the town of Chiang Rai, and is a very new build – work started on it in 1997 – and, even though it is still under construction, it is truly stunning to see.
Fairy Tale Castle
Standing a little way off, with white, fluffy clouds behind the temple, it is like looking at a picture from a book of fairy tales. All white (to symbolise Buddha’s purity), the temple appears to have spires that reach up into the sky. Fitting, since the artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, wanted to make an offering to Buddha; he doesn’t anticipate work being completed for many years – certainly not in his lifetime, which gives an indication of how much work there is still to do (the artist is currently aged 60). Although it’s stunning in the daylight, try to get to see the temple in moonlight – it gives a whole different look and feel to the place.
Close up, you can see that the main building is painted white, but there are also mosaics made of tiny mirrors that sparkle when the sun shines on them. (The mirrors depict Buddha’s teachings that we should reflect on ourselves.) Everything in the temple represents something to do with Buddha’s teachings and their impact on daily life. Throughout the temple grounds, there are figures of whisky bottles in the trees, bearing the heads of monsters, and traffic cones with demons atop them.
The Main Hall
The main hall is complete, but its murals aren’t. The murals are an eclectic mix of traditional Buddhist themes and modern images – perhaps the most notable is a depiction of the burning twin towers of September 11, but there is also an image of Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, and figures from Star Wars, Spiderman and Superman! The murals are still being painted, so who knows what will come next? Buddha is situated in the middle of the hall, serene, above all the worldly scenes.
There is a small semicircle in front of the bridge, this represents the world. A large semicircle depicts passion and desire. On the bridge, there are eight monsters on each rail, these sixteen monsters are supposed to characterize sixteen different types of passion. The middle of the bridge represents the domain of the Gods, Summer Mountain. There are four large lotuses close to the entrance to the main building; these signify the shelters of Buddha’s greatest followers.
The public bathrooms are situated in a golden building and people literally queue up to take photographs of them so just had to be mentioned! They are just so ornate and detailed, amazing!.
Things to Remember
Ok, it may not be the usual temple, but it is still a holy place, so remember to remove your shoes before entering, and cover your shoulders and knees before entering the main building. Photographs inside the main building are not permitted. Enjoy your visit to this beautiful temple.