Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai: Thailand’s Unconventional Temple

Wat Rong Khun Temple, or the White Temple, in Chiang Rai is the most impressive yet bizarre temple I have ever visited.

Unlike traditional Wats in Thailand, Wat Rong Khun is a combination of temple and modern art exhibition. When the original temple was in a bad state at the end of the 20th century, local Chiang Rai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to buy and renovate Wat Rong Khun into the masterpiece it is today.

The White Temple certainly looks like most of the other Wats in Thailand, structurally at least. But look closer and the unconventional elements set it apart from the rest. This starts to become apparent as you approach the entrance to the temple, where hundreds of grey hands reach out of the ground and grasp at the air. You definitely won’t find that at Wat Pho.

It’s seriously freaky but also quite cool. Apparently this is the artist’s depiction of hell, and that in order to get to heaven (the temple) you must go through hell first.

Wot Rong Khun also glitters, which you’ll notice almost as soon as it’s in your line of sight on a sunny day. It shimmers due to the thousands of pieces of mirrored glass inlayed into every aspect of the exterior.

There’s a ridiculous amount of detail in the designs and panels that make up the outside of the temple.

Inside Wat Rong Khun is a huge mural on all four of the walls, depicting all kinds of oddities. It’s incredibly intricate and clever; Wat Rong Khun really is Kositpipat’s masterpiece. One one wall, the overall picture is of Buddha, but made up of hundreds of modern references. Pokemon, The Terminator, Jigsaw from Saw, Spiderman, Harry Potter, Kung Fu Panda and many more all make appearances!

Photos are forbidden inside Wat Rong Khun – I managed to sneak this photo of a section of the strange mural but there is a guard on duty at all times, watching for happy snappers like me. There’s a more traditional Buddhist mural on the opposite wall.

As you exit the inside of the temple, it’s clear that extensions are underway at the back. Apparently the entire complex isn’t expected to be finished until 2070.

The golden building are where the restrooms are. Apparently the white of the temple represents the mind, while gold represents the body. I speak from experience when I say these are probably the fanciest toilets in Thailand.

On your way out of the site, you will see a museum or ‘Hall of Masterwork’ containing Chalermchai Kositpipat paintings and sculptures. It’s free to look around and well worth seeing where the inspiration for the temple comes from.

There are a few life-size cardboard cutouts of Kositpipat dotted around the temple, he’s definitely a quirky guy.

It’s hard to avoid Thailand’s White Temple if you follow travel accounts on social media. It’s absolutely stunning and on a clear day with a blue sky it’s ridiculously photogenic. It’s well worth a visit to witness its beauty for yourself.

Wat Rong Khun Opening Hours

The temple is open 06:00 – 18:00 daily, and the gallery is open 08:00 – 17:00 on weekdays.

Wat Rong Khun Admission Price

Entrance fee is 50 Baht for visitors and free for Thai nationals.

How to get to Wat Rong Khun?

From Chiang Rai – the temple is a 20 minute drive from the city centre of Chiang Rai. I’d suggest hiring an Uber or a tuk-tuk to get there for around 200THB. You can also take a public bus (no air conditioning) from Chiang Rai bus station (the city centre station) for 20 THB or a songthaew (shared taxi).

From Chiang Mai – I would suggest booking on to a Chiang Mai White Temple tour or day trip. You won’t save much money making your own way there, but if you really want to you’d be best to take a ‘Greenbus’ and then a taxi/uber/tuk-tuk from the bus station to the temple. The journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai takes around 3 hours.

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Jen is a 24 year old blogger from the UK, currently travelling full time.