A Tour of Wat Rong Khun, the Oddest Temple in Thailand

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
July 22 2014 11:31 AM

A Tour of Wat Rong Khun, the Oddest Temple in Thailand

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Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple, is one of over 33,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand. But it's the only one that features a mural depicting a plane hitting the Twin Towers as Spiderman and an Angry Bird look on.

Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat began building Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai in 1997. The incredibly detailed, all-white exterior represents Buddha's purity. Mirrored trimming symbolizes self-reflection. The bridge to the entrance crosses over a sea of arms reaching out for help from the fiery depths of hell. Skulls, demon heads, and pop-cultural figures from the underworld—Hellraiser; Hellboy—are harbingers of what's to come.

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Inside the temple, the decor swiftly moves from pristine white to fiery and bewildering. Murals depict swirling orange flames and demon faces, interspersed with Western idols such as Michael Jackson, Neo from The Matrix, Freddy Kruger, and a T-800 series Terminator. Images of nuclear warfare, terrorist attacks, and oil pumps hammer home the destructive impact that humans have had on earth. The presence of Harry Potter, Superman, and Hello Kitty confuses the message somewhat, but the overall moral is clear: people are wicked. 

Kositpipat's juxtaposition of traditional Buddhist imagery and pop culture has drawn criticism from the Thai government. Photography of the interior murals is prohibited, but visitors are welcome to purchase prints in the temple gift shop.

On May 5 of this year, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Mae Lao, located 17 miles southwest of Chiang Rai. Wat Rong Khun sustained significant damage, and a devastatd Kositpipat initially declared that the temple would have to be demolished. Subsequent evaluations, however, have found that the cracked pillars, damaged murals, and broken spire can be repaired. The restoration process is expected to take about two years. Travelers can still visit the temple, but may not be allowed inside depending on the work being undertaken at the time.

kungfu
Detail from one of the interior murals, inexplicably featuring Kung-Fu Panda.

Photo: Asia: Up to you!/Creative Commons


View Wat Rong Khun in a larger map

Ella Morton is a writer working on The Atlas Obscura, a book about global wonders, curiosities, and esoterica adapted from Atlas Obscura. Follow her on Twitter.

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