Category Archives: Uncategorized

Small village, large wat compound

Wat Aranyapaisan is a beautiful monastery in a large, well-kept compound in the village of Ban Sroi, Amphur Phana, Amnat Charoen Province. There were nine monks in residence when I visited in late May 2017.

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Wat Muang Sawat

Wat Muang Sawat (or Wat Ban Muang Sawat) is situated in Tambon Phana, Phana District, Amnat Charoen Province. It has three gates and this one is probably the ‘main gate’ even if most people might enter through another one.

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This gate has two features which make it attractive. There are no electrical or telephone wires on this side of the road; and there are 3-D ‘teaching’ pictures moulded onto the walls adjoning the gatway. These may be particularly appropriate because on the other side of the road is Ban Muang Sawat (Primary ) School.

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The sequence of childhood, old age, sickness and death is illustrated:

And there are somewhat grim warnings of the evils of adultery, gambling, and drunkenness:

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We can also see a monk teaching against theft, drunkenness and adultery:

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And we are also shown positive images of ‘good’ behaviour:

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The Wats of Tambon Phana

Introducing the Wats of Tambon Phana, Phana District, Amnat Charoen Province.

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wat-plt-gateWat Phra Lao Thepnimit

wat-burapa-gateWat Burapa

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Wat Muang Sawat

wat-treeratWat Treerat Prachasan

wat-nk-gate-1Wat Nek Khammaram

wat-don-kwanWat Don Kwan

Temple Museum at Ban Nong Chang Noi, Ubon Ratchathani Province

Temple Museums seem to be the latest thing, if a small corner of Ubon Ratchathani Province is anything to go by. There are two within about 50 km of each other.

You will find this one in a small village off the road from Amphur Muang Samsip to Amphur Phana. Muang Samip itself is on the main road from Ubon to Amnat Charoen, Highway 212. Phana is signposted 26 km off  to the right, along Route 2049, and Ban Nong Chang Noi is about 14 km from this turning. The village is on the left and you should see this sign:

This is the museum building which you will find within the grounds of the monastery:

These are some of the exhibits you will find in this museum. They are rather crowded and at the moment without explanatory labels but nevertheless they record a way of life that has almost completely vanished, even though many of the artefacts were still in use within living memory. If you are in the Ubon area, this is a visit that would be well worth making. There will be someone to open the building for you and there is no charge for a visit, although a donation would be most welcome.

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Forest Monasteries, Ubon Ratchathani

Wat Nong Pa Pong is a forest monastery and meditation centre in Amphur Warin Chamrap on Highway 2178 about 6 km from Ubon. The ordination hall is an all white building. Inside is a wax image of Phra Acharn Luang Por Chah, a famous meditation monk born in Ubon Province. The late Phra Acharn Chah founded this temple and he is revered throughout Thailand. Monasteries founded by him can be found throughout North-East Thailand and there are also branch monseries founded by his followers in several countries throughout the world.

This Chedi surmounted by a That is in the temple compound at Wat Nong Pa Pong. The Chedi contains relics of Phra Acharn Chah.  Another building within the temple grounds is a mueum containing the few posessions that the Acharn had during his life.

Many of the branch monasteries founded by Phra Acharn Chah are in Ubon Ratchathani Province. Monks are not always  in residence because many of the branches are used for meditation retreats which are of a limited duration. One example is Branch 25 which is located on Highway 212 between Ubon and Muang Samsip.

At the entrance to the monastery here, set well back fom the main road but clearly visible down a long drive, is this That , a typically Isan form of Chedi or Stupa. This one is very similar to the famous Phra That Phanom, but smaller. Relics of Phra Acharn Chah are housed within the that.

Branch #85 is a forest monastery found on the outskirts of the small village of Ban Tham Yae in Amphur Phana, Amnat Charoen Province. Here is the sign on Highway 2134 that by-passes Phana.

This monastery does have monks in permanent residence.

Wat Pa Nanachat is another forest monastery and meditation centre founded by Phra Acharn Chah. Th monks here are not Thai and if you are interested in the Acharn’s teaching this is a better place to visit. An English-speaking monk wll always be happy to talk with you. However, you should not expect  to be able to stay here unless you are willing to conform to their very strict rules. This monastery is in Tambon Bung Wai, Amphur WariChamrap, about 12 km from Ubon. Travel along Highway 24, turn left to Amphur Kanthararom, Si Sa Ket Province (Highway 226). There will b a sign pointing the way to the monastery, which is about 1 km off the highway along a dirt road.

Ubon Ratchathani Railway Station, a pleasant place to arrive

Ubon Ratchanthani Railway Station is a little unusual in that it is not located in the Provincial City. Instead it is found south of the River Mun in Warin Chamrap,  a District Town (amphur/อำเภอ) in Ubon Ratchathani Province. White bus (songthaew) #2 serves the Ubon railway station , running along Chayangkul Road and Upparat Road and then crossing the Ratanakosin Bridge over the River Mun , so it is convenient for all the hotels except perhaps the Laitong and the Tohsang, which are further off the main streets. It is a pleasant place to arrive or to depart from if you have to head towards Bangkok.

