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The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

The Black House in Chiang Rai

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

June 2015.

It was a humid, overcast day in Chiang Rai as I jumped into a tuk tuk bound for the bus station. Following my afternoon exploring the fascinating and highly bizarre White Temple, I was now off to discover another uncompromisingly weird exhibition of traditional and modern art.

Chiang Rai Bus Station.

Chiang Rai Bus Station.

Located half an hour outside the city centre, my destination was the Baan Dam Museum, better known to foreign tourists as The Black House Museum. Or simply Black House“Which is weirder, the White Temple or the Black House Museum?” ask several bloggers online. Everyone, it seemed, had a different opinion. Thus my curiosity was piqued, as the bus chugged out of the station. 

Old couple on a bus Chiang Rai Thailand.

On the way to the Black House Museum.

Like the White Temple, The Black House Museum was the creation of a well-known Thai artist. Thawan Duchanee was a renowned painter, sculptor, engraver and architect. He drew inspiration from Thai, Japanese, Indian and Chinese art. In 1975 he created the museum we see today, though back then it functioned simply as his home with a couple of onsite art studios. 

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

Thawan Duchanee Thai artist.

Thawan Duchanee.

However, Duchanee had grand plans. Over the next 36 years he developed and expanded his land, building numerous wooden houses, pavilions, halls and huts. Some served as art exhibits, workshops and studios. Others he used as meeting rooms and lecture spaces in addition to housing for the art students who came to live here.

As I entered the museum that day (80 Baht/$2.30), I immediately came face to face with a trio of these dark, A-frame structures. Now this was certainly a whole other vibe compared to the White Temple.

The dark wooden structures of The Black House Museum in Chiang Rai

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

Whereas the White Temple is predominantly a celebration of goodness and purity, Black House champions interpretations of death and the darker, more melancholic sides of human nature.

Consider this grisly scene, for example, in one of the main exhibition halls. Numerous paintings depict hell. Elsewhere, crocodile skin and a large skull decorate a long wooden table.

Baan Dam Museum Chiang Rai.

A typically grisly exhibit at Baan Dam Museum.

A handwritten sign, meanwhile, encourages visitors to leave donations in and around the skull. This helps to support the museum and, apparently, can protect us from the unwanted attention of evil spirits and dark forces. I dropped a coin onto Mr. Croc’s nose and got away from him as fast as I could.

Baan Dam Museum. 

Crocodile skull Black House Chiang Rai.

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

The crocodile wasn’t the only dead animal on display. In fact, animal lovers may well have a tough time with the museum. Under a locked wooden hut, set alone on a grassy space, lies a complete elephant skeleton!

Defending himself to media outlets back in the early noughties, Duchanee was keen to stress that all the animals featured in his museum had died of natural causes. And that there wasn’t a sadistic element to his collection.

Elephant skeleton Black House Chiang Rai

An unsettling sight.

Rather, he intended that many of the displays channel the importance of animal bones/skin in tribal traditions. Inside an open-air exhibit, I found indigenous handmade crafts, such as baskets, drums and cages.

All around them, some standing, some hanging, is an array of buffalo and ram skulls. This is a nod, by all accounts, to the major hill tribes of northern Thailand: the Lahu, Akha, Palaung, Karen, Mien/Yao and Lisu.

Buffalo skulls and handmade crafts Baan Dam Museum in Chiang Rai

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

In a small lecture room, I discovered that buffalo horns had been used to craft numerous wooden chairs. Sitting down on one, I had a giggle at how incredibly uncomfortable it was. And how, when viewing the room, I couldn’t help but conclude that it looked like a meeting chamber for the Council of Global Evil.

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

Lecture Hall Black House Museum.

Awaiting the presence of pure wickedness.

While hardly charmed by all the bones and skin, I was admittedly impressed by many of the wooden buildings scattered around the compound. Duchanee built a bunch himself, while others were created by guest artists.

Most feature local wood, stained dark black or deep brown with carved pointed tails or horns, depending on your perspective. They have a menacing even gothic feel to them. The one pictured below, topped with clay tiles, houses two wooden Buddhas.

Black House Museum in Chiang Rai.

