The Weirdest Buddhist Temple on Earth

On April 20, 2014 by Oren and Cassie

Bleach white hands are reaching up at me from the ground. A bottle of whiskey stands on top of a set of red skulls, while a Batman head hangs nearby. And a giant Predator torso is sticking out of the ground. This isn’t at all what I expected when we came to the White Temple in Chiang Rai.

I had heard about the White Temple from plenty of other travel blogs. It’s one of the big highlights of a visit to Chiang Rai. It’s so surreal and crazy looking – unlike any other temple in Thailand and perhaps the world – that I knew I wanted to see it. What I didn’t expect was how creepy and crazy and absolutely out of this world the White Temple would turn out to be.

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When you first step onto the temple grounds, everything seems fairly normal. From only 50 feet away, nothing looks out of place or strange (except for the whiteness of the temple, which is inherently strange). But take even a few steps farther in and the weirdness level goes through the roof.

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You have to walk around a little entry area to get to the White Temple, and that’s where we passed the rather large Predator torso. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of this film (although not so much it’s horrific sequel). I just never thought the words “Predator” and “Buddhist temple” could ever coexist in the same sentence.

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But wait, we’re just beginning. Near the Predator is a hanging head puking out straw. Behind that is a fence wrought with metal skulls. If you need to relieve yourself at the sight of all this insanity, the building for the toilet is bright gold.

As you walk up the pathway towards the temple entrance, hundreds of severed hands reach up at you from the ground. One even has a fingernail painted red, which just happens to be on a middle finger sticking up at you. There are disembodied heads and hands nearby. Even a face molded onto a foot. The idea is that you ascend from hell towards the White Temple which is heaven. It’s not an idea that jumps easily to the eye.

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The weirdest part of the White Temple may actually be once you get inside. You’re not allowed to take photographs (although  many tourists do), but it’s the only place here that has color. There are paintings all over the wall that seem to feature a war between good and evil. Only this was isn’t fought by soldiers. It’s fought by superheroes. We spotted most of the X-Men, Superman, and Batman all flying around, generally punching or kicking something.

There isn’t too much history here. The temple is only a couple decades old, so it doesn’t date back hundreds of years or anything. It’s just so damn bizarre. The White Temple is such a weird, awesome experience. I would definitely recommend it for anyone in Chiang Mai. We did it as a very long daytrip from Chiang Mai, but if you’re spending time in Chiang Rai, it’s an easy morning or afternoon visit.

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Check out more pictures from the White Temple here.

UPDATE: An earthquake on May 5, 2014 severely damaged the White Temple, closing it indefinitely while the designer figures out if he can repair the temple. Thank you to our readers for bringing this to our attention!

-O.L.

12 Responses to “The Weirdest Buddhist Temple on Earth”

  • This is brilliant, give me this over a gloomy church any day!

    • HA!! Something about bleach white hands reaching down at you from the ground has a much more powerful effect than a sermon. Couldn’t agree more!

  • Cassie and Oren, that really does look like one strange temple! I have actually seen photos of the white temple before, but never any close ups of all the provocative and seemingly out of place details. As strange as the contemporary temple may appear, as entertaining a visit must have been and I can only hope that between all the colorfully fighting superheroes there was at least a golden Buddha to be found as well. But hopefully he was not fighting… : )

    • Of course! Inside the temple itself was a golden Buddha and one monk sitting perfectly still. I actually did a double take – he was so still that I thought he was some sort of mannequin for a second. I would’ve loved to have taken a picture, but inside the temple was the one place you’re not allowed to. You’ll just have to see it for yourself one day!

  • Lovely article and photos! 🙂

  • I loved your post dedicated to this amazing temple! I think this beautiful place does not get the credit it deserves from travelers, we had a fantastic time there, such an original piece of art is this one! It might not have that kind of history the old Buddhist temples have, but it’s fascinanting! Thanks for bringing back some nice memories with your post and these beautiful pictures!

    • Thanks so much!! This temple is so out-of-this-world that I think it’s definitely worth a long daytrip from Chiang Mai. For anyone actually staying in Chiang Rai, it has to be at the top of the list. By the way, we are huge fans of your site and your photography – both are excellent!

  • What a strange but intriguing temple! I’ve seen photos of it before, but I love all the detail shots you took. The hands are so eerie! It’s funny how peaceful it looks from far away, but that definitely doesn’t seem to be the case up close. I really want to see the inside now!

    • The inside is even stranger than the outside, if only because you don’t expect to see comic book figures everywhere! And the colorful paintings stand in such stark contrast to the blindingly white exterior. I can’t wait to see your pictures when you go!

  • Awesome pictures! I never knew that my country got a half-buried Predator lol
    I’m a Thai and I’m honestly ashamed of myself that I haven’t had chance to see it with my own eyes.
    Now it becomes unfulfilled dream of mine because, due to recent earthquake in Chiang Rai, the temple has been damaged (see here http://pantip.com/topic/32008576 ). It will be repaired but I don’t think it’s gonna be the same 🙁

  • Hi – nice piece – we were there a few weeks ago – all is open!

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