Art Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai, Thailand: Let there be white

It was bound to happen.

Four days into my trip in Lanna Kingdom, after greedily (yes, that is the word) taking in all the festivities surrounding Loi Krathong—most of which happened in places of the holy (and sometimes, alcoholic) kind—temple fatigue finally set in. By the time J and I finished our tour of the impressive Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, I wanted nothing to do with the old, and everything to do with the modern.

Funnily enough, I got exactly what I need by visiting yet another temple.

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

Known among travelers as the White Temple, the  unconventional Wat Rong Khun located in the outskirts of Chiang Rai (roughly an hour and a half away from Chiang Mai) simply sets itself apart from other temples in Thailand.

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

According to our guide, this contemporary Buddhist temple was designed by Thai visual artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, who has been working on finishing the temple since 1997. His design deviates from traditional Thai temple art and architecture—which is why visiting this particular temple felt like a palate cleanser.

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

The details of the temple and its surrounding structures are so well thought out, they will blow your mind.

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

I would have stayed here all day if I could. Unfortunately, the White Temple was part of our Golden Triangle itinerary and we were only there for less than an hour. Next time I’m in Chiang Rai, I will definitely stay longer and explore the gallery that houses Chalermchai’s other works. Maybe there’ll be more to see of the temple by then, too—work is still ongoing as the artist had predicted it’ll probably take him 60 years to finish the entire place.

According to Wikipedia, Chalermchai believes that creating Wat Rong Khun will give him immortal life. His very words were, “Only death can stop my dream, but cannot stop my project.”

When I read that statement, it reminded me of an interview I had with world renowned architect Carlos Ott, who, despite his fame, maintains quite the humble outlook toward his profession. Ott said, “Time is the only critic. While many of us are temporarily famous, the good architecture will be known many years later. Good architecture will make the silly superficial architecture of today rapidly fade away. Who am I to say if this is right or wrong? All I know is that when Gauguin and Picasso painted buildings, people then thought they were crazy and wouldn’t pay a penny for their work. Today, people would pay a hundred million dollars for their work. Time will go through the woods and select the good-looking trees.”

Chiangmai, Thailand: Wat Rong Khun

After the time we spent in Wat Rong Khun, I believe Chalermchai has built himself a good-looking tree in his home province of Chiang Rai. I’m glad I got to spend even just a brief moment there. It definitely will not be the last I’ll see of it. :)

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