Chiang Rai’s Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple definitely a must visit!

Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

If you are ever in Chiang Rai or even Chiang Mai, Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple (in Chiang Rai) is a must visit if you’re into art and or wats/Buddhism in general.  If you’re interested in getting to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, I’ve made a post about my experience with that HERE. After being inspired by Chiang Mai’s silver temple (post is here), I did a quick online search and found the White Temple and two other spots that looked interesting so I quickly made arrangements to go as I only had a few days left in Chiang Mai.

Not having any time to spare (I planned to visit 3 places in Chiang Rai), I used the Grab app and booked a ride to the white temple (at a cost of $200 TBH) immediately after stepping off the bus because I didn’t have time to mess around with the tuk tuk drivers or songthaew drivers. They are all at the back of the terminal, I didn’t see any at the front, it’ll probably be cheaper (highly dependent on your negotiating skills) to go via tuk tuk and songthaew. By the time I got to the front of the building, maybe 30 meters away, I got a message on the Grab app from the driver asking where I was and I replied with “in front of the building” to which I got a reply “me too”. So I looked around and didn’t see any car idling or coming down the street. Then someone came up to me and said, “Taxi?” to which I said “No, thanks” but he showed me the Grap app so I went with him. He was parked on the other side of the street. This was a first for me. Anyways, away we go! (Can you tell I’m excited?!)

If you’re expecting your usual wat, you are in for a huge surprise, as I was. Just to prep you a bit, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia  “It is a contemporary, unconventional, privately-owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple.  It is owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed, and opened it to visitors in 1997.” I didn’t find monks praying/chanting inside the “white temple” nor “monk chat” sessions (at the time of this post) but I did find monks taking selfies outside and around the premises.  The décor is definitely not the norm for wats, here’s some examples of what you can find:

When I saw those statues/figures, I was like “what the @$#! Is this?! Is this even a legit wat?” but I did find it kind of cool in the way that those Hell themed parks are (like the one in Singapore that I posted about HERE). Definitely not what I was expecting to see but I liked it.

I guess a bit of historic reference is needed. Wat Rong Khun was a wat at one point in time but for whatever reason had no funds for repairs so Mr. Chalemchai Kositpipat,an artist, had taken it upon himself to completely fund and rebuild the temple to what you see today and he’s not done yet. The original plans for the entire compound is to have 9 buildings that include the “white temple” (which is the ubosot), a meditation and learning center, housing for monks, an art gallery, a hall of relics and others to be completed by 2070. I’d guess there will be a prayer hall and such for monks and the followers of Buddhism to practice their faith, it is a wat after all, right?

I wasn’t prepared for just how stunning it was and it just kept getting better and better the closer I got to it. Nor did I know exactly how big the compound was.  All the statues and buildings were well maintained and intricately detailed as was the rather large pond and water ways around the temple. Even the “under construction” buildings and areas that were off limits to the public looked neat and tidy unlike any construction site I’ve ever seen.

So the white structure that is being referred to as the White Temple is actually the ubosot but inside the ubosot you won’t find the usual things you would find in an ordination hall. Instead you’ll find murals of more modern day things like depictions of the World Trade Center attacks, Michael Jackson, Superman, fiery murals with demon faces and others. It was quite shocking to me as I didn’t expect to see that and frankly my mind is having problems coming to terms with it (I guess I was expecting all the usual religious statues and relics but done up in the same style as the exterior). Don’t get me wrong though, the artwork is stunning and that’s an understatement.  I can also understand the message that the artist is relaying but my mind is just so conflicted(?) …I don’t know, I don’t have the words. I would have loved to have taken photos to reflect upon and further contemplate what I saw and to show you but sadly no photos allowed inside and there are ushers reminding you as you walk in.  You won’t find any of the usual donation boxes or incense pots or the offerings of food and drinks at the altars inside, to be honest, I can’t even remember seeing an altar in there.

When you’re done with the ubosot and pond area, there are other areas to check out such as the washroom. Wait, what?! Yup, you should check it out. This building is at least 2 levels, done up in gold with intricate statues all around. Just looking at it you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s the toilets. Lucky, I didn’t need to use the facilities because standing in front of the building, I couldn’t tell where the “Mens room” was because both paths leading  into the building had signs in Thai with the English word “women” on it. However, there are images of both male and female on both sides of the building! Being really short on time, I didn’t go any closer but judging from the people buzzing about maybe I should have.

Toilets at Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Beside the toilet building is the gift shop with the usual gift shop items as well smaller prints and art cards of the artist’s work. On the other side there is a mural/display depicting a scene with the Monkey King/God, Sun Wukong, complete with bells you can ring. A bit further down the path is an area where you can offer incense and fruits and prayers in front of a Buddha statue in a jungle themed alcove.