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

Another, Tri Phum (Triangle House), is available as a residential apartment for artists, writers and art students. It is one of the earliest of Duchanee’s creations, crafted throughout 1976 and 1977. According to several online articles, it has had a tumultuous history, having been severely damaged no less than three times by various storms.

Tri Phum Triangle House Chiang Rai.

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

Most impressive of all is the so-called Cathedral, designed by Duchanee and constructed by a team of Thai engineers between 1999-2009. Inside, there are regular seminars on Buddhism as well as drawing workshops for aspiring young artists.

The Black House in Chiang Rai

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

Wherever I roamed throughout the museum, I was never too far from an image of Duchanee. Sometimes in the form of a wooden sculpture or an unflattering clay head. In one hall, a cardboard cutout of the man greeted me as I entered. I had seen a similar cardboard figure of artist Chalermchai Kositpipat at The White Temple. 

Baan Dam Museum. 

Thawan Duchanee Thai painter architect and sculptor

“Mr. Thomas, I have been expecting you”.

In that same hall I came upon a lavish memorial to the artist, with a framed photo tucked onto the back of a golden eagle. Duchanee suffered from a host of health complaints in his later years, including diabetes and hypertension.

Eventually, he passed away from liver failure on September the 3rd 2014 aged 74. This was about nine months prior to my visit to the museum. Duchanee later received a royal funeral in Bangkok, where her Highness Princess Sirindhorn oversaw his cremation.

Memorial to Thawan Duchanee.

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

Feeling that I had seen about as much skin, bones, horns and general weirdness as I could handle, I decided to head away from the buildings in order to drink in the calmness of the gardens. I must say it was lovely, with exotic plants, fulsome trees, grassy lawns and even a few horses nibbling the greenery.

Baan Dam Museum Black House Chiang Rai

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

Soon, my wanderings brought me to a cluster of altogether different buildings at the back of the complex. Much to my surprise, these were white stone structures with not a hint of wood. Actually, they looked a bit like igloos and pod houses.

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

Igloo style structures at The Black House Museum

Igloos. Kind of.

Most were locked, though a few housed exhibits of… yes…. animal skin, bones, horns and all that jazz.

White Pod building Black House Museum

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

One such creation had been modelled to look like a fish! Mouth agape, with a porthole for an eye, it is a puzzling albeit fun addition to the show.

Fish Building Black House Museum Chiang Rai

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

With thoughts of fresh fish for dinner, I began sauntering back through the garden towards the exit. Between the trees I went, reflecting on my magical two months in Thailand.

Wooden demon sculpture Baan Dam Museum

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

I had covered so much ground, from north to south and back up north again. Between buzzing cities, lazy river towns, isolated villages, ruined temples, dusty canyons, dense jungles and pristine tropical islands.

Creepy Black House Chiang Rai.

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

There had been so many rich and varied experiences along the way. Including, among many others, a monkey-infested hilltop palace and the world’s second longest wooden bridge. Exploring the floors of an abandoned skyscraper and paying my respects at a poignant World War II cemetery. Trekking with elephants, hunting elusive waterfalls and taking in a sublime, unparalleled private sunset.

Baan Dam Museum.

Visiting Chiang Rai's weird Black House Museum

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

Finally, I was shaken from my daydreams by a cacophonous squawking. The sound, travelling far across the museum, was coming from a little bird. The poor thing was in a cage, a situation it didn’t seem overly delighted with. “Homeward bound!” he seemed to screech at me. “It’s over!”

Caged bird Black House Chiang Rai.

The Black House Museum, Chiang Rai.

The Black House bird was right. It was time to leave Chiang Rai. To make the long trip back down to Bangkok before an even lengthier journey home to The UK. There, family, friends and familiar comforts awaited. Moments before departing, I felt a surge of temptation rush through me. I could unlatch the cage door and let him fly off to freedom…

But of course I bottled it.

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    Yes!! That’s exactly what Thailand does to you…and you know, I don’t think I’ve ever talked to or read the words of any traveller who’s been there and had any other reaction. It grips everyone. As you’ve said in more words, Thailand really does have everything, including some of the best food….and people….anywhere in the world. It remains one of our favourite countries so far.

    March 26, 2023 - 2:25 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for following my exploits throughout this Thai series. I would definitely be open to going back one day, especially as Sladja has never been.

