Spongebob fighting demons from the underworld in Chiang Rai’s White Temple

By the time I got to Thailand I had seen dozens of temples already. And even though they’re all nice and peaceful, most of them are a bit same-ish and I wasn’t to fond of visiting that many in Thailand.

But I had to make an exception for the “Wat Rong Khun temple,” better known as the “White temple.” This is easily the most bizarre, intriguing and somehow, beautiful temple I have seen. The pictures might seem nice, but this is a place that needs to be experienced to be believed.

Ever wanted to see a temple guarded by skeletons, with murals of Michael Jackson surrounded by terrorists and Spongebob Squarepants fighting demons from the underworld, then this is the temple for you.

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Famous Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat started building this temple in 1997 and has invested more than 40 million Thai Baht of his own money in the project. The full complex is not expected to be finished until 2070. Chalermchai believes the temple to be an offering to the Lord Buddha and that he will be granted eternal life.

After parking my motorbike outside the temple complex, the first thing I saw were the lines of orange traffic pylons topped by red skulls. A little closer to the temple I saw several ‘Iron Man’ like statues guarding the temple grounds. Only a first glimpse of the weirdness I would find closer to the complex.

Once inside, which required pushing my way through hundreds of chinese tourists taking selfies, I had to cross the bridge called The Cycle of Rebirth. The bridge crosses a macabre scene of hundreds of hands reaching from a pit of demonic souls. The hands are supposed to symbolise desire and by crossing the bridge you’re supposed to put aside temptation and greed.

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The bridge leads to the Ubosot, the main temple building. Inside I found a typical buddhist temple scene, pictures of battles between good and evil. What is not typical is that the pictures feature characters like Harry Potter, Michael Jackson, Neo from the matrix, Hello Kitty fighting demonic creatures and nuclear bombs.

The murals are supposed to symbolise humanities impact on our planet, from nuclear power to climate change, oil pumps and terrorist attacks. And the western heroes like superman, batman and spider-man who stand as symbols of hope against this evil. Or that’s my guess at least, I don’t really know how Spongebob or Hello Kitty are supposed to give us hope.

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The other main building is the golden building which is used for, and I’m not kidding, the toilet. I’m sure there is some kind of social commentary to build an entire building with golden roofs only to put a toilet inside, but you can decide what that’s supposed to symbolise for yourself.

Strangely enough this places is actually a functioning temple, visited by worshippers and monks alike.

To get to the temple you need to get to the city of Chiang Rai first. There are regular flights from Bangkok or you can take a bus from nearby Chiang Mai. From Chiang Rai it’s a 20 minute motorbike ride to the temple complex, or you can take one of the frequent local buses.

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