There is a rather large, open air pavilion type structure which has a large floor area for praying as well as chairs. I”m guessing this where the monks would chant/pray. Within this pavilion are the more traditional Buddhist  statues and artwork. Right outside is a booth selling thin metallic leaves you can write your name and message on then hang them on the tree like structures, which when full, the leaves get moved to create the roof of the covered walkway, pretty clever right?

Behind all of this is an area with another  temple, I think, all done up in gold. I didn’t have enough time to check it out. It was around this time that I realized that I wouldn’t be able to see the other two if I spent any more time at the White Temple so I rushed past this area, reluctantly.

As I was rushing by things, I saw the Mr. Chalermchai Kositpipat’s art gallery/museum and I had to go in.  I’m really, really impressed with his style of art. The gallery doesn’t look big from the outside but it’s pretty big and has a decent sized gift shop area. Yup, I bought some art cards I just couldn’t resist. Lucky, I had time and space constraints or I would have bought more and bigger pieces too. Now, at this point, I had to make a choice. It was clear now that I couldn’t see all three of the places I had planned and if I didn’t leave now I wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy the second spot so completely finish this awesome place or hit the next spot? There is an entrance fee of $50 TBH for foreigners but free for Thai people and even with the bus fare I found Wat Rong Khun, the white temple, well worth the trip and so I left with the promise of . . . I’ll Be Back.

Oh almost forgot, there are eateries, snacks and gift shops in a plaza like area right beside the wat so you can plan to have a meal or two there. I hadn’t eaten anything yet so I just grabbed a couple of Gatorades and croissant like things from a shop and off I went to the next stop. Again the Grab driver was already there, in the parking lot of the plaza, lucky me.

NOTE: Even on an overcast day such as it was the day I was there, the buildings are really, really bright and glittery. I lowered the brightness of the images (a fair bit) in this post to better define the details, so bring a pair of sunglasses just in case it gets too bright.

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Chiang Mai’s silver temple, Wat Sri Suphan

Chiang Mai’s silver temple, Wat Sri Suphan

Honorable mention on my top 5 list of must visit wats in Chiang Mai is Wat Sri Suphan.  Once you reach the premises, which is located slightly off a main road (you won’t be able to see it from the main road), you’ll immediately see the uniqueness of Wat Sri Suphan. The Ubusot, both interior and exterior is all silver. Maybe not pure/real silver but I’m pretty sure it’s not paint because it gets really bright when the sun hits it. I think it’s silver gilding but don’t quote me on that.

I rode the Songthaew from just outside the Tha Phae Gate at a cost of $80 TBH and paid an entrance fee of $50 TBH. The entrance fee comes with a sticker you have to put on your shirt and a small bottle of water. After paying the entrance fee I proceeded to walk towards the front of the silver temple (I didn’t know it was the ubusot at the time). Then I walked around it and ended up outside the “barricade.” Yup, the premises is that small! I didn’t even get inside or the other side of the outside. So I went back to the entrance and was stopped by a ticket guy, I pointed to my sticker, of course, my sticker wasn’t there. Luckily the lady I had paid my entrance fee to, recognized me (there weren’t many people there, like less than  10) and I was able to go back in.  So the entrance fee is just to check out the silver ubusot and the other silver statues and the odd gold one here and there.  Both the interior and exterior are very intricately detailed, much more so than the other wats I’ve seen in Chiang Mai, thus far. I can’t imagine having to polish all that. The interior of the ubosot is pretty incredible, all silver except the one big, gold Buddha statue. Even the floor is silver, metallish but not slippery. As customary, no shoes allowed and women aren’t allowed in either. There aren’t many donation boxes around, less that the other wats (that I’ve noticed) but they do have a lot of things you can buy and leave as offerings.

Once you’re done with the silver temple, you can check out the prayer hall and stupa, which is outside the paid section so it’s free. In the vicinity are stalls selling food, drinks and souvenirs too. All in all the premises is quite small so it won’t take up much time and so worth the visit, in my opinion. I spent about an hour there but as usual around closing time so I didn’t get to go into the prayer hall and many of the food stalls were closed. Oh, if you do get a chance to go and it’s really sunny, bring your sunglasses because it can get very bright. If you go around sunset, you can get some pretty cool / weird color reflections on the silver temple and on the silver statues too.

