I already posted way too many pictures of temples from my Northern Thailand visit. But I will do it again, because this is very different. Unlike most temples I previously visited, this one is not 700 years old. Construction only began in the late 1990’s. Once more, in order to have the place to myself, I rented a motorbike and drove the 15 km or so between Chiang Rai and the temple before dawn.
You will not see this if you go on a tour at noon.
The temple is the idea of a successful Thai painter, Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed the temple and had it built with his own money. You know how 99.99% of visual artists also work at Starbucks to pay the rent? Well, he’s the other 0.01%. He already sunk the equivalent of over a million US$, and the project is far from over. It is known as Wat Rong Khun.
In fact, it may not be over until 2070! Thailand’s version of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia (which I never visited because the line-ups are always too damn long). Eventually it will include a number of buildings, complete with a learning centre and even a monastery.
I realize that up until now, my pre-dawn/dawn pictures suggested the main building was pink. It is in fact white, to represent the purity of the Lord Buddha (I think), and includes many pieces of glass or mirror that glisten in the sun. And while I already told you the proper name of the temple, to 99.9% of tourists, it is known as “The White Temple”. I think this picture would have been awesome if the water had been calmer.
The ripples were caused by this water dragon. It actually looks like he is mocking me.
I won’t try too hard to explain this because I am most unqualified to do so, but here’s the basic idea: suffering in the world and bad stuff, scary gods deciding if they should cut your head off or not, bridge to enlightenment, and the ubosot, the main building housing a golden statue of Buddha.
The site also includes all sorts of references to science-fiction and popular culture.
Photography is not allowed in the ubusot. I did – sorta – follow the rules and didn’t photograph the statue or various religious objects, but I couldn’t resist snapping a phone picture of the back wall. I think the mural is supposed to represent evil in the World. Yes this is Kung Fu Panda. You will also find Superman, Angry Bird, the destruction of the World Trade Center, Freddy Krugger, Harry Potter, oil pumps, Michael Jackson, Hello Kitty, the International Space Station, etc… I would normally feel bad about breaking the rule, but pictures are already all over the internet, of course.
Entrance is free, but donations for further construction are welcomed. Just as you could give money to write a message on the soon-to-be installed roof tiles of a Doy Sutep expansion project, here you can write your name on these little pieces of metal.
Once they have enough, they make these amazing things with them.
Although I am only speculating, I guess if you pay more your thingy gets a better spot. But that being said, the artist is very concerned about remaining free from any link with big sponsors. So although they welcome whatever bills you have in your pocket, I read that they do not accept any donations of more than 10,000 BTH (~ US$300).
What is this centrepiece? The toilets! In gold to represent the lowly desires of life on earth, vs the purity of the white temple.
All in all, a remarquable, totally unique place, more than well worth the detour.
By then, it was not even 9 am, and I still had the motorbike. So I could find it in a parking lot, I took a picture of the license plate: “1”! One. That’s it. I actually wondered if someone had stolen the bike of the provincial governor and rented it to me. Since you don’t really need a bike in the old town, I headed for a big suburban shopping mall to make use of the bike.
I am sure many western tourists would avoid these places because they are too much like shopping malls back home, minus the monks. But I really enjoy them, especially when they have their own twist, like when I visited one of the (if not the), first western style shopping malls in Myanmar. To me they are just as much a representation of the country as little sidewalk shops and street food, just in a middle and upper class version.
You also get the comfort and relative luxury of nice restaurants and cafes. Of course, they cost twice as much as a cheap little joint, but still half as much as Starbucks. Because Thai people with money want the same comforts as anyone, but don’t always want to get fleeced like tourists. This cappuccino set me back 50 BTH (US$1.40). Again, half the price at Starbucks, and it came with something like a little palate cleansing tea.
As in Chiang Mai, one of the big tourist attraction is the night market. Behind this commercial alley is a large open air restaurant with a stage. Traditional dances and more modern music is performed in the evening. I actually went, but I have no pictures because my phone was dead and I usually don’t carry my camera to dinner.
Chiang Rai Clocktower. Next, BANGKOK!!!