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Nang Lae, Thailand

Baan Dam - Black House

An entire elephant skeleton, snake skin table runner, and thousands of animal remains become art in Thailand's Black House. 

Everything at Baan Dam is black, or at least gives off a dark aura, and each one of the 15 houses is embellished and furnished with animal remains.

Artist Thawan Duchanee created an impressive collection of skins, bones, teeth and taxidermy of a wide array of animals. The animal remains are intricately arranged, giving off a beautifully unique yet mysterious tribal vibe. There is a conflict of emotion, between appreciation of art and a sense of evil, coming from the dead animals. Supposedly they all died from natural causes; an idea that makes the place more spiritual and less sadistic. 

The main temple is a large wooden structure. The black tiered roof has curvy metal points jutting from the sides. Inside, the wooden infrastructure is aesthetically exposed. In the center a long wooden table with benches on both sides is lined with an incredibly long snakeskin runner. One hut, designed like a Budhist stupa, contains a circular room, lined with chairs made of buffalo horns and skin. The centerpiece is a giant crocodile skin, painted black and surrounded by candles. The room is known to reverberate and amplify sound. Maybe the most fascinating and sadistic architecture is the submarine-shaped building. Like most of the buildings, it is not open for entry, but windows provide ample light to view its contents, revealing what seems to be a torture chamber. 

Baan Dam is Thawan Duchanee’s artful portrayal of hell. The opaque decor and dead animals adorning each room make Duchanee’s estate the complete opposite of the White Temple, the glimpse of heaven designed by his teacher Chalermchai Kositpipat.  Although off the beaten track, the Black Temple is not something to be overlooked.

Know Before You Go

Renting a motorcycle or scooter will be the easiest way here (though directions via bus are below). From Chiang Rai’s Central Plaza or the Princess Mother’s Garden, head north on route 1 (Phaholyothin road). After crossing the Kok river (just north of the Princess Mother’s Garden), go 8.4 kilometers – you’re looking for a brown wooden sign and a brown wooden awning on the left. This will have three lines of Thai text and the number 13 (for Moo 13, the side street number). Take the left just before the sign, then go about 450 meters – you’re looking for the first left turn that isn’t someone’s driveway. Next, go 300 meters – you’ll see some of the sights on the left and a parking lot on the right.If taking the bus, start from the central bus terminal (near Phaholyothin and Prasopsook’s intersection, GPS: 19.904716,99.834222) and ask around to find the right bus (most likely, around platform 5 or 6). Note you’ll want to use the Thai name (Baan Dam) – asking around for the Black House here is likely to elicit puzzled looks. The locals know this place, and will get you off the bus at the right time. If you’re playing along with a smartphone, of course, tap the GPS coordinates and follow the bus as it goes north. Once you’re off the bus, hopefully near the side road, follow the directions as above. Expect the bus to take about 30 minutes.