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The Golden Triangle at Baan Sop Ruak, Thailand

Mention of Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle conjures up images of poppy-growing hill tribes, drug smugglers' mule trains, defiant drug warlords, CIA skullduggery, and triad dealers. In Thailand, that era has passed with government crop-substitution programmes having succeeded in replacing nearly all of the poppy cultivation with fruits, vegetables, coffee, and tea. These days, the gold in the Golden Triangle is tourism. This is the destination – Baan Sop Ruak, where the Ruak (foreground) and Mekong (background) rivers meet, defining the borders between Thailand, Myanmar (left), and Laos (right).

What to do if you come here? In the town itself are two opium museums – the Hall of Opium, and the House of Opium. You can also arrange touristy boat trips on the Mekong that will give you a view of a casino hotel on the Burmese side of the border and stop at a village on the Lao island of Don Sao without the need for a visa; better to incorporate a river trip as part of your onward journey, such as downriver to Chiang Saen. We recommended, however, taking a trek through the rugged countryside of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai provinces where you will enjoy mountain scenery, jungle, and hill tribe villages in areas that tour buses cannot reach. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

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All Points East
47/1 Nimmanhemin Road, Soi 9
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50000
Tel: +66 (081) 885 9490
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Chiang Mai skyline from Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai's skyline, as seen from Doi Suthep Mountain at the sacred temple of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. Located amongst Thailand's highest mountains in the Ping River valley, Chiang Mai is the country's sixth largest city and the north's most culturally significant. According to legend, it was founded in 1296 when King Mengrai saw two albino deer fend off a pack of wolves at this site. Seen as an auspicious sign, he relocated his capital here from Chiang Rai. His two regional allies, King Ramkamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Payao, helped design the walled city's layout. It remained the seat of the Kingdom of Lanna until 1768. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

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McKean Rehabilitation Center Village, Chiang Mai

Entrance to one of the McKean Rehabilitation Center's five villages on Koh Klang, south of Chiang Mai. We visited here on SpiceRoads Cycle Tours' half-day Chiang Mai Highlights itinerary. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

The McKean Rehabilitation Center originally opened as the Chiang Mai Leper Asylum in 1908 to care for leprosy sufferers cast out from their families and villages. It was established by an American Presbyterian missionary, Dr. James McKean, after Prince Inthwarorot Suriyawong of Chiang Mai granted him use of the former royal elephant corral on Koh Klang Island. Over the next 30 years, five villages were developed on the site's 138 acres, along with a hospital, clinics, hostels, water tower, recreation hall, vocational training centre, and a church. Once leprosy sufferers were treated and rehabilitated, many were transferred to one of 22 resettlement villages established by McKean throughout northern Thailand.

By the early 1980s, all leprosy colony residents had been rehabilitated back into community life or resettled in their own village for the elderly disabled. McKean's focus then changed and it became an extended rehabilitation centre for all disabled people. And in 2009, they opened the Dok Kaew Gardens retirement home, accepting both Thais and resident foreigners.

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SpiceRoads Cycle Tours
34 Nimmanhaemin Soi 7
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200
Tel: +66 (053) 215 837
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Chiang Mai Street Food: Fuk Tod and Kluay Tod

Street food from a roadside stall on SpiceRoads Cycle Tours' half-day Chiang Mai Highlights itinerary: fuk tod (deep fried squash), left, and kluay tod (deep fried banana). Some versions have shredded coconut and white sesame seeds in the batter. These ones are more savoury with chopped scallions instead of the coconut. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

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SpiceRoads Cycle Tours
34 Nimmanhaemin Soi 7
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200
Tel: +66 (053) 215 837
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Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institution

When one thinks of a prison, the general impression is of a place people are sent to be punished. It's not a place you want to enter willingly. The Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institution in the city centre, on the other hand, takes a different approach. Their goal is to reform and rehabilitate their inmates. They have achieved an excellent rate of success. Most of the residents are serving light sentences for minor crimes, such as drug convictions. They come from poor backgrounds, with many being hilltribe women.

