Jean Claude Baan Dam!
The Black House delivers quite a punch to the senses
When you come to Thailand, you can expect to be surrounded by 1000’s of ornately decorated Buddhist temples. Each temple usually falls into a fairly similar appearance as each other, though the finer, more intricate details are entirely unique. With so many temples, you may get a little templed-out after the 10th or 15th one you explore. There is, however, a temple-styled art gallery in the far northern city of Chiang Rai which would impress even the most vetted temple hopper. Baan Dam (translated to “The Black House”) was an artistic creation that has a very different spin.
Located about 10 km out from the city centre, just past the Chiang Rai airport, this gallery doesn’t see the levels of touristic traffic that the other temples in the city experience. It is located on a fairly large property and has roughly 15 temple-shaped exhibit houses on site. The first that you notice is one of the largest temples I’ve seen, though the inside has more of a feeling of a barn with the rafters from the roof still exposed. Walking through each of the Black House’s huts you will move from exhibit to exhibit. There are only a few in which you can enter, though the big windows on the side of each one offer a reasonable viewing of the intricate displays found within.
The reason these displays are so unique is tied to the theme found on the entire Black House property. They are made from the remains of a variety of dead animals. With moose antlers, to water buffalo skulls, to snake skins and even blow fish hanging from the ceiling, almost everything inside the Black House is made from the remains. You do not get the sense of being in an animal cemetery at all. It has been laid out quite artistically, and is unlike anything I’ve seen before.
There is one hut which looks like a Buddhist stupa, like a wine glass turned upside down, that you can walk inside. Inside the circular room the walls are painted white and are surrounded by chairs made from buffalo horns and skins. In the middle of the room lays a crocodile skin, painted black and surrounded by candles. It looks like something of a very tribal ritual. The acoustics have an incredible echo, and if you hum, it seems to get amplified almost 5 times louder. There is another odd building which is in the shape of a giant fish, and you enter through the open mouth.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
This can be a bit tricky. You may take an organized tour, though they could run fairly expensive relative to the prices in Thailand. They would drive you up to the Black House and then back again, making this the easiest method. It’s also possible to hire a Song Tow (taxi styled pick up trucks) who would most likely just drive you there, and then you’d need to arrange for someone to drive you back. They could be quite expensive as well, though also very direct.
If you’re brave, you can rent a cheap scooter, and try to work your way out there, though I’d strongly recommend a map, as it’s not well marked.
I took the cheapest route, taking a local bus from the central bus terminal, and asking to be dropped off outside Baan Dam. They knew right away, and were very helpful in letting us know when it was our stop. From the highway, you must then walk through a village, taking the first left, about 500 meters from the road. It’s another 500 meters through the peaceful village, and the whole walk takes only about 10 minutes (and the bus about 30mins). Getting back you just backtrack the exact same way, and cross the highway to be on the opposite side from where you were dropped off. You can flag down the next bus you see, and they’ll pick you up off the side of the road. It’s easier than it sounds, and they come every 15 mins or so.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Stay – Accommodation
Eat – Restaurants
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
You can visit every day (Monday – Sunday and public holidays).
– The morning : open 9:00 to 12:00 am
– The afternoon : open from 13:00 to 17:00 pm
An important thing to note are the odd operating hours. They close between noon and 1pm each day. You will either want to start your journey earlier in the morning, say around 8-9am, to give yourself a couple hours to spend there, or just after noon, to get there when they reopen after their lunch break. I felt an hour was a comfortable amount of time to take most of the huts in.
Safety – Possible risks
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Cost of Admission is FREE to the public! It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Reality Check – Be Aware
Each hut in the Black House has been carefully thought out with ample attention being put into the detail of these creations. It is really an artistic wonder. Though I usually don’t condone the display of hunted animals, these had apparently all died of natural causes. Thinking back to many older tribes from various corners of the world, often the remains of animals would remain sacred and displayed in similar fashion.Although modern, and done for art, the Black House definitely has an air of being tribal in it’s appearance and with the layout of it’s displays. If you’re looking for something unique, it doesn’t get much more unique, and relatively off the beaten path, as this.
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Have you ever been to a similar art exhibit? Where was it? What feeling did it create? What was the artist trying to accomplish with their displays?
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!
Hey Joel! Thanks for the comment 🙂 I would have to agree with you – it’s definitely one of the most fascinating places I’ve seen in Thailand – and full of incredible relics!! Glad you enjoyed it!!
We just went two weeks ago, what a strange place!
It’s pretty wild, isn’t it? Probably one of the strangest – but also most beautiful – art galleries in Thailand!
This is the first I’ve heard of this temple. Sounds incredibly fascinating! I’ll be adding it to my list. Great post!
I’d say it’s definitely worth the journey, Talon!! If you need any pointers when you get here, just let me know and I’ll be glad to help out however I can 🙂
So is this just another artistic display like the White temple and not a working temple? Is it a museum? Does it even know what it is?
Hey Alana! It’s similar to the White Temple… however… The White Temple IS in fact a working temple, and you will see monks there for daily prayer. Hence why the White Temple is allowed to have the name Wat Rong Khun – Wat implying a practical temple, however unconventional.
Baan means “House” – so it is not considered an actual temple. It just uses the same architectural highlights, such as the roofing and layout. It’s comprised of about 15-20 structures with that design. It’s more of an Art Gallery meets Museum, if it needs such a label. 😉
I found this to be a tranquil alternative to the madness of the white temple, even if the many animal remains on display were a bit weird…
I agree, Laurence! The white temple is a wonder in itself, though it’s certainly found it’s way on to the tourist trail. This place had a registry, and I didn’t see more than 20 names per day, making it still quite a good off-beaten-path alternative, if not add-on to your visit to Chiang Rai 🙂
Thanks for the heads-up about this post, Laurence.
Very interesting – I know what you mean about getting templed out, and I really enjoy seeing the many unique temples and works of art that Thailand has to offer. The crocodile room looks pretty cool!
Hey Mark – certainly possible to be templed out with so many temples – though I never appreciate the intricate work of them any less! This was certainly a refreshing change, mind you. There’s many more beautiful rooms to be shared – stay tuned for a photo essay on this place! 🙂