Wat Rong Khun: The White Temple of Chiang Rai

On the outskirts of Chiang Rai sits Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple. This intricately designed white and silver masterpiece is still in the making, however what has been done so far is simply spectacular. The brains behind it all is Ajarn Chalermchai – an art graduate from Silpakorn University. Here is his story.

The White Temple of Chiang Rai
The White Temple is still unfinished

When studying as a young man, Ajarn found that most inspiring Thai artists were more interested in international modern art than their country’s ancient styles. He was the same for a while, however, he soon grew bored of the art of Monet and Van Gogh, instead growing more interested in Thailand’s ancient arts. This set him on the road to aspire to become a world-famous contemporary Thai artist.

In 1997, he began putting this dream into reality by building a temple in Thailand. He wanted people to come and marvel at his creation like they do the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat. That temple was Wat Rong Khun. Along with 80 followers, he began devoting all his time, effort and energy to making this structure his life work. Ajarn said ‘I wished to build a temple like heaven. It is paradise on earth, the human world can touch’. It’s still being put together today and is expected to take 90 years to complete.

A Cut out of Ajarn, the creator of the White Temple in Chiang Rai
A cut-out of Ajarn, the creator of the White Temple

Why is the temple white?

The first thing you notice when you enter the complex is the brilliant white of the temple. So many temples are adorned in gold or a mixture of colours, but this Wat standing in brilliant white is a beautiful contrast. The white has been chosen to symbolise the purity of Buddha. The glistening tiny mirrors that decorate it are there to symbolise man observing his own mind and to reflect kindness onto others – one of Buddha’s dharmas (teachings).

A volunteer working on the White Temple
A volunteer hard at work on the White Temple

What’s inside?

When inside the main temple you’ll be greeted with a slightly unorthodox painting on the wall. Ajarn has opted to show symbols and figures from modern day. So you’ll be able to spot Spiderman, Superman, Ben 10 and Hello Kitty to name a few. To the right of the wall is an image of the World Trade Centre being attacked and beside it the faces of Bin Laden and Bush as demons. The artist wished to make a point about the evil of our world. Therefore, he purposely put Superman and Ultraman away from the towers, indicating that no movie heroes can help our world from the evils of greed. It’s definitely a temple with a difference. Unfortunately, we have no images as photography is banned inside – so you’ll have to go and see for yourself!

Towards the back of the temple complex you’ll come across some of the volunteers who work here. All diligently tapping away and adorning the stone with silver and gold decorative pieces. Around the corner, you’ll discover the building that Ajarn has designed to be his personal mausoleum, where he will be buried when he passes.


The White Temple is an included highlight on all our Thailand group tours that visit Chiang Rai. Why not take a look?

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