The old adage “You can’t judge a book by its cover” apparently also applies to a temple. Within Thailand’s Wat Rong Khun — popularly known as the White Temple — you will encounter a somewhat non-traditional interior.
Where you may expect to find reverent Buddhist sculptures and quiet areas of worship, you’ll see crazy murals that blend science fiction imagery, pop culture and the teachings of Buddha. The reasoning? As artist Chalermchai Kositpipat said, “I desire for it to be built like a paradise. It is paradise on Earth, humans can be exposed.”
But for most, said paradise probably doesn’t include Keanu Reeves. Or, for that matter, being surrounded by spaceships locked in a battle for your soul.
The temple’s pure whiteness suggests it is fragile and delicate, but—adding to its contradictions—the temple has actually endured almost seventeen years of tourists and harsh natural elements.
Unfortunately, an earthquake damaged the White Temple in May of 2014 and was forced to close for repairs for an indefinite period of time. Tourists are still allowed to visit, but certain areas may be unavailable due to construction. Here are some of the highlights of Wat Rong Khun:
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This temple’s intricacies stand out even against a washed out sky. Source: Gallery Hip
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Almost everything you see here is designed for a specific reason. The pristine white color of the structure represents the holiness of the Buddha, and the moat of reaching out hands is evocative of desire. Source: Amusing Planet
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This beautiful elephant represents the ‘mean wind’. The other statues also symbolize natural forces or other philosophical ideals. Source: Wikimedia Commons
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One of two dragons that can be found at the temple. Source: Yin Teing
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The bridge to Wat Rong Khun likely holds the most symbolism of the whole exterior. It represents a walk across the circle, sympathetic to the Buddha. The crest of the bridge features the 16 causes of sorrow, and the center of the bridge represents Mt. Meru – the center of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes in Buddhist cosmology. Source: 8 Limbs
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.