      March 26, 2023 - 2:39 pm Reply
  • Stan

    a fine end to a wonderful series. nobody does nostalgia better than you. the black house museum seem every bit as bizarre as the white temple but perhaps without the sense of humour that i often felt in the other artists work. the dark wooden buildings are very impressive the animal bones less so, they leave me a bit cold. another fascinating site nonetheless.

    March 26, 2023 - 2:56 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers, Stan. Chiang Rai definitely offers something different with its attractions. If I’m ever back in the area I’d like to add The Blue Temple and a few other spots to my collection. Appreciate you coming along with me on these Thai adventures.

      March 26, 2023 - 4:06 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Nobody can deny Thawan Duchanee’s artistic talents at either venue. There is obviously something for everyone and his art draws strong response on both sides. The architecture is delightful, but yeah, bones and hides would be overwhelming after a while. Thanks for showing us the area in black and white Leighton. Allan

    March 26, 2023 - 3:47 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I like the idea of “Chiang Rai: A Black and White” experience. Thanks Allan, for your support of this series, it’s great to have another fully blogged country under my belt.

      March 26, 2023 - 4:07 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    Another absolutely bizarre place in the city, and I can’t help but like it. You are making me very excited for my later in the year trip to Thailand.

    March 26, 2023 - 5:23 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for dropping by Han. Not sure how long you’re going to Thailand for but I imagine you’ll have a lot of tough decisions to make.

      March 26, 2023 - 5:38 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    Great tour of Black House. I don’t remember and probably didn’t see the elephant skeleton, and for that I am thankful. The rest of the place though is so weird and wonderful. Love your recap of Thailand. It is a really special country that stays in our hearts too. Maggie

    March 26, 2023 - 5:33 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Maggie for touching base with this series over the past few years. It was good to finally wrap it up.

      March 26, 2023 - 5:38 pm Reply
  • Memo

    The “horns” on the roofs create an ominous feeling – like they are trying to channel some dark cosmic energy into the building almost like evil lightning rods. I don’t know that I could ever fall asleep if I were to stay there. It would have been interesting to hear what he had to say about his art. Was he intending this to be the antithesis of the White Temple? Thanks for the trip.

    March 26, 2023 - 5:37 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, yes, imagine living in one of those buildings and kind of drinking in the vibe of the place on a daily basis as a resident. Creepy, to say the least. Detailed info about Duchanee and his vision is a little thin on the ground. Most pieces I’ve read just repeat the same basic bits. Not particularly revealing. I’ve read a few articles saying that he was indeed inspired by Kositpipat’s white vision and that he was even his student! However, Black House was started in 1975, The White Temple not until the late 90s. Duchanee was also far older than Kositpipat, so I remain unconvinced.

      March 26, 2023 - 5:47 pm Reply
      • Memo

        So maybe the inspiration ran in the opposite direction. Interesting. Thanks for the info.

        March 26, 2023 - 5:54 pm
  • wetanddustyroads

    The word ‘interesting’ is what I usually use when I don’t know what to say … the Black House Museum is certainly an ‘interesting’ place 🙂. That lecture room with the buffalo chairs – well, I don’t know about that! I rarely get nightmares… but I might miss a few nights of good sleep if I were to visit here.

    March 26, 2023 - 6:34 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, yes, that meeting room. A place where you imagine people would be too scared to even speak up. That’s another country wrapped, thanks for your company throughout, Corna,

      March 26, 2023 - 8:09 pm Reply
  • Milena Alien

    Great place to visit! Thanks for sharing

    March 26, 2023 - 6:48 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for your comment Milena!

      March 26, 2023 - 7:37 pm Reply
      • Milena Alien

        of course

        March 27, 2023 - 1:38 am
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    My first thought when I saw the trio of black structures was, “Wouldn’t it be fun to spend the night in one of those cute treehouse-like little houses!” Oh, hell no – pun intended! While I am always drawn to the unusual and quirky, the Black House Museum would’ve been a little too strange even for me. However, I am intrigued by the structures, but not necessarily what they contain. It would feel very creepy to encounter the artist’s image at every turn. I’m so glad you posted this, Leighton, as I’m sure we will never get to see this unusual place in person. Have a wonderful week ahead!

