I couldn’t believe that during my backpacking trip in Thailand, I got an autograph from the elusive creator of the most famous temple in Thailand, The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun, วัดร่องขุ่น) in Chiang Rai. Some have said that the temple looks like it came down from heaven.
The creator, Ajan Chalermchai (เฉลิมชัย โฆษิตพิพัฒน์), became famous for creating artwork that captures the spirit of the late Thai King, Rama the 9th, a visionary who transformed Thailand from poverty to prosperity and won the hearts of millions of Thai people.
Everywhere we looked, we saw beautiful temple complexes with intricate designs and paintings.
Entering the grounds itself is free, but to actually walk through the White Temple costs 50 baht (around $2 USD). Thai people get in for free.
Next to the temple and all the restaurants and shops is an art gallery showcasing the creator’s artwork throughout his life. You can see the progression and changes in his style as you wind through the gallery. No photos were allowed but you can go check it out yourself!
I felt like I was going too slow because dad and JET were already done and waiting for me but I decided to go at my own speed and soak up my culture and heritage and enjoy Ajan’s paintings.
Lo and behold, when I stepped out of the exit, dad walked past Ajan Chalermchai, double checked to make sure it was really him, and asked if he could take a selfie with him.
I asked if we could take a pic with him too and he said yes. Then we walked away as people saw us taking pictures with him and started realizing who he was. Poor guy had injured his foot somehow so he was limping and had to use a golf cart.
He periodically stops by the temple to check on the cleanliness and behavior of the staff. One Thai shop owner told us a story where he came and kicked a vendor out because their displays were covered in dust.
He didn’t look like his poster cutout but I suppose that’s the point. If he looked exactly like his cutout, he’d get mobbed so fast, nothing would get done.
As we were walking past the gift shop I suddenly realized that I should buy one of his books to get it signed. My dad put a finger to his lips and said “Shh,” motioning for me to stay calm so other people don’t get the same idea.
I waited at the gift shop entrance while he went around the corner to see if Ajan was still being mobbed.
He gave me a thumbs up. I ran into the gift shop and had a tough choice choosing one of his many books. Realizing time was of the essence, I chose a book, and asked how much it was.
When they said the book was 150 baht, less than $5 USD, I was shocked. I expected the 250-page book full of colorful photos to be at least $20 USD. I slammed the money on the counter and ran out.
I made it to Ajan Chalermchai as he got in his golf cart to leave. I loudly asked him in Thai if I could get his autograph. He knew from my accent that I didn’t grow up in Thailand so he asked where I was from. I told him I was originally from Nakhon sawan but grew up in New York.
After Ajan handed back my signed copy of his book, my dad motioned that I should go back towards the gallery because Ajan’s protégé, the one he’s training to carry on his legacy because the temple will be finished after his death, was there too.
Clucking like a proud hen, I carefully put the book back in its plastic bag and clutched it tight.
Thanks for reading,
Jack The Dreamer, over and out!
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