One of the Chiang Rai sights I like best: the Ban Dam – in English called Black House or Black Temple Chiang RAi on the northern edge of the city. The Thai artist Thawan Duchanee has created a site with 40 buildings full of animal skins, horns, skeletons, shells, wooden structures, traditional utensils – and art.
“A great contrast.” This is what first struck me when I first visited the white temple and the black house in Chiang Rai in one day. I often take visitors to both places to give them this impression.
What is so attractive about these dark buildings in Ban Dam with their partly macabre contents?
Thawan Duchanee was fascinated by death. As a Buddhist he was very aware of the cycle of birth, aging and passing away. Ten years before his death, he said: “Since I was 36, I have been thinking about death, asking myself what I have achieved. That is how I always remain conscious. We should be aware that the tongue of a viper can bite us and kill us at any time.” (Bangkok Post)
In the beauty of many elements on the site in contrast to the many dead animals we become aware of the finiteness of this life. And then there are the huge paintings, sometimes called “phantasmagorical and known for their dense colored whirlpool effect” (Der Spiegel article).
Black temple entrance. Just left is the biggest building on the site. Temple-like. My first impression: gigantic. I like these high pillars and the typical stepped roof. Everything is made of dark wood. Many doors and pillars are decorated with wild sculptures. Inside there are long tables with high chairs that somehow invite to sit down and have a feast. And then the skins, animal skins, horns and bones everywhere. On a long table lies the five-meter-long skin of a python, on which there are lots of coins. In its stuffed mouth are banknotes. Is this how the visitors want to finance the operation of the facility? Or is it some kind of Trevi Fountain and the money is supposed to bring good luck? On another table lies a crocodile. There are signs everywhere that you are not allowed to touch anything, but taking pictures is possible.
Outside there are other wooden buildings, all of them crammed with bizarre things. I especially like the guest room with the glass walls. Here I would like to stay overnight – without all the tourists. A few dome-shaped houses – oddly enough in white – are also full of objects, some of which have an African touch. Woodcarvings, as I know them from Kenya. Shells, antelope skins, spears. Another building has the shape of an abstract whale, this time in anthracite. The whole thing seems animalistic to me. Many visitors do not feel comfortable among the many dead animals, I find it absolutely fascinating.
The paintings – mainly in red, black and white – fascinate me. The fight of the buffalo with the tiger is the absolute highlight for me. When I get involved, I can see the fight, the muscles, and the blood. But also the wild horses are bursting with power.
Thawan Duchanee (1939 until 2014)
Where the buildings of the museum stand today, Thawan played as a child. Focusing while throwing knives and archery also helped him later with the brush in his hand. In the 60s he studied in Amsterdam and was popular among others because of his humor and eccentricity. In 2001, despite some controversy, he was honored with the award “Thai National Artist”. His beard was his outward sign of recognition. Another was his ability to hide the truth behind boyish jokes and sarcasms.
Admission 80 Baht per person. The adjoining gallery is free of charge.
Opening hours daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
Best time to travel
Unfortunately one can have bad luck and choose the wrong day. Especially in the best travel time for northern Thailand, the winter months, there are a lot of tourists on the site. At the weekends mostly Thai travelers, but otherwise often Chinese. It is best to avoid the busy days between Christmas and New Year, as well as the holidays around Chinese New Year and Songkran.
Directions or journey to Chiang Rai
The destination Chiang Rai is “taken along” by most travelers on their way to Laos. Both the city and the province offer many destinations worth seeing.
Chiang Rai is usually reached by plane or by Green Bus from Chiang Mai. There are also bus connections to Chiang Rai from Bangkok or other cities in Thailand.
From the bus station in the city centre, local Green Buses run every half hour to Mae Sai or Chiang Saen. After a 12 kilometer drive you get off directly after the Bangkok Hospital and walk the remaining kilometer. Costs about 20 Baht.
Alternatively you can hire a taxi or a tuk-tuk. If there is no taxi in sight, the app “Grab-Taxi” would be a good way to get off quickly without a long wait.
For self-drivers (for example with a rented scooter) the Baan Dam can be reached in the same way. On Highway No. 1 direction north. Behind the newly opened Bangkok Hospital a small road turns left. The sign is easy to overlook, the terrain reached after a few bends and junctions definitely not.
My tip for a trip to White Temple and Black House
Get your Guide offers excursions with an English speaking guide from Chiang Mai. The visit of the White Temple and Black House is combined in one day. So you can easily enjoy a tour to the best sights of Chiang Rai.