    March 26, 2023 - 6:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, I think the staying the night onsite would be an interesting experience to say the least. If such a thing were possible, I’d have considered it. But I hear ya, this place isn’t everyone’s cup of tea in the bright sunshine, let alone in the dead of night with all its unsettling sounds. Thanks for following with me through my adventures in Thailand, Kellye.

      March 26, 2023 - 7:59 pm Reply
  • Mallee Stanley

    Thanks for your amusing posts on Chaing Rai and your reassurance that I never missed anything by not venturing into this location.

    March 26, 2023 - 7:25 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You are very welcome Mallee, I’m glad that they made you feel happy about your travel choices.

      March 26, 2023 - 7:46 pm Reply
  • Nic

    I agree with you, I don’t care much for the bones and skeletons, and the room with the buffalo chairs, total council of the Evil for sure! I do quite like the wooden gothic huts, a fusion of so many different styles, I could imagine one of those in the Swiss Alps as well.
    Thailand seems like such an interesting place, it keeps climbing up to the top of my list! Thanks for sharing another unusual attraction, I absolutely love what the minds of eccentric artistics are able to put out there in the world!

    March 26, 2023 - 7:58 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for the recent catch up Nic, it’s much appreciated. I hadn’t actually thought of the Swiss Alps, but totally get what you mean. Thailand is absolutely wonderful, I feel I need another cross-country trip one of these years.

      March 26, 2023 - 8:06 pm Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    It seems as though Thawan Duchanee was channeling his inner biologist with all the bones and animal parts; he was certainly creative. The chairs with the horns remind me of something from Star Wars. Looks like another interesting place. I’ve enjoyed your series on Thailand and am looking forward to your next series.

    March 26, 2023 - 8:43 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You make an excellent observation about shades of Star Wars, I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks Tricia for your excellent company throughout this Thai series. I appreciate your ongoing readership.

      March 27, 2023 - 10:30 am Reply
  • Laura

    What an interesting complement this is to the White Temple post! I am similarly both intrigued and unnerved by so many aspects of this place. Your comment about the ‘meeting chamber for the Council of Global Evil’ gave me a good laugh. I have loved following your chronicles of Thailand, Leighton, and it remains near the top of my bucket list of destinations.

    March 26, 2023 - 8:50 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks so much, Laura, it’s been great to have you on board both as a reader and commenter. Thailand delivers on so many fronts, I shall now have to do new travels if I want to write more about the country. Cheers!

      March 27, 2023 - 9:40 am Reply
  • Lookoom

    I like these unusual shapes, especially the igloo, without the polar cold.

    March 27, 2023 - 1:15 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for stopping by The Black House Museum!

      March 27, 2023 - 9:41 am Reply
  • Anna

    You find all the weird places Leighton! Lol

    March 27, 2023 - 2:07 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, I have found some weird places over the years. In this case though I didn’t even need to seek them out, they were front and centre! Thanks for coming along for my Thai travels, Anna.

      March 27, 2023 - 9:45 am Reply
  • bronlima

    Council of Global Evil hahaha… amazing trip, but time came to return to UK …… Marmite, Coleman”s Mustard and Branston Pickle ahhh ….. and a pint of scrumpy.

    March 27, 2023 - 5:27 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Something like that Geoff! I’ll take the Coleman’s Mustard and Branston Pickle. And add a Double Decker, Monster Munch, crumpets, toasted teacakes, Cumberland Sausages, Daddies Sauce to namecheck just a few of the hundreds of foodie things I miss about home. Thanks for stopping by.

      March 27, 2023 - 9:57 am Reply
      • bronlima

        Ah Daddies Sauce ……. just recently got a new stock of HP Sauce and Rowntree’s Fruit Gums. Crunchy bars are also always a hit.

        March 27, 2023 - 2:32 pm
      • Leighton

        You get these sent to Lima? From where?!

        March 27, 2023 - 2:35 pm
      • bronlima

        My daughter came to visit with goodies. Now l stay a good time in England every year Mature cheddar cheese, here I come. Aghhgh, but then I miss Peruvian food. You can never win.

        March 27, 2023 - 2:44 pm
  • Erik Magnus

    Fascinating place. Rest in peace Duchanee 🙏.

