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Visiting the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) Outside Chiang Rai, Thailand

Wat Rong Khun, better known to travelers as the “White Temple” is a temple structure (Wikipedia refers to it as an art exhibit) a few miles outside of central Chiang Rai, Thailand. (If you’re looking for a “real” temple experience in the region, check out the hike to Wat Pha Lat and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in nearby Chiang Mai.)

It is, according to TripAdvisor and many other lists, the top attraction in Chiang Rai. We certainly consider it a must-do if you have any time Chiang Rai. In this post we cover getting to the White Temple by bus, visiting it, and getting back to Chiang Rai.

White Temple

The White Temple in absolutely breathtaking. Most temples are beautiful, but the monochrome theme and creepy details make this temple absolutely one of a kind.

Getting to the White Temple By Bus

Getting to the White Temple by bus is incredibly easy from central Chiang Rai. You don’t need to make an advance reservation, you can simply show up at the station and take the public bus, paying cash on board. Here’s how!

Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1 and the White Temple Bus Schedule

Buses depart toward the White Temple from Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1 (aka Old Bus Station) throughout the day. This was the same bus station we arrived at when we took the bus to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, and the same bus station we departed from when we took the bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong.

While there is a bus station south of Chiang Rai (Bus Terminal 2), there shouldn’t be any confusion for you getting to Bus Terminal 1 (“Old Bus Station”) from inside the city by tuk tuk, songthaew, taxi, or Uber. If there is, you’re looking for the bus station by the Night Bazaar. The GPS coordinates are 19°54’17.5″N 99°50’04.0″E.

Location of Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1

Buses to the White Temple depart from platform 8 (we’ve seen 7 indicated in blogs occasionally, too, but platform 8 specifically says White Temple, which we didn’t see on 7). The signage for the bus indicated its final destination was Mae Kachan. When we were there on a weekday, buses were departing at least once an hour from 6AM through 6PM. You can see the exact posted schedule in the picture below. The cost is 20 Baht per person.

The Bus Ride to The White Temple

We boarded the bus at about 10:55 (a sign in the bus window indicated it would depart at 11:05, five minutes later than sign’s schedule). We got the last pair of neighboring seats, over the wheel well. The bus was nothing special, but fine for a short journey. This was a cool day, but the bus was equipped with fans and windows for warmer days.

Our bus to the White Temple and its timetable

Our bus departed at exactly 11:05, and shortly thereafter an attendant came up the aisle taking payment for the ride. We had previously read you should indicate to the driver or attendant that you’re getting off at the White Temple. We didn’t do this because our bus was 50% full of tourists, but it is something worth considering. The bus made a few stops to let people hop on, but overall the journey took 35 minutes, and we arrived at the White Temple stop at 11:40.

Walking the Final Bit to the White Temple

The bus actually drops you off about 1/4 of a mile away from the White Temple and across the highway. There is a light at the intersection, so no need to fear crossing. You also can see the White Temple from the highway, so need to fear getting lost.

Heading toward the temple from the highway

Once you cross the highway and head up the street, you have two routes to the White Temple (both less than 5 minutes walk). You can just follow the traffic up the street and then turn left, or you can follow the big sign pointing you left first and through the arcade (small restaurants and shops).

It’s hard to get lost here!

Getting to the White Temple by Taxi, Tuk Tuk, Motorbike, or Bicycle

We’ve read reports that you can take a Tuk Tuk or Taxi for 300 to 500 Baht round-trip, and that they’ll wait for you while you visit the temple (we can’t speak as to the time limit). You could also take a motorbike (rent for 200 Baht or less in town), and we saw a few people who had gotten there by bicycle (rent for 50 Baht or less in town). Finally, you could Uber. We saw Uber X quotes for 150 to 200 THB (each way).

The White Temple Tickets, Hours, and Pictures

The hours are listed differently across the internet, and we only saw one set of hours posted, outside the art museum. Based on that sign, we think TripAdvisor’s listed 8AM to 5PM (Monday – Friday) / 8AM to 5:30PM (Saturday – Sunday) is probably a safe bet.

Accessing the temple grounds themselves costs 50 Baht per person. There is a prominent ticket booth and entryway, and the path to the inside will likely be packed with tourists lining up.

White Temple Ticket Booth

The best views are definitely from outside the temple. The inside of the main structure is a little underwhelming (that is, having been in Asia, and Thailand specifically, for some time and having visited dozens of temples).

White Temple

They don’t let you take pictures inside the temple, but there is so much beauty outside of it, there’s no need to be glum.

The temple is beautiful, but when when you look closely you’ll discover many dark details. The bridge leading into the temple will take you over a pit of hands reach out and grasping at skulls. If you look closely, there are even screaming faces below the hands. You’ll find sculls and bones sculptured into the details around the whole grounds. (Even the traffic cones leading to the temple have sculls on them!)

White Temple

There’s also an odd amount of pop culture references scattered through out the park. They blend in stylistically into the morbid motif, but when you look closely, you’ll discover many familiar characters.

White Temple

After you make your way through the main temple, you’ll find several other beautiful buildings to wander through as well, some still under construction. We suggest going through the grounds very slowly, as the amount of detail is absolutely transcendent.

There is a gift shop and small art gallery after the turnstiles but before the ticketed entrance into the main structure. There is also a small art museum outside the temple area (i.e. outside the turnstiles) that you definitely should walk through.

Front of the art museum

Admission to the gallery is by voluntary donation, and it will only take between 10 and 20 minutes (more if you take your time with the amazing art). The artist was actually in town having coffee across from the gallery when we were there, and several people seemed to be approaching him for photos and signatures.

There are plenty of options for eating, drinking, and shopping outside the temple. We spent some time at a small cafe just across from the temple (part of it spent writing this post).

Getting Back to Central Chiang Rai

If you don’t want to bus back, you could consider Uber. While we were there, one car seemed camped out near the temple waiting for someone to request him. Uber X was quoting 150 to 200 THB to get back. You could probably grab a tuk tuk for a similar amount.

The bus pickup spot is (roughly) kitty corner from where we were dropped off. There is a police kiosk (Rong Khun Police Kiosk) on the north side of the highway just northeast of the intersection. To get there from the White Temple, you’ll head back the way you came along the left side of route 1208 back to the highway. Then turn left without crossing the highway.

Getting to the police kiosk to catch a bus

When we were there, there were about 10 police officers hanging out who immediately recognized us as tourists. Without words, they directed us to sit in a gazebo while they checked for buses.

Waiting for the bus at the police gazebo

After about five minutes, a blue songthaew came by. One girl waiting asked about the public bus, but the police said it would be about an hour before the bus came through. The price was the same (20 Baht to Chiang Rai Bus Station 1) so we hopped in. We arrived back at Bus Station 1 after a 27 minute ride.

Our ride back to Chiang Rai

Closing Thoughts

Not only do we highly recommend the White Temple, but we highly recommend taking the public bus to get there. It’s one of the simpler buses we’ve taken, and with a reasonable price!

Have you been to Thailand? What are some of your favorite temples you’ve seen?