Tag Archives: Sakon Nakhon

Phu Pha Lek National Park & Wat Tham Phuang

Phu Pha Lek National Park extends over more than 100,000 acres, from Sakon Nakhon province to Udon Thani to Kalasin. It contains the Phu Phan mountain range, with its highest peak, Phu Ang So.

Phu Pha Lek National Park
Phu Pha Lek National Park

The park is covered with deciduous and evergreen forests, along with various types of bamboo and herbs. Wild hogs, barking deer, mouse deer, monkeys, and many species of birds call the park home.

Lookout tower
Lookout tower

We had lunch near the lookout tower above, and took in the view below.

Phu Pha Lek National Park
Phu Pha Lek National Park

Phu Pha Lek confirmed my suspicion that everything in Thailandwaterfalls, mountains, and even national parks – must also be a temple.

Wat Tham Phuang is a series of temples in the park, many of which tell a story from the life of the Buddha. We started at the temple dedicated to the end of his life, but I’ll take you first to the last temple that we saw, and give you the story of the Buddha in chronological order, as told to me by the temples of Wat Tham Phuang, and by my little Tukata.

Phaya Naga at the big temple
Phaya Naga at the big temple

I’ve given names to the temples that make up Wat Tham Phuang, but it isn’t likely that anyone else calls them by these names.

The big temple doesn’t actually tell a story. It has a more standard temple theme.

The big temple
The big temple

It provides space for large congregations.

The big temple
The big temple

The rock of the mountain is incorporated into the building.

The big temple
The big temple

Below is one of the main entrances.

The big temple
The big temple

The resident monks seem to live near the big temple.

Monks of Phu Pha Lek
Monks of Phu Pha Lek

Below is a shrine to a venerable monk.

Shrine to a venerable monk
Shrine to a venerable monk

I would guess that this monk founded one of the original temples here in the park.

Shrine to a venerable monk
Shrine to a venerable monk

Near this shrine we were lucky enough to get a glimpse of a monkey, some kind of macaque I think, in the trees.

A shy monkey
A shy monkey

The small temple below is dedicated to the birth of the Buddha.

Temple to the birth of the Buddha
Temple to the birth of the Buddha

It is said that Siddhartha Gautama, who would become a spiritual teacher, and later come to be known as the Buddha, didn’t cry when he was born. He stood, and took seven steps. Then he raised one hand into the air and proclaimed himself the Buddha. Then he slept, and when he woke he behaved as a normal baby, and proceeded to develop as a regular human being.

The Buddha and his mom
The Buddha and his mom

There’s a rest area with a roof and water for drinking and a great view.

Phu Pha Lek National Park
Phu Pha Lek National Park

Among the trees near the rest area is the small temple shown below. We didn’t go in for a closer look, so I don’t know if the figure inside is the Buddha, or whether this temple has a story to tell.

A small forest temple
A small forest temple

The temple below has a real Aztec look to it. I saw other Thai temples that make me think of the Aztecs, but they’re all ruins.

Temple of the Bodhi Tree
Temple of the Bodhi Tree

This temple is focused on the time that the Buddha spent meditating under the Bodhi Tree in order to reach enlightenment.

The Buddha meditating under the Bodhi Tree
The Buddha meditating under the Bodhi Tree

The Bodhi Tree was a large and very old sacred fig tree located in Bodh Gaya. In religious iconography, the Bodhi Tree is recognizable by its heart-shaped leaves, which you can see in the picture above.

Temple of the Bodhi Tree
Temple of the Bodhi Tree

Each of the four towers has a small temple inside of it.

Temple of the Bodhi Tree
Temple of the Bodhi Tree

Nearby is a small temple with stairs flanked by Phaya Naga.

Small temple
Small temple

A small shrine to Phra Mae Thorani sits above a pool next to the temple above. She is Thailand’s earth mother, and one of the supernatural beings that came to defend and protect the Buddha as he sat under the Bodhi Tree, so that his meditations would not be interrupted.

Phra Mae Thorani
Phra Mae Thorani

Below is another small temple that we didn’t enter. Through the window we can see the Buddha with an elephant kneeling before him. He is often depicted teaching an elephant and a monkey.