    March 27, 2023 - 9:04 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Eric, it’s great to have you back. Thanks for reading about the Black House!

      March 27, 2023 - 9:59 am Reply
      • Erik Magnus

        Thanks Leighton, life ya know, always moving around. Good to see your still making content.

        March 28, 2023 - 4:43 am
  • qprgary

    Really liked the chairs, did they all die naturally… hmm not sure as it’s Asia. fascinating place though.

    March 27, 2023 - 11:57 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha, I shall send the museum an email to ask about the chairs. Thanks for dropping in, Gary.

      March 27, 2023 - 12:01 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    A very interesting finale to your series on Thailand. I think I would prefer the building for its architecture rather than its contents though.

    March 27, 2023 - 1:31 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marion. There are many buildings in the complex, but yes, I take your point. Such items are not to everyone’s tastes, especially these days when we are so aware of and sensitive to how we treat animals. Dead from natural cause or not, there is something uncomfortable about these exhibits.

      March 27, 2023 - 2:42 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    Based on your posts I would say this one is weirder, all the dead things would make me feel uncomfortable I think. Great finale to your time in Thailand.

    March 27, 2023 - 3:27 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for stopping by, Lyssy.

      March 27, 2023 - 3:33 pm Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    Thank you for sharing this detailed series on Thailand! It seems like this was definitely an interesting spot, and had contrasting focal points to the White Temple and an interesting artistic design.

    March 27, 2023 - 9:45 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for following these Thai chapters Allie!

      March 28, 2023 - 10:02 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    That’s quite the contrast to go from the White Temple to the Black House. You weren’t lying about how there would be more cardboard cutouts! It kind of fits with the whole creepy vibe. The pod house structures are pretty cool.

    March 28, 2023 - 12:58 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I liked the pod/igloo things too. Duchanee was definitely a creative mind who remained untamed throughout his life. Thanks for checking in guys and for your support of the Thai series these past months.

      March 28, 2023 - 5:25 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    I would say that the White Temple is weirder than the Dark House. Walking up to this building and then seeing the scattering of bones and skins and things would be weird but after a minute you would think that it all kind of fit together. But walking up to the White Temple and then seeing the weird, somewhat creepy, aspects would not fit at all with what you thought on entering. The Dark House almost has the feel of like a hunting lodge. Another interesting look at the modern art that exists on Buddhist temples 🙂

    March 28, 2023 - 10:55 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Meg, yes very hunting lodge! I appreciate your thoughts, you make a strong case for The White Temple being just that little bit more “out there”. That’s another country done and dusted Meg, thanks so much for following along!

      March 29, 2023 - 3:59 pm Reply
      • grandmisadventures

        can’t wait to follow along on your next series! 🙂

        March 29, 2023 - 6:14 pm
  • Troy Olson

    I have been discovering your blog today. just subscribed by email fantastic content!

    March 30, 2023 - 5:54 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Troy!

      March 30, 2023 - 7:39 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    You do have a knack for finding the weird! This one is high on the list. At least all the animals died of natural causes. I would expect so for the Buddhist way.

    March 31, 2023 - 9:01 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Appreciate the catchup Ruth!

      March 31, 2023 - 9:45 pm Reply
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    April 1, 2023 - 10:59 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for the repost!

      April 1, 2023 - 11:30 am Reply
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    April 3, 2023 - 2:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for the repost!

      April 3, 2023 - 2:15 pm Reply
  • Nora

    Very interesting post. Loved the pictures.

    May 4, 2023 - 12:32 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading, Nora!

      May 4, 2023 - 1:02 pm Reply
  • Karli Pineda

    Wonderful article and photos. You have a talent for travel writing! 🙂

    June 25, 2023 - 12:44 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading and getting in touch!

      June 25, 2023 - 1:52 pm Reply
  • kurtkoy escort

    Very well presented. Every quote was awesome and thanks for sharing the content. Keep sharing and keep motivating others.

    July 31, 2023 - 1:40 pm Reply
  • Carlee Norman

    Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Many thanks for providing these details.

    August 9, 2023 - 11:49 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment Carlee.

      August 10, 2023 - 9:23 am Reply

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