Wat Rong Khun: Experience 22 Enchanting Highlights at the White Temple in Chiang Rai

Wat Rong Khun, commonly referred to as the White Temple, is a stunning and unique artistic masterpiece that combines traditional Buddhist temple architecture with contemporary art. Located in Pa O Don Chai, Mueang District of Chiang Rai Province, Thailand, the White Temple is a short drive from Chiang Mai. Conceived and brought to life by renowned Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1997, this privately owned marvel showcases intricate white sculptures and murals, symbolizing the purity and spiritual journey of Buddhism. Visitors from around the world flock to experience the awe-inspiring beauty and captivating details of Wat Rong Khun, making it a must-see attraction for anyone exploring the region.

At the end of our online travel guide, you will find a detailed map of the temple grounds, with a legend describing all the buildings.

Please note that in the neighboring province of Chiang Mai, there is also a White Temple. Sometimes these temples are confused with each other because private guides and tourist agencies refer to them by their color names (White Temple in Chiang Rai and White Temple in Chiang Mai), rather than their actual names.

This guide is specifically about the White Temple in Chiang Rai (original name Wat Rong Khun). If you’re looking for information about Wat Suan Dok, then please visit our guide about the White Temple in Chiang Mai.

Gleaming amidst the lush landscapes, the Wat Rong Khun In Chiang Rai stands as an architectural marvel, captivating visitors with its ethereal beauty and eccentric yet profound symbolism. Journey with us as we explore the enchanting world of the White Temple in Chiang Rai to discover its history and the symbolism represented in its architecture and artworks.

The White Temple in Chiang Rai (Google Map) is situated approximately 13 km (a little over 8 miles) south of Chiang Rai city center, Northern Thailand. Set in perfectly manicured gardens with shady trees along the walkways, Wat Rong Khun is a brilliant white, artistic marvel, constantly contrasting good and evil.

Uncover The History Of Wat Rong Khun

National Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat was born in Rongkhun village, a small community in Chiang Rai province. He made a name for himself, earning scholarships in several countries. From 1984 to 1988, he was in charge of a massive mural project at Wat Buddhapadipa in London.

By the late 1900s, the original Wat Rong Khun temple was in a sad state of disrepair and had been abandoned due to a lack of funds for restoration. Kositpipat bought the temple and began renovating it at his own cost. He redesigned it and supervised the construction of the new temple, an artistic wonder that doubles as social commentary on being better beings.

Instead of merely restoring the old temple, Chalermchai Kositpipat envisioned creating an entirely new and awe-inspiring masterpiece. The artist considers the White Temple in Chiang Rai as an offering to Lord Buddha, which he hopes will secure him eternal life. In 1997, Kositpipat opened the White Temple to the public.

Additionally, Chalermchai revealed the truth about Wat Rong Khun:

“I intended to create a unique work of Buddhist art to be one of the greatest works of art this world has ever seen to announce the glory of my country to everyone throughout the planet. After I die, my students shall carry on my visions until they are all realized. All my affairs are in order in the event of my death. I created all these Buddhist works solely with my faith in Buddhism. I never wanted any compensation, and I never liked to make merit to show off. This temple never raises money through Kathin ceremonies. This temple was not constructed in a hurry to celebrate any occasion. My only intention is to make it as good and beautiful as possible… to the point that I exhausted both my worldly and dharma knowledge. Death would be the only thing that could stop my creative freedom.”

The long-term plan for the temple is to create nine buildings, including the current ordination hall (ubosot). Other planned additions include living areas for monks, a meditation hall, a hall of relics, and art galleries. Kositpipat intends for the area next to the temple to be a study and meditation center where people can gain insight from Buddhist teachings.

In May 2014, an earthquake damaged Wat Rong Khun, and Chalermchai intended to close the complex to prevent visitors from injury. However, an engineering team declared the buildings still structurally sound, so he decided to restore them to their former glory.

