Wat Rong Khun, The Weird Temple

 

The White Temple Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Temples are to Thailand what cathedrals are to Europe. And having spent the better part of this year touring Europe’s cathedrals it’s not surprising that my mind wandered back there upon seeing Wat Rong Khun in the North of Thailand.

Where it wandered to specifically was the Spanish basilica of La Sagrada Familia. The two places couldn’t be more different in every respect, save one: they’re both modern interpretations of age-old designs.

What struck me most about La Sagrada Familia wasn’t its beauty or its size but the way in which its design felt simultaneously familiar and yet totally new. It has towering columns and vaulted ceilings and huge stained glass windows. Everything is exactly how you’d expect, only wildly different. It’s that juxtaposition between the familiar and the unusual that I found so compelling about La Sagrada Familia. The same might be said for Wat Rong Khun.

The White Temple Wat Rong Khun-2

More commonly known to visitors as The White Temple, Wat Rong Khun appears initially as a fairly typical Wat. It has the same basic temple structure of others in Northern Thailand, although this one is more flamboyantly adorned and, most strikingly, has replaced typical gilded flourishes with a façade of pure white.

The White Temple Wat Rong Khun Skulls

Once you get closer you realize that Wat Rong Khun isn’t just white, it’s weird. Designed by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1997, the temple blends traditional Buddhist symbolism with iconography from popular culture. Entering the compound we walked past a main gate adorned with skulls and heads hanging from trees. But it wasn’t until we saw Predator crawling out of the ground that we fully appreciated the strangeness of Wat Rong Khun.

White Temple Predator

The main temple is connected by a “bridge of rebirth” that spans a moat filled with outstretched human hands. The grasping hands purportedly represent desire but could also easily pass for the River Styx as described in Dante’s Inferno.

The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) Moat of Hands

Along the bridge you pass through a gate of tusks and approach the imposing figures of Death and Rahu who together decide your fate.

The White Temple Wat Rong Khun Guardian

Inside the main temple, or ubosot, you’re greeted by a traditional statue of Buddha who is surrounded by frescoes that are anything but typical. Instead of scenes depicting Buddhist stories, the ubosot walls are decorated with colorful, comic book-like murals featuring space ships, Superman, Kung Fu Panda, and Elvis, among others.

The White Temple Wat Rong Khun Thailand

In a way we feel like we visited Wat Rong Khun out of order. By the time we saw La Sagrada Familia we had already explored dozens of cathedrals and really appreciated the way Gaudi deviated from Gothic traditions while still retaining so much of their essence. The White Temple, meanwhile, was one of our first temples in Thailand. And while it’s certainly visually stunning even for the uninitiated, had we visited later we might have had a better sense of how Superman finds his way into a place of worship. Or, on second thought, perhaps not.

wat-rong-khun-superman

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12 Comments on “Wat Rong Khun, The Weird Temple”

  1. Becky | Been There, Seen That, Got the Postcard November 13, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    So random! The absolute last thing I’d expect to see is a figure of Predator, and the walkway looks a bit like bridge over some kind of hell?

    Like

  2. lioandshezz November 13, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    Impressive!!!

    Like

  3. digger666 November 13, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Reblogged this on digger666.

    Like

  4. winnymarch November 13, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    when i was in thailand i missed ths wonderfull place

    Like

  5. Van Nomads November 13, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    That is awesome! Looks incredible!

    Like

  6. Admin November 13, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    Reblogged this on MY MERE JOURNEY.

    Like

  7. lisettek November 14, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    Beautiful!

    Like

  8. kaylamariehoopdance November 14, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    Now I really want to go to Thailand, that looks like insane awesomeness.

    Like

  9. flyingwildgeese November 14, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    Wow. This made my day!

    Like

  10. Grumpy Michal November 14, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

    What a total fusion! It’s like a comic-book-meets-renaissance-painting embodied in a temple.

    Like

    • Brian November 17, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

      That about sums it up. 😀

      Like

  11. travelwithoutborders November 21, 2014 at 7:58 am #

    Amazing!!

    Like

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