Bright and beautiful – one of the landmarks of Chiang Rai
The Wat Rong Khun or White Temple in the most northern province Chiang Rai is not typical for Thailand. The temple is not consecrated and unlike the other nearly 30,000 temples in Thailand, no monks live there. Nevertheless, this site is a tourist attraction in Chiang Rai with thousands of visitors from all over the world.
The beauty and purity of the color symbolizes the purity of Buddha. The fine ornaments everywhere do not let the eyes rest. There is much to discover. In the outside area there are already some creepy masks to be seen. When looking down on the bridge to the main room, hands stretch out to the visitors.
Inside, the wall paintings invite to discover the many details. The artist Chalermchai Kositpipat has incorporated influences from the western world to create a horror scenario. Unfortunately I can’t show any photos, because taking pictures inside is prohibited.
In May 2014 an earthquake destroyed the crazy paintings inside and left damage to the roof and walls.
At first the builder announced that his life’s work was irreparably destroyed. But after he had overcome the first shock and received much encouragement, the temple was restored and expanded. The damages have been repaired and the temple is open again to search for pictures of Michael Jackson and Osama bin Laden, rockets and Batman.
Corona has not done the resort any harm either. Because now thousands of visitors from all over the world are once again coming to see the radiant beauty and flagship of Chiang Rai province. Mainly Chinese travel groups and in the winter months local tourists populate the site. Postcards, posters and the like can be bought in an exhibition in an outbuilding. Before the entrance was free, now you can get in for 50 Baht.
By the way, the facility is far from being finished. It should be ready around 2070. So we can look forward to a lot more, which is why it might be worthwhile to go there more often. Why the construction is taking so long is easily explained: To be independent of major donors, Chalermchai accepts a maximum of 10,000 Baht as a donation. Even with the entrance fees of the many, many visitors it takes some time. (Source: Wikipedia)
My personal tips
At GET YOUR GUIDE you can find many different, individual offers for tours in and to Chiang Rai. Day tours from Chiang Mai are also on offer. However, it is better to make a 2- or more day trip, because the journey can take two to three hours.
When is the best time for the White Temple?
If you want to avoid the large crowds, you should come early in the morning and definitely not on New Year’s Day or Songkran, when half of Thailand is out and about. Outside the main season, i.e. not in the winter months or on Chinese New Year, the chances of enjoying the resort in peace and quiet are also high. During the rainy season from June to September, you also have a beautiful sky. Photographers can be lucky and catch a bright white temple in front of black storm clouds.
If you only want to take photos of the outside, you can do so without having to pay admission. Only the inner area with the bridge and the murals inside costs an entrance fee. The White Temple can also be easily photographed from the street.
Icecream and coffee
Opposite the white temple there is an ice cream shop with delicious flavors in beautiful packaging. A real temptation for me as an ice cream lover.
Delicious coffee with beautiful coffee art is offered right next door.
Graffiti at Wat Rong Khun
50 meters from the white temple, in a side street opposite a parking lot, you will find modern graffiti on a wall. There is a good story to go with it.
In October 2023, a few young urban street artists started to cover the wall which appears to belong to the grounds of Wat Rong Khun. When the builder Chalermchai Kositpipat discovered the unfinished graffiti, he invited the sprayers on social media to complete their work.
When the three young people came forward, they received 10,000 baht from the artist for materials. Support and recognition instead of punishment – a better way of dealing with urban street art.
Headline about Chinese tourists
In 2017, there was an media uproar. “The famous White Temple in Chiang Rai refuses entry to Chinese tourists for indecent use of toilets”.
The problem seemed to be that many Chinese tourists did not flush their remains after using the toilet. This was apparently also the case at Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai. A Chinese visitor was asked to clean the toilet, which she refused to do. The management of the White Temple tourist attraction then denied all Chinese visitors access to the site for half a day.
The contrasting program
The black house or Ban Dam at the other end of Chiang Rai offers a wonderful contrast to Wat Rong Khun. Also a well-known artist in the city with a completely different approach. You should definitely check it out: Black House Chiang Rai
Other excursion destinations between Chiang Rai and Mae Sai: Places of interest in Chiang Rai
Important to know
Situation: Wat Rong Khun lies few kilometers south of Chiang Rai at the highway No. 1. GoogleMaps
Directions: Easy. E.g. from the bus station in the city center take a public bus in the direction of Phayao or Lampang and get off at the big intersection to walk two hundred meters. Or take a tuk-tuk or taxi directly to the entrance. If you come with your own car, you can use a large parking lot behind the complex.
You can find a helpful overview of connections to and from Chiang Rai on 12Go Asia.
White Temple Chiang Rai opening hours: 8 am to 5 pm throughout the year.
Rules of etiquette: Although Wat Rong Khun is not a real temple, appropriate clothing is important, i.e. long pants or a long skirt over the knees (a kind of sarong will do) and a top that covers the shoulders.
Food and drink: In front of the temple there are the usual cafés. No one will starve or die of thirst. Opposite is a simple restaurant. The prices are generally higher than in other places in Chiang Rai.
Overnight stays: I recommend these accommodations in Chiang Rai: Chiang Rai Hotels – my 9 recommendations. Some of these are so popular that it’s worth booking early.
Chalermchai Kositpipat, the founder of Wat Rong Khun, announced his retirement in the fall of 2023 and added that he would spend his remaining days on his motorcycle.
Suggestions for appropriate behaviour in temples:
- Adequate clothing is important, which means long trousers or a long skirt over the knees (a kind of sarong does the same) and a top that covers the shoulders.
- Shoes are taken off when entering homes in Thailand. So of course also when entering temples.
- Do not stretch out your feet towards a Buddha statue (not even towards a person). The soles of our feet are the “lowest and dirtiest” part of us humans. They are not used to point at others, and certainly not at an image of a saint.
- Keep calm and do not speak loudly.
- No hugs and kisses (which is frowned upon in Thai public anyway)
- Temples are smoke-free zones