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Wat Phra Singh and it’s golden stupa

Wat Phra Singh at sunset

Wat Phra Sing is ranked third on my list of awesome wats when I toured Chiang Mai. Why is that you may ask? While it’s somewhat true that “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” in the sense that all wat’s have a pagoda/chedi, a viharn, prayer hall and similar buildings, not all are decorated exactly the same, have the same number of structures and statues and not all are the same size in terms of structures and premises. Not to mention the upkeep status of the structures and statues as well. Wat Phra Singh is also just a blocks away from Chedi Luang, which I rank second on my list. You can check out my Chedi Luang post here. Number one on my list is Doi Suthep if you’re interested, the post is here.

For a wat that has been around since the 14th century, it looks really good! Mainly due to the extensive upgrading, renovation and restoration works over the years. Wat Phra Singh is also an active monastery so you can expect to see monks and novices walking around performing upkeep tasks. So you can look forward to some environmental portraits too. From my experience, the monks and novices are ok with having their picture taken. Having said that, I’m never up in anyone’s face taking pictures, I’m usually a good distance away. I usually try to wait for my subject to look my way and when that happens I smile, wave and point to my camera. I’ve never, yet, had anyone say no or display any form of negative body language. Some however won’t look up. In that case I just take a shot or too (if the moment is still there) and move on.

Wat Phra Sing is one of the bigger wats I’ve seen (in terms of building size and premises. It is also one of the most well upkept ones as well. Proof of this is the all gold chedi/stupa in the back, complete with gold elephants. I couldn’t tell if it was gold paint (I doubt it because it was sooo shiny) or gold leaf but that would make it too too expensive to maintain, especially outdoors, no?  If it’s gold leaf it makes this chedi even more impressive as I didn’t see a single scuff or missing patches of gold or any dullness for that matter. The brick paths to the stupa is like a mini maze, kinda fun to walk on, felt like I was in a old video game, lol. Another interesting building that wats seldom have are scripture libraries. You can tell it’s a scripture library by the first story stone foundation and walls (for protection against floods and pests) and the wooden, highly walls and roof for the 2nd story.

Scripture library at Wat Phra Singh

Golden Stupas

I spent only about half an hour here because I got there late, well after closing time (I had just finished Chedi Luang) but could have easily spent 3 hours at Wat Phra Singh.  If only I had done some research prior to going I would have been better prepared. At least I know I can get the last bit of sunset around 8pm, however that time is well past their closing time.  Be prepared to be ushered politely but firmly towards the exit if you try to get a sunset image. Their hours of operation are 8 am to 5 pm. There may have been an entrance fee but I’m not sure. I didn’t see any ticket booth and nobody stopped me either, including the security guard putting up traffic cones, but then again I went in around 7:30 pm so the ticket people were gone for the day? Anyways, here’s a few shots I got. I’ll be sure to get more my next trip out there!

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Searching for temple ruins in Wiang Kum Kam

Hunting for remnants of centuries old wats in the city of Wian Kum Kam

If you fancy yourself as an urban explorer, modern day Indiana Jones and you’re into “ancient ruins” you should check out Wiang Kum Kam if you’re ever in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I stumbled across this area quite by accident. I had just gotten back to my room after my afternoon dental appointment and needed to get my mind off the nagging discomfort. I had pretty much walked everywhere around the hotel and it was time I ventured further. A quick Google search of temple ruins (or something along those lines led me to Wiang Kum Kam.

With only the knowledge (from Google) that Wang Kum Kam was the previous capital of the Lanna Kingdom before being abandoned and moved to present day Chiang Mai due to adverse river conditions and war.  Then in the 1990’s ruins of temples were being discovered in the jungles and excavated from under mud deposits. So I booked a Grab taxi for $150 TBH and off I went to the Wat Chang Kam, I thought this was the only one of note that was excavated and preserved.

The taxi driver arrived at Wat Kan Thom, I got so excited because I saw ruins as well as newer structures so this must be the place, right? Well, kind of but at first glance the name is different.  The driver stopped the car and asked me to wait, he came back after speaking to someone and told me the Visitor’s Center was about 5 minutes away, sounds like an important place to go even though I really wanted to stay. The parking lot of the Visitor’s center was pretty big and there were plenty of horse carriages and really long, golf cart looking tour vehicles. Inside the Visitor’s office (this is the only structure you can walk into) I was met with surprise (I was the only non local person there). I was quickly given a map and ushered into a room where I watched a 5 minute video on the history of Chiang Mai / Wiang Kum Kam. The video was pretty interesting, a bit too short for a history “lesson” I thought. Anyways, when the video was done, I was ushered back outside and asked which mode of tour transport I preferred and I told them I preferred to walk. The look on their faces should have tipped me off there was an issue but since there was a language barrier, I just thanked them and left.

