The White Temple ~ Thailand

What would you think if one day, you entered a place of worship and saw on the walls a drawing of Neo from the Matrix next to Superman, flying to save the day while airplanes are crashing on the WTC towers? Crazy? Well, not in Thailand!

North of the Kingdom, near the Burmese border, is the quiet town of Chiang Rai, famous for its jungle treks and many various hill-tribes. But Chiang Rai is also home of probably the most peculiar Buddhist temple ever built: Wat Rong Khun, also known as “The White Temple”.

The White Temple glitters under the sun in Chiang Rai, Thailand.


Just thirteen kilometers south of town, this whitewashed glittering unusual temple is a popular attraction among locals and tourists. It has been visited by over 5 million people (200,000 foreigners) already since the beginning of its construction in 1997.

Unlike most century old temples, Wat Rong Khun is the “dream-come-true” work of art of a famous Thai Buddhist art painter: Charlemchai Kositpipat.

The millionaire artist spent his own money to fund the construction of his vision without ever soliciting contributions from the government or anyone else. His creative thinking and love of Art made him return to his home town and dedicate the rest of his life building the temple as an offering to Buddha and, in the future, turn it into a national art treasure.

Before entering the temple grounds, morbid and spooky statues and hanging heads welcome the new visitor.

Hanging morbid spooky heads hanging at the entrance of the wat rong khun white temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand


Skeletons and Demons warn the visitor about the dangers of Alcohol and Smoking.

Demons warn the visitors of the dangers of smoking at the wat rong khun white temple in chiang rai, thailand


Under a high sun, the White Wat glitters in all its splendor. Different than the traditional style of many Thai temples, it is covered with a combination of whitewash and tiny mirror chips that make it shine like porcelain from afar.

The artist used white color to represent Buddha’s purity while the mirrors symbolize Buddha’s dhamma, teaching men to observe their own mind and reflect kindness towards others.

The White Temple shot from the side in Chiang Rai, Thailand


The whole architecture as well as the statues all around have been carefully studied and are imbued with riddles, teachings and Buddhist philosophy.

Detailed decorations with a Buddha Statue in the White temple Wat rong khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand


The Temple is surrounded by a pond, home of dozens of white and black fish guarded by dragons and fantastic mythological creatures.

The White temple wat rong khun entrance in Chiang Rai, Thailand


Fantastic creatures from Mythology guard the pond around the white temple wat rong khun in CHiang Rai, Thailand


Before crossing the bridge of the “Cycle of Rebirth”, one cannot prevent getting the chills gazing upon the hundreds of sculpted hands reaching up from “Hell”, symbolizing the way to happiness through overcoming cravings.

Hundreds of sculpted hands reaching up from Hell before crossing the bridge at the White Temple Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand


Hands reaching out from Hell at the entrance of the White Temple Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand


Twisted demon faces observe and mock the visitor as he prepares to purge his soul from cravings.

Demon faces observe and mock the visitor at the entrance of the White Temple wat rong khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand.


Once cravings have been eliminated, the visitor finds himself in front of the “Gate of Heaven”, guarded by Rahu (the One who controls men’s fate) on the left and Death (The One who controls men’s life) on the right.

Rahu and Death garding the Gates of Heaven at the entrance of the White Temple Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand


Rahu and Death guarding the entrance of the white temple wat rong khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand.


After crossing the Bridge, the visitor reaches the temple (called the ubosot or White bot), the Abode of Buddha.

The entrance of the white temple wat rong khun in chiang Rai, Thailand


Although still unfinished, the paintings on the walls inside represent a mix of traditional Thai Buddhist art and contemporary scenes like a plane crashing into the twin towers, the war for Oil, many movie/comics characters like Neo, Batman, Superman and Star Wars droids.

Charlemchai himself refused to be confined within the framework of traditional beliefs and Art. Too bad photography inside the temple was not allowed (I was being carefully watched with my big camera).

Next to the white temple, on the other side of the pond, is also a the “Gharavasa” (the layman quarters) where an Art gallery, a preaching hall and a “golden public restroom” are located. This is by far the most beautiful public restroom ever done in the world I guess.

A gilden restroom at the White temple near Chiang Rai representing the Body.


This temple-like building is supposed to represent the Body (as opposed to the white temple that represents the Mind). Charlemchai built the two bots (white and gold) in hope to teach people to let go and not cling to substance or money, and not to perceive the physical body as an assumed identity.

Whether or not his message will reach visitors’ soul, Wat Rong Khun (scheduled to be completed by 2070) remains one of the most unusual and interesting places of worship I have ever visited with a deep meaning behind every statue, corner or architectural design representing the wild creativity and vision of one gifted Thai artist.

A white flower in front of the white temple wat rong khun in chiang rai, thailand


“Money and possessions are insignificant. They are not mine but are only make-beliefs. Merits belong to me; therefore, money is of no value to me. Money is valuable only as a way to make merit for further journey of the soul”

~ Charlemchai Kositpipat ~

Comments (65)

  1. Cristine Tabing

    Stunning photos! #6 photo is my favorite!
    Was there and didn’t see the hands with the cigarette! :(
    And ‘Hell’ was still closed.

  2. Craig

    This is an amazing place and you’ve captured it beautifully. Well done on some great shots – much better than I achieved.

  3. Amanda

    Holy cow! How have I never heard of this place before? It’s both gorgeous and creepy. It looks like something that should be in Narnia, when it’s all snowy. The photos are stunning!

    • Daniel Nahabedian

      Thanks Ken!
      Wat Rong Khun is truly awesome and the inside is really original and different from any other temples. Paintings of Neo, Batman, Star Wars next to Buddha.. Too bad photos are not allowed.

  4. Erin

    Interesting, I have to see this one day. The contrast between subject matter and medium is insane. Awesome photos, thanks for sharing!

  5. Jack

    Amazing photos and quite an intriguing temple. Like many others, I’ve never heard of it before, but definitely one to put on the itinerary for Thailand.

  6. Bama

    I have seen images of this temple since a few months ago. But so far yours are the most beautiful ones. I really enjoy the detailed photographs of ornaments and statues on and around the temple. For me this single place makes enough reason to visit Chiang Rai.

  7. John affriol

    I just visited the white temple and was truly amazed at this wonderful exhibit and to find out that he has funded this masterpiece.

  8. Northern Thailand and Laos with Stray « Maria's Blog

    […] Wat Rong Khun is rich with symbolism derived from Buddhist and Hindu traditions.  Once you enter the main temple their are depictions of the “end of days” – chaos, fire and popular culture.  It was definitely a unique experience to walk around and see drawings of Harry Potter, Elvis, Neo (from the Matrix) and Superman on the temple walls.  The other cool thing about this temple is that it is a work in progress.  Wan was saying that every time he goes back something new has been added. It’s pretty incredible now, so it will be amazing to see what it’s like when it’s completed! White Temple – Wat Rong Khun […]

  9. Jane k

    Visited last week and am left speech less, incredible place and work of great beauty. Inspires the imagination and fuses traditional with new concepts, definitely a place to see. Thank you

  10. Green Global Travel

    Such a beautiful temple, but I find the surroundings more fascinating – all those demons and creatures… I love Asia, you never really know what you’ll find at temples and buildings. They even have a Predator sculpture coming up from the lawn here!

  11. Nicky Joynson

    Just left there yesterday it was truly beautiful and although you can not take pictures inside the temple you can pick up a print of the paintings inside and a printing on canvas I have an a3 size print of the walls and every time I look I see something new was lucky to spend a good 2 hrs with not that many people about defiantly worth taking a look and take your time to look threw the gallery also he is am amazing artist.