A few searches about Chiang Rai led us to pin down the main sites worth visiting. Temples and eateries mainly! A few sites being in the surroundings of the city (20-30km away) we decided to rent a scooter for the first full day and tackle down the remaining sites downtown the next day, before getting back to the bus. And what was our surprise for this first day!
Wat Rong Khun known as the White Temple
Even from the distance and the gloomy sky, the first thing you see is a bright white shine. It’s so flashy that you can barely distinguish the shape of the buildings.
Then it’s like, “wait a minute, what is this?!” Simple answer: a very unorthodox (!!) Buddhist temple!
The artist (Chalermchai Kositpipa) is somewhat contested in the Buddhist world but he renovated the old temple with his modern vision and with its own money. So far it’s said that he spent over 10millions USD…
Chalermchai Kositpipat wanted to build a temple that symbolized heaven. The white color honors the Buddha’s purity and the glass reflects Buddha’s wisdom shining over the universe. Before you enter the main temple you need to cross a small bridge, which represents the transition from the cycle of life to the land of the Buddha.
All in all, this looked like someone built a buddhist temple for a Master Jedi.
Baan Dam or the Black House
This one gave the exact opposite feeling: a shrine to the Dark side.
And, in fact, artist Thawan Duchanee always explored concepts like insanity, violence, erotism and death in the heart of the modern man while grounding his art in Buddhism and traditional Thai technics. He drew a lot of controversy doing so, but he used to be the most famous contemporary Thai artist.
At times, the house felt like a very luxurious resort had been turned into a museum, with many smaller buildings looking like storage rooms or meeting rooms.
Buffalo skulls, snake skins and other stuffed animals decorate the different buildings, giving that impression of black magic and voodoo.
It’s said that the artist used to live on the property.
Wat Sai Khao is as fun as Buddhism can be
This one was harder to find. Our first attempt took us to the western outskirt of Chiang Rai to another temple of the same name. We managed to drive the scooter through the dirt roads of the thai backcountry (not without a few arguments about directions), got to see Chiang Rai beach and the real rural lifestyle of its inhabitants. But we didn’t find our temple.
Only after a break at a cafe with internet, we nailed the right address and were off on the scooter, without much time ahead of us anymore.
And when we finally got there, our jaws dropped. Seriously? Is this a real place of worship? Wow!
It’s as if Disneyland added a Buddhist temple to one of its resorts. It’s not a big property, but there is a lot squeezed into it. A lot of levels, stairs and viewpoints.
There is not much info explaining why this place came to be that way, but it looks brand new. The range of stupas, chedis, shrines and halls is bright, sharp and clean.
Last thing worth mentioning are the many sculptures, all very unique!
My personal fav’ remains the rocket powered guardian demon!
At the end of this day, these 2 temples and the house demonstrated new styles of Buddhism, each with its own contemporary influences. The most astonishing fact about it is that they are used as places of worship.