Statue of King Mangrai founder of Wiang Kum Kam and subsequently Chiang Mai

Free map of Wiang Kum Kam from the Visitor’s Center

In hindsight I should have taken one of the tour vehicles I can’t remember the cost but it wasn’t much. I just really preferred not to be rushed when looking at stuff. Do yourself a favor and take the ride. By walking, you will not be able to see everything, not by a long shot. I walked 3 hours (including photography time but excluding travel time to get to the first wat) and only found 3 wats/ruins each day (I actually didn’t know I was in Wiang Kum Kam twice until I was looking for photos for this post). I had Googled for old/ancient wats in Chiang Mai after my dental visits and took a Grab taxi to the nearest one that I hadn’t been to yet (as usual, I’m just winging it, haha).  Anyways, there are 29 dots on the map that I got from the visitors center! So even by cycling I don’t think you can get to all of them, they are quite far apart even though it doesn’t seem that way by looking at the map. Although I’m not the greatest map reader, I’m pretty sure I’m not that bad either but for some reason somethings just weren’t adding up. I found “extra” roads, couldn’t find some roads etc. Also, some wats have more than one name and the name on the map might not be the same as whats on Google maps so I couldn’t really use that either and thus making my adventure all the more fun. If uncertainty isn’t enough to make things interesting, how about a bit of danger? You’re walking around in a neighborhood you’ll find no sidewalks most of the time, forested/jungle areas, farms with horses, chickens and dogs. There are lots of dogs! Some friendly, some not so much. Some fenced in and some aren’t. On more than one occasion while walking I had to fend of some not so nice dogs with my 1/2 extended tripod. Those buggers followed me about a block before coming in closer for the bite. I’m relatively sure I would have gotten bitten if I didn’t swing my tripod at them (I didn’t hit the dogs but could have, they were that close). On other occasions while setting up my tripod for a selfie at one of the ruins, there were a couple dogs right next to my leg and I didn’t know until I stood up, ready to get into my shot. Even though some of the ruins weren’t much to look at (if you’re just looking) but for me, being there, seeing it and imagining what it was like, was pretty cool. Plus there are info signs for you to read at the site and some even have a QR code you can scan for more info.

If you’re not into wat’s and religious/cultural history then this excursion probably won’t be for you. But for me, I had a lot of fun. If I ever get back to Chiang Mai, I’ll definitely go back and take the tour ride and then find a way (most likely Grab taxi) to get to any wat/ruin I find more interesting.

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Chedi Luang Chiang Mai’s largest Chedi

Chedi Luang Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chedi Luang is second on my top 3 wat’s in Chiang Mai. The first being Doi Suthep, you can check out my post “Doi Suthep” for more info. If you’re ever in Chiang Mai, be sure to check this place out, their hours of operation are between 6am and 6pm and being near the centre of the walled city it’s walkable if you’re already in the ancient city. It’s free to enter and will take you at least 30 minutes just to walk around and see everything without stopping for photos or for closer looks. I took around two hours and still wasn’t quite satisfied with seeing everything but then again, I like to linger, soak in the atmosphere, feel the energy etc and look for a photo to make.

The modern day property that the Chedi sits on is a merger with two other wats (Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin) so you can enjoy visiting them as well. When you walk onto the premises, the huge ornate prayer hall is quite impressive and houses a 14th century Buddha statue, I found the sheer golden-ness inside truly amazing. As per the norm at all the wats, if you want to go in and check out the interior, you have to take your foot wear off. Don’t worry they have shoe racks you can use though, just don’t forget which rack you put your shoes on, ha ha.

Chedi Luang Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you’re short on time, I suggest you walk around the prayer hall and check out the stupa first because it’s truly unique. Why is Chedi Luang so special? Construction began in 1391 so it’s old, withstood some natural disasters and is partially rebuilt. At one point in time, it was the largest structure in Chiang Mai and home to the highly revered, original Emerald Buddha. It’s by far the biggest Chedi/Stupa I’ve ever seen and I can only imagine and wonder how grand it was when it was fully intact. I’d recommend a sunrise or sunset visit for some additional color in the sky and you’d probably miss most of the tour crowd too.

After admiring all for sides of the Stupa, there are also a couple of structures housing statues and other religious pieces including the shrine for the “City Pillar” guarded by canons. Yup, I’ve never seen any religious structure guarded by canons before. I had to Google it, and found out that “City Pillars” are very highly revered pieces of architecture in ancient Thai culture. These pillars were erected at entrances of new cities or at major shrines for housing guardian spirits. Another structure that I found pretty cool was the huge golden Buddha lying down statue. Very detailed and I think covered with gold leaf. I didn’t get a chance to go inside the other two wats nor the smaller viharn so I definitely will need to revisit Chedi Luang, it’s so worth it!

Consider following me for updates to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes!

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

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