Ponder The Cultural And Spiritual Significance Of The White Temple

The White Temple in Chiang Rai seamlessly blends contemporary art with traditional Buddhist elements, making it a unique cultural landmark. The temple’s brilliant white exterior symbolizes purity and the teachings of the Buddha.

Intricate and ornate carvings and sculptures adorn the façade, reflecting the fusion of traditional Thai and modern artistic styles. Every detail within the temple complex, from the elaborate murals to the meticulously crafted sculptures, tells a story deeply rooted in Thai culture and mythology.

Aside from its aesthetic grandeur, the White Temple carries deep spiritual significance for Buddhists and spiritual seekers. The temple’s architecture is inspired by Buddhist philosophies, with symbolic references to Heaven, Hell, and the path to enlightenment.

Marvel At Wat Rong Khun's Breathtaking Designs

While visitors may initially think that Wat Rong Khun is beautiful but a mixed bag of artistic concepts, the overarching theme throughout the temple complex is overcoming human evils such as greed, lust, and temptation. All structures of the temple portray this theme, sometimes in graphic detail.

The Bridge Of The Cycle Of Rebirth

Visitors must cross a bridge constructed over a small lake to reach the ubosot, the primary building of the White Temple. As people cross the bridge, they face the sight of hundreds of outstretched hands, symbolizing the unrestrained desires of the human race. To get to Heaven, people must overcome their vices and temptations.

Flanking the lake stand two imposing Kinnaree, the Buddhist mythological creatures appearing half-human and half-bird.

The Gate Of Heaven

After crossing the bridge, visitors reach the Gate of Heaven, protected by two statues portraying Death and Rahu. These creatures judge the fate of the departed. There are also several Buddha images in meditative postures at the entrance to the ubosot.

The hands that reach out from beneath the ground symbolize the human yearning and suffering experienced within the cycle of rebirth, known as Samsara in Buddhist philosophy.

These hands reflect the souls that are immersed in this cycle, wrestling with desires and striving to reach a state of enlightenment. As a traveler and as a seeker of wisdom, confronting these symbolic hands becomes a personal journey, a passage through the struggles and temptations that confine one to an unenlightened state.

Visitors are guided towards a bridge, a metaphor for the path to enlightenment. Crossing this bridge signifies triumph over the trials represented by the reaching hands. This metaphorical journey embodies the fundamental teachings of Buddhism, highlighting the importance of transcending worldly attachments in favor of spiritual enlightenment.

The Ubosot

The brilliant white ubosot, which gives Wat Rong Khun its name, showcases the characteristics of the Lanna and Sukhothai architectural styles, typical of Northern Thailand, with features such as the three-tiered roof and the multitude of Naga serpents ornately placed around the structure.

At first, the building appears to be constructed of sparkling porcelain. A closer inspection reveals that the ubosot is whitewashed and embedded with millions of tiny mirror mosaics. As the sun reflects off the mirrors, the temple glitters and gleams like a majestic fairy tale castle.

Wat Rong Khun’s white color symbolizes the Buddha’s purity, and the glass mosaics represent wisdom and enlightenment. The reflective surfaces beautifully capture the sunlight, evoking a sense of ethereal radiance.

Admire The Exquisite Art At White Temple

For the most part, the artist responsible for the bulk of the artworks is Chalermchai Kositpipat. His son and daughter are also talented artists, and some of their works are exhibited in the gallery.

Inside the ubosot, Wat Rong Khun’s décor does an about-turn from the brilliant white purity-themed exterior to a bewildering and almost evil interior. Visitors will encounter images of demons and blazing fires alongside Western celebrities such as Michael Jackson, characters from The Matrix, and Freddy Krueger.

Disturbing images of the attack on the World Trade Center, nuclear warfare, and oil pumps proclaim the human race’s destructive nature. While it’s evident that the artist is conveying the evil in human nature with these images, the message becomes a little foggy when mixed with pictures of Hello Kitty, Harry Potter, and Superman. The  White Temple in Chiang Rai is indeed a gallery of contrasts.

