Tag Archives: Thailand

City Pillar Shrine, Udon Thani & Ban Dung

A City Pillar Shrine is built to house a City Pillar or lak mueang, placed in most Thai cities to be the center, heart and soul of the city and her citizens. The Pillar is a continuation of ancient customs in which a City Pillar was erected first and represented the intent to build a city.

Ban Dung City Pillar
Ban Dung City Pillar

The shrine is also believed to house Chao Pho Lak Mueang, the city spirit deity. In the cities of Udon Thani and Ban Dung, and probably in many other Thai cities as well, there are other guardian and protector spirits and deities to honor, and so the City Pillar Shrine is part of a complex of shrines and effigies to those deities.

City Pillar Shrine, Udon Thani

Udon Thani’s  City Pillar Shrine is a sort of park in Udon Thani’s city center with a number of shrines and temples, and a large statue of the Udon Thani Province‘s protecting god.

Udon Thani's City Shrine
Udon Thani’s City Shrine

The City Pillar is visible inside of the shrine in the picture below. People remove their shoes before entering this shrine as the would a temple, and kneel and pray before the Pillar.

Udon Thani's City Shrine
Udon Thani’s City Shrine

Wetsuwan is one of the Four Heavenly Kings; four Buddhist gods, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction of the world.

Wetsuwan is the chief of the four kings and protector of the north. He is the ruler of rain.  He is often associated with the ancient Indian God of wealth, Lord Ganesh. His name means “he who hears everything”.

The Chinese depict Wetsuwon as a human king, but in Thailand he is depicted as a Yaksa, a usually friendly nature spirit, often appearing in southern Asia as a guardian deity. He is seen as the guardian deity of the Udon Thani Province.

I’m sure whether Chao Pho Lak Mueang is a proper name or just a title applied to any city spirit deity, but I was told that the name of Udon Thani’s guardian deity is “Udon Thani”. It is said to reside in the shrine below.

City Pillar Shrine
City Pillar Shrine

The gold statue in the middle of the shrine, in the picture below, may be an effigy of the guardian deity, or may be seen as the deity itself, I’m not sure which.

The park is surrounded by government buildings, including the Udon Thani Provincial Hall and the Office of Buddhism. Smaller villages in the area still have faded pictures of the departed 9th king, who passed away nearly one year ago at the time of my visit, but the center of Udon Thani displays a new picture of the 10th king.

Udon Thani Provincial Hall
Udon Thani Provincial Hall

Apparently there’s always construction going on in the park. There’s still lots of room for new stuff. The structure below reminds me of the one built in Bangkok for the cremation ceremony of Thailand’s 9th king which took place at the end of October.

A new structure in the works
A new structure in the works

The interior of the building below is lots of pillars, and nothing else.

An empty building
An empty building

The Chinese temple is interesting for many reasons, starting with its very different style.

Chinese temple
Chinese temple

The cute Phaya Naga in front of the temple would seem to be an acknowledgement that this Chinese temple is located in northeastern Thailand.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

A small building nearby offers a good look at some little Chinese dragons.

Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon

It’s a great little structure with a lot of detail.

On the grounds of the Chinese temple
On the grounds of the Chinese temple

Dragons and various other creatures decorate the roof of the temple…

Chinese temple
Chinese temple

…and the rest of the temple as well. This temple was fenced off for some reason, so it wasn’t possible to get a closer look.

Chinese temple
Chinese temple

Placed around the temple are the animals of the Chinese zodiac; below are the rabbit and the ox.

Rabbit and ox
Rabbit and ox

City Pillar Shrine, Ban Dung

In Ban Dung I visited Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine.

Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine
Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine

The most prominent feature of this park is a large statue of  Por Si Sut Tho, the Phaya Naga who lives in the Kham Chanot Forest. “Por” is an honorific commonly given to Si Sut Tho that is normally applied to monks, which he is not. “Chao”, which is apparently also used at times, is normally applied to kings, which Por Si Sut Tho also is not.

Por Si Sut Tho
Por Si Sut Tho

My little Tukata tells me that Por Si Sut Tho takes the form shown below, with a human upper body (or even a fully human form), when he emerges onto the land, but takes the more commonly seen serpentine form when he’s in the water.

Por Si Sut Tho
Por Si Sut Tho

There are a number of nice buildings in the park, and there may be interesting stories behind the entities to whom they are dedicated. The shrine below has something to do with Por Si Sut Tho and his wife, Ya Bat Tho Ma.

Unidentified shrine
Unidentified shrine

Below is the shrine of Ban Dung’s City Pillar.

Shrine of Ban Dung's City Pillar
Shrine of Ban Dung’s City Pillar

Below is the City Pillar itself.

