How could everything here be painted white and yet somehow still feel so dark? It seemed innocent enough from the road but the closer I got, the closer I looked, the less I understood… Clearly Thailand was not going to let us get away without at least a few more moments of amazing wonder mixed with complete confusion.
Wat Rong Khun was quite possibly one of the craziest places that Jess and I visited in Thailand. The other one was The Black House, which you can read all about here The Black House: Baan Dam Museum.
The White Temple
Wat Rong Khun is better known as The White Temple, and sits just outside town. Jess and I were only going to be in Chiang Rai for a day or two before heading over to Laos, but we weren’t about to miss out on a chance to see a few more crazy things in Thailand before we left.
The morning after we arrived we got straight down to business by renting a scooter. We had been in Thailand for almost a month at this point (Hence why we were needing to skip out to Laos soon! We only had about 3 days left on our tourist visas.) and we had become pretty comfortable with renting a scooter as soon as we got to a new town so that we could get around.
Look at us go!
In fact, you might even venture to say that we had become a bit OVER confident in our scootering abilities after zipping around Chiang Mai and other cities with no problems at all.
Chiang Mai is for the most part pretty easy going in terms of driving as long as you stay within the “old city” area inside the moat. Chiang Rai on the other hand is basically a city of highways. Jess and I almost had several heart attacks driving around as full sized Simi trucks pushed us off the road and fellow scooter drivers raced all around as if they were all fighting for first place in some race we didn’t know we were a part of!
Highway terrors aside we did eventually make it safe and sound to The White Temple. We pulled up and parked our scooter amongst the pile of others. Our first impression was that this building looked much like many of the other Hindu/Buddhist temples that we had seen in Thailand. The one exception of course being the fact that this one was all white while all of the others had been mostly gold, orange and brown.
Is that a dragon over there?
As we walked closer things started to get weird, very weird in fact. We could not pull our eyes away from all of the incredibly strange statues and ornamentation. It was as if whoever had built this place started out with normal enough intentions, but then half way through construction had suddenly become possessed by Steven Spielberg and Hunter S. Thompson.
The temple looked normal enough as we gazed upon it from a distance, but then at the same time it was really hard to ignore the life sized statue of The Predator coming out of the ground right in front of us.
We are not ones to be deterred so we pressed on. We followed the crowd over the bridge and headed straight for the front door, where we were greeted by two exceptionally large statues to the left and right. They were wielding clubs and swords with the most horrifying of expressions on their faces that seemed to say “You have no idea what you’re in for!”
I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore..
Over the sides of the bridge was a white cement pond frozen in time with hands protruding skyward. Were they trying to escape? To pull us down with them? Who knows. A few of them held skulls in which people had placed coins. Somehow I imagine that this of all things was not what the hands were attempting to do.
I simply could not wrap my head around this situation. I had been to plenty enough temples to know that leaving coins in strange places or stacking up little pebbles were both very normal things to be doing. But tossing a couple extra Baht in an empty skull? That was a new one on me.
As we made our way across the bridge and entered the main temple we passed a whole assortment of other strange sights. But surely once we got inside things would take a turn for the better, right? HA! The weirdness had not yet begun! The walls were painted floor to ceiling with mythical scenes of Greek Gods fighting Batman, a fortune teller talking to bananas, and more crazy things than you could shake a stick at! I couldn’t pull my eyes away from it. Whoever was behind this had clearly lost their mind! What was this madness? Had someone just recently introduced Thai monks to acid?
As we made our way out the door on the other side of the room I craved more! I would have spent all day inside had we not been shuffled through so quickly by the massive crowd behind us.
This looks normal enough
We made our way outside and immediately found ourselves face to face with a much more modern looking building. As much as I had enjoyed the clown circus we had just passed through, I was not against the idea of exploring something that at least appeared to be a bit more normal.
As we entered we were given a pamphlet and asked to stay behind the red line on the floor. Ah! A museum, and filled with relatively normal looking paintings no less. Now this was something I understood. Or was it? What was an art museum doing at a Wat? I suddenly remembered the pamphlet I had been given, and began to flip through it.
The man behind it all
The pamphlet was filled with information about a man named Chalermchai Kositpipat who was an artist, and that’s when it all started to click. I read on as the reality of the entire situation sank in. This place, this “Wat” was not actually a temple at all. There were no acid crazed monks orchestrating the whole thing, it was this guy all along. I read on to find that this entire thing was an ongoing art project that he designed all by himself starting back in 1996. The place was riddled with symbolism and themes ranging from heaven and hell to pop culture and politics. This was no temple, it was an art project housed in traditional temple architecture.
I have to say that once I understood what was going on I rather liked it. There was something that I found amusing about luring people in only to confuse the hell out of them. It was my kind of humor.
Jess and I finished laughing and taking pictures of the crazy statues and eventually made our way back to our hostel, happy with our adventure for the day.
Even now I still come across the occasional Google or trip advisor review of Wat Rong Khun. They say something to the effect of “Astonishingly beautiful, but lacked the temple spirit.” They make me laugh every time.
What’s the craziest art exhibit you have ever been to? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!