Tag Archives: Buddhist

Wat Phra Thaen and a cast of thousands

Wat Phra Thaen is a temple surrounded by giant sculptures that tell a wide selection of Buddhist folktales and parables. From the street you can see two giant Buddhas and dozens of human and animal figures, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

Not every sculpture and scene are part of a story. Below I’ll tell you the ones I know, mostly as told to me by my little Tukata.

Note the old man with the young wife in the ox cart in the picture below. They are situated in a fairly prominent spot near the front gates of the temple.

Chu Chuuk and Amitada
Chu Chuuk and Amitada

The old man, Chu Chuuk, seems to have taken advantage of many who were just trying to be good people. His friend owed him money, and had to give him his beautiful and good hearted daughter Amitada. She was so good to him that his peers started to criticize their own wives, so Amitada asked for a slave, so that she wouldn’t be seen to work quite so hard. Chu Chuuk asked the prince, who aspired to be a Buddha. The prince gave Chu Chuuk his own son and daughter. Chu Chuuk took a wrong turn on his way home, and was seen the the king. The king paid Chu Chuuk with money and food for the return of his niece and nephew. Chu Chuuk was so greedy that he ate until he burst. His wealth was offered to Amitada, who declined, and simply went home to her father.

Cobra with eggs
Cobra with eggs

A monkey and an elephant wanted to be good creatures, and to serve the Buddha. The monkey brought the Buddha a gift of wild honey. The elephant, shown here bringing flowers, offered to serve him – it sounds like the elephant offered to become the Buddha’s beast of burden.

Buddha with monkey and elephant
Buddha with monkey and elephant

It isn’t always clear to me what the moral of the story is, and in some cases there may not be one.

New construction of a giant monk-like figure
New construction of a giant monk-like figure

An angel-like being took the form of an old man and went to speak with a king. He explained to the king that he had no wife, and badly needed one. The king aspired to a Buddha-like level of goodness, and offered his own wife to the old man. The queen in the scene below seems to approve of the arrangement. The angel-like creature then revealed itself, and the king got to keep his wife.

The king, the queen, and the old man
The king, the queen, and the old man

The Buddha left his home and life behind to seek enlightenment. When his mother became ill he returned to help her and to be with her when she died.

The Buddha and his dying mother
The Buddha and his dying mother

Below is Wat Phra Thaen’s village of spirit houses.

Spirit houses
Spirit houses

Phra Mae Thorani , the earth mother of southeast Asia, came to the Buddha’s aid when Mara, the Evil One, tried to stop him from reaching enlightenment.

“Mara brought his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, and tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and fled, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara’s challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning Phra Mae Thorani to be his witness. The earth deity in the form of a beautiful woman rose up from underneath the throne, and affirmed the Bodhisattva’s right to occupy the vajriisana. She twisted her long hair, and torrents of water collected there from the innumerable donative libations of the Buddha over the ages created a flood. The flood washed away Mara and his army, and the Bodhisattva was freed to reach enlightenment.” – A Study of the History and Cult of the Buddhist Earth Deity in Mainland Southeast Asia

Phra Mae Thorani
Phra Mae Thorani

Some monks would isolate themselves in the forest, live in a hollow tree, eat only fruit, and spend their days in meditation.

Monk in a hollow tree
Monk in a hollow tree

The scene below seems to simply show a teacher at work. Several giant birds seem to be enthralled with the lesson.

A teacher at work
A teacher at work

A giant monk-like figure currently under construction is by far the largest effigy at Wat Phra Thaen.

New construction of a giant monk-like figure
New construction of a giant monk-like figure

Below is a whole array of figures and some interesting architecture.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

A closer look at the reclining Buddha.

Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha

Zoom in for a close look at the figures on the rooftop in the picture below. There are some very cool Phaya Naga, including a couple entwined with some kind of Thai mermen.

