Only found in rumours we are still unsure what the Black Temple is. An unsettling feeling, a dark presence or a home. It is majestic, a celebration of death and the darkness surrounding it. It is a place for secret meetings and viking feasts, a forum for ritual and a bedroom cast in bone. It is an expression of something which sets us on edge and wonder, but still hold a deep-seated kinship with.
Against better judgement we hired a manual bike instead of waiting for the automatic to arrive and set off to find the notoriously well hidden Black Temple. We did get lost as expected, asking an unsuspecting man with our hurried foreign words, nearly running over a skinny python sunning itself on the bitumen and finding the fields and huts at city’s edge. Another well tattooed man deciphered our questions and drew us a map all, with the use of limbs and gestures rather than words.
Hidden down a maze of unmarked narrow paths in a small suburb of Chiang Rai lies Baan Dam, the Black Temple or more literally the Black House. Built by revered Thai artist Thawan Duchanee, Baan Dam is a magnificent and eerie complex of temples and structures which seem to celebrate death and the darker side of religion. Symmetrical arrangements of bones and horns, tiered temple-like buildings with dark and intimate settings create the feeling of looking into someones home. Strange, rounded structures like alien pods are scattered around the grounds and a pony nuzzles the grass amidst rows of skulls.
Juxtapose to the White Temple both are the life opus of two very different artists but with the shared influence of traditional Thai art and spirituality. Exploring the worlds of Gods and Demons and giving them a house/a temple, for their manifestations to inhabit.
Feeling exhilarated and uneasy we begin the ride back into town with roads slick from the rain, floods creating makeshift rivers alongside the road and much fumbling with gears. Coming to a stop, the bike revs wildly and skids, narrowly avoiding a truck and luckily at very low speed. Unfortunately there was a casualty and Emmily’s foot resembles a zebra after a fight.
No worries it’s only a graze, even if it does sting like a bitch. But it seems that our meagre first-aid kit was no match for the foreign microbes abounding in Thailand and Emmily’s foot decides to protest this treatment by swelling. Thus cripple-wife is born and things become more difficult. But our visa’s are running low and the Monkey Temple awaits at the border town of Mae Sai.
With Dotahn as a crutch we laugh at the upside of the situation as the beggars leave us alone on our quick sojourn into Burma. Armed with a personal ID for the day we head into the madness of the border markets. The guard at the border jokingly remarks on the becoming nature of Dotahn’s distorted photo and we are soon met by a swarm of young men trying to sell us Viagra, cartons of cigarettes for 40 Baht and what looks to be soft-core pornography. It doesn’t take long for Emmily’s pain and the endless knock-off brand handbags to make us weary and we limp back to our hotel with a fresh visa stamp in our passports.
The Monkeys will have to wait 😦 Emm’s ankle goes missing and walking is out of the question. Dotahn takes on the role of hunter-gatherer and makes many trips into the wild and unkempt territories of the local markets. Returning triumphant with many a feast and quickly learning how best to forage like the locals, at least we ate well.
Emmily has enough of the hotel room of Mae Sai and monkeys still play on her fancy. The town of Lopburi is planed next on the itinerary for its multitude of wild monkeys harassing the locals and tourists.
To the Monkeys!