The White Temple and the Black House are two of Chiang Rai’s most eye-popping artistic attractions
Chiang Rai doesn’t overflow with temples like Chiang Mai does, but there’s one Buddhist structure here that is undoubtedly more original than most others in Thailand. Located about 13 km south of Chiang Rai city, Wat Rong Khun is most commonly referred to as the White Temple (for obvious reasons). Arriving at its location on the town’s outskirts, visitors are at once dazzled by the sight of this blindingly white Wat that appears to have been dusted in icing sugar or frozen in a blizzard. It was conceived by well-known Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, whose handiwork can also be seen on the city’s Golden Clock Tower.
Breaking with most of the traditional elements of other temples, this one is striking in its snowy whiteness—meant to symbolize Buddhist purity—inlaid with mirrors to suggest the reflections of enlightenment. Of course, reaching such a state is not meant to be easy, so you’ll have to pass through a pair of giant fangs and a lake of miserable hell-bound figures to get there. Once inside, visitors are greeted by the sight of some of the strangest temple murals ever conceived. New York’s smouldering Twin Towers, Doreamon, Batman, and Neo from the Matrix are just a few of the modern icons to be spotted in the interior’s wild and flaming orange depiction of hell.
It’s surely one of the wildest-looking structures ever conceived by man, riddled with allegorical allusions to Buddhism and Thai culture at large. The building of the temple first began in 1996, and upon full completion—in another estimated 50 years—the grounds will boast a total of nine structures, completing the artist’s vision of Buddhist heaven. Admission used to be free, but now a small charge of B50 is required, and opening hours are from 8am to 5pm daily. Tel: 05 367 3579
In stark contrast to the White Temple is Baan Dam, commonly known as the Black House. Conceived and imagined by Thawan Duchanee, another visionary Chiang Rai-born artist, it’s a surrealistic series of Thai style houses and temple-like structures located in the countryside, on the main road north of Chiang Rai city.
The structure, built over the past 36 years, has a more tranquil, artist’s retreat-like air, but is similar in its contemporary takes on tradition. There’s a colossal black teak pavilion that looks conventional out front, but walk through it and you find yourself in a tree-studded garden compound dotted with Lanna-style pavilions and chedi-like capsules with steel doors that are filled with Duchanee’s collections of buffalo skulls, animal skins, and well-endowed wooden statues—offering a glimpse into his unconventional tastes.
Baan Dam is open daily from 9am to 5pm (admission is free). Tel: 05 377 6333