Chiang Rai | A City of Temples in Blue and White

There are many outstanding temples in Chiang Rai, artistic with a tweak that makes them contemporary but still observing tradition. Here we will focus on the Blue and White temples. The Blue Temple – Wat Rong Hua Ten is designed by khun Putha Kabkaew and he was a student and inspired by khun Chalermchai Kositpipat, the master of the White Temple. The official name of the White Temple is Wat Rong Khun.

Someone judged that the student became the master. Decide for yourself but don’t miss out on these two highlights in Chiang Rai.

Resemblance between the temples in Chiang Rai

There is a connection between the two temples. They are both parts of the Art Route in Chiang Rai and can be admired as art. You don’t need religious motivation to go there and find it fascinating.

The White Temple has for instance been compared to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The Blue and the White temples are a must for any program in Chiang Rai. Worth mentioning is that they are both still under development. The Blue and White temples are wonderful attractions to return to every now and then and see what new additions there are. This is especially true for the much larger White Temple area which consists of 9 buildings.

Another feature is that they are both new temples on the grounds where old ones stood. This is a development not unusual in Thailand today. Wat Ban Den and the Silver Temple in Chiang Mai are other similar examples, but also Wat Ban Pong and the current development with its white pagoda in Chiang Mai.

The Blue Temple

The flamboyant sapphire colour of the Blue Temple blended with gold gives the temple almost a Hindu resemblance at first. Especially since there are some powerful mythological guardians at the entrance.  The contrast of the almost scary mythological animals and the mindfully smiling, white porcelain Buddha inside is also what makes the visit worthwhile. The porcelain statue reflects blue colour from the walls. The constant presence of good and evil resembling life is ever-present here. This depicts the moment of the Buddhas enlightenment, and it is the posture where he subdues the devil and taking the Earth as his witness that he is the Buddha. The way of the Buddha can be difficult but it is a walk of life that is possible to achieve.

Buddha in porcelain in the Blue Temple in Chiang Rai
Subduing the Mara. Taking the earth as a witness.

The life of the Buddha in Golden Framed Jataka stories on the walls in contrast with the gate of hell. Starch symbolic reminders to chose the right path in life. Leaving the temple you can also taste a good part of life, blue ice cream flavoured by the flower of butterfly pee. This is all so very Thai. Life is all present in the temple. This is not a temple where monks live though.

The temple’s construction began in 2005 and the name “Dancing tiger temple” in the Thai language is derived from the old temple and a story of roaming tigers here over a century ago. Even not as much visited as the White Temple, it is recommended to arrive early or late to avoid too many other visitors. The temple invites many good photo opportunities and is definitely on the Instagram and We Chat Hot Spot list.

The location is quite close to the Mae Kok River. If you stay in the Imperial hotel it is just a short walk.

Find the location on Google Maps here.

The White Temple

Wat Rong Khun is arguably Thailand’s most exciting modern temple.  It is native Chiang Rai born Chalermchai who is behind this extraordinary creation. A visual contemporary artist that initially was a bit controversial for his blending of modern art into tradition.

Chalermchai Kositpipats father was a Chinese immigrant from Guangdong while his mother is Thai Chinese. Chalermchai graduated with a bachelors degree from Silpakorn University.

Over the years, the White Temple project has cost him more than $30 million of his own money. Opening up in 1997, this was also a temple where a new version replaced an older temple.

The White Temple is his attempt to cleanse Buddhism from human corruption. White stands for purity, the silver from the mirror is wisdom, and gold represents greed. A client of mine once described the main building as a “fairytalish merengue twirled castle”. Come here at a time when sun rays hit the ivory white building with mirror glassed mosaic against a blue and cloud-free background. The effect is, to say the least very spectacular.

The temple is symbolic and recognizes the temptations of life. When when you enter the prayer hall you make a cosmic journey from hell to paradise.

Entering the temple

This pilgrimage traverses a pond and a narrow white bridge that leads to the main building. It is protected by two statues of kinnaras, the half-man and half-bird creatures of Thai folklore.

Inside, there are incredible frescoes. One wall painting depicts a demon, in its eyes, you notice Osama Bin Laden and former U.S. President George Bush. Both. According to Chalermchai, they were the kind of warmongers that humanity must watch out for.

One mural illustrates Po from Kung Fu Panda and Spiderman possibly in a apocalyptic war, while the Twin Towers comes down behind them.

In life we must be our own moral guardians. There won’t be any Superman or Spiderman who will come to our rescue.

Check for various popular comics idols while you stroll around. Hello Kitty and the Predator can also be found in the compound.

Art installation at the Wat Rong Khan temple.
Exhibitions are omnipresent around the temple.

Still under construction

The temple is far from complete, but Chalermchai has handed over outlines to his disciples and reckons that when the project is 100% done in a hundred years? Thailand will have an equivalent to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. He believes that this temple will give his name eternal life.

I have been told that Khun Chalermchai doesn’t accept any excessively large individual donations for this temple. The reason is that he doesn’t want any donor to be too dominant.

The temple has many unusual sides to it. The mysterious golden washroom. Then the troll doing its business pooping golden poop. And there are constant reminders of the evils of alcohol, smoking and gambling.

Toilet sign in the White temple in Chiang Rai
Very creative toilet signs.

Next to the temple, you find an art gallery with works from the master himself.

In non-pandemic times, a visit to Wat Rong Khun is better done in the early morning or the late evening. It is immensely popular with tourists.

A small shopping area sells Thai snacks and there is a coffee shop for you to sit down and contemplate about what you have just experienced here.

The location of Wat Rong Khun is here.

The Clocktower in Chiang Rai

Make sure that you enjoy the light show at the new Clock Tower in Chiang Rai at night. This tower is also the work of Khun Chalermchai.

The clock tower in Chiang Rai at night time, shifting colors and with music accompaniment.

For more contemporary temples, don’t forget to visit Wat Ban Den in Mae Taeng outside Chiang Mai.

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