In the Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institution, the inmates have an opportunity to receive or complete an education. Undergraduate university courses are also available. For others, vocational training is offered in skills such as baking, cooking, embroidery, gardening, hairdressing, massage, sewing, and wood carving. They can even learn English to be able to secure tourism-related jobs afterwards. To put these skills into practice and help fund operations, the institution supplies local businesses with products produced by the inmates. On site, there is also a garden cafe and shop open to the general public. You can even get a traditional Thai massage. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

So if you are interested in a unique experience that will help support the rehabilitation of underprivileged women, stop by for a massage or visit the cafe and shop:

Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institution
100 Rachawithee Road
Chiang Mai
Tel: +66 (053) 706 1041
Open daily from 8:00am - 4:30pm

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SpiceRoads Cycle Tours
34 Nimmanhaemin Soi 7
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200
Tel: +66 (053) 215 837
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Monument to the three founders of Chiang Mai

The Three Kings monument in front of the former provincial administration building (now the Chiang Mai City Art & Cultural Centre) is located at the centre of the original walled city. It commemorates Chiang Mai's founder, King Mengrai of Lanna, and his two regional allies – King Ramkamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Payao – who helped design the layout of what was to be called Nopburi Sri Nahkon Ping Chiang Mai. Mengrai had Wat Sadoe Muang ("temple of the navel of the city") constructed here after, according to legend, he saw two albino deer fend off a wolf pack at this site. The Three Kings has become an iconic symbol of Chiang Mai. Locals make offerings at a shrine in front of the statue, hoping to be blessed by their spirits. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

All that remains of Wat Sadoe Muang can be found on the south side of the cultural centre. There are two brick chedi, one within the cultural centre's grounds, the other across Intra Warorot Road, behind a small wooden viharn. Inside the viharn, called Wat Inthakhin, is Wat Sadoe Muang's Buddha. The city pillar (lak muang, guardian spirit of the city) was moved in 1800 by Prince Kawila to its current location at Wat Chedi Luang.

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34 Nimmanhaemin Soi 7
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200
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Chiang Mai Gate

Old Chiang Mai is the original walled city founded in 1296 by King Mengrai of Lanna and his two allies, King Ramkamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Payao – the Three Kings. Although the moat remains, most of the original defensive wall has disappeared. Only the bastions at the four corners and a gate on each of the four sides of the square perimeter have been maintained.

Chiang Mai Gate is the southern entrance to Old Chiang Mai. People once passed through here to travel south to Lamphun. The gate was rebuilt in the early 1800s, but it was only between 1966 and 1969 that the gate was fully reconstructed. Beside it is a plaza where clothing vendors set up during the day. At night, they are replaced by tables and street food carts. Across the street, is the Chiang Mai Gate Market. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

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SpiceRoads Cycle Tours
34 Nimmanhaemin Soi 7
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200
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Chiang Rai Tuk-Tuk

A tuk-tuk (ตุ๊กตุ๊ก) is the Thai name for a three-wheeled auto rickshaw, a form of urban transportation found widely throughout South and Southeast Asia in different variations. Thai auto rickshaws have open sides, low roofs, and are usually powered by two-stroke gasoline engines. Tuk-tuks are for hire, based on a price negotiated in advance. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

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Wat Chedi Liam, Wiang Kum Kam

Wat Chedi Liam (formerly Wat Ku Kham) is the main temple of the ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam, King Mengrai's residence before he established Chiang Mai. The chedi was built circa 1287, and is one of the very few remaining examples of the Hariphunchai style, from the pre-Thai Mon kingdom centred on modern-day Lamphun. In fact, it is a replica of Lamphun's Mahapol Chedi at Wat Cham Devi.

The square, five-tiered chedi is guarded at the base by outward-facing lions at each of the corners. The 60 Buddhas sheltered in the niches display different mudras (hand gestures). They are said to commemorate the king's 60 wives. All but one wear Burmese-style yellow robes. This stems back to 1908 when Luang Yonakanvijit, an ethnic Mon from Burma, financed Wat Chedi Liam's restoration using Burmese artisans.

Wat Chedi Liam is the main starting point for touring the remains of Wiang Kum Kam. The sites are too spread out for walking, so are best covered by bicycle or motorcycle. You can also hire a calash or take a tourist trolley. We stopped here on SpiceRoads Cycle Tours' half-day Chiang Mai Highlights itinerary. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

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SpiceRoads Cycle Tours
34 Nimmanhaemin Soi 7
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200
Tel: +66 (053) 215 837
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Wat Pupia, Wiang Kum Kam, Saraphi District

Wat Pupia (or pboo pbia) is one of almost 20 temple sites uncovered from the ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam. Located three kilometres south of Chiang Mai in the Saraphi District, the official name of the temple has not been determined from historical records. Before excavation in 1985, only the temple's chedi was visible and largely intact. The rest had been covered by silt from past flooding of the nearby Ping River (Maenam Ping), on top of which had grown bushes and a longan tree.

