Baan Si Daam – The Black House in Chiang Rai

Baan Si Daam is another one of Chiang Rai’s more interesting art spaces, often described as the opposite of the White Temple nearby. Personally I think its a little lazy to compare the two, although they are two compounds of buildings with seemingly opposite messages, they are also completely different.  With both buildings having their own dark messages to tell.  Baan Dam 9White the White Temple is a temple based around an artists work, the Black house is more of an artists lifelong collection and gallery, with a focus on the dark and morbid (such as animal bones, skins, weapons and other art pieces referencing death and decay).
Baan Dam 8The art space is a project of Thai artist Thawan Duchanee and is also his home, he was the mentor of Ajarn Charlemchai who built the White Temple.  Walking around you’ll find elephant skeletons, massive drums made of animal rawhide,  antique firearms, snakeskins, huge tables and chairs decorated with buffalo horns and much more. Baan Dam 7While we were visiting there was an exhibition of local artists, with paintings, sculptures and more that you can view.  The pieces have been described as the “artists vision of hell“, but again I find this a strange thing to say and possibly a western description, as there isn’t really a “Hell” in the Bhuddist belief system.   Baan Dam 6 The Black House is definitely one of the more interesting places I’ve visited in Thailand, and well worth a visit if you are travelling in the North. If you like your things dark and edgy (and possibly if you are a metal fan, this place could make an amazing backdrop for a metal video), Baan Si Daam is the place for you! Baan Dam 5

How to find the Black House, Baan Dam

414 Moo 13 Nanglae, Muang, Chiang Rai, 57100

Ok, so this place isn’t terribly easy to find and its about a 30 minute motorbike ride north from the White Temple.  Head north through the township of Chiang Mai towards the Mai Sai border.  The Black House is about 12km outside of the city.Baan Dam 3

You’ll go over a bridge, pass the airport and the university and you will be close.  You’ll see a purple sign (these are all over Chiang Rai for various artists) that will have “National Artist Thawan Duchanee”, you’ll need to turn left into this soi.Baan Dam 1The road is flooded so you’ll need to mount the pavement and drive down the soi, taking another turn when you see a sign for “Baan Dam” then follow the road until the end.  There is parking space across the street for cars and bikes.Baan Dam 4Baan Dam 2

White Temple (Wat Rong Kun) in Chiang Rai


The White Temple is probably one of the most interesting temples that I’ve visited while in Thailand.  The temple is a project that is started by Thai artist Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1997. White Temple 5
The temple is white to symbolise purity, in contrast to many traditional Thai temples that are colourful and covered in gold.  White Temple 9Its full of imagery of skulls, hollywood villains, monsters, aliens, demons and other evils of the world, which of course, has often caused some confusion among tourists when taken out of context.
White Temple 6
This week the Daily Mail in the UK decided to take offence at the temple, despite never actually setting foot in the place, and not doing a single bit of research into the motivations of the artist.
White Temple 4
In the words of the artist himself (who we saw painting inside the temple when we were there) in the information brochure:

“I want everyone to know our world is being destroyed by those who build weapons to kill, thereby ruining the environment because nothing is ever enough. They segregate and cannot find peace. I saw the violence and it hurts me me and mankind to observe the killing of the innocence by these two powerful individuals (referring to Bush and Bin Laden). Peaceful people do not want to see the murder of the muslims and the collapse of the new york twin towers. I want to show the eyes, as important organs, should look at each other with kindness and not with hate that can lead to war. I painted at that time to caution both bush and bin laden, so that they can look toward a peaceful and happy world. I painted superman and Ultra Man to let people know that there are no heroes in or world, actually people need heroes since our morality declines every day. However no heroes from the movie screen arrive to help the havoc of the twin towers. Eventually the world becomes ill not only with the environment, but also with the people. People lack moral standards, that is why I portray evil people as the demon with mouth opened encircled at the entrance to the temple. When people walk out they will feel that they leave the demon behind that is they have rid themselves from evil spirits and going towards the highest level of dhamma, where people will not be reborn. The thai designs that flow from the eyes, nose and mouth of the demon towards the back wall of the temple change into angelic carriage that takes the people who rid themselves from evil deeds to meet the lord buddha at the edge of the universe”

White Temple 3The temple is constantly being added to, with new buildings being constructed, sculptures being cast from concrete and paintings added to the interiors.  The project is expected to last at least 90 years, with instructions and plans to be followed after the artists death.

