I don’t know if it was a language problem or just a breach of our driver’s comfort zone but it caused a certain inflexibility of attitude. We had already done many of the things on the typical Chiang Rai tour list, which seemed like poor value for money, so we booked our own driver and car which we thought would allow us to construct our own far-reaching itinerary. Like many things it started out smoothly. Or maybe we should’ve realized when he wouldn’t take the more scenic road we preferred, to our first stop. He still managed to get us to the Baan Dam Museum, better known as the Black House.
Free from temple dogma Thai National Artist Thawan Duchanee felt unrestrained to plumb the darkest recesses of his mind. I was vibrating with anticipation and gladly paid the entrance fee that seems to be the first thing you do at one of these projects. Oddly, the entrance to the Black House seemed peaceful, almost reverential but at least you can leave your shoes on!
Not actually black but a dark dull stain, the Black House seems rather small, almost humble, as one enters the great hall but magically expands as you cross the threshold and your eyes follow the ladder-like steps nearly four stories up into the rafters.
One shudders at what the view from up there might do to your bladder. That’s when the assault to your senses begins to overwhelm. It’s kind of a gothic perspective on Buddhist art.
The exhibits mostly consist of the skin, horns, and bones of dangerous animals arranged in artistic patterns that seem to change their meaning somehow.
This menagerie is accompanied by a massive hoard of old Thai collectibles worthy of a Cracker Barrel restaurant in the U.S.
Many of the 40 some-odd buildings can only be viewed from outside the structure.
Duchanee is said to occasionally spend the night inside his personal apartment in what is known as “the whale.”
Volunteers and backpackers stay in these concrete yurts.
As seductive as inspecting Duchanee’s gothic nightmare is, we’ve miles to go to our next stop. We soon realized that our headstrong driver had his own ideas about our itinerary and we found ourselves taking a huge detour to see a tea plantation which was the last priority on our list, only if we have the time. All things being equal I like tea plantations, but we’ve seen the terraced valleys of Bali and you just can’t touch that for scenic tranquil beauty .
So we lost an hour and a half while trying to convey our disappointment at how this was progressing and we really ought to head north to the rescue cave as soon as possible. Our thinking was our car, our driver, our rules.
Now we dolly back, then we fade to black in preparation for round two.