Two outstanding sights in charming Chiang Rai
The White Temple
Probably one of the most visited sights in Northern Thailand. Created by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a local artist from Chiang Rai, who decided to completely rebuild the temple and fund the project with 40 million Baht of his own money.
It is a classic example of what can happen when an artist lets his imagination run wild. Quite beautiful but just a little bit disconcerting when you look a little bit closer at some of the sculptures, but then I suppose that is what art is all about.
Apparently a work in progress, when completed, the white temple compound will have nine buildings, including the existing main temple, a hall of relics, a meditation hall, an art gallery, and the monks living quarters.
To reach the main temple we cross a bridge over a small lake apparently known as “the cycle of rebirth”. In front of the bridge are hundreds of white hands reaching out symbolising unrestrained desire. One has a red painted fingernail!! The bridge is supposed to profess that the way to happiness is achieved by foregoing temptation, greed, and desire. Hmmm! Next to the lake are two very Thai Kinnaree, half-human, half-bird creatures from Buddhist mythology, similar I suppose to,the Gryphons of Greek mythology.
The main building is an all-white construction covered with embedded fragments of mirror. Outside, the temple embodies the relatively classic Thai architecture such as the three-tiered roofs and Naga serpents that can be seen in temple all over the country.
Inside the temple,things are apparently quite different. Murals depict swirling flames and demons , interspersed with Western icons such as Michael Jackson, Freddy Kruger, and the Terminator. Quite what that is all about, I am not sure.
Images of nuclear war, terrorism, and ecological carnage emphasise the negative impact that we humans have had on our planet. Images of Harry Potter, Superman, and Hello Kitty confuse the artist’s message somewhat, but the artist’s message seems clear enough – People are bad!
On 5 May 2014 the temple was damaged by an earthquake that struck the province. It was closed indefinitely and the artist Chalermchai said that he would demolish the buildings for safety reasons and would not rebuild it. Rumours abound that this was a bluff to extract funding from the Thai government.
On May 7 after an engineering inspection confirmed that the damage was not as bad as feared and Chalermchai announced that he would restore the temple to its original state and would devote his life to the project. The temple was reopened shortly after that.
The Black House
A short drive from Chiang Rai city centre “Baan Dam” or Black House is the creation of another artist, Thawan Duchanee. Studio, museum and private home it is all of these.
Baan Dam is an eclectic mix of traditional northern Thai, mostly black, buildings with a more than a few outlandish modern designs thrown in for good measure. It is a thought-provoking combination of the sombre and the surreal. The artwork and displays won’t be to everyone’s taste and Some are more than a little disturbing – lots of dead animal parts, skulls, skins, bones, including the hide of the longest crocodile I have ever seen (and we saw literally hundreds when in Africa)
Another artist letting his imagination run wild, this time with the house and grounds where he still lives. No surprise that most of the buildings are black! The exhibits within the buildings are again, all just a little weird. The giant crocodile and snake skins, buffalo skulls are only part of it, massively outsized furniture, soaring ceilings, all of which reminded me of some of the scenes scenes from The Lord of The Rings, fill the various houses and rooms
Well worth a visit and, arguably, a lot more engaging than The White Temple.