The artist gets up every morning at 2am, meditates and then works on the temple for the day along with his students. White Temple 2It even features quite possibly the nicest toilets in Thailand, or as its referred to in the brochure “the most beautiful toilet”, with its own slippers for wearing inside to keep it clean. White Temple 1


How to find the White Temple in Chiang Rai

The White Temple is located a few kilometres south of the main township of Chiang Rai on the right hand side of highway 1.  You’ll get to an intersection, hand a right and you are there.

Its probably easiest to get there on a hired motorbike that can be rented for about 200 baht a day, and a deposit of around 3000 baht (or your passport if you insist, but I don’t recommend giving your passport to anyone in Thailand unless its absolutely necessary).

White Temple Map

Wine Connection Wednesdays – All You Can Drink For 300 Baht

We’d been meaning to give Wine Connection a visit for a while, but between the Bangkok protests and university exams we just hadn’t had the time or ability to get to the area on a Wednesday afternoon. Wine Connection 4We’d heard about this place from students on the international exchange programme at Thammasat Univeristy, there was a bar in Suhkumvit that had all you can drink wine and all you can eat tapas for only 300 Baht! Expect to see lots of expat locals, foreign teachers and international students taking advantage of the cheap food, drinks and networking opportunities.

(Excuse the shaky photos, thats what happens when one is taking pictures at an all you can drink event!) Wine Connection 3

How It Works

Wine Connection offer free flow red and white house wine and tapas (including cheeses, cold cuts, bread and pastas) for 299 Baht + Tax from 5:30 until 8:30pm every Wednesday night.  Wine Connection 6It is strictly limited to 250 spaces, and it sells out every single week.  To guarantee your spot you will need to pop in early to grab your tickets in advance (we got there at around 4pm and it was fine, but by just after 5 they’d all sold out). Wine Connection 5I’m not really an expert on anything wine related, so I have no idea what the wines are like or how they compare to what else is out there, but even to me this seems like a great deal, especially when you consider you are paying at least 100 baht for a glass at most places, it only takes a couple to make it worth while.

Me, I was there for the cheese and cold cuts, which can get pretty expensive (I will happily spend 400 baht on a cheese and meat platter elsewhere, heck I even paid 195 baht upstairs for cheesy fries!).  Where else can you find all you can eat parma ham, salami, cheese, bread, cured meats, fish balls, sun dried tomatoes and more!

If like me, you aren’t too much of a wine drinker and prefer a beer, they still have a reasonable choice of imported beers, mainly from Belgium, I managed to grab myself a Bar Bar Belgian Strong Ale and a Lefebvre Floreffe Blonde for around the 160 Baht mark each.

How to find Wine Connection

Take the BTS and get off at either Thonglor or Phrom Phong stations then walk towards Soi 47 (which is roughly in the middle of the two stations), you’ll it on the lower floor in the Rain Hill Plaza.Wine Connection 2

Wine Connection, Rain Hill Plaza, Soi 47 Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok

House of Beers – Loads of Choice For Sukhumvit Beer Lovers

We ended up at House of Beers quite by accident.  Sarah had wanted to check out Wine Connection’s free flow Wednesday, and had just picked up her Burmese Visa so was in the area.

We’d come in via the BTS, had purchased our ticket (Wine Connection is limited to 250 people) early and had an hour or so to kill.  Walking upstairs for something to do we spotted HOBs and walked in for a bar snack.

