I made a stop in Chiang Rai for two reasons, namely Wat Rong Khun aka The White Temple and Baan Dam aka The Black House. At this stage of traveling I have seen enough temples to have any interest in them. After you saw one, you have seen almost all of them. It is funny how guidebooks list temples as major sights, when in reality most of them are same-same. However there are ones that stand out of the rest. Lama Museum in Ulaan Baater was spectacular, as well as Angkor Wat in Siam Reap (visited it many years ago and might do it again soon). Wat Rong Khun is pretty special too and unlike any other temples. I learnt about it from a traveller in Singapore and after a quick search on Google Images I knew that it was something I would love to see.
Wat Rong Khun is a contemporary buddhist temple, which looks like as if H. R. Giger was asked to design a buddhist temple. In fact the temple is the creation of Thai visionary artist and hardcore buddhist Chalermchai Kositpipat. The work began in 1997 and is planned to finish in 2025. You cannot hasten visionary art. The temple really lives up to its name, the entire environment is glittering white being almost painful to watch in the sunshine. There is a great attention to the details, like white fish in the ponds or traffic cones on the temple parking with skulls on them. No smoking or drinking signs are rather hellish looking and clearly remind you that these habits are not very healthy for you. Not your average “no smoking” sign by any means. Skulls and other death attributes are in fact everywhere, which goes in a stark contrast with the white theme. Memento mori indeed. If the temple was not weird enough, there is a statue of Predator in one of the corners of temple. Very odd for a buddhist temple, but it kind of fits the overall theme.
Less known is Baan Dam aka The Black House located some 30km from Wat Rong Khun to the north. It is not featured in any guidebooks or tour itineraries and is somewhat difficult to find unless you know where to look. Baan Dam is created by another Thai artist Thawan Duchanee and is work in progress as well. Even though Baan Dam looks like a temple, it is a massive complex that can be best described as something in-between an art gallery, a chill-out space and a sacrifice ground. The main building is the home to an impressive art gallery featuring works of local artists and other buildings are sort of galleries-warehouses hosting assorted art pieces, animals skins, tortoise shells and horns. Very spooky and not intended for animal rights activists by any means. Toilets of Baan Dam are the most impressive: black and artistic and completed with wooden carvings and art pieces. Free to use too. There is also a wood carving workshop on the site, so you can see how traditional Thai wood carvings are created in real time. Baan Dam is not as popular as its white counterpart and the area is quite deserted, which only makes the strange enough environment even more eerie.
Media other portraits Wat Rong Khun as heaven and Baan Dam as hell respectively. In reality they are both pretty weird and sinister looking. Both creations are true pieces of visionary art, unique and simply mind-blowing. Not to be missed.
Other than that, there is nothing exciting about Chiang Rai.