It broke our hearts this week to not only learn that there was a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in the north of Thailand which left one person dead and many injured, but also that The White Templea place we really loved visiting during our time in the country – has also felt the full strength of the earthquake and has met an early demise that brings pain and shock not just to our heart, but also to the large local community, the team, and the artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, who have spent the past twenty years building and decorating it.

The Tragic Early Death of Thailand's White Temple

Though known internationally as The White Temple, the Buddhist temple of Wat Rong Khun has been a regular stop for backpackers and holidaying travellers from across the world since its creation began in the late 90’s and having seen it first hand we can really understand and appreciate the appeal it has (or had?), and the seeing what the benefit that tourism around temple has done for the city; it’s hard to read the artist’s quote following the quake.

“Everything is finished, and I may leave the temple, a world’s masterpiece, to remain as it is now for the latter generation to remember.”

The walkway in to the White Temple - The Tragic Early Death of Thailand's White Temple
Macro of the White Temple bridge with Dale in the distance - The Tragic Early Death of Thailand's White Temple

Is This Really The End?

Maybe people have seen the remarks of Kositpipat following the earthquake and have taken the words to mean several things, and whilst we’d like to believe him that although the ceiling may have fallen in and a wall has become seriously damaged, the temple will be left there as a monument for the future as a symbol that a culture of creativity exists in Thailand, but we’re a little too aware of other reports from the same transcript that remark that he intends to pull it all down and to not rebuild it due to his already having spent 20 years on the temple and the fact that he is perhaps not in the same shape to begin again at 59 years of age.

Side view of the White Temple, Chiang Rai - The Tragic Early Death of Thailand's White Temple
One of the other White Temple buildings - The Tragic Early Death of Thailand's White Temple

It’s worrying to think of the implications that the earthquake and damage to the temple will have on the local city and the people who’ve come to not only love the White Temple, but also to go there to pay their respects to Buddha and their loved ones.

During our visit we saw many people saying prayers and leaving signed items for others on hanging trees that we loved to see and try to read.

Dale looking at the details in the decoration of the temple - The Tragic Early Death of Thailand's White Temple
Another detailed piece of the White Temple - The Tragic Early Death of Thailand's White Temple
Names written on a hanging dedication - The Tragic Early Death of Thailand's White Temple

Our only hope is that although Kositpipat has never taken the help of the government in order to turn his vision into reality, perhaps following the earthquake in Thailand the community and the many new international friends of the White Temple can aid him to keep at least the spirit of the White Temple alive, even if the building must see an early death and demise.

In the mean time at least visitors to Chiang Rai can still see an incredible temple by visiting the Black Temple of Chiang Rai, and perhaps in the future the White Temple will be reborn? We certainly hope so.

The Black Temple in Chiang Rai - The Tragic Early Death of Thailand's White Temple

UPDATE

It seems that the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat has heard of the concern for the temple from across the world and has spoken of his hopes to rebuild Wat Rong Khun back to its original beauty in two years which is music to our ears.

Thanks to Chris Backe of One Weird Globe for sending us that link.

Have you visited the White Temple before?