Just five hours north of Chiang Mai, is the smaller, less touristy city of Chiang Rai. Many travellers arrive here on a northward journey from Chiang Mai to Laos and are already feeling ‘templed out’ by the 300+ temples that make up the ancient walled city of Thailand’s cultural capital. However, there is just one more experience that awaits the culture vultures amongst you! And we promise this one is worth a look! Dubbed the ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ of architecture, the White Temple and the Black House will conjure a clashing of emotions. One dark, mysterious and almost sadistic, the other white, ethereal and other-worldly, these two opposing buildings couldn’t be more different. And the strangest thing about the two is that the White Temple was built by the student of the architect who built the Black House Temple.
The White Temple
Built by artist and teacher Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, who has devoted his life to the project, this Buddhist temple is pure white and coated in tiny mirrors which shine so bright on a sunny day that its appearance is almost blinding to the eye. Surrounded by fountains and pools of water which are home to dozens of albino Japanese fish (koi-carp) the temple is an incredible sight to behold. The temple and its grounds are constantly undergoing renovation due to Kositpipat’s desire for perfection. The project is predicted to take ninety years to complete and the artist has plans in place to ensure that his work is continued long after his death. Admission to the temple is free.
The spiky White Temple reflecting in the surrounding ponds of albino fish.
The pools of albino Japanese koi carp which surround the temple
These eerie looking hands which surround the temple, reaching up to the sky are believed to signify the trials, tribulations and temptations which can distract you from the true path to Heaven. The faces embedded in the ground are those who have fallen prey to such evils, therefore never making it to paradise.
Spooky, ghostly hands reaching out of the ground
The most beautiful toilets in the World at the White Temple in Chiang Rai
The Black House
Just seven kilometres south of the famous White Temple, you will find the mysterious Black House or ‘Baan Dam,’ built by Kositpipat’s former teacher Thawan Duchanee. Not just one building, but a collection of almost forty monuments which are home to Duchanee’s extensive collection of weird taxidermy and bones.
Perhaps not for vegetarians or the squeamish, wandering around the grounds, you will come across the entire skeleton of an elephant, bear skins, tiger skins, skulls of unidentifiable creatures, reptile skins, furs and bizarre furniture created from the bones of exotic animals. Peer into the strange chasm of what looks like a black submarine and you will see what looks like a torture chamber. Feeling uneasy? Just a little.
Thawan Duchanee’s unusual style is quickly gaining recognition and he is now considered a Thai National Artist. He certainly has his own unique style and the project ‘Baan Daam’ is ongoing. More of his bold artwork can be seen in the shop at the entrance to the house grounds – here you can pick up a postcard or a crocodile handbag as a souvenir!
Thawan Duchanee’s Black House standing tall against the blue skies of Chiang Rai
The skin of a snake used as a table runner in Duchanee’s Black House in Chiang Rai
The entire skeleton of an elephant, housed at Duchanee’s Baan Dam
Just a few of the skulls decorating Ducahnee’s Black House
Thawan Duchanee’s bizarre submarine-style building in the grounds of the Black House. Don’t look inside!