Ban Dung City Pillar
Ban Dung City Pillar

Please enjoy the Udon Thani City Pillar Shrine gallery of 18 pictures below, and the Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine gallery of 8 pictures below that.

Forest master Luang Ta Maha Bua’s Wat Pa Ban Tat

Wat Pa Ban Tat is a Theravada Buddhist monastery in the Udon Thani Province of Thailand.

Wat Pa Ban Tat
Wat Pa Ban Tat

Wat Pa Ban Tat was established by the famous Thai meditation bhikkhu Luang Ta Maha Bua.

Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua
Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua

Bua is one of the best known Thai Buddhist monks of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He was widely regarded as an Arahant — a living Buddhist saint. He was a disciple of the esteemed forest master Ajahn Mun Bhuridatta, and was himself considered a master in the Thai Forest Tradition. Following the death of Ajahn Thate in 1994, he was considered to be the Ajahn Yai, or the head of the Thai Forest Tradition lineage until his death in 2011. – Wikipedia

Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua
Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua

The first building we visited was a sort of shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua, shown above and below.

Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua
Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua

This structure reminds me of the way many Thai houses are build on stilts to provide a shady space beneath for people to work and rest in the heat of the day.

Kitchens are often set up beneath houses. The one below is its own roofed but open space. The monks of Wat Pa Ban Tat live nearby.

Monks' kitchen
Monks’ kitchen

The dwelling structures themselves – called kutis – are single units scattered throughout the dense forest. They stand fairly far apart and are separated from each other by strips of forest dense enough so that the inhabitants can’t see one another. The whole area is tranquil and quiet… A monk will stay alone at his kuti without interactions with others. He spends all his time concentrating on his own practice – exerting himself in the practice of sitting and walking meditation in the area of his own kuti as if he were the only person around. He doesn‘t stop to chat with others, but follows in full detail the methods and forest practices taught by the Lord Buddha. – Wikipedia

Blonde Thai squirrel
Blonde Thai squirrel

Walking from Bua’s shrine to his temple we encountered many of Thailand’s blonde squirrels. We saw these in many wooded areas in the north. We saw no other type of squirrel, although I believe there are many.

We also met this cool old tortoise.

Thai tortoise
Thai tortoise

Printed banners that line the fences of the temple complex tell of the donations that Bua collected from around the world to help the people of Thailand. His temple is very nice, but very simple and modest compared to many.

Wat Pa Ban Tat
Wat Pa Ban Tat

There are no Phaya Naga, Phra Mae Thorani, Garuda, or any other figure besides the Buddha, and pictures of Luang Ta Maha Bua.

Wat Pa Ban Tat
Wat Pa Ban Tat

The temple is a large roof over a cool tile floor, open on the sides.

Wat Pa Ban Tat
Wat Pa Ban Tat

Below is a model of a future addition to the temple complex.

Plans for the future
Plans for the future

Early in my visit to Thailand I was given a pendant with a likeness of Luang Ta Maha Bua. I wore it during most of my time there. Every Thai person I spoke with about him was in complete agreement that Bua was a very good monk.

Luang Ta Maha Bua pendant
Luang Ta Maha Bua pendant

Please enjoy the full gallery of 12 pictures below.

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.

Fire and brimstone monk deals sternly with monkey bite

After sustaining a monkey bite one must of course seek out a fire and brimstone monk to expel any malign spirits or influences. We left the paved roads for those of red dirt and drove deep into the countryside, passing many rice and sugar cane fields and rubber tree plantations along the way.

Rubber tree forest
Rubber tree forest

I’ve found the rubber tree forests especially interesting, having never seen one before Thailand. Those above have the sap collecting bowls tipped down. When collecting the bowls fill with a white liquid that seems to at least partly solidify before it is collected.

Northeast Thailand countryside
Northeast Thailand countryside

In the middle of all of this uninterrupted agriculture we arrived at a gate, currently under either repair or construction.

Domain of the fire and brimstone monk
Domain of the fire and brimstone monk

One monk lives at this temple. He has one of the most bizarre collections of religious accoutrements I’ve ever seen.

Domain of the fire and brimstone monk
Domain of the fire and brimstone monk

When he appeared he patted my belly and compared it to that of his enormous orange Buddha.

Buddha with centipede
Buddha with centipede

A 19th century Tibetan poet warned his fellow Buddhists that “if you enjoy frightening others, you will be reborn as a centipede.” I don’t really know of any connection with centipedes in Thai Buddhism. I have no idea why this Buddha has a giant centipede on his shoulder.

A cobra is coiled around the Buddha, apparently watching his back. Phaya Naga are sometimes portrayed as more common snakes.

