Two artists have constructed major attractions in Chiang Rai — Ajarn Chalermchai Kostipipat’s White Temple (Wat Rung Khun) and Thawan Duchanee’s Black House (Baan Dam).
Wat Rung Khun is a full-fledged Buddhist Temple, but it looks unlike any other. Most traditional temples have a colorful facade, gold trim, and red-orange roof with green and yellow highlights; in contrast, the White Temple looks as if it has been carved from ice and snow. It appears as if it were somehow transported to Chiang Rai from the Harbin Ice Festival, the St. Paul Winter Carnival, or the Quebec Winter Carnival.
Chalermchai began construction in 1997 and he expects that it will be another 70 years or more before the White Temple is complete. In order to ensure that his vision is fulfilled, Chalermchai has trained 50-60 followers so that work can continue once he is gone. In order to maintain his artistic vision and freedom, Chalermchai takes no money from the government and he limits contributions to 10,000 baht (about US$330.)
The complex is visually stunning down to even the smallest detail. At the entrance to the grounds, there are Chalermchai-designed statutes that clearly command no drinking and no smoking.
When you approach the temple, you come to a pond filled with fish. While most are white (goodness, purity), there are also a lot of larger, black ones (evil) swimming with them. There is nothing subtle about the symbolic message here!
To enter the temple, you need to walk across a bridge that goes over a river of hundreds of hands and faces from those who have fallen off the path. The images are striking and in this mass of hands there is one finger that has red nail polish on it.
Inside the temple, the walls are painted gold with colorful murals on them (no pictures allowed, however.) After entering the building, you see a large picture of a very serene Buddha on the rear wall. However, when you turn around to look at the front wall, you see a picture of Mara (the demon that tempted Lord Buddha). In his right eye is a picture of George Bush, in the left a picture of Osama Bin Laden (who is supposedly dead, if you believe those lying, stealing, self-serving bastards who control the U.S. government, but I digress.) On the lower portion of this wall is a picture of the World Trade Center on September 11, with one tower in flames and a jet rapidly approaching the other. There are also drawings of space ships, superman, Spider-Man, and assorted other super heroes with the clear message being that we have to take care of ourselves.
There are two building on the site that stand out from all the others because of their rich gold color. The one on the left below is a small shop that sells books, t-shirts, pictures, and other souvenirs. The more elaborate building in the background is shown on the right below.
As we approach this imposing and important-looking building, we see pictures, like the one on the right, that indicate the function of this building. If you haven’t figured it out, this building houses the toilets!
Additional photos from our visit to the White Temple can be found at: http://cid-7f0356bdd6b7671b.skydrive.live.com/redir.aspx?page=play&resid=7F0356BDD6B7671B!864
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.