I hadn’t heard of the place before, and was impressed the minute I saw the fridge – full of imported beers from Belgium and beyond.

The Beers

House of Beers carries a wide range of beers from various breweries that are now being imported into Thailand including BrewDog, St. Bernardus, Chapeau and Krombacher.

If you’ve read any of my previous beer related posts, you’ll be aware that I’m a beer drinker who loves IPAs and beers with high IBUs while Sarah isn’t too much of a beer drinker, but is partial to Lambic fruit beers and a crisp lager. HOBS6 I grabbed a Brew Dog Hardcore IPA, while Sarah got herself a Chapeau Pêche Lambic BeerHOBS4 Followed by a Mikkeller The American Dream lager which was perfect in the hot Bangkok afternoon sun. HOBS3 Sarah grabbed herself a Krombacher Radler, which while too sweet and weak for me, was a nice and refreshing primer before we went downstairs for Wine Republic’s all you can drink free flow event. HOBS22 and a half hours of wine and we were ready to go back to the beers (I’m not a wine drinker after all), with a couple of new friends we’d met downstairs, they tried Lambics and Brewdog’s Punk IPA while I tried the Tokyo, which unfortunately just wasn’t my think and ended up getting ditched, a reminder of why I stick with the IPAs.

Beers ranged in price from around 195-430 Baht depending on the beer, with the Brewdog beers being at the top end of the scale.

The Food

The food menu is mainly bar snacks and pub grub, we weren’t really looking for too much with the all you can drink/eat downstairs later on, but grabbed the cheesy fries which were tasty, but quite pricy at 195 Baht.HOBS5

All in all, I like the place – its a little pricy, but you get a wide selection of imported beers (which a considerably amount of their cost is excise taxes) and its a really nice atmosphere.  They didn’t appear to have any proper vegetarian meal options, so that would be a nice addition to keep Sarah happy – I’m pretty sure we’ll be back again if we are in the area.

You are charged a 10% surcharge in addition to the standard 7% VAT which seems to be a habit in many of the hi-so type Bangkok bars (Wine Connection downstairs does it, so does Brew – I think the only place that doesn’t at the moment is Mikkeller Bangkok, which actually has the best service out of any place I’ve been to!), which quite frankly is silly considering that you are merely paying a 10% premium on a beer for them to open it with a bottle opener – then again, this seems to be the norm in Bangkok nowadays.  Bars should either give additional service to justify the surcharge or include it in the cost of what they are selling – I have no problem with tipping if I receive good service, but having it forced upon you is a bit strange for a kiwi.

How To Find House of Beers (HOBs)

Take the BTS and get off at either Thonglor or Phrom Phong stations then walk towards Soi 47 (which is roughly in the middle of the two stations), you’ll find it above Wine Connection in the Rain Hill Plaza.

Rain Hill Plaza, Soi 47 Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok

MH370 – Another Reminder Why You Should Never Lose Sight of Your Passport

The tragic loss of a Malaysian Airlines plane between Kuala Lumpur and Bejing with over 200 souls on board is just another reminder why you should always take special care with your passport.

The plane that went missing included two passengers flying on passports that had been reported stolen in Phuket up to two years ago. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said more than 60,000 passports – both Thai and foreign – were reported missing or stolen in Thailand between January 2012 and June 2013. Both corruption and lax application of the law exist at most levels, both here and in neighbouring countries, what I find most concerning especially considering the sheer number of thefts is that Thailand does not check passports against Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database – which has more than 40 million entries worldwide.

Countries in South East Asia have a pretty poor reputation when it comes to passport theft, especially Thailand which receives millions of tourists every year.  Considering how easy it is to get false identification in Backpacker areas like Khao San Road, and that police are willing to turn a blind eye to almost any crime for money – it makes sense that criminal organisations are going to use naive tourists as a source of cash as well as both real and fake travel documents.

