Tag Archives: Isan travel

Wat Po Chai Semaram, Fadaet Songyang, Kalasin

Wat Po Chai Semaram, Kalasin

Wat Po Chai Semaram is situated in Ban Sema about 20 km south of the capital of Kalasin Province. It is sited within the heart of an ancient city known as Muang Fadaet Songyang. Archeological evidence suggests that thgere was an urbanised community here in prehistoric times; there is plenty of visible evidence that the city was prospering in the Dvaravati period about a thousand years ago.

The wat compound is right in the heart of the village, as this map shows:

Ban Sema, Nong-Paeng, Kalasin

Wat Po Chai Semaram, KalasinThe wat serves as a depository for some impressive sandstone boundary makers, or sema. Some of them have bas reliefs illustrating the jataka stories of the Buddha’s life and previous lives. These are kept under cover in a special building. The blue rectangles had explanatory texts attached to them at one time. You can see one such text on the ground in front of the stone on the left.  This display is undoubtedly valuable and of considerable interest but is more than somewhat neglected.

Wat Po Chai Semaram, Kalasin

The wat also serves as a museum for artefacts of a secular nature. One exhibit I was pleased to see was this krok, or rice pounder, which used to be a ubiquitous feature of village homes in Isan.

Wat Po Chai Semaram, Kalasin

This unusual sala serves as a place where some exhibits are kept as well as serving its more usual function as a space where monks and lay people come together.

Wat Po Chai Semaram, Kalasin

You can see more images of this wat in the slideshow below.

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You can find Wat Po Chai Semaram by leaving Kalasin on Route 214 towards Roi Et.  After 13 km you reach the district town of Kamalasai. Turn right and travel along Route 2367 for 6 km until you reach the village of Ban Sema.

You can read more about Wat Po Chai Semaram on my other site, Life in Phana:



Temple Museum at Kasemsima

The temple museum at Kasemsima was a real find, though we didn’t find  it ourselves. A Phana friend who lives and works in Trakan Phutphon (Ubon Ratchathani Province) took us there.

The temple-museum is located in the village of Kasemsima Muang Gow, in Tambon Kasem, Amphur Trakan Phutphon, Changwat Ubon Ratchanthani. From Trakan, drive 3 kms north-east on route 2050 towards Khemmarat, then fork left towards Kut Khao Pun. Drive through Ban Kasemsima, cross the small river and turn right into Ban Kasmsima Muang Gow.

Wat Kasemsamran, Development Wat of the Year 2540 (1997)

 The wat itself is very modest. The kutis are old and wooden like this group of three:

Kuti, Wat Kasemsamran

The ubosot is very old,  faded, almost neglected in appearance. Yet it is also very unusual. Despite the name of the village, this ubosot has no sima  or boundary marker-stones. When I mentioned this to the abbot he said they had ‘disappeared’ many years ago. I said that presumably the luk nimit were still in place, but he surprised me by saying that this was a Lao temple and the custom of burying luk nimit was Thai. The temple was founded in BE 2291 (1748) so it is old but not as old as Wat Phra Lao Thepnimit in Phana.

Ubosot, Wat Kasemsamran

But it is the museum that people come to see and that is housed in a magnificent new purpose-built building.

Museum entrance, Wat Kasemsamran

 Some of the exhibits in this excellent museum will appear in a slideshow in the next post.

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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Ratchathani Asoke Buddhist Community, Ubon

A trip which would be worth making from Ubon is to the Buddha Sathan Ratchathani Asoke village, at about km 5 on the road from Warin Chamrap to Phibun Mangsahan (217). However, you should not visit unless you have a genuine interest in learning about their beliefs, their philosophy and their way of life. ‘Buddha Sathan’ translates as ‘Buddhist place’ and ‘Asoke’ means ‘no suffering’. It is a branch of the Santi Asoke movement founded in Bangkok by a controversial monk who is, at the very least, frowned on by the monastic authorities and is regarded as a heretic by many, not least because Santi Asoke ordains women. The website at www.asoke.info puts their side of the story.

Briefly, the community is strictly vegetarian, grows organic vegetables and other foodstuff, and integrates the three parts of their community, the ordained monks and nuns, the lay followers and the school for children. They hold that this is the traditional form of Thai and Thai-Lao society and that it is sustainable in modern times

.The site is very much still under construction although the village was founded here more than ten years ago. Currently the community consists of about 400 people. As well as houses such as you see in any village, there are wooden meeting halls and a large central 4-storey building which serves as a meeting and education centre, library, museum, administration offices and dormitory accommodation for students attending residential courses. You may also notice several large wooden boats, improbably balanced on mounds of mud, and more boats on the creek between the village and the nearby Mun River. Every year in the rainy season the area floods up to a depth of 3m, so houses have to be evacuated and the inhabitants move into accommodation on the boats. There are about 100 boats so local people sometimes refer to the community as Boat Town.

Boat Town

At New Year a three-day market is held here, at which foodstuff and other products are sold by Asoke followers from all over Thailand. Prices are very low, below factory price in the case of things bought in, as a key tenet of the movement is ‘Our loss is our gain’, so not surprisingly this market is very popular and they expect about 80,000 visitors during the course of the three days. At any time of year surplus products are sold, and Ratchathani Asoke most often sells organic tomatoes and potatoes. However, they also specialize in organic soy sauce and fermented soy beans (the black bean sauce so often mentioned in Chinese recipes and menus).

A large sign on the Warin – Phibun road marks the turning to the village. Follow the straight tarmac road for 800m to a school. Turn left and then right to go around the school, then follow the dirt road and signs for almost 3km. If you do not have your own transport, it would cost about 400 Baht to hire a tuk-tuk from Warin to bring you here, wait, and then return you. However, please remember that this is a working community that does not particularly seek visitors, but will welcome you should you arrive and be interested in their way of life. They also neither solicit nor accept donations, although it might be worth gently offering one in order to hear their reason for not accepting it!

Direction sign on Warin-Phibun Road

Direction Sign on the dirt road

The community also operates a vegetarian restaurant in Ubon in a beautiful, wooden, open-sided sala building at the corner of Srinarong Road and Thepyothi Road. It is open for breakfast and lunch and is self-service. Food is cheap, organic, and delicious . A small shop on the same premisies sells vegetarian foodstuffs in small packages as well as various herbal pills and remedies.

Vegetarian Restaurant, Ubon

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.

Daytime Rail Travel between Bangkok and Ubon

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Sleeping by train to and from Ubon Ratchathani

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