Heading outside of Chiang Rai to Baan Dam or the Black House we had no idea what to expect. The entire compound is the creative genius of the Thai artist Thawan Duchanee. We were told by our driver that he was a very important artist to the Thai people but how does that translate to an artistic compound in the middle of nowhere?
As we pulled up to the compound with our driver I immediately understood. The elegance, sophistication, creativity and quirkiness of Thawan Duchanee was immediately mesmerizing and moving. (Notice the upside down Buddha head at the top of the building.)
Each building is a statement, filled with animal hides, animal bones, buddhas, and a sense of spirituality sorely lacking in most of the rest of the tourist spots in Thailand. The black buildings which stood as a tribute to Thai architecture of the past, combined with the expression of this modern artist immediately transport you to a place where traditional Buddhist values meet modern artistic expression. I could not stop gaping at the gorgeous natural wood carvings against the black buildings.
As a vegetarian I was a little uncomfortable with all the animal hides, bones and skulls of dead animals however the sheer massivity of the first building we entered over rode the creepiness of the dead animal parts. The rafters, and tables, artwork and antiques which fill this humongous building are just awe inspiring and after all of the white temples the black was a refreshing change. The building is filled with symbolism of Buddha’s life and interpretation by Duchanee about the Buddhist religion.
Outside of the main building we wandered the grounds looking at all of the amazing architecture, the antiques and more animal hides, bones and skulls. While most buildings are closed the architecture is worth it. Duchanee used the buildings while he was alive and it is said that famous people, religious leaders and politicians also visited here to worship. Some of the buildings have glass windows which are floor-to-ceiling so you can look into the buildings and see how they are arranged for visitors, sleeping or eating.
On the opposite side of the property are the white domes, or igloo shaped buildings. They are painted differently on the outside but all seem to have reference to the third eye, or all seeing eyes, or whatever your interpretation of them is. They are set up differently inside and can be entered. There was a lot of American Indian influence in the buildings which were set up with chairs in circles, animal hides, the most massive shells we had ever seen, and more bones. J was really impressed with the absolutely perfect acoustics in each building (we may have tested this with itunes…).
The fish shaped building was the bedroom of Thawan Duchanee when he would stay on the property. Unfortunately you can not go in but you can look through the windows. It was the only space we saw with an actual store bought leather couch instead of the animal horn furniture.
His collection of antiques, and even the full skeleton of an elephant were quite amazing!
There is a gift shop but it does close at 12:00 for lunch as does the art gallery.
We hired a driver to take us to the Black House and wait. I would definitely recommend having a driver wait for you as tuk-tuk’s are not readily available here.
J and I both loved the Black House. It was such a creative break from all of the other Wat’s in Thailand. The serenity of the grounds and the details in his designs were absolutely wonderful and a must see in Thailand. It is easy to get overwhelmed and burnt out with all of the temples so the Black House is a welcome change.
It should only take an hour or two to tour Baan Dam so afterwards you can roam the city of Chiang Rai or visit some of the other Wat’s that are lesser known or travel over to the White Temple for more creative expression of the Buddhism.