Heaven and Hell – The White Temple and the Black House

The fairytale like Wat Rong Khun or White Temple

Wat Rong Khun (or the white temple) in Chiang Rai is no ordinary temple. At first glance Wat Rong Khun reminds me of something out of a winter wonderland fairytale as the white, unbelievably elaborate, creation glitters in the bright sunlight.

Wonderfully elaborate decorations adorn the temple grounds

There is something mystical but also slightly spooky about this white temple. It is adorned in white, extravagant detail, little mirror mosaic like pieces studded over the temple reflect the sunlight like glittering porcelain or the icing on an extremely decorative Christmas cake.

The main temple area

Wat Rong Khun is Thailand’s answer to Gaudi’s Sagarada Familia in Barcelona. The talented and creative artist Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, along with a team of over 80, have dedicated their life’s work to create the most beautiful temple in the world that will showcase modern Thai Buddist arts.

Examples of the elaborate decorations on Wat Rong Khun

Construction of the contemporary, unconventional white temple began in 1996 and is expected to take nearly 100 years to complete. It will not be finished until about 60 – 80 years after the artists death but he is still impressively dedicating his life to it. When completed the White Temple will entail 9 different buildings and he does not accept any donations from the government as he doesn’t want his art to be politically influenced by anyone else.

He has grand ambitions as he wants the White Temple to become an international tourist attraction to rival India’s Taj Mahal and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

Currently just the main temple is complete along with a collection of sculptures of mythical creatures adorning the grounds and the most beautiful golden toilets.

To get into the temple you must first cross a bridge over hundreds of grabbing, skeletal hands

An extravagant bridge leads you into the temple; passing over grabbing hands, through mammoth tusks and past angry looking mythical creatures.

Some of the sculptures are a little spooky looking

The paintings, sculptures and creations contain meanings and moral teachings. Once inside the white temple, the back wall of the temple features a painting of a large, angry, demon like face. In it’s mouth are images that include 9/11, superheros, rockets, guns, George Bush and Osama Bin Laden.

The 9/11 mural – see the evil heads coming out of it and the toxic petrol pump

From the demon’s face (the mara) the images gradually turn into people flying on mystical creatures towards the front of the temple where a serene buddha stands surrounded by gold and yellow that contrasts the angry red of the demon.

It is meant to represent the final struggle between Lord Buddha and the Mara (demon) to combat evil thoughts and obtain enlightenment and freedom from immoral thoughts.

The meaning of the superheros and 9/11 mural is that we can’t rely on superheros to save our world.

The weapons and demon’s armies represent humankind’s unwholesome thoughts and the moral is to practice meditation to feel peace and happiness. 

See the severed heads and evil looking whiskey bottle on this sculpture

I think passing through the White Temple is meant to represent coming from the hell like world that we live in to the heavenly state of enlightenment and peace.

It is free to visit the White Temple and I enjoyed it so much I went three times in total! Everytime I visited I saw something that I hadn’t noticed before. I could spend hours gazing at this unique and other worldly building and trying to discover and understand the complex meanings behind the elaborate sculpture work.

In contrast, The Black House to the north of Chiang Rai lies a very different piece of architecture. An abundance of dark wood and animal bones makes this place feel quite weird and spooky.

The spooky Black House

Baandam Museum or the Black House is not actually a temple but a work of art with similar architectural styles to Thai temples. It is created by Thai artist Thawan Duchanee and consists of one main, huge, black temple like building and a strange assortment of nearly 40 other small buildings scattered across the grounds in various unique styles and designs made from dark wood and other materials.

The view outside through a chair made out of animal horns

The buildings are decorated by numerous animal bones including more buffalo skulls, horns, deer antlers, animal skins and bones than I ever seen before in one place.

Dark wood, horns and skulls in abundance decorate the Black House

This place is very odd, I didn’t quite understand the meaning behind it and for an animal lover it is a bit disconcerting to see so many animal bones but it certainly makes for an interesting visit and an alternative to temple hopping when in Thailand.

More examples of weird things you can see at the Black House, yes that is a building that looks half pig half submarine!

Both these buildings contain extraordinary and unique architecture and fascinating artists devotion. Combining the White Temple and the Black House feels like visiting heaven and hell in one day.

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Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy April 3, 2014 at 2:44 pm

The White Temple is one of the things I’m most excited about seeing in Thailand in November! :)

Anna Phipps April 3, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Yes it was one of my favourite things in Thailand. Simply awesome and so artistic and beautiful. It is still being built so by the time you go it will be different already from when I visited. Enjoy it!

SJ @ Chasing the Donkey April 3, 2014 at 3:57 pm

YIKES! Those hands at the bridge are um… super scary! Fabulous looking place to add to my list. Visiting from A-Z

Anna Phipps April 4, 2014 at 2:54 am

Yes it’s an amazing place and still being built so will only get more magnificent. It’s also fun trying to figure out the meaning behind all the beautiful details and crazy sculptures. One of the highlights of my travels in Thailand!


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