Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai

Very white.

What we say: 3.5 stars

Let’s head up the road from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, where we’ll check out the unique Rong Khun temple. The temple is located some 15 km south of Chiang Rai city at the junction of highway 1 leading south to Phayao and highway 1208 heading northwest to Mar Korn -- if you reach HIghway 118 you've gone way too far!.

The icing sugar temple

You can't actually eat this.

The ‘white temple‘, as it’s also known, is … well, very white and incredibly ornate. The white plaster everywhere symbolises Buddha’s purity, while the pieces of white glass stuck all over it represent Buddha’s wisdom. (Even the apparently very pure koi carp in the surrounding pool are white.) The temple is a work in progress by famous painter of all things Buddhist, Chalermchai Kositpipat.

Chalermchai began his career as a movie billboard painter, before moving on to religious themed paintings. His work, which combines an eclectic mix of traditional Buddhist imagery with modern symbols, was initially highly controversial. However Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself purchased some of the artist’s works, allowing him much greater mainstream acceptance, and certainly helping him to become much richer.

Wat Rong Khun also displays a mix of traditional and modern imagery, combining scenes from the life of Buddha with sci-fi and superhero images, including Keanu Reeves from The Matrix. It does remain controversial to some traditionalists, as well as to many tourists, who can’t decide whether it’s an awesome or totally kitsch sight.

Spectacularly kitsch or just spectacular?

Spectacularly kitsch or just spectacular?

The temple is entered by a bridge over a sea of demons, skulls and grasping hands, which is supposed to represent the transition via hell, (or more specifically the mouth of the demon Rahu), from earthly existence (the start of the bridge), to nirvana (the far side of the bridge).

Got to hand it to the architect!

Got to hand it to the architect!

Anyway totally kitsch, sacrilegious, a work of art: whichever you think, it certainly brightens up a drive between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and to our minds well worth a visit. It’s open from 06:00-17:00 and there’s no entrance fee, though donations are welcome.

More details
Opening Hours: Open 06:00-17:00
Last updated: 30th January, 2015

About the author:
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
Agoda logo
best price guarantee

Photo gallery

Photo for

Jump to a destination

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai map

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai

Open in Apple/Google Maps

Sights in Chiang Rai