Tag Archives: Sala Kaew Ku

Nong Khai, the Mekong River, and the Lord of the Naga

Nong Khai lies on the Mekong River, which forms the northeastern border of Thailand. Nong Khai is the site of the first Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge, spanning the river to Laos.  Laos’s capital, Vientiane, is 25km away.

A pair of outstanding Phaya Naga welcome you to the city
A pair of outstanding Phaya Naga welcome you to the city

The Mekong River is the primary home of the Phaya Naga. Thai cities often have “mascots”, and the mascot of Nong Khai is clearly the Phaya Naga. A pair of really excellent Phaya Naga welcome you to the city (above).

A pair of equally outstanding, and very large, Phaya Naga greet you at the Mekong River (below).

Phaya Naga on the Mekong River
Phaya Naga on the Mekong River

A big draw for Nong Khai is the Naga Fireball Festival held during Buddhist Lent at the end of October, when Naga fireballs are said to be most common. Fireballs resembling an orange sun, varying in size from sparks to basketball sized orbs, rise from the Mekong River to as high as hundreds of feet into the sky.

Naga fireballs, from Wikimedia Commons
Naga fireballs, from Wikimedia Commons

Naga fireballs are believed by some to be exhaled by Phaya Naga. I wish I had attended the festival, in part because I find it surprising that it seems to include fireworks, suggesting a lack of concern with really knowing what you’re seeing. Thai people do love the supernatural, and love seeing Naga fireballs during the festival.

The video below examines the scientific and supernatural views on the Naga fireball phenomenon.

Sala Kaew Ku is Nong Khai’s other big draw. The most photographed sculpture at Sala Kaew Ku is probably Sulilat’s unique, and enormous, take on the Naga Buddha.

Naga Buddha at Sala Kaew Ku
Naga Buddha at Sala Kaew Ku

Along the Mekong River there are all forms of Phaya Naga, like the ones that top the lamp posts.

Lamp post Phaya Naga
Lamp post Phaya Naga

Phaya Naga also adorn the fence along the river.

Fence Phaya Naga
Fence Phaya Naga

Looking across the Mekong into Laos you can see a fairly nice temple complex.

Southern Laos across the Mekong River
Southern Laos across the Mekong River

You can also see a number of houses. They look similar to houses in northern Thailand.

Southern Laos across the Mekong River
Southern Laos across the Mekong River

There are house boats along the Thai side of the river.

Mekong house boat
Mekong house boat

The Thai-Lao Friendship bridge was largely funded by a gift to the Lao government from the Australian government. The picture below shows the bridge in the distance, and also some fairly large house boats.

Thai-Lao Friendship bridge over the Mekong River
Thai-Lao Friendship bridge over the Mekong River

Several temples are among the buildings lining the Thai side of the river.

Temple on the Mekong River
Temple on the Mekong River

They include a Chinese style temple.

Chinese Temple on the Mekong River
Chinese Temple on the Mekong River

Nong Khai has an aquarium that features some of the surprisingly large fish found in the Mekong River.

Nong Khai Aquarium
Nong Khai Aquarium

It’s a small aquarium, but it does feature a shark tunnel. This is the first I’ve seen, so I can’t offer a comparison. Flash photography is prohibited in the aquarium, but I was able to shoot video.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 16 pictures below.

I had no trouble getting to Sala Kaew Ku

Sala Kaew Ku is a garden of enormous bizarre and fantastic sculptures of a spiritual nature.

Huge Naga Buddha towers over the park's other sculptures
Huge Naga Buddha towers over the park’s other sculptures

Buddhist and Hindu imagery are represented, with multi-headed, multi-armed deities, human-animal hybrids, Buddhas, and Phaya Naga towering over visitors.

Huge Buddhas in a variety of poses
Huge Buddhas in a variety of poses

Both sculptures and park were built by mystic, myth-maker, spiritual cult leader and sculpture artist Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat.

Sala Kaew Ku
Sala Kaew Ku

Legend says that as a young man, Bunleua Sulilat fell into a cave, and in that cave met hermit Kaew Ku.  Kaew Ku became his spiritual mentor. Sala Kaew Ku means “Hall of Kaew Ku”.

Phra Rahu
Phra Rahu

Phra Rahu, above, swallows the sun, causing eclipses.

Below is the only depiction I’ve seen of Phra Mae Thorani in which she is not wringing water from her hair to protect the Buddha. In this sculpture she is coming to the aid of humans in a boat.

Phra Mae Thorani
Phra Mae Thorani

Bunleua Sulilat built his first sculpture garden, Buddha Park, near Vientiane, Laos , in 1958. He fled across the Mekong River into Thailand in fear of the political climate of Laos after the 1975 communist revolution, and in 1978 began work on “The Hall of Kaew Ku”, which would be more extravagant and feature larger statues than his earlier park. The newer park is located near Nong Khai, Thailand.

It is good luck to enter through this gate
It is good luck to enter through this gate

Pics above and below show the gate to a sort of small courtyard filled with mostly more life-sized statues.

Below is a look inside the courtyard.

Sulilat’s personality and sculpture and his blend of Buddhism and Hinduism attracted followers, and the sculpture park became the center of a religious sect. Followers gave him the title Luang Pu, usually reserved for monks.

Phra Phikanet (Ganesha) riding a rat
Phra Phikanet (Ganesha) riding a rat

Both sculpture parks were built by untrained volunteers working for free. Sulilat was wildly popular among his followers, but the locals thought he was insane.

First floor shrine
First floor shrine

The Sala Kaew Ku pavilion building has shrines/temples on 3 floors, and it seems appropriate that they in the “collection of Buddhas and other effigies” style. Among them are many pictures of Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat.

Second floor shrine
Second floor shrine

Sulilat fell from one of his huge sculptures and his health deteriorated until his death in 1996. His mummified body is enshrined on the 3rd floor.

Third floor shrine
Third floor shrine

Large windows on the 3rd floor offer a nice view over the park.

View from the 3rd floor
View from the 3rd floor

Please enjoy the full gallery of 40 pictures below.