Some great rooftop figures
Some great rooftop figures

The golden hour cast a flattering light on the Buddha, monks and temple in the picture below.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

The temple below has a unique style. I haven’t seen one quite like it. The Phaya Naga flanking the stairs are entwined with Thai mermen like on the roof above, something I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

Please enjoy the full gallery of 26 pictures below.

Tham Phra Waterfall, a natural waterpark

Tham Phra Waterfall is a great way to spend a day in the heat of Thailand, and a great way to cool off after a visit to nearby Wat Phu Thok. Getting there requires a 15 minute boat ride along the Nam Ning brook.

Nam Ning Brook
Nam Ning Brook

Tham Phra is just one of the waterfalls in the Phu Wua wild life sanctuary about 40 kilometers from Bung Khong Long. It’s really a series of waterfalls, all flowing down over rock overlooked by sandstone cliffs and surrounded by thick green forest. Rock steps take you up to the first level, and you can continue upward from there to reach the highest level. The panorama below shows one of the lower levels nearly deserted as we made our way back to the boat at the end of the day.

A lower level of Tham Phra Waterfall
A lower level of Tham Phra Waterfall

This was when I realized that in Thailand, everything is a temple. Waterfall? Needs a Buddha! Wildlife Sanctuary?  Needs Buddha! There was an actual temple at this spot, but it was moved so that visitors could better enjoy the water.

Two Buddhas
Two Buddhas

I think the falls below are at the highest level. This is where we stopped and finally got into the water. I’m told that in rainier times the whole rock face seen below flows with water.

Tham Phra Waterfall
Tham Phra Waterfall

There are quite a few natural slides like those shown in the pic below.

Slide at Tham Phra Waterfall
Slide at Tham Phra Waterfall

Below is a video of such a slide, shot in 2016. You’ll see many more videos of Tham Phra Waterfall on YouTube.

At about 5:00pm people came around to tell us it was time to leave. After thinking about it, it made sense; the people who run the boats need to shut it down and go home.

At the end of our boat ride back they had pictures of everyone framed and ready to sell. This is the most upset I’ve seen my Tukata, and she let them know directly, accusing them of stealing. No one bought a photo. I don’t have a good guess at when they took the pictures.

Tham Phra Waterfall is a natural waterpark in northeastern Thailand. It’s a great way to spend a hot day, but don’t go to late!

Wat Phu Thok, the temple of the lonely mountain

Wat Phu Thok means “Temple of the Lonely Mountain” in the Isan language. The temple is built on, around and inside of an isolated sandstone outcrop that, in the American southwest, would be called a mesa.

Wat Phu Tok
Wat Phu Tok

I’ll guess that the temple came first, and then the park-like surroundings. There’s plenty of space for a picnic, quiet time in the shade, feeding of fish, or a visit to one of the shrines among the many small lakes.

Entrance
Entrance
Near the base of Phu Tok
Near the base of Phu Tok
Near the base of Phu Tok
Near the base of Phu Tok

I wore hiking boots, but the walkways are very good, and walking shoes would have been better. Most visitors wore some form of sandal. I was still adjusting to the heat, but we took it slow, and soon I was feeling like myself for maybe the first time since arriving in Thailand.

Steep early stairs
Steep early stairs

I was confident in the structure of all stairs and platforms. The stairs can be very steep, so we made use of the hand rails, and occasionally walked sideways down sets of stairs with particularly shallow steps.

Wat Phu Thok
Wat Phu Thok

After climbing stairs through the rock (see the pic above) we arrived at the first significant flat, open area. It contained shady places to sit and rest, water faucets, and a small temple below a rocky overhang.

A small temple
A small temple

Here I saw the first of two cable conveyances for building and other supplies.

Cable conveyance
Cable conveyance

There are seven levels on Phu Thok which represent the seven levels of spiritual enlightenment in Buddhist philosophy.

View from Phu Thok
View from Phu Thok

If you look closely at the pic below you can see walkways at three different heights, each probably representing a different level.

