In recent years, architects across the world have striven to design the most eco-friendly buildings possible. Huge multi-billion dollar projects from around the globe, such as New York’s Bank of America Tower and Dubai’s Burj al-Taqa are at the forefront of the race to create energy-efficient, zero-emission skyscrapers for the future. These projects have garnered a lot of media-attention, and rightly so, but there are many small-scale examples of eco-friendly architecture that fail to attract the recognition they so obviously deserve. One such building is Wat Phra Maha Chedi Kaew, or Wat Laan Kuwat (The Temple of A Million Bottles), as it is more commonly known.Credit: Ron Sanders
Wat Laan Kuwat was the brainchild of a group of Buddhist monks from the tiny rural town of Khun Han, in the north-eastern province of Sisaket, Thailand. In 1984, a couple of local monks, tired of seeing the surrounding fields littered with glass, decided to start collecting bottles and using the reclaimed materials to decorate their shelters. The villager elders liked the results so much that they resolved to help the monks build an entire temple from recycled glass. This was the beginning of a dream which has to date gathered over 1.5 million bottles, and constructed over 20 eco-friendly buildings within the temple grounds.
The Main Temple
Credit: Ron SandersThe main temple building, arguably the most visually stunning of all the constructions, is composed of literally tens of thousands of recycled beer and energy drink bottles. Its walls are made mainly from small M-150 and Red Bull energy drink bottles, and its roof from green Heineken beer bottles which, when bathed in sunlight, lend Wat Laan Kuwat the impression of a glistening emerald.
Even more impressive are the eco-friendly murals, fashioned from discarded bottle caps, which decorate the walls of the temple. The backdrop to the altar is one such mural depicting Buddha sitting in meditation under an enormous fig tree surrounded by fields of elephants and deer.
The Living Quarters and Crematorium
A wander round the grounds of “The Temple of A Million Bottles” uncovers the extent to which these monks have gone to contribute to a greener environment. Each of the monk’s residential quarters is uniquely decorated with reclaimed glass. The stairways, walls and even the roofs of the dwellings, shimmer in the afternoon sun.
Credit: Ron SandersEven the temple’s crematorium is constructed from recycled beer bottles. One imagines that locals who once enjoyed a tipple would enjoy setting off on their journey to Nirvana from here. But the temple’s abbot, San Kataboonyo, refutes this inference, stating that the temple ought to be regarded as a symbol of cleansing from within, rather than any kind of homage to excessive living or alcohol.
How to get there
Despite the impressive beauty of the complex, Wat Laan Kuwat plays host to few tourists. The occasional busload of Thai pilgrims stops by, and even more infrequently, the odd backpacker or two, looking to get off the beaten track. But the temple’s remote location and lack of public transport connections combine to make it an attraction few ever get to witness in person.
Those who do decide to make their way to see this unique construction are advised to rent a car or motorcycle from the large provincial town of Ubon Ratchathani, 100kms away. Or perhaps more appropriately, you could visit this beautiful eco-friendly building by bicycle. Just be sure to bring a lot of sun cream. And don’t forget your camera!