The gilded temples in Thailand are respites of calm from the constant whir of traffic outside their golden gates. Life inside the wats seems to go on as it always has: morning meditation and chanting, barefoot treks to collect alms, meditation and prayer until the sun goes down. Unlike the shadows of Japan, Thai temples are bright explosions of color. The monks, all clad in orange robes, are surrounded by the reds and golds of the temple walls.
Honestly, as beautiful as the wats are, their shininess and saturation doesn’t appeal to my shadowy esthetic. I wanted something darker.
On day two of our motorcycle journey, we pulled into Baan Dam just outside of Chang Rai. Baan Dam, literally translated as “Black House” is an art installation of sorts. It’s a campus of structures that together represent artist Thawan Duchanee’s interpretation of a hellscape. Each building is decorated with taxidermy, furs, horns, and other animal remains. Most of the wood used is charred black so that the light inside is swallowed. You’ll find tables set, fit for a Viking king complete with bone-handled silverware. The fully-furnished bedrooms with horn-rimmed beds and painted black alligator skins are out of your best worst nightmare.
According to the artist, all the animals displayed died of natural causes and is a celebration of their intricate beauty, not a sadistic celebration of death. Somehow, there manages to be something deeply spiritual about Baan Dam.
If you’ve ever been on the road, you know that travel teaches you there’s no one right way to live. Yet within that, the dark and deep Baan Dam reminds us that there’s no one right way to celebrate beauty.
(Don’t think Baan Dam is without humor. The bathroom pictured above features a mainstay of toilets in Thailand which is a little scooper they use to flush. Good ol’ Thawan decided to carve all the handles to be penises. And yes, the toilet paper is held on a huge horn.)
The walk home was far less dark. We strolled past rice paddies and little streams, and the local kids all came out to get the weird bearded guy to wear their lovely lady glasses.