What Could Your Passport Be Used For?

Recent examples of stolen travel documents include:

  • A war crimes suspect who tried to attend a conference in Congo, but was instead arrested
  • The killer of the Serbian prime minister crossed 27 borders on a missing passport before he was caught
  • Samantha Lewthwaite, the former wife of one of the suicide bombers in the 2005 attack on London’s transit system, escaped capture when she produced a fraudulently obtained South African passport.

Human Trafficking & Illegal Immigration

Stolen passports can either be used by someone who looks like the person to travel, or can be modified with new photos (depending on security levels on the passport and biometric information).

Many countries are simply too lazy to check Interpol’s database of stolen passports on the border, so the use of stolen documents to move people voluntarily or against their will internationally using stolen passports is common, especially from South East Asia to countries in the EU (which is essentially borderless once you get in, and pretty easy to get into if you come via, say…the Croatian border into Slovenia which I crossed 5 times without a single passport check).

Identify Theft & Crime

The last thing you want is a drug trafficker flying in and out of South East Asia using your personal details, getting caught and ending up with you being on some list of known criminals or drug traffickers.

Again this is quite common when it comes to stolen passports. I’ve read on about a guy who had two passports stolen in one year. Later while travelling he was pulled aside and interrogated in Bali, after an African man had been caught smuggling cocaine using his ID and blacklisted.

International Terrorism

Of course the issue that everyone is talking about – what happened to the recent disappearing plane.  As of yet, no one knows but the facts remain that we have a plane with 200 passengers that has literally vanished and two of the passengers were using false IDs and stolen passports.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the risks associated with your personal documents being used by international terrorist groups to kill or harm others in the name of a political or religious message. Not only will this prevent you from ever travelling freely again, but others might be harmed in the process.

In 2010, two Pakistanis and a Thai woman were arrested in Thailand on suspicion of making false passports for Al-Qaeda linked groups, as part of an international operation linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai and the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

The last thing you want is a criminal or terrorist organisation using your passport to travel, resulting in your name permanently being on a no fly or similar travel or immigration blacklist.

How Could You Lose Your Passport:

Motorbike & Car Rentals

More often than not you will be asked for some form of deposit when renting a motorbike in Asia.  Sometimes this will be a drivers licence (which is silly considering you need this to ride legally) other times it will be cash, but more often than not it will be a valid passport containing your entry stamp.

There is absolutely zero security with these passports, usually they are kept in a top draw of a desk, a folder, or a shoulder bag.  Rental agencies couldn’t care less as you are just one of thousands of potential customers, you aren’t likely to come back, and you don’t really have any choice.

While there are plenty of legitimate bike rental places that don’t extort money out of tourists for small scratches and repairs that cost a few hundred baht to fix, there are also loads that do. The worst thing you can do is tell them that you have an urgent flight or ferry to catch.

Stories are common of people with dual citizenship ditching a second passport to avoid the overpriced repair fees, or even reporting their passport as lost of stolen after doing a runner.   What do you think happens with these passports afterwards?  Bear in mind that these rental agencies often have law enforcement support in their repair scams as well.

In Phuket, Luigi Maraldi lost his passport this way, by giving his passport to a rental agency as collateral on a motorbike, which then managed to get “lost” somehow by the rental agency. The passport was later used to board flight MH370.

When Maraldi asked for his back at a bike shop hugging Phuket’s western coast, the owner told him she’d forked it over to an Italian who’d “said Mr. Maraldi was his husband.”

After all, all us Farang look the same

Kiwis – the NZ Embassy is quite clear regarding this.  Do not leave your passport with rental agencies, and if you get into trouble doing this, they will not step in to help.

Hotel & Guesthouses

You are required to submit your passport details and immigration information when checking into any hotel or guesthouse in Thailand.  Some might take your passport as a bond to prevent damage or “for safe keeping”.  I’ve seen guesthouses where passports are literally sitting in a basket on the front desk where anyone can take them.