Temple with elephant
Temple with elephant

I don’t know the meaning of the scene below either. This, and the elephant and monkey, are things I’ll try to learn more about.

Creatures with dharmachakra (Wheel of the Dharma)
Creatures with dharmachakra (Wheel of the Dharma)

The temple next to the scene above tells of the time that three hundred monks arrived to be taught by the Buddha.

The Buddha teaching the 300 monks
The Buddha teaching the 300 monks

Notice the deer in the scene above.

Monks being taught by the Buddha
Monks being taught by the Buddha
Temple ceiling
Temple ceiling

When all of his work was complete, the Buddha lay down and passed from this life.

Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha

We didn’t take advantage of the hiking trails or camping, and didn’t see any of the waterfalls, or even much of the forests. That’ll be something to do next time.

Temple of the reclining Buddha
Temple of the reclining Buddha

Please enjoy the full gallery of 36 pictures below.

Wat Mai Ban Tan, a beautiful white temple trimmed in gold

We saw Wat Mai Ban Tan from the highway and decided to stop and have a look. We were just east of Udon Thani Province, in Sakon Nakhon Province, on .

Wat Mai Ban Tan
Wat Mai Ban Tan

This is a fairly new temple, and I haven’t found out much about it. There’s still a lot of work being done on the outer grounds (those near the temple are immaculate). The temple and immediate surroundings show that Wat Mai Ban Tan is very well funded.

Ground floor interior
Ground floor interior

I took off my shoes when everyone else did, but I forgot about my hat. Everyone there smiled at me and didn’t say a word. Eventually one of my Thai companions mentioned it, and I took it off.

Ground floor Buddha
Ground floor Buddha

This beautiful little temple on the pond would have to wait until we finished inside.

Small shrine near the temple
Small shrine near the temple

The second level looks down on the first from an interior balcony that runs all the way around (see the 3rd pic up). The walls are lined with statues of venerable departed monks. They’re all very well done, and all executed in the same style, presumably for this space. I was drawn to the one below with his snake staff.

Venerable departed monk
Venerable departed monk

Doors on four sides lead out to an exterior balcony. From there stairs lead up to the third level. I’ve seen vessels like the one shown below claimed to contain a bone fragment of the Buddha, but I have almost no information on this temple.

Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior

In two corners are small collections of Buddhas.

Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior

Outside we got a close look at Buddha riding a three-headed gold elephant. He is flanked by a pair of Phaya Naga that either have very large horns, or are breathing fire (and have very small horns).

Third level exterior detail
Third level exterior detail

Above the Buddha’s head is the dharmachakra, or “Wheel of the Dharma“. This is the symbol of Buddhism in Thailand. The flag below, alternating with the flag of Thailand, is flown along the way to temples in Thailand – and to Thai temples elsewhere in the world.

The Dhammachak Flag - from Wikimedia Commons
The Dhammachak Flag – from Wikimedia Commons

The elephant is a symbol of physical and mental strength, as well as responsibility and earthiness. The elephant also appears as a guardian of temples and of Buddha himself.

The peacock is a symbol of openness and acceptance. Peacocks flank the four entrances to Wat Mai Ban Tan.

Peacock
Peacock

Flanking the entrance to the smaller temple shown above are one green and one gold Phaya Naga.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

This may be my favorite Phaya Naga so far.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

Inside the temple is a “Naga Buddha”, a Buddha seated on a Phaya Naga. One account I have seen said that a Phaya Naga in the form of a large cobra sheltered the Buddha with it’s hood to protect him from the elements, so as not to interrupt his meditations.  Phaya Naga are often shown as guardians or protectors of the Buddha.

"Naga Buddha"
“Naga Buddha”

On the Phaya Naga’s “hood” is the dharmachakra. This Buddha is very consistent in style with the Buddha in the larger temple.

Back of "Naga Buddha" with dharmachakra
Back of “Naga Buddha” with dharmachakra

Some temples are decorated with collections of Buddhas and other entities and symbols in a variety of styles. At Wat Mai Ban Tan nothing is redundant, and everything fits so well that it appears to have been created specifically for this temple. The exception is the collection of Buddha figures, but those are presented in glass display cases.

Wat Mai Ban Tan temple grounds
Wat Mai Ban Tan temple grounds

Please enjoy the full gallery of 19 pictures below.