Hard to believe, but there really is a Thai Buddhist Temple built from thousands of empty beer bottles deep in the Issan countryside. Here are some photos from my recent visit to Wat Lan Khaud (literally, Temple Of A Million Bottles)
Wat Lan Khaud is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for years. It got some coverage in the British press a while ago but has remained mysteriously absent from the To Do list of most Thailand tourists, probably because of its obscure location near Sisaket, deep in the Isaan region. On a recent visit to Ubon Ratchatani for a friend’s wedding, we hired a driver to take us the couple hours drive to the temple and see it for ourselves.
I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect when we arrived at the gates of Wat Lan Khaud, an hour’s drive from Sisaket. Even though I’d seen photos of the temple before, I had no real sense of scale or the temple’s layout. I’d wondered if it was just one over-large spirit house that had been built with bottles rather than the actual temple itself. First impressions were – blimey, they really have covered everything, including the outside walls.
[To see the detail of each photo better, click any image for a bigger version]
The archway at the gates has a fringe of upended green Heineken bottles – along with domestic beers Chang and Singha, Heineken is found everywhere in Thailand, along with the equally ubiquitous small brown Red Bull bottles (also used in the temple construction)
Red Bull bottles were used to decorate the columns of the archway and also the cover the entire outside of one of the temple’s outbuildings by the entrance.
The chedi outside the main temple is also covered in Red Bull bottles, using a cross hatching style, and then green beer bottles further up for contrast – quite beautiful.
But it’s when you see the temple itself it’s just unreal. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, it seemed so fantastical that it actually existed. Thai temple architecture in general is so gravity-defying in its gracefulness, but to manage to remain true to temple architectural protocols and do it with beer bottles – just spectacular.
The temple sits overlooking its own purpose built pond which catches the temple’s reflection. Even the barrier around the pond is decorated with beer bottles.
As the sun starts to go down over the temple, the sun catches not the thousands of beer bottles covering the exterior of the temple’s roof, walls and pillars.
Up close the rows of beer bottles decorating the walls become a mesmerising pattern of repetition.
The bottles also fit around the doors and windows of the temple, which feature glass doors etched with images of the Buddha.
Suspended over the pond, the temple has walkways along either side back into the temple grounds.
Corners on the temple’s balustrade have a lovely feeling of flow thanks to the orientation of the bottles. Even the floor has beer bottles artistically bored in it.
Another look at the detail of the bottle wall – with the five o’clock sun, the glass caught the light so the whole wall was ablaze with colour. (Also, spot the broken one)
Back around the front of the temple, on the other side from the western side where the sun sets, the entrance way into the temple interior uses the same motifs as the archway
Even the temple interior features Red Bull decorated bottles and the same brown and green beer bottle walls
Stand at the right point on the walkway outside and the perspectives of the bottles and walls start to feel like an MC Escher painting come to life.
Standing to one side of the temple is this other structure, which is a crematorium. I couldn’t get a good shot as it was in shadow, but despite its sombre purpose it too is decorated in beer bottles.
After an hour of glorious light, darkness comes incredibly quickly around 6pm, which also signals when the temple is closed to the public as the monks go about their evening meditation. I like this last, silhouette shot I took before we left, but I wish I could have seen the temple at sunrise as well to see the sun rise over this side of the temple too.
The temple was originally created because the local abbott was tired of seeing the countryside littered with beer bottles. (Thailand has a bit of a drinking problem, ranking just after the UK for being one of the world’s worse binge-drinking nations). Apparently there is already 1.5 million bottles incorporated into the temple’s design.
Unfortunately when we were there the two or three monks we saw, while happy for us to take photos, were too busy with other tasks to chat, so I couldn’t learn anything particularly profound about the temple. There was literally no-one else there, except a Thai family that came briefly to pay their respects.
There’s a great account of a visit to the temple here, with a few more facts and photos about it – besides the temple, chedi and crematorium, even the monks’ living quarters are decorated with beer bottles. This mention in the Telegraph says that bottle collecting began in 1984. Construction is still going on, as evidenced by a 5 metre high Buddha statue that is currently being built at the temple’s entrance, so it looks like the Temple of a Million Beer Bottles could soon become the Temple of Two Million Beer Bottles.
Getting To The Temple Of A Million Beer Bottles
We hired a driver to visit the temple from Ubon Ratchatani, which took around 2 hours there and 1.5 hours back when it was dark. The temple is near the small village of Khun Han, and the nearest city to the temple is Sisaket.
From Bangkok flights are cheap and quick to Ubon – around 1000 Baht one way including tax. Alternatively you can get the train or bus. We stayed at the Sunee Grand Hotel in Ubon, which was a decent, business-styled hotel right next to a mall with supermarket and restaurants in the centre of Ubon.
It cost around 1500 Baht a day plus gas (around 700 Baht) for a car and driver from Chao Wattana, a locally well-known and reputable car/driver hire firm. Chao Wattana have a bureau at Ubon Ratchantani airport in the Arrivals section. You probably want to contact them before arrival just to be safe – contact details are here on the very good WeLoveUbon website which gives a rundown of other things to do around Ubon, a thriving city near the Laos border.
Of course, if you are just coming to see Wat Lan Chaud, you could catch the train direct from Bangkok to Sisaket or Buriram which are nearer. You’d need to organise your own transport once you’re there. The map below shows the location of the temple relative to Sisaket and Ubon Ratchatani. Also check out Baan Wine, a new wine bar in Ubon by the river recently opened by my friends Chris and Tuck.
- Angkor, Bagan, Sukhothai - The Legacy
Part 1 - Sukhothai - Part 2: Angkor - Part 3: Bagan
- The Temple Of A Million Beer Bottles - Wat Lan Khaud
- Sukhothai: Thailand's Own Angkor Wat
- Essential Temples Of Sukhothai
- Essential Temples of Angkor
- Essential Temples of Bagan
- Angkor Wat - A Brief Guide
- Angkro Wat To Bangkok
- Beng Mealea - The Lost Temple Of Angkor
- Buddhist Temples Of Thailand - The Book