Chiang Rai’s Black House Explained
Chiang Rai’s peculiar attraction known as Baan Dam or “Black House” was created by national artist Thawan Duchanee – it combines art studio, museum and home – creating an intriguing mix of surreality.
The forty artistic huts feature themes from Buddhism such as death and suffering caused by human desires. Skulls, skins, and horns adorn many of the structures.
What to Expect
Many travellers visiting Chiang Rai become temple-weary after arriving, ready for something different to see and experience. But the Black House Museum (Wat Rong Khun) stands out as an unforgettable experience that should not be missed!
The Black House isn’t one building; rather, it is composed of 40 structures constructed from heavy wood and painted an inky black hue reminiscent of temples; these buildings evoking their form are covered with taxidermied animal bones and skins to add an additional macabre touch.
Thawan Duchanee, a Thai artist who began construction of this Black House in 1976 and was honored as a National Artist in 2001, studied both in Thailand and Europe and was said to be inspired by human nature’s dark side; The Black House serves as an outlet for him to express this inspiration through themes of desire, lust, greed, death and rebirth that run throughout its construction.
Arriving at The Black House can be disorienting. Visitors first encounter its front building: an immense hall that looks as though it might swallow you whole and devour your soul; its walls lined with snake and crocodile skins; giant black chairs that seem like they’re watching; and its enormous wooden table covered with horns, teeth and snakes make up just some of what can be expected upon visiting this strange and creepy attraction.
Most of the other buildings are restricted from public access, yet you can take a walk around their perimeter and appreciate what’s on show – including whale-shaped structures, futuristic white domes resembling igloos, and various strange-looking constructions spread throughout.
One of the more notable temples is the Bridge of Rebirth, with hundreds of hands reaching out from underneath it to symbolize worldly desires such as alcohol, smoking and lust that we must overcome to gain entry to heaven; another popular one is Hall of Eternal Life featuring decorations with skulls and skeletons as well as an image of Buddha in deep meditation.
Visits to the Black House can be disorienting, and are best experienced with a guide. While independent visits are possible, having someone help explain and interpret its deeper meaning can make all the difference in terms of understanding its artwork and deeper meaning. You have two options when visiting; either hire a private guide or join an organized tour that includes transportation between locations.
The Black House or Baan Dam Museum (Thai:) was the haunting residence of late Thai artist Thawan Duchanee and contains over 40 buildings filled with dark art pieces depicting human psychology, Buddhist doctrines and local northern Thai style and culture.
The main house is large and features a temple-like structure inside with golden tapestries reaching from its roofline to its walls. Other structures are spread across the grounds resembling everything from igloos to yurts to something that looks like whale or fish shapes; all adding an otherworldly atmosphere. Animal skins and bones add another dimension, as does traditional Thai decor that adds further depth.
Be warned if visiting with children; some artwork explores sexual desire and desires, featuring very explicit phallic symbols. If this content makes you uneasy, opt for the small art gallery after the turnstiles but before entering into temple. Note that recently the museum began charging an 80 baht fee to help maintain their site which continues to expand and improve over time.
Chiang Rai offers several tour companies, but these tend to be relatively costly when compared with Thailand prices. If you want a cheaper and direct solution, hail any northbound songthaew or taxi and tell them you would like to visit Baan Dam Museum; speaking some Thai will make this easier for them to understand your request.
The museum has become quite popular over the past several years and can become quite crowded at times. To avoid crowding and avoid feeling lost during your visit, try visiting during opening time or later in the afternoon if possible. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen if visiting during rainy season; additionally a map may help get your bearings and avoid getting lost!
The Black House is an expansive collection of 40 art-filled structures spread out over an area. The buildings incorporate elements from both Northern Thai architecture and bizarre contemporary designs; for instance, some wooden structures resemble temples while others resemble white igloos. One particularly eye-catching building is Cathedral with its intricate wood carving and four tiered roof.
Although it’s possible to visit the Black House without assistance from a guide, its expansive site requires much walking time between structures. As a result, guided tours provide much more insight into artwork and museum history.
If you prefer guided tours, check out iTour Chiang Rai to view available options. These tours typically leave from the old bus station in downtown Chiang Rai and are reasonably priced. Additionally, hail any northbound songthaew or bus on Route 1.
Though its name might suggest otherwise, Baan Dam does not have a Satanic theme. Artist Thawan Duchanee was a devout Buddhist and intended his artwork to represent hell and its suffering associated with Buddhism’s cycle of death and rebirth. Additionally, his collections in each building at Baan Dam feature depictions of undesirable human characteristics like greed or lust.
One of the great aspects of visiting Black House Temple in Thailand is that it rarely gets overly-crowded with visitors; I visited on a Sunday afternoon and was virtually alone at its start! If visiting during peak season, arrive early morning so as to beat crowds; this is particularly important when the sun can quickly fade the brightly painted walls and sculptures; there’s even an excellent coffee shop on-site called Nanglae Coffee House offering caffeine to help power through your tour!
Chiang Rai’s Black House Museum (Baan Dam) is one of the city’s most eye-catching landmarks, often described as Northern Thailand’s “Mysterious Temple”, though in reality it was designed by Thai painter and architect Thawan Duchanee who died in 2014.
The Black House, created by Thawan and featuring 40 distinctive structures arranged around a central garden, displays his paintings and sculptures. Some structures resemble temples while others resemble barns or saloons – many feature dark or macabre themes with table runners made from snake skins or taxidermy furniture decorated with bones, skulls, or taxidermy pieces adorning table tops or furniture pieces.
You’ll discover an eclectic assortment of strange art and architectural works within the Black House, such as its most iconic statue – depicting a woman lying backwards with her eyes open – as well as massive wooden tables covered with crocodile and snake skins, featuring enormous black chairs for seating, or large canvases painted blood red with dark brushstrokes which create an unnerving atmosphere throughout its interiors.
Duchanee’s collection reflects both hell and the suffering that life presents according to Buddhism, his religion of choice. Duchanee was known to be devout in his practice, so many believe his artwork serves to illustrate undesirable human characteristics like lust and greed as well as death and suffering he witnessed during his travels.
The Black House is an iconic tourist attraction and should be visited either early in your trip, or at its close. To avoid crowds, visit at opening time if possible and wear sunscreen and a hat if visiting during daytime hours. An entrance fee of 80 baht per adult applies with children and disabled people receiving reduced prices for admission.