The White Temple: I’m sorry but is that a head?

It’s virtually impossible to be a tourist in Thailand and not visit a gazillion temples. They’re everywhere. They’re beautiful and generally adorned with carved stone statues of Buddha.

The White Temple is very good at standing out from the crowd.

White Temple

The first thing you notice on approach is that it is white. I mean, very white. Then all of a sudden, sorry, is that a head? Oh, yes it is.

Don’t worry, there weren’t actual heads, just sculpted ones, hanging in trees. Of course.

White Temple

Observation number two: the whiskey. Next to the head tree, there was a red skull, with what I assume were flames, hands and horns coming out of it. Balanced on its head was a bottle of whiskey. It’s a ‘no alcohol’ sign.

White Temple

Then there was the bust of Predator coming out of the ground. You remember Predator? Well apparently when Arnie finished with him he ended up in Thailand.

White Temple

On approach to the building itself, you had to cross a bridge. Part of this bridge carried visitors over the water surrounding the temple. Standard. The other part carried you over a sea of hands. Hands reaching out of a pit, stretching out towards at you. Some bore skulls, others pots, begging for money.

White Temple

And in amongst the white, there was a speck of red. A manicured hand giving you the finger.

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The strangeness carried on inside, where unfortunately we were unable to take photos but I’ll paint you a picture. The walls were covered in images of some surprising (although at this stage, I can’t say I was surprised) figures. Michael Jackson for one. Harry Potter for another. Neo, Jack Sparrow, Spiderman, Star Wars, Avatar, Superman, Kung Fu, George Bush, Osama Bin Laden- all depicted on a backdrop of hell.

The temple left somewhat of an impression, so two years later I figured I’d find out what it was all about.

Wat Rong Khun can be found in the area of Chiang Rai and was designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1997. It is far from being finished and there are more buildings in the pipeline.

The purity of the white temple and serenity of the Buddha images are juxtaposed by their surroundings. Despite initial impressions, the temple does indeed bear a religious meaning, with the artist being a devout Buddhist. Within the sculptures are mirrors which reflect light to show the wisdom of Buddha.

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There are several interpretations of the hands. Some say they are reaching out in lust, others that they are sinners reaching out for liberation. Alternatively they are in the midst of the cycle of rebirth in which they will be trapped unless they can reach nirvana- enlightenment- represented by the temple itself.

Even the bathrooms are intricate. With the temple being white, the bathrooms are in the more likely gold, showing how people place value in the wrong thing.

The site portrays sins- greed, lust, anger, sorrow, jealousy- with Buddha standing apart as the singularly pure thing in an ocean of suffering.

Originally written for The Gonzo Project

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