The White Temple & The Black House: Chiang Rai, Thailand

The Black House, Chiang Rai, Thailand
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 impressive entrance to the Kositpipat's White Temple, Chiang Rai, over the sea of hands.The impressive entrance to the Kositpipat’s White Temple, over the sea of hands.

The spiky White Temple and its fountains reflecting in the surrounding ponds of albino fish.The spiky White Temple reflecting in the surrounding ponds of albino fish.

The pools of albino Japanese koi carp which surround the White Temple, Chiang RaiThe 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 stone hands reaching out of the ground at the White Temple, Chiang Rai, ThailandSpooky, ghostly hands reaching out of the ground

Eerie skulls hang from the nearby trees at the White Temple, Chiang Rai, ThailandEerie skulls hang from the nearby trees at the temple

Eleborate gold decoration at the most beautiful toilets in the World at the White Temple in Chiang RaiThe 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 RaiThawan Duchanee’s Black House standing tall against the blue skies of Chiang Rai

A snake skin used as a table runner in Duchanee's Black House in Chiang RaiThe skin of a snake used as a table runner in Duchanee’s Black House in Chiang Rai

The entire skeleton of an elephant at The Black HouseThe entire skeleton of an elephant, housed at Duchanee’s Baan Dam

Buffalo skulls decorate the floor at Ducahnee's Black HouseJust a few of the skulls decorating Ducahnee’s Black House

Thawan Duchanee's bizarre submarine-style building in the grounds of the Black House, Chiang RaiThawan Duchanee’s bizarre submarine-style building in the grounds of the Black House. Don’t look inside!

Laura Davies

Laura Davies started her career at South East Asia Backpacker Magazine on an internship in the summer of 2011. After proving she could knock back shots, ride a scooter and look good in a poncho, she soon became an indispensable part of the team. She’s now living in London, working as a freelance designer.

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9 thoughts on “The White Temple & The Black House: Chiang Rai, Thailand”

  1. Sean O'Nuallain

    Saw it last week. It is amazing. Damaged by the earthquake but still worth your time if you are near the area. It’s free and can get a local bus for 20 baht from Chiang Rai.

  2. Thank you for posting this web page, it helped me decide how to spend what turned out to be a splendid day in Chiang Rai. A few corrections that will help others: first, the black temple is not, “two kilometers north,” but about 7 kilometers south, it took my private driver half an hour to drive from the white temple to the black house at 12 noon. Just thought others could save the embarrassment I endured when I insisted (to locals) that it was only 2 kilometers away. And finally, Chiang Mai is a three hour bus ride from Chiang Rai, I took it yesterday.

    Thanks again,

    1. Your sense of direction is off by 180 degrees.. The white temple is South of Chiang Rai, and as the article states, the Black House is North of the city. Also it’s not a temple, as there are no monks nor religious events there.

  3. Thanks for including these especially The Black House which I don’t think has received a ton of publicity yet. It’s still a work in progress as pretty much every building is closed (but still beautiful) other than the large main one.

    I hired a tuk tuk so I don’t know the exact distances but there’s no way that the Black House is just 2 km from the White Temple. I had trouble finding any reasonable map that included Black House so I’m not really sure. The link below mentioned directions. Unfortunately any signs that reference it are in Thai only.

  4. Great website! May I correct a tiny detail though…the artist of the Black House is the teacher of the White Temple artist. A completely wrong way round from what you indicated. Both of them are from Chiangrai. Most if not all of our local artists respect, and are inspired by Dr Thawan Duchanee. We can’t be more proud of our national treasures. 🙂
    Thank you for visiting and promoting my home town.

  5. Damnt, I didn’t know about the Black House when I was there. White Temple is INCREDIBLE though.

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