Wat Rong Khun is a modern, unconventional art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple and is a 30-minute drive from Chiang Rai in the small Thai village of the same name. It’s owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed, and opened it to visitors in 1997. However, work is still ongoing and it’s estimated it will take 40 years to complete from start to finish. It’s also known as the White Temple as it looks as though its been dusted with icing sugar.
Kositpipat built the wat for three reasons: (1) Rong Khun was his home town and he wanted to create a strong tourist economy and jobs for the 3,000 residents, (2) he wanted to honour King Rama 9 and (3) he taught about Lord Buddha’s teachings in London and was inspired to build a temple which incorporated these teachings.
The temple is an amazing site and is the only white temple in Thailand and, because of the weather, must be painted annually.
We were met by concrete heads hanging from the trees: happy faces on the left, sad on the right. There were interesting depictions telling you not to smoke or drink alcohol in the complex and a statue of a Terminator figure sat on a bench where everyone, including me, had their picture taken.
THE BRIDGE OF “THE CYCLE OF REBIRTH” – to reach the main building we crossed a bridge over a small lake. The front of the bridge represented hell with grotesque masks, body parts and hands reaching up to escape. Being photographed on the bridge was popular, and progress was slow. However, fellow travellers told us that in the holiday season, it was even slower and was literally like hell. The bridge proclaims that the way to happiness is by foregoing temptation, greed, and desire. Next to the lake were two elegant Kinnaree, half-human, half-bird creatures from Buddhist mythology.
GATE OF HEAVEN – the bridge took us to the “gate of heaven”, guarded by two creatures representing Death and Rahu, who decides the fate of the dead. There were also several meditative Buddha images.
UBOSOT – before entering the principal building, the ubosot, where photos were prohibited, we had to remove shoes. The outside was all-white with embedded fragments of mirrored glass and was in stark contrast to the bright red and gold interior which was meant to be fiery and bewildering. Hand-painted murals lined both sides with swirling orange flames, demon faces and well-known faces like Michael Jackson and Freddy Krueger. Comic book heroes e.g. Spider Man were portrayed to say that in real life, there are no imaginary heroes to rescue you, so you must do your own good. The expressions on faces changed from that of horror on the hell side to smiling as you moved through the wat, whilst images of recent terrorist attacks depicted how destructive humans can be. In total contrast, there were three serene Buddha statues in white marble, gold and beeswax. The latter of the late abbot was particularly realistic. It was all very surreal.
In a second building a long black and white wall mural, painted by a group of volunteers in 10 hours, depicted the life and interests of King Rama 9.
In a separate gallery were paintings and sculptures generally associated with Buddha all by the artist who was obviously very prolific (he started the temple when he was 42 years old). However, there were some more interesting ones of his time in the UK sketched during 2010 which included London, Stonehenge and Scotland. One painting with George Bush and Osama Bin Laden flying through the sky on a rocket was entitled ‘Love’.
Before leaving we visited the most gilded toilets we will ever use.