 Throughout the temple complex, visitors can find exquisite sculptures and sometimes very ghoulish statues crafted with meticulous attention to detail. These creations depict various mythological creatures, including Naga serpents and celestial beings from Thai Buddhist and Hindu mythology. Many shrines with Buddha images are also dotted around Wat Rong Khun.

 Visitors will also find “wishing trees” and other structures where they can make a donation and hang their requests on the structure in the hope that their wishes will come true. A beautiful golden wishing well holds the same promise. This seems contradictory to the artist’s message, but the  White Temple is nothing if not contrasting and contradictory!

Explore Chiang Rai's Dazzling White Temple

A painless way for visitors to get to Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai is to plug in with a sightseeing tour. They will see numerous tourist attractions in the area without following directions or getting lost. Alternatively, tourists can use the Grab e-hailing service, metered taxis, local buses (the cheapest option), tuk-tuks, or songthaews.

Another cheap transport option is to rent a scooter. However, one should keep in mind that travel insurance is a necessity and to only rent from reputable companies.

Although Wat Rong Khun White Temple is more an art gallery than a functioning temple, it is still considered a religious site, so visitors must still dress modestly to gain entrance to the White Temple.

Sightseers should cover their knees, shoulders, and midriffs. If tourists are unprepared, there are plenty of vendors around the complex who can supply sarongs. Visitors wanting to enter the temple must also remove their shoes. They should also avoid wearing any offensive or religious clothing.

Visitors may not take photographs or videos inside the White Temple in Chiang Rai, but they can buy replicas of images at the souvenir shops.

Admission fee: 100 baht for foreigners, free for locals

Operating hours: 8 AM – 5 PM

Address: Pa O Don Chai, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai (Google Map)

Beyond Wat Rong Khun: Nearby Attractions

One can easily spend 1.5 – 2 hours exploring Wat Rong Khun, and the best times to go to avoid large crowds are probably in the early mornings or late afternoons before closing time. But that still leaves you the rest of the day to explore neighboring attractions. Read on to find our suggestions for nearby attractions and activities.

Singha Park

Singha Park is a massive park, formerly called Boon Rawd Farm, 2.7 km (1.7 miles) from Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai. The founding family that makes the well-known Singha beer turned the farm into a tourist attraction.

Visitors can enjoy tram tours around the farm or hire a bike to ride around it. There are many exciting activities that will keep the whole family entertained, including ziplining, a petting zoo, enjoying cosmos fields, and a swan lake. Entry to the park is free, but visitors pay for the different activities.

When you’ve spent your energy, you can refuel at the restaurants on-site, the bakery, coffee shops, and food trucks.

Operating hours: 8 AM – 6 PM (Monday to Friday), 8 AM – 7 PM (Weekends)

Address: 99, Moo 1, Mae Korn Subdistrict, Chiang Rai (Google Map)

Chiang Rai Clock Tower

Visitors impressed with Wat Rong Khun Temple’s artwork and design must visit the Golden Clock Tower in Chiang Rai. This splendid landmark is another of National Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat’s creations. It looks particularly beautiful at night, and visitors can enjoy light shows on the hour from 7 PM to 9 PM.

The Chiang Rai Clock Tower sits in the middle of a roundabout in Chiang Rai city center, approximately 13 km (8 miles) north of Chiang Rai White Temple.

Address: Suk Sathit, Tambon Wiang, Chiang Rai (Google Map)

Baan Dam Museum

The Black House, or Baan Dam Museum, is almost a complete contrast to Wat Rong Khun. This art museum, designed and built by Thawan Duchanee, is 27.6 km (16.5 miles) from the temple. The compound consists of 40 buildings, mostly black or very dark in color, signifying the darker side of humankind.

