Chiang Rai White Temple: Why You Need To Go Out Of Your Way To See This

When I first saw a photo of the White Temple in Chiang Rai (Wat Rong Khun), I could not believe that it was real. It looked like it came straight out of a fantasy movie set. Since then, I often called it the “Minas Tirith Temple,” in reference to the all-white city from “Lord of the Rings.”

I finally got a chance to visit this temple this year, after having missed it despite several trips to Thailand in the past. I used to be able to visit only the capital city of Bangkok, because of limited time and some work obligations.

Chiang Rai White Temple

Chiang Rai is quite far from Bangkok. It’s the northernmost major city and lies close to Laos and Myanmar. Luckily, it is located lose to Chiang Mai, a more popular tourist hotspot which served as our launching point for several day trips.

Read about our hotel in Chiang Mai: Goldenbell Hotel Review

My friends and I joined a group tour which started from Chiang Mai. As usual, the joined tours started early and they really tried to jam as many people in the van as possible. Whenever you can, try to book a private tour so that you have a comfortable ride and get to control the amount of time you spend in each location.

Our tour included stops in several locations but I will tell you more about that next time. We arrived at the White Temple at around 9:00 in the morning. At this time, it was already bustling with tourists. The heat and humidity was also pretty bad. Note that in this part of the world, it’s very hot nearly the entire year. Don’t forget your sunscreen. I had a UV umbrella with me the whole time!

Note that there is a dress code when entering any temple in Thailand. Your shoulders and knees must be covered so keep that in mind while packing. Otherwise, you will end up having to buy pants or a top from the tourist trap shops that are situated near the entrance.

Before heading to the main temple, we decided to freshen up at one of the most amazingly beautiful toilets that I have ever seen. The complex boasts of a golden building that has the sole purpose of relieving wary travelers. See it to believe it:

The Golden Toilet building at Chiang Rai’s White Temple complex

Upon entering the complex, we were immediately greeted by the majesty of the White Temple. The intricate white plaster and glass inlays gave the entire structure a sparkling and glowing effect. It is definitely a sight to behold!

View from the entrance of the temple complex

Despite the fact that the place was crawling with tourists, it was designed so ingeniously that one can admire and take beautiful photos of the structure sans photo bombers.

On either side of the bridge that leads to the entrance, there are pits filled with hands reaching out as if they were hundreds of drowning individuals that are struggling to get out.

Close-up view of the intricate design elements at the temple’s entrance.

One interesting detail in the somewhat morbid pit filled with hands, is the lone finger with red nail polish. According to our guide, this red nail indicates the hand of a woman. He said that the hands represent evil that roots from unrestrained desire. The lone woman in this pit shows that men are more prone to giving in to the temptations of greed and desire. I can’t say I disagree ey? I liked his temple even more after hearing that.

The lone nail with the red polish in the pit of outstretched hands..

The bridge is supposed to represent “the cycle of rebirth.” On one end are the pits with the hands, and on the other end is the main temple. It crosses a small lake which forms kind of a moat. The entrance to the bridge is flanked by half-human, half-bird Buddhist creatures called Kinnaree.

The bridge of the cycle of rebirth.

After passing through the pits of hell, visitors go through the “Gate of Heaven” which is flanked by two massive creatures that represent Death and Rahu, a Buddhist creature that judges the dead.

Gate of Heaven.
Tourists posing at the Gate of Heaven

After crossing to the end of the bridge, you will be greeted by the main temple itself. It’s not a very long bridge but the intricate opulence and majesty just gives a feeling of surreal fantasy.

The facade of the main temple or the “Ubosot”

While everything on the outside of the White Temple looks enchanting, I promise you, nothing will prepare you for the interior. I thought that you would have to be high on something to begin to comprehend what’s painted on the walls. Taking photos is prohibited but here are a few shots taken by some rebellious netizens:

Scenes from 9/11 with Doraemon and Spiderman (
Neo stands beside a robot while characters from the film Avatar fly by. (

Even Harry potter and Kung Fu Panda make an appearance:

Quite odd isn’t it? I know it’s a Buddhist temple but the interior features these pop culture icons. I’m torn on how I feel about it. I’m not sure how I would react if something similar was done inside a Catholic Church. Nevertheless, from a tourist standpoint, it’s very interesting and certainly out of the box. You can be the judge if you like this or not.

The temple is apparently privately owned by a local artist named Chalermchai Kositpipat. He took it upon himself to single-handedly fund the construction and decoration of the temple. He accepts small donations but avoids large sums in order to protect the integrity of the design. He does not wish to have big donor influencing his personal choices.

Oh by the way, there is an actual Buddha image inside too:

Once back outside, we had some time to enjoy the grounds. There were even more intricate structures that were erected across the property. Beautifully manicured lawns provided the prefect backdrop for the predominantly white, gold and silver works of art:

Golden Water Fountain

View from behind
Temple Grounds

Overall, it was an amazing experience. This place is definitely a must-see spot if you’re travelling to Thailand. It’s very unconventional but judging from the number of Thai tourists that are visiting the site, it does not appear to be offensive to them.

To read more about the day trips that we took in Thailand, click on the links below:

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, The Best Place to Visit in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Why I Don’t Recommend Visiting the Bangkok Floating Markets