Depart for Phayao, a rural lakeside province surrounded by beautiful mountains and valleys dotted with fascinating religious sites. En route visit Wat Rong Khun, also known as the “White” Temple. A lifetime project of artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, the temple has a fine blend of traditional Buddhist art with contemporary themes and is decorated with small pieces of mirrored glass which add substantially to its dramatic beauty.
Chris has promised that the White Temple is very, very beautiful and unlike any other we will see. I’m doubtful.
But as it happens, I see the temple long before we arrive – it sparkles so brightly in the morning light that it is visible far across the rice fields. Actually, I don’t realize at first that this is the where we are going and am dismal at the thought that we will pass by it without stopping, as we have with so many other lovely temples. (It would be impossible to stop and visit every enticing temple in Thailand, but one can always hope.) But I realized that we are headed toward it as our bus joins a crowd of others vying for a parking spot.
Even as we approach, the temple seems unreal – like a giant, intricately carved sugar cube sparkling in the sunshine. . . something from a dream.
This sparkling fantasy may be a dream work, but it has been carefully designed. To reach the ubosot at the heart of the temple, one first must pass below a demon and over a pit from which the damned reach out. It is a scene right out of the nightmares of a Christian fundamentalist. The contrast between the sparkling material and the images portrayed is unnerving.
At last we take off our shoes and enter.
The interior of the ubosot displays a mix of light amid good and evil. However, not all of the evil depicted is abstract – the elegantly painted walls include images of horror and destruction both real (including the destruction of the World Trade Center) and imagined, along with images of peace and salvation. Although carefully organized by theme, the images seem to swirl together in an ongoing conversation with each other, the serene image of Buddha keeping watch over it all.
It is creepy, beautiful, and otherworldly all at the same time.
The mind behind these images, behind everything in this amazing place, is Thai artist Chalermachai Kositpipat. A commercially successful artist in the international market, he is now making this temple his work for the rest of his life. A work destined to continue for many, many years onward.
Back outside, evidence that this dream is still very much under construction all around us.