Chiang Rai and the White Temple: Contemporary Art in the Shape of a Buddhist Temple

Chiang Rai, in northern Thailand, was our first destination after crossing the land border with Laos. After seeing a breathtaking picture of Chiang Rai’s well-known White Temple, we promptly arranged our stay there. In any case, we needed to spend some time in the city, admire up close all of the intricate features of that work, and attempt to take photographs that were comparable to the one that we had seen.

And because we were already planning to spend some time in Chiang Rai to visit the White Temple, we might as well take advantage of the opportunity to discover everything else the city has to offer.

But why visit Chiang Rai, in northern Thailand?

Chiang Rai and the White Temple: Contemporary Art in the Shape of a Buddhist Temple

Chiang Rai was a part of the ancient kingdom of Lanna from the 13th to the 18th centuries, and to this day, the region presents aspects of its culture, art, and cuisine that are distinct from those of the centre and south of the country, keeping part of its characteristics intact, with many people living in tribes in the midst of the mountains. Chiang Rai is located in northern Thailand. It is possible to take trips to these villages and experience the lives of the residents of the villages up close and personal while departing from Chiang Rai.

During the reign of the Lanna Empire, Chiang Rai served as the capital of the kingdom for a while. At this city, the Emerald Buddha, the most well-known Buddha statue in all of Thailand and often regarded as the most significant national symbol, was discovered (which is actually made of jade). Today, the statue may be found in Bangkok, which is the capital of the country.

Those who are interested in traveling to the Golden Triangle, which spans the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, might use Chiang Rai as a starting point for their excursion. A stunning area located in the centre of the highlands, where the Mekong and the Ruak rivers continue to flow together.

The White Temple, also known as Wat Rong Khun in its Thai form, is the attraction that draws tens of thousands of visitors to Chiang Rai each year. This is also the reason why we decided to include Chiang Rai on our itinerary.

The White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand: contemporary art in the shape of a Buddhist temple

Chiang Rai and the White Temple: Contemporary Art in the Shape of a Buddhist Temple

Wat Rong Khun, sometimes known as the White Temple due to its more common name, is a temple that is extremely, extremely… for lack of a better word. “strange.” In point of fact, it is not even a temple; rather, it is a piece of modern art designed to look like a Buddhist temple. Alternatively, it continues to serve its original purpose as a temple despite being covered in modern art. To put it simply, it’s not clear. Within the confines of the White Temple, the distinction between one function and another, specifically between art and religion, is largely nonexistent. And maybe that is exactly what makes it so interesting to think about.

The Buddhist temple turned art building

Chiang Rai and the White Temple: Contemporary Art in the Shape of a Buddhist Temple
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An ancient Buddhist temple known as Wat Rong Khun once stood on the site of the White Temple of Chiang Rai, which is now located there. At one point in time, the modern Thai artist Charlemchai Kositpipat bought the temple and set out to rebuild it using his own money as well as, of course, his own thoughts, conceptions, and worldviews. Charlemchai Kositpipat is known as one of the most important figures in the Thai art scene today.

Even though there is nothing out of the ordinary that can be seen from a distance, those who have not yet entered the White Temple may already have the impression that there is something peculiar about the structure.

The bridge that leads to the primary access point is rather spectacular. It is encircled by hands that appear to be growing out of the ground, as if they were emerging from the depths of the earth. Some of these hands are carrying jugs and other items. If the color white did not convey a sense of calm to the situation, it would be a scene straight out of hell.

After crossing the bridge, we find ourselves in front of the so-called “Gate of Paradise,” which is formed by the two most well-known figures inside the white temple. This is, without a doubt, the most spectacular part of the tour.

But once you’re actually inside the main structure, you’ll have a much better idea of the insanity that engulfs the entire location. Paintings containing motifs and figures from popular culture, such as Michael Jackson, Freddie Krueger, Hello Kitty, Harry Potter, and Superman, are hung on the inside walls of the white temple. Simply insanity, but an incredible amount of fun! There is a restriction in place that prevents visitors from taking photographs, so you will just have to take our word for it (or schedule a visit to Chiang Rai as soon as possible). The creator of the work believes that the interior of the white temple is a representation of the human mind in all of its intricate complexity.

Wolverine, Gollum, Hellraiser, Avatar, and a number of other pop culture figures are just some of the statues that can be found outside on the grounds around the temple. This is another example of the eclectic nature of the complex, which continues inside as well. It’s very funny to go around the garden and try to place each of those heads that are hanging from the trees.

All of the structures in the set are designed in the traditional Thai architectural style. They are white in color (with the exception of the so-called Golden Building, which is…golden), and they are covered in fragments of mirrors, which causes them to shine when the sun hits them. Too gorgeous. Simply looking on!

The project, which first opened in 1997 but is always developing, is responsible for putting Chiang Rai on the tourism map in Thailand. When it is finally finished (which is slated for the year 2070), the complex will consist of a total of nine structures. In spite of this, what is already there is rather stunning in and of itself.

How to visit the White Temple from Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai and the White Temple: Contemporary Art in the Shape of a Buddhist Temple

The artist is under the impression that the white temple is a present from Buddha, and that anyone can go there to learn about Buddhism, meditate, and look for serenity. When you get to the location, however, you will not find any serenity because of the large number of tourists who visit the location every minute. The entire White Temple complex and the surrounding areas are always packed with tourists.

Because there is no charge to enter the White Temple, planning ahead is essential in order to get the most out of the experience. In order to take in all of the temple’s intricate elements, visitors will need to enter the building on multiple occasions. The tour of the white temple follows a single, set route, and visitors are not permitted to go “in the opposite way” after reaching a certain point along that route. We lost track of how many times we went around the location and retraced our steps in order to view everything and take high-quality photographs, but we did it so many times that we couldn’t help but go back and forth between the two.

Although many people visit on planned tours departing from Chiang Mai (the main city in the region, located two to three hours away), going without the assistance of an agency is the recommendation that comes highly recommended. To reach the white temple from Chiang Rai, you can take a tuk-tuk or even a regular bus; the bus departs from the old bus station, which is located in the city’s center.

Continue your stay in Chiang Rai and take your time leisurely seeing the city and surrounding area. It is best to go either very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon, when the last of the tour buses have left. We arrived shortly after noon, just as the temple was about to reopen, and to our good fortune, we were the first people to enter the principal temple. In a matter of seconds, just as a wave of tourists was about to arrive, we were able to snap several shots with no one else in the frame.

Where to stay in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai and the White Temple: Contemporary Art in the Shape of a Buddhist Temple

We slept at the Maryo Resort Chiang Rai, which is a brand new hotel that is located very close to the city centre. Despite its proximity to the centre, the hotel is situated far enough away to provide the essential solitude. It was the smartest thing that we could have done.

After a tumultuous journey across the border between Laos and Thailand, there is nothing more satisfying than arriving at your lodging and discovering that it provides you with every imaginable convenience. After all, you deserve it after what you went through to get there. Even though the word “resort” could scare off less well-off vacationers, the Maryo Resort really offers lodgings to meet a wide range of tourist budgets, ranging from opulent rooms to more modest, but just as warm, backpackers.

It had everything we desired and provided the much-needed rest for all of the time spent traveling. Therefore, Chiang Rai has provided us the opportunity to unwind and take pleasure in life in addition to its role as a tourist destination.

The cool thing about staying at a resort is that they provide everything for your comfort, such as a free shuttle service to pick up arriving guests and take those departing or wanting to visit the city center, which is where the Night Bazaar, the fair, takes place.

Liam Lee

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