When we were rolling into the outskirts of Chiang Rai we noticed a traffic scrum ahead. Tuktuks, buses, people were milling about seemingly without direction, all in a cloud of dust and confusion. Looming high above the commotion we could see a bizarre confection of architectural flourishes in a strangely glowing white. Our driver leaned over and spoke for the first time. “White Temple.” We’ll visit that another time.
After a few days in Chiang Rai we decided to catch up with a spot of temple touring. It was a longish hike along the river from the flower show but we found the famous Blue Temple.
It looked kind of malevolent for a peace-loving Buddhist temple but the design was done by a student of the decidedly quirky chap Chalermchai Kositpipit who bears responsibility for the golden clocktower, the White Temple, which is classified as an art exhibit rather than a temple, like the even darker Black House. You can think of him as the Tim Burton of temple design.
Done up in a sapphire hue instead of the standard gold leaf or at least gold paint, some of these temples have more gold than a Trump bathroom. Trust me they’ve still managed to work plenty of gold into the design, and it looks rather nice against the sapphire blue.
So where was I? Oh yes, arriving at the gate always reminds me of a carnival with parking lot street food, maps or guides for sale, and sarongs for the ladies to cover up offensive lady bits. The Blue Temple has unusually fierce reinforced concrete guards at the gate and, to my eye, dipping into Hindu mythology for more fantastical creatures. After all, how many times can you sculpt another Buddha? Ok you’ve got standing, sitting, and lying. Maybe laughing as a subset. An artist needs something more. Depression must be rampant among Buddhist artists.
There must be a couple of thousand ways to put an eye out with all these pointy bits and bobs.
This back gate is getting its demons and is still in natural concrete.
As the day began to fade we found the sapphire turn to gray and a lucky Grab ride parked outside in the car park.
The White Temple would have to wait till tomorrow.
As you Escapees know, recovery is a hard thing to do so another long hike to a temple was not in the cards for Yours Truly. We decided to take the city’s blue bus to the White Temple for 40 baht ($1.22US). We’re told it goes right past.
Things started out smoothly but rather late. It’s a Thai thing. We anticipated the loose schedule by booking a mid morning ticket. What we hadn’t realized was that the back doors are left open and as the bus wandered around town, anyone that fancied a free ride would just hop on board. I can’t say that we were the only people that actually paid for the ride but I suspect most did not. Soon people were crushed together practically sitting on my lap and hanging out of the rear door while more squeezed in.
When the bus wheezed to a stop and all the backpackers began to fight their way towards the doors, we guessed this might be our stop. We stepped down to the dusty roadside and realized that we hadn’t a clue how to get to the White Temple. Neither did the backpackers. I saw a traffic cop at the crossroad behind us and he smiled and stopped traffic for us to cross and we sussed the flow from there.
The site was built in 1997 and it’s overwhelming, impressive by dint of its sheer size, energy and, forgive me, the over-the-top ridiculousness of the exercise. Everything is painted with a metallic white paint and bedazzled with millions of tiny mirror bits along any edges and it sparkles with an insistent iridescent glow. You can think of it as a massive wedding cake that you can walk through.
Once again I marveled at the carny-like atmosphere. No, it was more like Disneyland on a weekend. There are a lot of paying customers out here and now we are as well.
The main temple is surprisingly small inside. On the back walls are two huge dreamlike murals with dozens of bizarre pop culture images from Kositpipit’s feverish brain. No photographs are allowed but if you have a need to experience Western evil in the form of Elvis, Michael Jackson, Batman, Transformers, the twin towers, the Matrix, etc., you can Google “white temple murals images” to see photos from someone with more pull.
This monk is an amazingly lifelike statue and is my only contribution of an illicit photo.
There are nine buildings on the grounds, some of which are more whimsical than others.
Officially golden hour, we relaxed into a nice park bench to contemplate whether to take another local bus trip or an air-conditioned Grab ride. We were on a grassy knoll near a small police kiosk. and failed to appreciate the tower of loud speakers at head height. I’d heard the wispy buzz of a drone overhead and lazily searched the sky over the White Temple.
Suddenly the PA system crackled to life. “WILL THE PERSON DEPLOYING THE ILLEGAL DEVICE PLEASE REMOVE IT IMMEDIATELY!”
No response from the drone.
“REMOVE THE DEVICE IMMEDIATELY!”
No change from the drone.
After a half dozen 120 decibel ear-spitting warnings the drone calmly whispered off and the police stopped running around in circles.
It’s been a long day so we treated ourselves to a little bit of luxury and opted for the Grab ride home.