Based on the design, Wat Pupia appears to have been built in either the 16th or 17th century. The chedi has a tall stepped base, on top of which sits a four-sided body with a decorative niche on each side for a Buddha. In front of the chedi is a viharn. Archaeologists have found evidence of two constructions, which means the first structure may have been destroyed and then rebuilt. On the right side is a rectangular rite pavilion. In front of it, in the foreground, is an octagonal structure with a detached altar.

Wat Pupia's current restoration was completed in 1986. However, surrounding land ownership issues have prevented further excavation work to confirm if there are any additional structures. This was a stop on SpiceRoads Cycle Tours' half-day Chiang Mai Highlights itinerary. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

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34 Nimmanhaemin Soi 7
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200
Tel: +66 (053) 215 837
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Wax Figure of Mun Bhuridatta, Wat Chedi Luang

Life-like wax figure and relics of Ajaan Mun Bhuridatta Mahathera (มั่น ภูริทตฺโต), former Abbot of Wat Chedi Luang. Ajaan Mun (1870–1949) and his mentor, Phra Ajaan Sao Kantasilo Mahathera, established the conservative Thai Forest Tradition (Kammatthana) within Theravada Buddhism. This was in reaction to a perception that modernization had compromised the ideals of monastic life (sangha). They believed it was necessary to take to the forest in order to, like the Buddha, conform to the ways of nature (abhiñña) and attain direct knowledge (samsara) through meditation. Ajaan Mun attracted a large following of students willing to follow monastic discipline (vinaya) and observe the 13 classic ascetic (dhutanga) practices. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most important temples, and the largest religious structure, in Chiang Mai. King Saen Muang Ma began its construction in 1395 to enshrine the remains of his father. However, it wasn't completed until the reign of King Tilokarat (1441-1485). In 1468, the highly revered Emerald Buddha was brought from Lampang and installed in the eastern niche. An earthquake in 1545 caused the top 30 metres of the chedi to collapse. The Emerald Buddha was then moved to Luang Prabang in 1547 when Prince Setthathirath became king of Lan Xang. An oversized black jade replica, called Phra Phut Chaloem Sirira (Phra Yok), now occupies the niche, after it was created for the 600th anniversary of the temple in 1995.

Wat Chedi Luang
103 Phrapokklao Road
Tambon Phrasing, Amphoe Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand

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All Points East
47/1 Nimmanhemin Road, Soi 9
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50000
Tel: +66 (081) 885 9490
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Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most important temples, and the largest religious structure, in Chiang Mai. King Saen Muang Ma began its construction in 1395 to enshrine the remains of his father. However, it wasn't completed until the reign of King Tilokarat (1441-1485). In 1468, the highly revered Emerald Buddha was brought from Lampang and installed in the eastern niche. An earthquake in 1545 caused the top 30 metres of the chedi to collapse. The Emerald Buddha was then moved to Luang Prabang in 1547 when Prince Setthathirath became king of Lan Xang. An oversized black jade replica, called Phra Phut Chaloem Sirira (Phra Yok), now occupies the niche, after it was created for the 600th anniversary of the temple in 1995. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

The city pillar (Inthakhin, lak muang) of Chiang Mai is also located here. It was moved in 1800 from Wat Sadoe Muang, near the Three Kings monument, by Prince Kawila after he recaptured Chiang Mai from the Burmese. Many believed Chiang Mai's misfortunes of that period were due to a failure of showing proper respect to the city's guardian spirits. Therefore, Kawila built a special pavilion for it and planted three yang (dipterocarpus alatus) trees. Each year, the Sai Khan Dok Festival, unique to Chiang Mai, is held here to venerate the Sao Inthakin spirits.

Ajaan Mun Bhuridatta Mahathera, one of the founders of the Thai Forest Tradition of Buddhist monasticism, who was briefly the Abbot of Wat Chedi Luang, is commemorated here in his own viharn. Inside, is an extremely life-like wax figure of the meditation master and his relics. The Lanna campus of Mahamakut Buddhist University, for monks of the reformist Thammayut sect, is also within the temple grounds.