Levels of Phu Thok
Levels of Phu Thok

This is very interesting use of the rock, and I’m sorry we didn’t see whether it leads somewhere other than the next level. We never visited any actual interior spaces.

Levels of Phu Thok
Levels of Phu Thok

The small roof along the rock at the top of the pic below causes water to drip down onto the walkway rather than flow along the rock to dampen the spaces below.

Levels of Phu Thok
Levels of Phu Thok

The same rocky overhang shelters a host of monk statues. A pair of visitors we met counted 58 and 59.

58 or 59 monks
58 or 59 monks

Another level up we encountered a small rocky peak that contains a small temple.

Rocky peak
Rocky peak

That wall is pretty thin.

Small temple
Small temple

Here we got our first good look at the back of the larger peak.

Back of Phu Thok
Back of Phu Thok

There are great views of the surrounding area, including another mesa nearby.

Another lonely mountain nearby
Another lonely mountain nearby

The walkway along the back of the mountain started out with rock underfoot…

Walkway along the back of Phu Thok
Walkway along the back of Phu Thok

…but soon became much more interesting.

Walkway along the back of Phu Thok
Walkway along the back of Phu Thok

The structure still inspired complete confidence, but there was just enough difference in board height to create the possibility of stumbling. Looking at where I was walking meant looking between planks at the ground below, which made things all the more exciting.

Along this walkway  we found several wild bee hives. At the same spot there was a cave whose entrance was barely visible, but from within we heard the constant chirping of bats.

Wild bee hive
Wild bee hive

In my favorite of Phu Thok’s many spots for quiet meditation, a gold Buddha reflects on the sweeping panorama.

Buddha enjoying the view
Buddha enjoying the view

I’m not sure where we ascended to level six, but it was somewhere on the back of the mountain. Determined to leave no stone unturned, some of us climbed to level seven, the top of the mesa.  There we found trails, rather than walkways. The going is still not precarious, but there are no railings.

Top of Phu Thok
Top of Phu Thok

We took a different way back to level six, and I realized that Wat Phu Thok is a bit of a maze.

Phu Thok
Phu Thok

It took a while to find our way back to the rest of the group.

Phu Thok
Phu Thok
Phu Thok
Phu Thok

When we found everyone, we headed back down.

Phu Thok
Phu Thok

Wat Phu Thok is located in Na Sabaeng Subdistrict, Si Wilai District, at the center of Bueng Kan Province. It’s just a little over 10 miles to the Mekong River and the border with Laos.

Monument to a departed monk
Monument to a departed monk

My little Tukata’s youngest son frequently drives the local monks to temples in Udon Thani and surrounding districts, so he knows many of the most beautiful wats in northeastern Thailand. With Wat Phu Thok, might our guide have peaked early? Stay tuned!

Actually, he is good at taking us to a second destination after the highlight. This post ends here, but our day out did not – tune in in two days to see how our guide followed Wat Phu Thok.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 43 pictures below.

The Buddhist country temple in Thailand

The Buddhist country temple is often more modest than those found in Thai cities, but in them very interesting features, and a wide range of styles, can be found.

Most visitors start in Bangkok, where I expect the most extravagant temples in Thailand are located. I’ll start you off where I started, with a couple of country temples in the Ban Dung district.

Ban Dung district country temple
Ban Dung district country temple

We arrived at both temples via red dirt roads. The first has an area of worship that is, from the outside, just a building.

Ban Dung district country temple
Ban Dung district country temple

The inside is very modest as well.

Ban Dung district country temple
Ban Dung district country temple

The newest and most outstanding feature of this temple complex is this unfinished school for new monks.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

Pre-fabricated concrete buildings must be a relatively inexpensive option for creating an impressive temple. I’ve seen several, usually in poorer areas. Government buildings also seem to often be built this way.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

The decorative features of this roof are among the coolest I’ve seen. They include a number of intertwined Phaya Naga, with 3-headed 2-bodied Phaya Naga at the top of each roof. People here pronounce that “pa ya na”, but I suspect that the pronunciation might vary.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

Thai … folklore holds the Phaya Naga to be semi-divine, demi-creatures, which possess supernatural powers as has been described in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology.” – Wikipedia

Phaya Naga show up frequently in temples, with varying prominence. Very soon I’ll show you an island temple complex in a forest believed to be the border between the human world and the netherworld, and home of the Naga.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

Although the walls are clearly unfinished, with rebar still sticking out, the shutters and doors are beautiful. I wonder if they were salvaged from an older temple.

