As a deeply spiritual nation, Thailand has no shortage of Buddhist temples. During my weeklong trip in the country, each temple proved more extravagant in design than the next. But the eye-catching beauty of these temples doesn’t come at the cost of humility. On the contrary, the admirably modest Thai people — whose own homes are considerably pared-down — cherish their relationship with Buddha and the opportunities to pay their respects in such stunning places of devotion.
As I made my way north from Bangkok to the quieter province of Chiang Rai, classic golden shrines gave way to a few dressed in unexpected colors, including white (Wat Rong Khun) and then, pictured here, blue: Wat Rong Sear Tean Temple, also known as the Blue Temple.
This unique Buddhist temple has only been open since January 2016 and, as a result, still eludes the swarm of visitors to Chiang Rai who frequent other religious sites. Of course, what makes it a far cry from traditional temples is its color — both the exterior and interior walls are splashed with a startling royal blue, representative of Dharma, or Buddha’s code of morals.
At the far end of the temple sits a colossal white statue of Buddha; his legs are crossed, his right hand points to the ground — a gesture meaning “touching the earth,” or “calling the earth to witness” — and his left hand is placed on his lap. Large-scale paintings that adorn the walls depict Siddhartha Gautama’s spiritual journey to enlightenment, and details such as shards of mirror, sculptures of characters from Thai folklore and streaks of metallic gold all contribute to the temple’s magnificence.
Entrance is free, but visitors should be aware that they must remove their shoes before entering, as well as ensure their shoulders and knees are covered. At the Blue Temple, donations are accepted through the purchase of a lotus flower candle, which is then lit and placed in a small pool of water.