British-built steam engine formerly used on the Bangkok - Ubon line

Ubon Ratchathani Railway Station

Ticket counter Ubon Railway Station

The railway station itself has a range of useful facilities and there are plenty of helpful signboards in English. On the platform there is a range of refreshment available, mostly noodles but also grilled chicken on sticks and sticky rice as well as small bags of sharp, sweet, sticky tamarind, fruit, ice creams, bottled water, soft drinks, beer and Thai whisky. There are more food stalls outside, across the road and to the right as you leave.

Waiting in the shade at Ubon Railway Station

Also on the platform is a magazine stall which usually has copies of the Bangkok Post plus cigarettes and toiletries. In the main entrance lobby there is an ATM.

Leave the main building and turn right and you will find the toilet block which is fairly basic but kept clean by the attendant who collects 3 Baht for use of a toilet and 10 Baht for a shower. She also sells toilet paper at 10 Baht a roll, and toiletries. Close to the toilet block is a room with the sign ‘Leave Baggage’ which is open from 06.00 to 19.00 daily, charging 10 Baht for each piece of baggage left there. There are coin-operated telephone call boxes close by and another line of them on the other side of the main entrance, but none of them seem to be set up for international calls.

As well as the songtaew, there are tuk-tuks waiting at the station and unmarked taxis. Usually the men offering you ‘taxi’ will in fact mean a tuk-tuk.

Iconic imge of Ubon outside the railway station

Introducing Isan

Weaver and grandson at a village co-operative

What is it that makes Isan so ‘authentic’ in the eyes of so many tourists and resident foreigners when in respect of language and culture it is more Lao than Thai? Well, for one thing, there is little or nothing in the region that is designed or calculated to attract foreign tourists. There are no sea-side beaches, though there are some river-side ones. There is nothing like Khao San Road, Pattaya, or the islands of the south. There are no exotically-dressed hill-tribes people and no mountains to trek in.

Mun River at the confluence with the Mekhong

So what is there here to interest a tourist? Well, there is the ‘real Thailand’ where people are busy going about their daily lives: they work in the fields at certain times of the year; they work in the urban areas of Korat, Khon Khaen,Ubon and Udonthani; they fish on the Mun River and the Mekong River, in lakes and ponds. They live in towns and villages that are increasingly aware of the modern world and involved with it. In Ubon Province, they live in a landscape that defies the stereotyped image of Isan as an arid, waterless region: it is well-watered by many rivers including the Chi and Mun, and bordered by the great Mekong. In Si Sa Ket , Surin and Buriram the countryside is dotted with ruins of the ancient Khmer civilisation but these provinces also have a wealth of flourishing Buddhist monasteries. Although their provincial cities are of relatively recent foundation there is evidence of human habitation stretching back thousands of years. For the people of Isan religion (predominantly Buddhism but others are found here, too) is a central part of their lives.

Isan ceremonial trays

Many also pay tribute in their rituals to animism and spirit cults as well as displaying echoes of an ancient adherence to Hinduism. Ubon is proud of its connection through birth or residence with many famous Buddhist monks such as Phra Ubali, Phra Acharn Man who was ordained in Ubon and Phra Acharn Chah, one of his followers, who founded a forest monastery at Warin Chamrab and an international monastery nearby which now has branch monasteries throughout the world. Throughout Isan there are temples in cties, towns, villages, forests and on mountains.

Isan Guest Houses

For the visitor there are hotels, guest-houses, resorts, National Park bungalows and even many temples where you can lay yourself down after a day exploring what Isan has to offer. There is the local food,  much of it probably familiar because it is popular outside Isan. There are rock paintings 3-4,000 years old at Pha Taem, in Ubon Ratchathani Province. In Udonthani Province there is Ban Chiang, a small village which is considered the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in South-East Asia. It marks an important stage in human cultural, social and technological evolution. The site presents the earliest evidence of farming in the region and of the manufacture and use of metals. Dinosaur remains have been found in the provinces of Khon Khaen and Kalasin. And there are mountains (though they are not very high), waterfalls, and in the north and east of Isan the great Mekong River is the boundary with neighbouring Laos. And Isan is a natural jumping-off point for Laos, with crossings at Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan and Chong Mek in Ubon Ratchathani Province. Cambodia, too, can be approached by road from Si Sa Ket Province.

Take a look at the images below to get some idea of the colour and variety that awaits you in Isan, a little-visited region that has a distinctive culture and pace of life that ensures you will always receive a warm welcome there!

Rice harvesting

Market Stall

Floating Restaurants on the Mekong River

Sundown in Isan

Basketware shop

Monkey picnic in Isan