Today’s forecast: 36°C, sunny with haze ⛅️
Mosquito bite tally: 5
Visiting the White Temple in Chiang Rai
Today was mostly a travel day on account of us approaching our move onto the Laos portion of this trip. We packed up our bags in Chiang Mai early this morning and headed north toward Chiang Khong, which is the Thai border town between Thailand and Laos.
On the way, we stopped in Chiang Rai to see the famous White Temple, formally known as Wat Rong Khun.
The White Temple is an unconventional contemporary temple that was designed and constructed by Thai visual artist Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1997. Toward the end of the 20th century, Wat Rong Khun was falling into disrepair. Kositpipat, a local of Chiang Rai, decided to take it upon himself to rebuild the temple using his own funds. He is something of an avant-garde artist and the temple’s design is reflective of this. It contains many traditional elements of a Buddhist temple, interspersed with bizarre pop culture references, as you’ll see in my photos below.
On arrival, the place was crowded. It is especially popular among Chinese tourists, who are in fact ubiquitous throughout Southeast Asia. Our guide told us that there have been issues around cultural differences and (mis)behaviour at this attraction in particular (think restroom etiquette), such that there is currently a policy in place where Chinese visitors must be accompanied by a tour guide on entry and the guides themselves must attend an educational session in order to bring these groups to the temple.
As you enter the temple, you cross the bridge of the ‘cycle of rebirth’, where you see creepy looking hands reaching upward, presumably from the depths of hell.
Within the ubosot, you will find a very strange set of murals. Photography was prohibited, but I found these images online.
Images of demon faces and flames are meant to convey the message that people are wicked and have been the cause of destruction on earth. I guess the presence of Michael Jackson’s image could make sense in this context if you’re aware of his history. 🤷🏻♀️ I couldn’t quite understand why Pikachu and Superman were there, however. Supposedly the message may be that it is Buddha who will ultimately save us, rather than these fictional superheroes.
Outside, more pop culture references abound. I spotted a fountain lined with rock sculptures of various characters, including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
There’s also the golden building, apparently meant to represent people’s focus on worldly possessions and money.
This White Temple visit is technically not an official part of the Intrepid tour, so it was a bonus added on by our guide. Admission is 50 baht for foreigners, and free for locals as usual. I’m glad we had a chance to make this stop since I do have an appreciation for weird art!
A sleepy afternoon in Chiang Khong
A further two hour drive took us to Chiang Khong where we will be staying for the night. The town is very small, with literally only one main street, so we will be having a quiet evening as Laos beckons across the Mekong River.
Tomorrow we will be starting our two day slow boat journey along the Mekong River into Laos. My internet connection might be spotty so I may have to catch up with blogging after I settle in Laos. Catch you on the other side!