Of course there are other reports of break ins to hotel rooms where passports and other items are stolen to order.  So always make sure you have your passport safely and securely stored when it is not on you.

Other Travellers

One of the biggest causes of theft to travellers is other travellers. There are plenty of backpackers travelling on ultra low budgets with absolutely zero respect for others. Security at guesthouses and dormitories is often low, and people are often under the influence of booze and other substances. Its not hard for someone to go into your bag and steal your travel documents, especially if they can sell them down the road to a willing buyer.

Roadside Theft

I’ve even seen someone lose their passport on Koh Phangan after leaving their backpack unattended on the side of the road for two minutes while they went back into a guesthouse to drop the keys off. Two ladyboys on a scooter sped past and stole the pack containing the travellers passports.

Visa Services & Agencies

Up until recently I would have recommended using Visa agencies to speed up the acquisition of getting visas from Thailand and surrounding countries.  Now that I’ve lived here longer and heard all the horror stories I’d advise against it, unless you personally know the owners of the agency, their couriers and everyone else involved in the process.

Remember agencies that take your passport out of the country for a visa stamp are illegal.  I’ve got a friend who lived on one of the Islands who used an agent to do their visa runs, one time the courier got busted running drugs on a ferry to the mainland with 20 passports in their possession.  Long story short, none of those passports ever returned to their owners and he ended up overstaying illegally for two years until he got his passport sorted out and enough cash to pay the fines on the borders.  He’s lived here for two decades, and now knows better!

Immigration & Embassies

You’d think it would be safe to give your passport to a government agency, think again.  I’ve been into various immigration departments to get extensions to my Thai visa, and while the main complex in Bangkok has always done things correctly and above board – others are slightly more lax in their approach to passport security.

While getting a re entry permit I saw just how relaxed they were, as passports that had been processed were left in a plastic basket for foreigners (or Thais) to pick up, no ID required.

I’ve heard similar horror stories in Laos at certain relaxed embassies where if you don’t pick up your passport straight it can be picked up by locals who claim to be your “agent”.

Remember Thai embassies have a pretty poor reputation with this sort of stuff, recently staff have been involved in Visa theft in the Savanakhet, Kuala Lumpur & Hague embassies – one of my mates even got caught up on this after the visa he arranged through an agent turned out to be illegitimate – he ended up dealing with legal issues for 6 months while on bail for visa fraud.  Of course no Thais were found at fault.

Thai Law

Thai law technically requires all foreigners to carry their passport at all times, where ever they are. This means when you are at the beach, night club, anywhere.  How many passports have gone missing while swimming or drunk in some bar.

Personally I never take my passport with me unless it is absolutely required or I’m out of town.  I take photo ID with me as well as a laminated copy of my passport and a copy of my latest visa and entry stamp – my passport stays locked up at home.

So far I’ve never had any problems… yet.


There are even reports of broke tourists selling or renting their passports for $1-2000 USD.  I’ve never heard or seen this first hand, and the reporting on it seems a bit dubious, but one thing I’ve learned while travelling is never to underestimate the stupidity of backpackers while travelling.  Apparently this happens reasonably often in the Khao San Road area, where the tourists will report their passport stolen, claim the costs on travel insurance and travel on documents provided by their embassy.  It all seems a little fish to me however, as generally speaking you need to travel back to your home country when on emergency travel documents – maybe they just use it for a one way ticket home!

How To Keep Your Passport Safe When Travelling

  • Always know where your passport is, keep it safely on you while travelling or under lock and key when not
  • Invest in a Travel safe, as many hostels or guesthouses do not have secure storage
  • Do not give your passport out as a deposit on vehicle rentals
  • Do not use agencies or third parties for Visas
  • Use common sense when getting visas from foreign embassies and pick your passport up as soon as its ready
  • Report your passport stolen to the police if it goes missing and contact your embassy straight away.