I’ve spoken of shiny, gold temples, or Wats as they’re referred to in Thai. These buildings are stunning, to say the least, and are certainly one of the first things that caught my attention when we arrived in Bangkok. As we trekked north, Chiang Mai boasted no less in terms of its abundance of gold architecture. In fact, I’d say the concentration of it was even greater; there’s far less surface area compared to Bangkok and there are seemingly at least as many temples. But Chiang Mai was not the last, or even second last stop in the first Asian country I’ve ever visited. We had our sights set on Northern Laos and, lucky for us, Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong were on the way.
Chiang Rai is very interesting; small, tight-knit, with a sort of chill bar-hopping kind of night atmosphere. I remember one of the most relaxing evenings Teresa and I spent was in a café with a couple glasses of Thai whiskey and a set of darts.
Made up rules…she won
However, the areas outside of town were what got us the most excited and were the source of some of our most memorable experiences.
Again, we were fortunate enough to be able to rent a motorcycle and the Chiang Rai region would have appealed to us far less if we hadn’t. We heard about two sights that were apparent must-sees. The first was about a half hour drive to a place called Wat Rong Khun…The White Temple:
It may be the most beautiful structure that I’ve ever laid eyes on. It certainly felt like it the first time I saw it. It’s so detailed, so dimensional, so epic, that it hardly looks real. You hear on the news all the time about humans doing horrible things to each other, enough to make any of us feel misanthropic, if not a hefty level of cynicism. But the thought that another human, one of our own, was able to not only dream up, but realize Wat Rong Khun gives me more faith in humanity than any ancient text ever could. The White Temple truly is a gift.
I want to describe what you’re looking at, but I’m not quite sure where to start. I will say that it is a work of art that is certainly up for interpretation. It’s a relatively new building, designed by a young Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, less than two decades ago. The hands reaching up belong to the damned and are fixed in a variety of poses, some holding pottery begging to be filled with money, some clawing at each other, and I’m pretty sure I remember one giving the finger. It’s non-traditional in many ways, to say the least, and thus controversial, to some extent, within the Buddhist community. Of course, it doesn’t see the kind of quiet meditation that many other Wats do because of the sheer volume of tourists who visit on a daily basis. Bus-loads of people unloaded out front throughout our stay; again, we were more than grateful for our access and ability to operate a moped. We could come and go as we pleased and we avoided the crowds as much as humanly possible.
The scope, breadth, and beauty of the White Temple is embedded in my mind forever. To me, it seems to be a work of art first and a Buddhist temple second. As I mentioned, there are obvious influences and observances that are a part of the Buddhist tradition, but Wat Rong Khun is a sweet piece of eye-candy from the moment you arrive to the moment you’re driving away, looking back to catch one last glimpse of its magnitude and magnificence.
I haven’t written quite as much in this article as I have in the last few, but this is one where I simply find it difficult to do the images themselves justice. Enjoy.