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Dragon, Wat Rong Khun | by Aidan McRae Thomson
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Dragon, Wat Rong Khun

Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple, is situated a few kilometres south of Chiang Rai and is quite simply one of the most stunning, unique houses of worship ever built. There is simply nothing quite like it, having seen the glorious palace temples of Bangkok it seemed like nothing else could eclipse them, but this fantastic place came close!


The temple is the brainchild of Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat who has funded much of the work himself as an act of devotion. His direction of the project however hs ensured a uniquely contemporary interpretation of the traditional Thai temple complex, with most of the buildings and sculptures finished in white (with silver mosaic accents) as a symbol of purity.


Construction started in 1997 and the main temple buildings were completed by 2008, though there remains much expansion and further adornment to the complex in progress.


The main temple is like something out of a fantasy film, an ethereal structure that appears as if made of icing sugar, It is surrounded by water and entered via a bridge, access through a sea of pleading sculptured hands rising from the earth, making this something of a spiritual journey, reminding us of souls in the underworld. Fearsome guardian giants flank the entrance to the bridge, daring the visitor to walk between them toward the enlightenment of the temple.


The interior of the prayer hall is another surrealist surprise, and is being decorated with Kositpipat's murals which are beautifully detailed and other worldly. However, what appears to be a straightforward representation of Buddhist heaven, with figures standing on clouds, has some rather unusual additions, including figures of comic book heroes and recent Hollywood films (Neo from the Matrix, Batman, Spiderman and the Starship Enterprise are all lurking amongst the heavenly figures!). The concept of the hero in popular culture has become deified, quite literally! One side wall remains unpainted, the hero figures can be found on the entrance wall on clouds within a large face radiating light. The main focal wall opposite has a large painted image of the Buddha in golden tones. Sadly photography isn't allowed inside.


The rest of the complex is no less fantastic, with the entrance guarded by a striking, semi anthropomorphic dragon rearing from the moat and spewing water. Nearby is a seriously creepy tree hung with decapitated demonic heads, and, if that wasn't surreal enough, to cap it all a large palatial golden building that is actually the toilet block!


Wat Rong Khun is a modern wonder of creativity and a sight no visitor will ever forget, no one visiting this part of northern Thailand should miss it!

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Taken on November 26, 2010