Cobra guarding the Buddha
Cobra guarding the Buddha

This monk also has in his collection a large cobra with 9 heads.

9-headed cobra
9-headed cobra

He also has a Phaya Naga in a form with which I’m more familiar, giving a ride to a red humanoid that I haven’t identified.

Phaya Naga and rider
Phaya Naga and rider

The monkey bite victim and her mother changed into garments resembling baptism robes and sat in chairs at the edge of the temple, still just under the roof. The monk shouted the loudest I’ve heard from a monk and threw water on them. I’m not sure I would describe it as angry, but forceful would be fair. Later I was told that he was not speaking in Thai. It may have been Cambodian.

Outdoor Buddha
Outdoor Buddha

The monkey bite victim has had serious health problems for some time. I’m told that doctors know what it is, and she has been receiving treatment for some time. It seems that her mother has been seeking spiritual remedies to supplement the medicine.

Outdoor reclining Buddha
Outdoor reclining Buddha

Later the fire and brimstone monk produced dolls, similar to Ken and Barbi, and having gotten my attention, proceed to use them to act out the bumping of uglies. Apparently he was offering to bring his spiritual powers to bear on our sex lives. My little Tukata declined his offer.

Domain of the fire and brimstone monk
Domain of the fire and brimstone monk

The open roof behind the orange Buddha may be intended to let rain fall into an odd pool behind him. In this pool sit pink-skinned baby Indras on lotus flowers.

Pink-skinned baby Indras on lotus flowers
Pink-skinned baby Indras on lotus flowers

I’ve seen fish raised in pools like this.

Phaya Naga in outdoor pool
Phaya Naga in outdoor pool

I’ve seen creatures something like those below, but these seem to have the lower bodies of mermaids, so I’m not sure.

Unidentified creatures
Unidentified creatures

I had no idea that Buddhist temples like this existed. I was glad to see it for myself, and also that our visit was brief.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 14 pictures below.

The long-tailed macaques of Kumphawapi monkey park

My hosts knew that I was interested in seeing monkeys, so they took me to Kumphawapi monkey park.

Kumphawapi monkey park
Kumphawapi monkey park

This is just a city park in Kumphawapi district in the southern part of Udon Thani Province, northeastern Thailand that happens to be overrun by macaques (long-tailed macaques I think), but they’re the defining feature of this park. You can find it here on Google Maps.

Mother and baby macaques
Mother and baby macaques

There were quite a few mothers carrying their babies on their backs or clinging to their stomachs.

Mother and baby macaques
Mother and baby macaques

The moms were very busy.

It looks like half of the park is wooded. Surrounded by trees may have been a better space in which to observe the monkeys than the car park. I did watch a lot of juveniles playing in the trees near the restrooms. They’re very curious, and this one hooted at me a bit.

Juvenile macaque
Juvenile macaque

They don’t sit still long, and seem to have endless energy.

Young macaque
Young macaque

Most of the monkeys I saw in the trees were about this size.

My hosts had brought some bananas from their back yard. The monkeys were happy to have them. Vendors at the park sell peanuts for you to feed them, but you need to think about what you’re doing. Tossing it to them is safer than handing it to them, and holding on to it or withholding it can get you bit. I had a lot of fun just watching them, and taking pictures.

Feeding peanuts to the macaques
Feeding peanuts to the macaques

The feeder shown above didn’t have any problems, but disputes did erupt in the form of a larger monkey running off a smaller one as the other little guys scattered.

Display of monkey dominance
Display of monkey dominance

Then one of our party walked too close to the feeding frenzy and was bitten on the ankle.

I’ve heard a lot about unpleasant experiences with monkeys. Fortunately we witnessed no flinging of poo. There were no public displays of monkey passion. But I guess I saw just about every other form of monkey shenanigans I care to imagine. On the other hand, some of the pics on Google Maps show a market in this park, and I imagine they find lots of creative ways to cause problems in a setting like that.

I did see fleeing mothers pursued by shrieking babies. I didn’t see the vain monkey below do any damage, but I’m sure the bike owner would not have been pleased.

Monkey vanity
Monkey vanity

Of course the owner of the truck below was surely far less pleased.

Very bad monkeys
Very bad monkeys

I don’t know why anyone would leave a car here unattended. I like to think I’d take one look at a park full of monkeys, and find somewhere else to park.

Very bad monkeys
Very bad monkeys

I asked them if they realized that they are very, very bad monkeys, but I used my least confrontational tone of voice. Apologies to the car owners, but I didn’t want to risk getting gang-rushed by angry macaques.

I like the way they didn’t bother to taste the rubber until they’d ripped it completely free from the car.

Let’s close with a less sociopathic monkey moment.

