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

Not all temples are alike, and not all houses will be pleasing once you step inside.

At the White Temple and the Black House, you will be baffled by beauty and bizarreness, the exact combination which describe white and black.

Two different architectural structures with impressive details and enchanting features, they will forever remain as one of the best memories of your trip to Thailand.

The White Temple

The White Temple

The White Temple (also known as Wat Rong Khun) is an art exhibit in the Chiang Rai Province in Thailand.

It was built in the style of a Buddhist temple and is privately owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat. He designed and constructed this beautiful architectural piece and also opened it to visitors in 1997.

About the Artist

Chalermchai Kositpipat

(Photo by BrokenSphere, available under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).

Chalermchai Kositpipat is a Thai visual artist whose works have been exhibited all around the world.

He is most famous for using Buddhist imagery in his art. His first work consists of painted movie advertisements on billboards and murals. Although he faced a lot of criticism at first, his art soon became more acceptable.

Even Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Thai King, became one of his clients. He began working on his project, the Wat Rong Khun (or the White Temple) in 1997, and he still continues to this day. He has devoted his life to working on this temple and was quoted saying “Only death can stop my dream, but cannot stop my project”.

History of the White Temple

The White Temple Wat Rong Khun

The White Temple wasn’t always as pretty and enchanting as it is today.

By the end of the 20th Century, The White Temple (better known as Wat Rong Khun) was in awful condition and desperately needed repairs. A renovation was not possible because there weren’t enough funds available.

Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to rebuild the temple using his own money, by which he has spent up until know about THB 40 million (more than $1.1 million) on the project. The main purpose of the Wat Rong Khun is to be a center of learning and meditation. The project is expected to be finished by 2070.

The structure and symbolism

Wat Rong Khun Structure

When the White Temple is completed, it will have 9 buildings: the ubosot, a hall of relics, a meditation hall, an art gallery and a living quarter for monks.

The whole temple is filled with stunning architectural features that symbolize different things.

The Bridge of “The cycle of rebirth”, for example, is the bridge you need to cross to get to the main building of the temple. Hundreds of outreaching hands await you at the front of the bridge. They symbolize unrestrained desire.

On the other hand, the Gate of Heaven stands before you after crossing the bridge. It is guarded by two creatures that represent Death and Rahu. Two other buildings are the Ubosot and The golden building. The Ubosot represents the mind, whereas the golden building represents the body.

Want to visit the White Temple?

Visit the White Temple

If you want to visit this beautiful building, you would have to drive 15 kilometers southwest of Chiang Rai town.

You can get there by using the local taxis or public transport. The temple is open all year-round, so you will have the chance to visit it at any time you wish.

However, you need to know that you have to pay 50 Thai Baht per person. Also, you can buy works of the temple’s designer, souvenirs, coffee, and snacks.

The Black House

Baan Dam

(Photo by Kate Branch, available under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license).

The Black House, better known as “Baan Dam” is only seven kilometers south of the White Temple.

It is also a short drive from the middle of Chiang Rai city. The Black House consists of 40 buildings that have different shapes and sizes. The Thai name “Baan Dam” can be translated as “baan” meaning a home or house, whereas “dam” means black. Hence the translation “Black House”.

About the Artist

The artist behind the Baan Dam is Thawan Duchanee.

He was a Thai contemporary painter, architect, and sculptor who was raised in Chiang Rai. He was even awarded the prize as the National Thai Artist in Fine art and Visual art in 2001.

Most of his works are based on Buddhist references. Despite his huge international success, his works weren’t accepted at first. Once a group of students destroyed his works because they believed to be insulting to religion.

His paintings have become very valuable today and can be seen nowadays. But aside from paintings, his is also known for his architecture, in which his masterpiece is the Black House. It was also his residence until he died in 2014 at the age of 74 because of liver failure.

The Buildings

Since the Black House (or Baan Dam) isn’t only one combined structure, the 40 buildings are placed around a peaceful garden.  This architectural beauty holds a large collection of unusual taxidermy and bones. You can find many elephant skeletons, bear skins, tiger skins, furs, peculiar furniture from exotic animals’ bones and much more weird stuff.

The 40 monuments’ contents are the reason why the Black House wasn’t very favorable at first. It is also disturbing to view from many of its visitors.

Thawan Duchanee also created a black submarine-like chasm which on the inside looks like a torture chamber. Not a very desirable image to be stored in your memory.

What is really interesting about the Black House, is that on the outside, it looks elegant and traditional.

However, once you step inside, a whole different scenery awaits you. You even have snake skins as table runners. It would definitely be weird to eat your meal while staring into the eyes of a snake just centimeters away from your face.

However, don’t let all the weird stuff distract you from the inspiration behind this enchanting structure. Thawan used all of these to indicate the sickness, old age, and death that Buddha witnessed during his travels.

How to get there?

The best starting point is Chiang Rai.

You can book a trip from travel offices or if you prefer to privately visit the Black House you can take a taxi or hire a car driver for the day. You can even use public transport, as it is cheaper.

It is always open from 09.00 to 17.00, except for the lunch break from 12.00 to 13.00. You can even buy souvenirs, food, and coffee at the front entrance. Also, you will need to pay 80 Baht to get in.

Final words

Both of these amazing tourist attractions sound tempting, don’t they?

A mixture of history, religion, beauty, art, and bizarreness is always a great reason to travel to the White Temple and the Black House.

Before you do all your planning, it is strongly advised to consider some travel risks as well. You will never know what can happen, so it’s always better to be prepared.

One potential travel risk can be the cancellation or delaying of your flight. No one can control the odds, so purchasing travel insurance can definitely be a huge savior.

After you’ve completed all your planning and preparations, pack your bags and head off to Thailand to have an unforgettable experience.