Photography by Gilles Bonugli Kali
Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple, is an otherworldly art exhibit in Chiang Rai that looks as if it were placed on earth by a god. Built in the style of a Buddhist temple, it was created by Chalermchai Kositpipat as an offering to Buddha in the hope that he will be rewarded with immortal life.
The White Temple was one of my top destinations to visit in Thailand. Although it isn’t an official religious structure, it still serves as a place of worship for Buddhist visitors thus typical temple dress restrictions apply. Short skirts, shorts, revealing outfits, and tank tops are not allowed. Keeping the dress code in mind, I designed a white dress to match the opulence and divinity of this beautiful temple.
I wanted to create something that mirrored the temple’s fantastical appearance while still being practical enough to wear normally. The “High Priestess” dress featured a flowing white skirt, oversized mystical hood made from shimmering gold velvet and white mesh, lightweight asymmetrical sleeves that fluttered in the wind, and a fitted sequin bodice.
The magical world of Wat Rong Khun encourages visitors to reflect on Buddhist teachings that show the way to escape from worldly temptations, desires and greed, and focus on the mind instead.
There are over 60 volunteers who work to complete this magnificent temple which was first opened in 1997. When we visited we saw volunteers painting intricate white panels to add to incomplete areas of the temple buildings. The white buildings convey the purity of Buddha while the mirrored fragments incorporated into the intricately designed panels reflect Buddha’s wisdom.
Photography inside the main interior hall is prohibited, but within the ubosot you find beautifully painted murals that depict the Buddha and mythical creatures. What is most surprising however, is the appearance of pop culture figures like Superman, Batman, a crotch grabbing Michael Jackson, Pikachu, Hello Kitty, and other popular icons. Every detail of Wat Rong Khun has religious symbolism- even the depiction of Osama Bin Laden and George Bush riding together smiling on top of a soaring missile. The inclusion of these controversial figures is explained by Kositpipat who wrote, “I want everyone to know that our world is being destroyed by those who craved to build weapons that kill, thereby ruining the environment because nothing is ever enough,”
Kositpipat’s art is controversial, as it is a vast departure from traditional Thai Buddhist temples. However, according to Kositpipat this serves a specific purpose: in 500 years, if people view Wat Rong Khun as an ancient temple and wonder when it was built, they will see the popular icons and realize it dates from the 21st century.
While white buildings represents the kingdom of Buddha, the only golden building on the property are the restrooms, which represent worldly desires. The Golden Toilet is meant to call attention to humanity’s materialistic tendencies. White is for the enlightened, while gold is for the common.
Chalermchai Kositpipat has spent more than 40 million baht building this monumental work of art, and construction of it’s 9 buildings isn’t expected to be completed until 2070. To avoid being influenced by rich donors, Kosisipat has refused all donations greater than $300. In addition to the temple buildings, the grounds also host a museum filled with intricate art by Kosipipat whose work is absolutely mindblowing and beyond comparison. Considering the beauty of the images, the high quality reproductions, books, and postcards sold in the museum’s art gallery are inexpensive and make great gifts to bring back home.
Wat Rong Khun, is located 13 km outside the city of Chiang Rai and 3 hours driving from Chiang Mai. If you ever visit Northern Thailand, this astonishing temple is a must see!
Featured Fringe & Epaulette Fashion
ALL PHOTOGRAPHY BY GILLES BONUGLI KALI www.gbk.photos