There’s a white Buddha seated on a lotus flower nearby.

Buddha on lotus flower
Buddha on lotus flower

Spirit houses are also an important feature of temples in Thailand. They’re also found outside of businesses. Spirit houses are intended to provide a shelter for spirits that could cause problems for the people if not appeased. They’re often placed along an edge or corner of the property. There’s something different about this one; the fact that it appears alone, and away from the edges of the property, but my little Tukata tells me it’s just another spirit house. On the signs are the names of people who have passed away.

Spirit house
Spirit house

I was initially told not to photograph spirit houses, or really to take any notice of them. At first I hesitated, but I find them far too interesting to not take pictures. Like a true Buddhist, my little Tukata doesn’t try to change what she cannot control.

I like the spirit houses that look more like small houses or temples, like the one below, photographed at a different temple.

Spirit house
Spirit house

Pictured below is not a spirit house, I’m told, but a monument to a respected monk of the temple who passed away.

Monument to a departed monk
Monument to a departed monk

The second temple has much more typical Thai temple architecture, including a gate covered in Phaya Naga.

Temple gate with Phaya Naga, from inside the complex
Temple gate with Phaya Naga, from inside the complex
Phaya Naga on temple gate
Phaya Naga on temple gate

The temple looks to be another pre-fab concrete building, although this one is finished.

Buddhist country temple
Buddhist country temple

It has some nice Phaya Naga flanking the steps.

Temple Phaya Naga
Temple Phaya Naga

On the gable is a figure that I haven’t seen on any other Buddhist temple: Garuda, dancing with a pair of Phaya Naga.

Buddhist country temple
Buddhist country temple

“The Garuda is a large legendary bird, bird-like creature, or humanoid bird that appears in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Garuda is the mount (vahana) of the Lord Vishnu.”  The phoenix is considered to be a contemporary representation of Garuda. –  Wikipedia

Garuda dancing with Phaya Naga
Garuda dancing with Phaya Naga

Next to the temple above is another temple in a very different style.

Buddhist country temple
Buddhist country temple

In the foreground above we see Phra Mae Thorani, the Buddhist Earth Mother.

The Bodhisattva was sitting in meditation on his throne under the Bodhi Tree, Mara, the Evil One, was jealous and wanted to stop him from reaching enlightenment. Accompanied by his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, he tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and ran away, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara’s challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning her to be his witness. The earth deity in the form of a beautiful woman rose up from underneath the throne, and affirmed the Bodhisattva’s right to occupy the vajriisana. She twisted her long hair, and torrents of water collected there from the innumerable donative libations of the Buddha over the ages created a flood. The flood washed away Mara and his army, and the Bodhisattva was freed to reach enlightenment. — A Study of the History and Cult of the Buddhist Earth Deity in Mainland Southeast Asia

Buddha summoning Phra Mae Thorani to come to his assistance - from Wikimedia Commons
Buddha summoning Phra Mae Thorani to come to his assistance – from Wikimedia Commons

Phra Mae Thorani often appears at Thai temples, and in my experience is always shown wringing water from her long hair.

Across the paved path is a gold Buddha seated between two Phaya Naga, and a building in which I suspect communal worship might normally take place.

Buddha and a country temple
Buddha and a country temple

Next to the other gate to the temple complex is a whole village of spirit houses.

The temple's village of spirit houses
The temple’s village of spirit houses
I hope you’ve enjoyed a look at these two temples.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 22 pictures below.