Wat Chedi Luang
103 Phrapokklao Road
Tambon Phrasing, Amphoe Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand

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All Points East
47/1 Nimmanhemin Road, Soi 9
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50000
Tel: +66 (081) 885 9490
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Tan Pra Maha Kajjana Statue, Chiang Mai

Statue of Tan Pra Maha Kajjana (Mahakaccayanathera, มหากัจจายนเถระ) at Wat Chedi Luang. Also known in Thailand as Phra Sangkajai (พระสังกัจจายน์), he was a Buddhist arahant during the time of Lord Buddha, who commended him for his ability to explain sophisticated concepts of Natural Law (Dharma) in a understandable language. He has been confused with Budai (布袋), the Chinese monk popularly known in East Asia as the "Laughing Buddha", who is regarded as an incarnation of the Maitreya (future Buddha of this world). In Thailand, Phra Sangkajai is mostly found in Thai temples, Budai in Chinese temples. Unlike Budai, who is bald and wears robes covering both arms, Phra Sangkajai has hair and his robes drape across one shoulder. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

Wat Chedi Luang
103 Phrapokklao Road
Tambon Phrasing, Amphoe Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand

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All Points East
47/1 Nimmanhemin Road, Soi 9
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50000
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Wat Si Chum monk venerates the hand of Buddha

Monk venerates the gold-leaf covered hand of the Phra Achana Buddha inside a mondop (altar pavilion) at Wat Si Chum (Temple Of The Bodhi Tree). Wat Si Chum was built in the 13th century during the Sukhothai Kingdom (1238-1438). It is one of 193 ruins in the Sukhothai Historical Park, the former royal capital that is spread over 70 square kilometres. Along with Kamphaengphet and Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Phra Achana means "one who is not frightened". The 11.3-metre wide Buddha statue is in the Bhumisparsa Mudra (calling the earth goddess to witness) posture, one of the most common in Thai temples. This is indicated by the fingers of the right hand touching the ground and the left hand lying flat in the lap, palm upwards. It symbolizes the enlightenment and steadfastness of Siddhartha Gautama when he meditated under the bodhi tree. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

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Wat Koh Klang Assembly Hall

Viharn (assembly hall) of Wat Koh Klang, an interesting community temple near the McKean Rehabilitation Center, where we stopped on SpiceRoads Cycle Tours' half-day Chiang Mai Highlights itinerary. Originally called Wat Pang Sanuk Nang Liao, Wat Koh Klang was founded on the bank of the Mae Nam Ping River in 1867 by Phra Adhikarn Duangta. Unfortunately, little else is know of the temple's history. To learn the names of the architectural features of a Thai temple, visit our Flickr photostream and mouse over the photo. (Brian K. Smith photo.)

Wat Koh Klang
67 Moo 8
Baan Koh Klang, Padaed
Chiang Mai 50100
Tel: +66 (053) 816 721

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34 Nimmanhaemin Soi 7
T. Suthep, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200
Tel: +66 (053) 215 837
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Wat Rong Khun Restrooms, Chiang Rai

Perhaps only royalty answers the call of nature in more sumptuous comfort. These ornate restrooms at Wat Rong Khun glow in stark contrast to the temple's surrounding white buildings. The upper storey serves as the living quarters and office of the its visionary, Chalermchai Kositpipat, a controversial, award-winning Thai visual artist.

Wat Rong Khun is an unconventional Buddhist temple outside Chiang Rai that is being constructed under the direction of Kositpipatintent with the intention of this being his master work and devotional offering to Lord Buddha. Construction began in 1997 and, similar to Gaudi's Sagrada Família, is not expected to be completed until well after the artist's death (in 60-70 years). Work on the White Temple is largely financed by Kositpipat to maintain artistic integrity, although individual donations up to ฿10,000 are accepted. There will be a total of nine buildings on the nearly 3-acre site – viharn, chedi, ubosot, ho trai, mondop, phra rabieng, crematorium, art gallery, restrooms.