Macaque family grooming
Macaque family grooming

Please enjoy the full gallery of 15 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.

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.

Wat Kham Chanot, temple of the Phaya Naga

Wat Kham Chanot is a Buddhist temple that is very focused on worship of Phaya Naga. It is located in Kham Chanot forest,  believed to be the border between the human world and the netherworld. Both forest and temple are located on an island in Kut Kham, a marshy lake in which a Phaya Naga is said to live.

The temple complex has expanded off of the island, and includes a large standing Buddha and a permanent country market.

Standing Buddha and market
Standing Buddha and market

Among the many items for sale are offerings to the Phaya Naga. The likenesses below are mostly constructed of folded banana or coconut leaves. The products of this art vary greatly, mostly in the quality of the heads. These are among the best I’ve seen.

Banana/coconut leaf Phaya Naga
Banana/coconut leaf Phaya Naga

Of course there are also temple buildings adorned with Phaya Naga.

Temple with Phaya Naga
Temple with Phaya Naga

The bridge to the island was once very small. The new one is a fairly recent improvement. The entrance is flanked by a pair of 7-headed Phaya Naga.

Wat Kham Chanot is usually busy, so there is a police presence. At the entrance to the bridge an officer told me to remove my hat, suggesting that the entire island is considered a temple. An earlier clue that I had missed was that we had removed our shoes.

Bridge to old Wat Kham Chanot
Bridge to old Wat Kham Chanot

The bodies of the Phaya Naga extend along the entire length of the bridge, all the way to the island.

Bridge to old Wat Kham Chanot
Bridge to old Wat Kham Chanot

Golden frogs can be seen in the marsh on either side of the bridge.

Golden frogs
Golden frogs

Located right at the end of the bridge, the shrine on the right, below, had a constant line of people passing through. We didn’t wait in that line.

Temples on the island at old Wat Kham Chanot
Temples on the island at old Wat Kham Chanot

Phaya Naga can take human form, like the one seated on the altar below. Note the many offerings.

Phaya Naga in human form
Phaya Naga in human form

Phaya Naga sometimes appear with the upper body of a man or woman and the lower body of a snake – or in the case of the figures below, upper bodies of both humans and numerous (or multi-headed) serpent-form Phaya Naga.

Phaya Naga at Wat Kham Chanot
Phaya Naga at Wat Kham Chanot

The font below is said to flow from a spring. People anointed themselves with the water.

Font of the Phaya Naga
Font of the Phaya Naga

The many small shrines are built among some really cool old trees.

Wat Kham Chanot
Wat Kham Chanot

Paya Naga are also said to live in the Mekong River and estuaries. People of Laos and Thailand attribute the naga fireball phenomenon to Phaya Naga, along with standing waves, damage to vehicles and objects, and serpentine tracks that are frequently found. Scientists compare these and sightings of Phaya Naga with those of bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

Wat Kham Chanot
Wat Kham Chanot

“Naga fireballs, also known as bung fai paya nak or Mekong lights, are a phenomenon said to be often seen on the Mekong River. Glowing balls are alleged to naturally rise from the water high into the air. The balls are said to be reddish and to range in size from smaller sparkles up to the size of basketballs. They quickly rise up to a couple of hundred metres before disappearing. The number of fireballs reported varies between tens and thousands per night.” – Wikipedia

Wat Kham Chanot
Wat Kham Chanot

Recently a festival was held on the Mekong River. On TV I saw fireworks being launched from underwater to simulate naga fireballs. This is something I’ll try to learn more about.

Off of the island we visited a variety of small shrines, like the one below to some respected and deceased monk.

Shrine to a venerable monk at new Wat Kham Chanot
Shrine to a venerable monk at new Wat Kham Chanot

There were a number of large gongs available, and visitors could try various approaches to getting interesting sounds from them.

There are many ghost stories and hauntings associated with Wat Kham Chanot. Phaha Naga are said to sometimes go to the houses of people near the temple when they need something. Although people ask them for favors, they are very afraid of them.

After leaving the busy Wat Kham Chanot we stopped by an unfinished temple populated only by workers.

Unfinished temple
Unfinished temple

I find this temple exceptionally beautiful, and I like the open air design. There is something vaguely Nordic about it.

Unfinished temple
Unfinished temple

These Phaya Naga are some of the coolest I’ve seen, and I couldn’t resist using them as the featured picture for this post, in spite of the fact that they are not found at Wat Kham Chanot.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

The inside too is simple and beautiful.

Unfinished temple
Unfinished temple
Unfinished temple
Unfinished temple

This temple has a paddock for deer. Wat Kham Chanot is said to have a small zoo of turtles, but I didn’t see that.

Deer
Deer

Please enjoy the full gallery of 20 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.