Duchanee used all kinds of animal remains and taxidermy in his artworks, including buffalo horns, crocodile skins, and snake skins. While a fascinating art museum that challenges one’s thoughts and conscience, Baan Dam Museum may not be animal lovers’ favorite place due to all the animal remains.

Admission fee: 80 baht

Operating hours: 9 AM – 5 PM daily, (closed 12 PM – 1 PM for lunch time)

Address: 333 Moo 13, Nang Lae, Chiang Rai (Google Map)

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar

Tourists love Thai markets, and the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar does not disappoint. The Night Bazaar is 13.6 km (8.5 miles) from Wat Rong Khun. It boasts many food stalls where one can eat a good meal at very reasonable prices. Visitors can also enjoy live music while browsing stalls selling clothing, souvenirs, and handicrafts.

Operating hours: 6 PM – 11 PM daily

Address: WR4M+5M2, Tambon Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai (Google Map)

Blue Temple

This a blue temple in Chiang Rai, unique for its vibrant blue color, symbolizes the Dharma—the teachings of Buddha—reaching towards the sky and radiating tranquility and wisdom across the universe. The rich blue and gold architecture offers a refreshing departure from the typical white and gold temples, signifying the boundless nature of Dharma and reminding us that enlightenment can emerge in many forms, not just within traditional constraints.

Wat Rong Suea Ten (Google Map) is a relatively new temple, completed in 2016, and its name translates to the ‘House of the Dancing Tiger,’ a nod to its past when tigers were often sighted leaping over the nearby river. Upon entering, one is greeted by a majestic white Buddha in meditation, adorned in royal garb, embodying purity, wisdom, and the path to enlightenment. The intricate details of this statue further emphasize the complex journey towards attaining spiritual awakening.

Interesting Facts

There is a majestic gold-colored building on the temple grounds. Many tourist guides call it the Golden Temple, an independent architectural structure symbolizing immortality, wealth, and nirvana.

In fact, this building is a public restroom. Yes, it is beautiful and impressive, as if it were some king’s palace. But… it’s just a toilet.

White Temple visitor map

Map Legend

The points of interest on the map are described in the order in which you will walk around the temple grounds. The only exception is parking lot #22, where you will park your motorcycle or car before walking around the temple.

1 – Main Entrance
2 – Purify Tower
3 – Mouth of Death
4 – White Temple
5 – Buddha Relics Tower
6 – Buddhist Tower
7 – Souvenir Shop
8 – Belfry
9 – Waterfall
10 – Golden Toilet #1
11 – Parsonage
12 – Ganesha Exhibition Hall
13 – Cemetry
14 – Ceremony Hall
15 – Wishing Well
16 – Dhamma Hall
17 – Golden Toilet #2
18 – PR Office
19 – Golden Toilet #3
20 – Souvenir Shop
21 – Art Galery
22 – Parking

Quick Facts

1. Unique White Temple: Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple, is a visually stunning Buddhist temple located in Chiang Rai, Thailand. It is renowned for its striking all-white exterior, which symbolizes purity and the path to enlightenment.

2. Modern Creation: Unlike many other temples in Thailand, Wat Rong Khun is a relatively recent creation. It was designed and built by the renowned Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, who started its construction in 1997.

3. Symbolism in Design: The temple’s design incorporates intricate details and symbolic elements. The white color represents the purity of Buddha, while fragments of mirrors embedded in the plaster symbolize wisdom and the reflection of Buddhist teachings.

4. Unconventional Artistic Features: Wat Rong Khun features unconventional and contemporary artistic elements, combining traditional Buddhist motifs with modern influences. The murals inside the temple depict various subjects, including scenes from popular culture, movies, and historical events.

5. Bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth: To reach the main temple, visitors must cross a bridge called the “Cycle of Rebirth.” The bridge represents the transition from the cycle of life and death to enlightenment.

6. Donations and Ongoing Construction: Wat Rong Khun is still under construction, with ongoing expansion and development. The entire project is funded through private donations, and it is expected to continue evolving over the years.

