Saturday, February 20, 2010

The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

What would you think if one day, you entered a place of worship and saw on the walls a drawing of Neo dodging bullets from the Matrix next to Superman, flying to save the day? Crazy? Well, not really!

North of Thailand, near the Burmese border, is the quiet town of Chiang Rai, famous for its jungle treks and many various hill-tribes. But Chiang Rai is also home of probably the most peculiar Buddhist temple ever built: Wat Rong Khun, also known as “The White Temple”.


Just thirteen kilometers south of town, this whitewashed glittering unusual temple is a popular attraction among locals and tourists. It has been visited by over 5 million people (200,000 foreigners) already since the beginning of its construction in 1997.

Unlike most century old temples, Wat Ron Khun is the “dream-come-true” work of art of a famous Thai Buddhist art painter: Charlemchai Kositpipat. The millionaire artist spent his own money to fund the construction of his vision without ever soliciting contributions from the government or anyone else. His creative thinking and love of Art made him return to his home town and dedicate the rest of his life building the temple as an offering to Buddha and, in the future, turn it into a national art treasure.

Under a high sun, the White Wat glitters in all its splendor. Different than the mundane and repetitive style of many Thai temples, it is covered with a combination of whitewash and tiny mirror chips that make it shine like porcelain from afar. The artist used white color to represent Buddha’s purity while the mirrors symbolize Buddha’s dhamma, teaching men to observe their own mind and reflect kindness towards others.

The whole architecture has been carefully studied and is imbued with riddles, teachings and Buddhist philosophy.

The Temple is surrounded by a pond, home of dozens of white fish guarded by dragons.


Before crossing the bridge of the “Cycle of Rebirth”, one cannot prevent getting the chills gazing upon the hundreds of sculpted hands reaching up from “Hell”, symbolizing the way to happiness through overcoming cravings.

Bridge hands_from_hell

Once cravings have been eliminated, the visitor finds himself in front of the “Gate of Heaven”, guarded by Rahu (the One who controls men’s fate) on the left and Death (The One who controls men’s life) on the right.


After crossing the Bridge, the visitor reaches the temple (called the ubosot or White bot), the Adobe of Buddha.


Although still unfinished, the paintings on the walls inside represent a mix of traditional Thai Buddhist art and contemporary scenes like a plane crashing on the twin towers, the war for Oil, many movie/comics characters like Neo, Batman, Superman and Star Wars droids. Charlemchai himself refused to be confined within the framework of traditional beliefs and Art. Too bad photography inside the temple was not allowed (I was being carefully watched with my big camera).

Next to the white temple, on the other side of the pond, is also a the “Gharavasa” (the layman quarters) where an Art gallery, a preaching hall and a “golden toilet” are located. This is by far the most beautiful public restroom ever done in the world I guess. This temple-like building is supposed to represent the Body (as opposed to the white temple that represents the Mind). Charlemchai built the two bots (white and gold) in hope to teach people to let go and not cling to substance, or money, and not to perceive the physical body as an assumed identity.

gold_bot golden_temple

Whether or not his message will reach visitors’ soul, Wat Rong Khun (scheduled to be completed by 2070) remains one of the most unusual and interesting places of worship I have ever visited with a deep meaning behind every statue, corner or architectural design representing the wild creativity and vision of one gifted Thai artist.

“Money and possessions are insignificant. They are not mine but are only make-beliefs. Merits belong to me; therefore, money is of no value to me. Money is valuable only as a way to make merit for further journey of the soul”

~ Charlemchai Kositpipat ~

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fish Massage?

Thailand is the land of massage. An hour of full body Thai massage would cost you around 5$, Who can beat that? I sure am taking advantage every 3-4 days!

There are many types of massages, from Thai massage, Oil massage (swedish massage), Head, Feet (bliss!), Hands, Herbs etc.. But the strangest and most exotic of them all is: Fish Massage!


There are many fish massage centers in every big town in Thailand. Basically, You just go in, take off your flip-flops (who wears shoes in Thailand? Seriously), sit down and put your feet in big aquariums where hundreds of tiny little fish (Garra Rufa fish, also called Dr. Fish) come and nibble merrily your feet. They also feed only on dead areas of the skin, leaving the healthy skin to grow.


No worries! These fish have no teeth and they just suck the dead skin out of your feet. It does not hurt in any way, although ticklish people would feel like they are being tortured.


Fish massage apparently help get rid of smear skin, promote blood circulation and act as a type of acupuncture which helps you relax and release your fatigue. Also it keeps your skin smooth and beautiful.

My opinion? I have tried it, and although it’s fun for a while, I wouldn’t pay for another session. For a few Baht more, I can get a foot scrub with an hour foot massage which is much more pleasant and relaxing.

It’s worth the try anyway! At least once!

Now, I’m going to go have some fish & chips for dinner..