Travel writer Julie Miller visits the famous White Temple near Chiang Rai, damaged during the 2014 earthquake.
When the earth rumbled and grumbled during a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Chiang Rai on May 5, 2014, there was one major victim – Wat Rong Khun, better known as The White Temple.
Two of the spires on this popular tourist attraction collapsed, while a large crack split a mural on the wall of the main building. Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat declared that the temple, which had taken him 20 years to build, was beyond repair, and refused to accept any government assistance to fix the damage.
A year later, however, the temple is as popular as ever, with evidence of nature’s fury just adding to the intrigue of Thailand’s most mind-boggling and elaborate temple. It’s crazy, kitsch and a little bit “baba bobo”, as the Thais say … but wow, what a dazzling sight!
The brilliance of the white temple is due to thousands of tiny mirrors covering the surface of the structure, which according to Chalermchai, is a symbol of wisdom. Entering across a rather scary pit of hands reaching up from ‘hell’, you cross a bridge to ‘heaven’, represented by the main temple. Inside, Chalermchai, (who works from his gold office located above the toilet block and is often seen hollering into the loudspeaker to keep tourists moving), has created a floating image of the Buddha seated on a lotus, with a mural showing the conflict between Buddha and the Mara (demon).
The back wall (the one damaged in the quake) is equally intriguing, with bizarre images from popular culture such as Elvis, Hello Kitty, Superman and Angry Birds alongside a depiction of the Twin Towers burning during 9/11.
“I want everyone to know that our world is being destroyed by those who craved to build weapons that kill.” Chalermchai said. “I painted Superman and Ultraman to let people know that there really are no heroes in our world. Actually, people need heroes since our morality declines every day.”
Work is still continuing on the compound, with Chalermchai saying it will take his lifetime and beyond to complete the project.
Crazy as it is, the White Temple is certainly a testament to one man’s dedication to his religion and king, and well worth a visit if you are in the Chiang Rai area.
*All words and images by Julie Miller.