We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. Accept | Find out more

x

Dispatches

The latest buzz from the bee world; Boston’s Fenway Park hits 100; a London shoe company makes its pointe; art runs amok at an ancient Thai temple; shipping out to sea with Billy Campbell

CHIANG RAI, THAILAND

BEYOND BELIEF
A psychedelic temple blurs the line between pop culture and ancient religion

Pointing at the fearsome alien that appears to be climbing out of the lawn nearby, Panya “Tom” Lekwilai turns to a group of tourists and states the obvious: “The Predator doesn’t look like it belongs in a Buddhist temple.” Yet it fits right in at this particular temple, an altogether bizarre spectacle tucked among the rice fields of Chiang Rai near the Myanmar border, where the star of the classic ’80s action movie is joined by, among other things, riotous murals of Keanu Reeves, Batman and Michael Jackson.

Before being graced with such pop iconography — as well as an all-white exterior clad in shards of mirrored glass — the White Temple, officially called Wat Rong Khun, had been a traditional house of worship for more than a century. But famed Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, who caused a flap with the contemporary stylings of his Buddhist murals at London’s Wat Buddhapadipa, changed all that when he returned here to his home village and began revamping the temple on his own dime in 1998. (It remains a work in progress: The artist’s plan for the site is for nine buildings in total, with construction continuing for the next several decades.)

For the most part, the controversy over Kositpipat’s previous work seems absent here. “Though I can’t totally speak for most older visitors, I don’t think they are offended,” says Lekwilai, as he ascends an ornate white bridge leading to an assembly hall. “They probably find it modern and creative.”

Youngsters are enjoying themselves as well. Lekwilai has crossed into the hall, but a few stragglers remain outside. That is, until one glances at the Predator and squeals, and the whole lot scurries to join the rest of the pack. It seems that if a shimmering vision of nirvana doesn’t keep you moving along the path to enlightenment, a snarling space creature certainly will. —CHRISTINE O’TOOLE

Leave your comments


*