Saturday, May 08, 2010

The White Temple, Chiang Rai

Located about 13 km from Chiang Rai, this modern temple was begun in 1998 and is designed by Chaloemchai Khositphipha. (The nine-building plan may take until the year 2070 to be completed and involves many people in order to keep things going). Even from a distance, one could see this was not any ordinary temple. The stark-white scene was encrusted with details and rather flame-like in appearance. To reach the main bridge, we had to walk above a semicircle filled with outstretched white hands, some of which held up skulls or bowls. For a temple that is supposed to remind one of heaven, this part certainly felt like hell! Past two enormous curved fangs were two sword-wielding guardians. Other goulish monsters were also visible. A young worker was busy attaching thin strips of mirror mosaic onto the bridge, making it reflect in the light. White fish swam in the water below.

The interior was equally strange. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted, so I had to take in the sight with only my eyes. Like the exterior, the interior was unfinished. Murals were in progress. The entrance wall mural was the most finished. Near the top, a portrait of Buddha looks serenely downward. Below was a surreal, modernistic scene, a collage of various items. The Twin Towers burned and billowed with smoke after being hit by the plane. Superman flew above. Spiderman scaled skyscrapers. Keannu Reeves of The Matrix stood defiantly. Two monsters emerge from a building. Flying saucers race through the sky, sharing the space with Manga-style figures. The eyes of an elephant revealed Bin Laden in one and Bush in the other. One worker was busy applying rust-colored paint of a background near the bottom of a side wall. Seated in the front of the temple was a lifelike statue of an old seated monk.

The site contained several other buildings, including two which housed artwork by the Chiang Rai native. Originals or reproductions were for sale. One could also buy books, T-shirts, postcards, etc. of Khostiphipha’s work. Proceeds go towards the completion of the temple. Like those in the temple, these paintings were very fanciful and rather surrealistic. Many included messages of suffering or heaven. Some recurring themes included Ganesh, Buddha, world peace, materialism, and global warming. One painting had cartons of McDonald’s fries floating in outer space, accompanied by cans of Pepsi and other modern junk. In another, Bin Laden and George Bush straddled a missile. The highly gifted artist displayed adeptness in a variety of media, including wood cut prints, sculptures, graphic drawings, oil paintings, lithographs, and others.

For a partial explanation of the symbolism behind the White Temple, visit

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