7. Visitor Experience: The temple complex includes various buildings, sculptures, and gardens. Visitors can explore the main assembly hall, the meditation hall, and the art gallery. The overall experience offers a unique blend of spirituality and contemporary art.

8. Importance of Maintenance: Due to its unique design and delicate materials, Wat Rong Khun requires regular maintenance and restoration work. It is periodically closed for renovations to ensure its preservation.

9. Visitor Etiquette: When visiting Wat Rong Khun, it’s important to dress appropriately and respectfully, covering your shoulders and knees. Photography is allowed outside the temple, but inside the main hall, photography and the use of mobile phones are not permitted.

10. Tourist Attraction: Wat Rong Khun has become a major tourist attraction in Chiang Rai, drawing visitors from around the world who come to admire its architectural beauty and artistic craftsmanship.

These quick facts give a glimpse into the unique and fascinating characteristics of Wat Rong Khun. It is an iconic landmark that showcases the fusion of traditional spirituality and contemporary artistry.

Our Summary

Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai is more than simply an architectural wonder. As visitors immerse themselves in the profound symbolism and mesmerizing beauty of the White Temple, they embark on a spiritual journey, discovering the essence of Thai Buddhism. A visit to this extraordinary temple is an experience that lingers in the minds of all who witness its ethereal splendor.

White Temple Area Weather Forecast


As a renowned Thai visual artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat is the creative mind behind Wat Rong Khun. His inspiration came from the desire to offer an immersive representation of Buddhist teachings while encapsulating Thai cultural elements.

The White Temple’s color signifies the purity of the Buddha. The white exterior, embellished with fragments of mirrored glass, symbolizes Buddha’s wisdom shining universally.

The bridge at Wat Rong Khun is a depiction of the path towards rebirth in Buddhism. It is a transition from the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara) towards attaining enlightenment and entering Nirvana.

Every detail in Wat Rong Khun’s architecture carries Buddhist symbolism. For instance, the sea of hands reaching out from below the bridge represents desire, which one must overcome to attain enlightenment.

The gable apexes signify various precepts in Buddhism. The first tier represents the basic precepts, the second tier signifies concentration, and the third tier embodies wisdom. These are key principles one must master to break free from the cycle of samsara.

The murals inside the temple intricately blend traditional Buddhist imagery with contemporary symbols, intending to make Buddhist teachings relevant to the modern world.

Desire, in Wat Rong Khun, is depicted through numerous outstretched hands under the bridge, signifying human suffering and craving. One must rise above these to reach the state of enlightenment.

The principles of meditation are embodied in the design of the temple’s roof, where each tier represents a different aspect: precepts, concentration, and wisdom. These elements reflect the path to enlightenment in Buddhism.

The White Temple is a lifelong project for its creator, Chalermchai Kositpipat. He envisions it to be a center for learning and meditation. The ongoing construction symbolizes the evolution and continuation of Buddhist teachings.

The interior artworks reflect meditation practices by illustrating the journey from suffering and desire (depicted on the floor) to enlightenment (depicted on the ceiling). The path between these two states embodies the practice of meditation.

Unlike most traditional Buddhist temples, Wat Rong Khun is distinctly white, symbolizing the Buddha’s purity. Its architecture intricately weaves contemporary elements with traditional Buddhist symbolism, providing a unique interpretation of Buddhist teachings.

Wat Rong Khun has become a major tourist attraction in Chiang Rai and has significantly contributed to local tourism. Furthermore, it offers a unique interpretation of Buddhist principles to a global audience, promoting a deeper understanding of Buddhism’s essence.

Want to rent a motorbike in Chiang Mai? Just contact us!  If you are traveling in Northern Thailand and are staying in Chiang Mai, our company Cat Motors invites you to rent motorcycles for your travels. Check out our motorcycle rental rates. Don’t forget to read our other Northern Thailand travel guides.

Cat Motors Team

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