Photo: Scenery surrounding Chiang Rai.

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai

Our rating:

A visit to the famous ‘White Temple’, or Wat Rong Khun to give it it’s correct name, has become absolutely de rigeur for any visitor to Chiang Rai. Spectacular, spectacularly kitsch or just simply kitsch this highly ornate, all white, icing sugar temple certainly divides opinion.



Visiting monks getting a few ideas for the temple back home?

Visiting monks getting a few ideas for the temple back home?

According to the artist/architect, the white plaster coating symbolises Buddha’s purity, while the pieces of glass stuck all over the walls represent Buddha’s wisdom. (Even the apparently very pure koi carp in the surrounding pool are white.) The temple is a work in progress with new elements continually being added, although damage from a 2014 earthquake has necessitated some structural repairs, putting a temporary halt to new additions.

A cardboard cut-out of the clearly low key architect is popular for selfies

A cardboard cut-out of the clearly low key architect is popular for selfies

Wat Rong Khun was created by artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, who actually began his career as a movie billboard painter, before moving on to religious themed paintings. His highly controversial creations, which combine an eclectic mix of traditional Buddhist themes with pop culture imagery as well as borrowings from other religions, is highly unorthodox to the extent that attempts were made to have him banned by the Buddhist church. However since Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself purchased some of the artist’s works, Chalermchai has received much greater mainstream acceptance allowing him to continue his unique creations and at the same time certainly helping him to become considerably wealthy.

The public toilets no less

The public toilets no less

As the artist’s most prominent work Wat Rong Khun then displays perfectly this mix of traditional and modern imagery, with interior murals combining scenes from the life of Buddha with sci-fi, superhero and pop star images such as Keanu Reeves from The Matrix, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Superman and so-on. It does remain controversial to some Buddhist traditionalists, as well as for different reasons to visitors, who can’t decide whether it’s an awesome or totally absurd 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 on the far side of the bridge. The famous or infamous murals are inside the small central shrine where photography is not permitted. The complex, set in simple gardens, is small in size and a tour of the main hall plus checking out some of the unusual sculptures scattered through the garden won’t take more than 20 minutes or so.

Got to hand it to the architect!

Got to hand it to the architect!

Gaudy, sacrilegious or a work of art — regardless of what you think, the temple certainly brightens up a drive between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai if you’re under your own steam and is to our minds well worth a visit if you’re staying in Chiang Rai. Far less well known, but also highly visit-worthy, is Wat Huay Sai Khao which lies another 20 kilometres or so down the Phayao road so is easily combined with Wat Rong Khun.

There are numerous coffee shops, snack and souvenir stalls and tea vendors in a small arcade next to the car-park. The White Temple is open from 06:00-17:00 and it can get very busy at times so is worth perhaps getting up early for. There’s no entrance fee, though donations are welcome.

Travel info;
The temple is located some 15 km south of Chiang Rai city at the junction of highway 1 leading south to Phayao and highway 118 heading Chiang Mai-wards. All Phayao and Chiang Mai bound buses plus local transport to closer destinations such as Phan, Fang or Wiang Pa Pao stop here so it’s easy and cheap to do without hiring transport.


Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai
Open 06:00-17:00

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Location map for Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai


What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Chiang Rai.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Chiang Rai.
 Check out our listings of other things to do in and around Chiang Rai.
 Read up on how to get to Chiang Rai, or book your transport online with 12Go Asia.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Chiang Rai? Please read this.
 Browse tours in Thailand with Tourradar.




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