Wat Rong Khun
Baan Rong Khun, Pa O Don Chai Sub-District
Mueang District, Chiang Rai 57000
Tel: +66 (053) 673 579
www.watrongkhun.org

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Wat Rong Khun Seven-Tier Parasol

Parasol at Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), southwest of Chiang Rai. The parasol (chattra) is one of Buddhism's eight auspicious symbols (ashtamangala), signifying protection within the Dharma from spiritually-harmful forces. The seven-tier parasol (sawettachatra) represents the seven aspects of enlightenment – awareness, concentration, delight, effort, equanimity, tranquillity, wisdom. Some also believe it symbolizes the seven levels of heaven, the top (nirvana) being for the enlightened.

Wat Rong Khun is an unconventional Buddhist temple outside Chiang Rai that is being constructed under the direction of Chalermchai Kositpipat, a controversial, award-winning Thai visual artist intent on this being his master work, to which he is completely devoted. Construction began in 1997 and, similar to Gaudi's Sagrada Família, is not expected to be completed until after the artist's death (in 60-70 years). Work on the White Temple is largely financed by Kositpipat to maintain artistic integrity, although individual donations up to ฿10,000 are accepted. There will be a total of nine buildings on the nearly 3-acre site – viharn, chedi, ubosot, ho trai, mondop, phra rabieng, crematorium, art gallery, restrooms.

Wat Rong Khun
Baan Rong Khun, Pa O Don Chai Sub-District
Mueang District, Chiang Rai 57000
Tel: +66 (053) 673 579
www.watrongkhun.org

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Wat Rong Khun "No Smoking" Sign

Sign at Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) notifying visitors they "cannot bring whisky inside". Abstaining from using intoxicants is one of the five virtues (pañca-śīlāni) that constitute Buddhism's code of ethics.

Wat Rong Khun is an unconventional Buddhist temple outside Chiang Rai that is being constructed under the direction of Chalermchai Kositpipat, a controversial, award-winning Thai visual artist intent on this being his master work, to which he is completely devoted. Construction began in 1997 and, similar to Gaudi's Sagrada Família, is not expected to be completed until after the artist's death (in 60-70 years). Work on the White Temple is largely financed by Kositpipat to maintain artistic integrity, although individual donations up to ฿10,000 are accepted. There will be a total of nine buildings on the nearly 3-acre site – viharn, chedi, ubosot, ho trai, mondop, phra rabieng, crematorium, art gallery, restrooms.

Wat Rong Khun
Baan Rong Khun, Pa O Don Chai Sub-District
Mueang District, Chiang Rai 57000
Tel: +66 (053) 673 579
www.watrongkhun.org

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Wat Rong Khun "No Smoking" Sign

Not your conventional "No Smoking" sign, this example of devotional Buddhist art at Wat Rong Khun graphically illustrates the dangers of cigarettes. Wat Rong Khun is an unconventional Buddhist temple outside Chiang Rai that is being constructed under the direction of Chalermchai Kositpipat, a controversial, award-winning Thai visual artist intent on this being his master work, to which he is completely devoted. Construction began in 1997 and, similar to Gaudi's Sagrada Família, is not expected to be completed until after the artist's death (in 60-70 years). Work on the White Temple is largely financed by Kositpipat to maintain artistic integrity, although individual donations up to ฿10,000 are accepted. There will be a total of nine buildings on the nearly 3-acre site – viharn, chedi, ubosot, ho trai, mondop, phra rabieng, crematorium, art gallery, restrooms.

Wat Rong Khun
Baan Rong Khun, Pa O Don Chai Sub-District
Mueang District, Chiang Rai 57000
Tel: +66 (053) 673 579
www.watrongkhun.org

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Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), Chiang Rai

Wat Rong Khun is an unconventional Buddhist temple outside Chiang Rai that is being constructed under the direction of Chalermchai Kositpipat, a controversial, award-winning Thai visual artist intent on this being his master work, to which he is completely devoted. Construction began in 1997 and, similar to Gaudi's Sagrada Família, is not expected to be completed until after the artist's death (in 60-70 years). Work on the White Temple is largely financed by Kositpipat to maintain artistic integrity, although individual donations up to ฿10,000 are accepted. There will be a total of nine buildings on the nearly 3-acre site – viharn, chedi, ubosot, ho trai, mondop, phra rabieng, crematorium, art gallery, restrooms.

Wat Rong Khun
Baan Rong Khun, Pa O Don Chai Sub-District
Mueang District, Chiang Rai 57000
Tel: +66 (053) 673 579
www.watrongkhun.org

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