Another late night, another early morning, another day with no real plans but some ideas in mind.
I showed up at the first hostel I found, asked them what to do in town… narrowed it down based on the fact that I didn’t want to go shopping and I didn’t want to spend $50 to use their taxi. This left me with: wander around town or visit some temples. Or both?
Ended up doing what i do best: wandering until something interesting fell in my lap. Did a loop around town and found a coffee shop (found out later this city is famous for its coffee) and ended up talking to a really nice Thai lady who said sometimes she has permission to give a free “2 for 1” and therefore gave me a second latte “for take away.” After chatting and asking her how to say ‘thank you’ in Thai (“Kob Khun Ka”), she ended up telling me the best bus to get to Chiang Mai (the green one), the best place to go at night (to the river to see the pre-Festival light show and lanterns), and the best thing to see near her store (the light show at the golden roundabout). She even offered me a ride on her moto back to my guesthouse, insisting that she needed some fresh air anyway because she “spends half her life” at the coffee shop.
Next, I ignored the hostel’s advice to take a $50 taxi and instead walked over to the bus station and pointed to a picture of what I wanted to see. They pointed me to a crowded, rickety bus and ushered me on. Twenty minutes and twenty baht (equivalent to USD 61 cents) later, the ‘money collector’ had run outside the bus to tap on my window vigorously until I got off. I looked over and saw two other girls who had also gotten off here. The guidebook gave it away that they must be out-of-towners like me too.
Me: “Are you going to the white temple? Do you know where it is?”
Yuna: “Ha ha yes! Look! Over there!”
I laughed as I realized it was sticking up behind a few other buildings. The three of us walked over together and chatted on the way. Ihuin and Yuna were from Korea, traveling for about 45 days. We ended up spending the rest of the day together, giving ourselves an artistic tour of Thailand’s brightest heavenly temple and darkest hellish temple.
The White Temple
This snowy fairyland sits aside a busy road in between a cockfighting pit and many vendors; but, if you can keep your eyes away from the strange surroundings then this is one of the most enchanting, strange, and somehow beautiful places.
It is coated in little mirrors that are repaired by hand, hiding the firey murals inside that don’t exactly match the simple beauty of the external facade. The mural also showcases little paintings of Buddha, fire, ice, Elvis Presley, Jack Sparrow, Harry Potter, turtles, and fish. I’m not lying.
The Black House
I had heard that the White Temple’s opposite exists somewhere. In fact, it was ‘Wanderlust Mike‘ who told me when we met back at Bodhi Villa in Kampot, Cambodia.
My new friends agreed to join me in search of Chiang Mai’s weirdest art and architecture, so we flagged down a “songthaew” back to Chiang Rai, rushed into a 711 to get sandwiches to go, showed more photos to another bus driver, and climbed back into a different bus.
A half hour later, we’d passed lots of places that looked like our pictures but the girl next to me on the bus insisted none were it. All of a sudden, the “payment collector” (who I’ve decided must also be the driver’s personal navigator) started shouting and pointing “Bla How Bla How!” (ohh, black house?! ok!) She pointed at a fence very urgently and we sort of stood there in confusion until a Chinese girl walked up and joined our little group laughing and saying “ohh black house!” and walked around the fence, over a plank of wood, and toward a dirty field.
Winding through the field, we ended up crossing garbage patches and rivers until we found ourselves in a dark, creepy, enchanted forest. No joke.
“Black house!” the Chinese girl shouted excitedly. Yes, yes it was a black house. Many in fact. “Baan Dam” was designed by Thawan Duchanee as his artistic view on a literal “living” hell, where the houses are fully equipped with beds covered in dead bears and kitchenettes with skulls dangling among the utensils.