Home Photography Heaven and Hell: The White Temple of Chiang Rai and the Black House of Chiang Rai

Heaven and Hell: The White Temple of Chiang Rai and the Black House of Chiang Rai

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Thailand is known for its temples. Wat Rong Khun is perhaps the most well-known and unusual of Thailand’s temples. It is a jewel in northern Thai city Chiang Rai and likely the attraction that draws the most tourists each year. Baan Dam, also known as the Black House, is another popular attraction for those who are in the know. These two unusual and innovative structures have been referred to as the “hell and heaven” of Chiang Rai. It is worth the effort to travel to the city near the Laos border to view these amazing creations. Let me tell you about the White Temple of Chiang Rai and Black House in Chiang Rai.

The White Temple of Chiang Rai

The White Temple, gleaming in a silvery-white with intricate details that make you wonder about the artist’s patience, is absolutely stunning in person.

White Temple Chiang Rai

It was not the Wat Rong Khun you see today. It had fallen apart by the end 20th century. The new Wat Rong Khun was rebuilt by Chalermchai Kositpipat. This work is full of symbolism about the sins and temptations that one must avoid to reach heaven.

White Temple Chiang Rai hands

Surprisingly, the complex also contained structures in gold, which was surprising considering the location’s name and the online photos. The most striking feature of the White Temple, however, was the murals that lined the walls of the main building, the Ubosot. The inside of the White Temple is not as white as the exterior. It’s filled with a variety of colors. The interior is filled with references to Western pop culture, including Harry Potter and Michael Jackson, which contrasts the traditional Thai architecture. The shock is made even more intense by the fact that inside there are no photos.

White Temple Chiang Rai goldWat Rong Khun

Foreigners pay 50 baht to enter the White Temple. You are welcome to visit the adjoining gallery of Kositpipat’s work. It is not a religious temple but you must dress modestly and cover your legs and shoulders as you would a regular temple. The hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; weekends close at 5:30 p.m. Each day, the temple offers a one-hour lunch break that begins at noon.

You can reach the White Temple by taking a variety of transportation routes. It is located approximately 15 km from the city centre. You have the option to call a Grab (Uber Southeast Asia), hire a scooter and drive, or use one of the public transportation options.

Songthaews, which are converted pickup trucks that can be used as shared taxis in Thailand, is the first option. Songthaews are 150 baht and can be taken to the White Temple. They can also leave when they’re full, or when the songthaew members decide to pay the full price. It’s 30 baht for each person if there are five people in the songthaew. If you have only two people and don’t want to wait, you can each pay 75 baht. Local buses are the cheapest option. You can simply go to the bus station to take one of the local buses to Mae Suay, or Mae Kajarn. To help tourists find their way, the fare collector will usually hold up a sign reading Wat Rong Khun. They will drop you off at the side of the road, just a few yards from the temple. The fare is 20 baht.

The Black House of Chiang Rai

The Black House, also known as the Baan Dam Museum, is located about 35 minutes away from Chiang Rai. This stunning place was built by Thawan Duchanee, an artist who specializes in black-colored buildings, installations and paintings.

Black House Chiang RaiBaan DamBlack House Chiang Rai man

The place also contains animal bones and skins. Although they may not be suitable for people who are sensitive to those things, I feel that they were used in thoughtful and artistic ways and not just for shock value. You will also see images of the artist at different ages.

Black House Chiang Rai alligatorBlack House Chiang Rai Duchanee

The Black House admission costs 80 baht. It also contains a gallery featuring Duchanee’s other works. There is no dress code and the place is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The Black House is located approximately 10 km outside the city center of Chiang Rai. The Black House is located a little out of the way from the main streets. You have three options: rent a scooter, bike, or Grab. Songthaews may be an option, but you will need to know where you are once the driver drops your off on the side road. There are no local buses that pass there, I’m not aware.

Heaven and Hell

The “heaven-and-hell temples” are often referred to as the “heavens and hells”, due to the contrast between the white, ethereal White Temple and dark, macabre vibes of the Black House.

Despite their visual differences, both masterpieces and their creators actually look very similar. Both artists are art installations that stand out. Both have used Buddhist imagery in their work. Kositpipat, a Buddhist devout, and Duchanee, a non-religious artist, both of them were first and foremost. Although both their artistic styles were at first considered to be fringe or even sacrilegious, they are now well-known as Thailand’s most prominent contemporary artists.

Both men continued to work on their masterpieces for many decades. Duchanee lived in the Black House, and added new buildings and structures to it until his death in 2014. Kositpipat started work on the White Temple in 1997. I was able to see more structures when I visited the site in November 2017. In interviews in the past, he stated that he hopes to realize his full vision by 2070. I assume that this would be through his disciples, since he’d be around 115 years by then.

There are also some sinister and evil elements in the White Temple, as well as holy and ordinary parts in the Black House.

White Temple Chiang Rai faces
Baan Dam Chiang Rai

Perhaps how you view the two of them and their relationship is an expression of your views on life, death, heaven, and hell. They were two amazing works of art that I saw as contemporary renderings of a country with a traditional architectural style.

 

Are the White Temple or Black House a reversal of your notions about Thai architecture?

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