Hidden in a quiet neighborhood in suburban Chiang Rai, Thailand was an eccentric art haven full of freakish art installations, infamously and collectively known as the “Black Houses.”

Journey to the Black Houses

Getting there by public transport was an adventure in itself. From my guesthouse, I walked to the bus station in Chiang Rai city center and hopped on a north-bound bus.

Quick selfie before heading out from my guesthouse

I was the only tourist in the bus, so I attempted to tell the conductor that I wanted to go to “Baan Dam” (Thai translation of Black Houses). He didn’t seem to be familiar with it. Repeating the words a few more times, trying different pronunciations, did not work either. Some of the locals were already curiously listening in to our conversation.

I pulled out my notes and mentioned Thawan Duchanee, Thai National artist who created the “Black Houses.” Success! The locals were familiar with him.

I was dropped off in front of an intersection with no definitive signs around to confirm that I was in the right place. There was a big covered signboard, next to a waiting shed, but the words were all written in Thai.

The intersection led to a sleepy neighborhood. No one was outside their houses. I was not able to ask for directions. The silence of the lazy afternoon coupled with the emptiness of the streets started to give me the creeps. It was so quiet, I could hear electricity surging from what could be “live wires” on one of the electric posts.

After wandering, taking one wrong turn and backtracking, I finally saw an encouraging English sign saying ‘House of National Artist, Thawan Duchanee.”

The Black Houses

The Black Houses got its nickname from the black paint that covered most of its exteriors, but that was only half the story. Throughout the complex, was a recurrence of what most would consider as dark elements.

Death and decay were presented on displays decked with stuffed animals and animal remains like bones, horns, fur, and skin.

The architectural style of the bigger houses resembled that of traditional temples found in Northern Thailand. These structures, however, did not primarily have any religious purpose. Housed inside were more art installations, collections, and galleries by Thawan Duchanee.

I loved the artistry inspired from the blending of Thai Buddhist culture with other cultural concepts. I noticed elements that seemed to stem from Balinese, Zen, Hindu, Pop, Native American culture and Modern Contemporary design.

Something interesting was bound to be discovered at every corner.

All the houses are surrounded by a shroud of tall blossoming trees


Buddha under the shadows

Steps lined with buffalo horns

Missing a bone?

A whole elephant skeleton! almost

Guarded by buffalo skulls

Bear hide

Vintage shotguns

Raised house in front of a pebble garden

Giant Fish. The entrance of this house is inside the fish’s mouth.

Sculpture up close

Love the vibrant moss!

Wood carving detail

Side view of the roof spires

Golden roof umbrellas

When the angle of the sunset was perfect.

I ran out of daylight before I was able to explore the whole complex. I went back the next day, so I could soak up more of the Black Houses.

Take 2

I didn’t have much trouble finding my way back to the Black Houses. Instead of the proper intersection, the bus driver dropped me off at a clearing along the highway and instructed me to follow a foot path that led to a seemingly thick wall of forest trees. I did so blindly.

I was up for an adventure :D

After a couple of meters past the shade of the tree canopy, I saw the houses and continued my wanderings.

Foot path over the field leading to the Black Houses

The Black Houses coming into view

One of my favorite houses. The shape looked like a modern interpretation of a Native American teepee

To the heavens we go!

Stressor for the obsessive compulsive

Reminded me of the capsule house in Dragon Ball Z anime

Walking out from Patrick Star’s house

Another cute teepee house

Pebble garden surrounded by cacti beside the teepee house

Raised wooden house. Reminded me of traditional houses built by native people living in the Cordillera mountains of the Philippines

Beautiful path leading to the … toilets

Love the silhouette and texture of the roof!

Amazing details of the wood sculpture

Approaching the biggest house in the complex

Peaceful zen

Huge central chamber

Cat fur

Long table laid with snake skin, fat cur, giant clam shells, and bordered with arm chairs decorated with skulls and horns

Buddha sitting in front of preserved beetles

Ornate support beams with what looked like hanging animal remains, snake skin, maybe?

Last view of the Black Houses. Walking out hearing the resounding barking of a hyped up guard dog

Getting to the the Black Houses by Public Bus

Ride a north bound bus (20 baht; 30 minutes) from the bus station in Chiang Rai city center. The buses passing by the Black Houses are stationed at platforms 5 and 6. Ask the Tourist Information counter and/or the driver to confirm that you are on the right bus.

The bus also passes along the access road to Chiang Rai Airport. The way to the Black Houses are further along, on the left side of the road. Don’t forget to remind the driver to drop you off at the intersection leading to “Baan Dam” (Thai translation of Black Houses) by “Thawan Duchanee.”

From the intersection / waiting shed, walk down the village road and take a left turn. The Black Houses should be 500 meters away from the highway.

No admission fees to enter the complex but be reminded of the opening hours for visitors.


  • Website: http://www.thawan-duchanee.com/
  • Address: 333 Moo 13 Nang-Lae, Muang, Chiang Rai, 57100 Thailand.
  • Tel/Fax : (66) 53 – 776 – 333
  • Mobile: (66) 83 – 336 – 5333
  • Open to visitors for free every day (Monday to Sunday and public holidays).
  • Opening hours: 09:00-17:00; closed from 12:00- 13:00

You can view more details of this particular trip on my Chiang Rai Itinerary Notes or discover more Thailand Travel Notes @DiyDetour.