Miscellaneous

How to Say “Farang” in Thai Sign Language

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boy at coffee shop showing sign for farang

This is how you say farang (“Western foreigner”) in Thai sign language. The word farang is often mistakenly assumed to come from the Thai word for France, farang-seet. It’s actually derived from a Persian word for the Franks, a powerful federation of Germanic tribes during the first millennium BCE, and was adapted by Thais to use with Westerners before the first European ship ever sailed into Ayutthaya. But, it seems… Read More

Khmer Ruins

Phimai Khmer City Gates, Moat, and Barays

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wooden house and western gate

Many people visiting the amazing Prasat Phimai temple are unaware that in its day it stood at the heart of a large important city. Lying on the Mun River and along overland trade routes to the north and south, as well as having abundant salt deposits (there are none near Angkor), Phimai city prospered on trade during its time in the Khmer empire. And many remnants of the town infrastructure… Read More

Khmer Ruins

Kuti Ruesi Noi Khmer Ruin

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main sanctuary

Kuti Ruesi Noi (กุฏิฤาษีน้อย), just 450m south of the southern city gate, was the temple for one of the 102 arogayasala (hospitals) that King Jayavarman VII (r. 1182-1219) had built around the empire. It follows the standard arogayasala design in most regards. It faces roughly to the east, in line with Phimai temple and town. It’s not in very good shape and quite incomplete – none of the walls are… Read More

Khmer Ruins

Noen Wat Khok Khmer Ruin

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laterite wall and line of laterite

Noen Wat Khok (เนินวัดโคก) was a small temple in its day, but it was likely quite an important one. Like West Mebon in the Angkor region, Noen Wat Khok sat prominently on an island in the middle of a massive baray. Now almost entirely silted in and used mostly for agriculture (though it’s still clearly recognizable when seen from above), the old Phimai Baray stretches 750m by 1800m, the biggest… Read More

Khmer Ruins

Tha Nang Sra Phom Khmer Pier

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view of the pier from across the river

Just over a kilometer south of Phimai city’s southern gate and directly centered along the axis of the temple and town, Tha Nang Sra Phom (ท่านางสระผม) is the only preserved Khmer-era boat landing known in Thailand. Likely built by King Jayavarman VII (r. 1182-1219), it’s a simple cruciform platform made entirely of laterite with very steep stairs on three of the sides. When it was excavated the archaeologists found post… Read More

Khmer Ruins

San Pu-Ta Ban Wang Hin Khmer Ruin

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small forested hill

Less than 100m from the south shore of the old Phimai Baray, San Pu-Ta Ban Wang Hin (ศาลปู่ตา บ้านวังหิน) is lined up with the Prasat Phimai’s soaring prang, 3.6km away, instead of being lined up with the baray, suggesting it may have once been an important temple. It’s age and purpose are unknown and nothing ancient – no pottery shards, bricks, or building blocks – is visible now. The few… Read More

History

Meru Brahmathat

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ruined brick stupa on a hill seen from below

Just two hundred meters away from the entrance to Prasat Phimai, but unrelated to it or the Khmer empire in any way, Meru Brahmathat (เมรุพรหมทัต) is a toppled brick stupa from the 18th century (late Ayutthaya era). It sits atop a man-made hill and including this it’s about thirty meters tall now; though it was clearly much bigger when built. While not in very good condition, it does present a… Read More

Folktales

The Legend of Nang Oraphim and Thao Pajit

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two statues of torsos in Phimai National Museum

The classic love story between Nang Oraphim (นางอรพิม) and Thao Pajit (ท้าวปาจิต) is a widely known Thai folktale (some even consider it a non-canonical Jataka tale) with many different versions. The story as told in Khorat province is based on the town of Phimai where locals have declared the ruined Meru Brahmathat stupa as the cremation site of the villainous King Brahmathat. Some locals take the story one step further… Read More

Khmer Ruins

Sra Pleng Ancient Quarry

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rock wall with cut marks

Sra Pleng Quarry (ลานหินตัดสระเพลง) is hidden away in a forest at the foot of the Sankamphaeng Mountains in the south-central part of Ta Phraya National Park. A geologist from the Ministry of Mineral Resources who visited identified this grey sandstone as from the Phu Kradung Formation, which dates to around 150 million years ago. Geological maps of Thailand I’ve seen show this area to be the younger Sao Khua or… Read More

Buddhism

Biography of Luang Paw Koon Kantigo, a Former Abbot of Wat Nong Wang

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painting of people getting on and off a very busy train

The idea for Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa, the famous centerpiece of Wat Nong Wang temple in Khon Kaen city, came from the highly respected Phra Tama Wisut Tajan, the then abbot of the temple. Usually called Luang Paw Koon Kantigo, his life story is told in these mural paintings on the stupa’s fourth floor. อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.). Thanks to Suttawan Bewer, Chutima Intarapanich, and… Read More

Buddhism

The Reclining Buddhas of Thailand

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large reclining Buddha in Entering Nirvana posture with designs painted on soles of feet

In most of the world, reclining Buddha images represent the Buddha at his death. But in Thailand this is usually not the case. Of the seven reclining postures used in Thailand, two are the Buddha on his death bed, one shows him passing to nirvana, and two are for his cremation; but all of these are rather rare. And none of these is the classic hand-holding-up-his-head posture, which tells a… Read More

Buddhism

The Buddha’s Life Story (Part 1) at Wat Nong Wang

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woodcarving of Prince Siddhattha seeing an old man and a sick man

The carved wooden doors and window shutters on the sixth floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang tell many of the main episodes from the Buddha’s life up to and including his enlightenment. The artist was Tawon Gonkaew. The story begins at the northeast corner on the east wall (in front of the stairs) and is told counterclockwise around the stupa. The Buddha’s life story continues… Read More

Buddhism

The Buddha’s Life Story (Part 2) at Wat Nong Wang

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woodcarving of the Buddha walking with many disciples

The carved wooden doors and window shutters on the fifth floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang tell some episodes (the story is far from complete) from the Buddha’s life following his enlightenment. The story begins at the northeast corner on the east wall (in front of the stairs) and is told counterclockwise around the stupa. The first half of the Buddha’s tale is told up… Read More

Buddhism

My Abridged Versions of the Jataka Tales

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man lifting a chariot over his head

The Jataka tales (chah-dok in Thai) recount stories from some of the past lives of the being who would eventually reach enlightenment as the Buddha. Often compared with Aesop’s fables (Aesop’s and the Jataka tales even share some plots), the Buddha-to-be is often born as an animal and he frequently overcomes difficult situations or solves problems in creative and comical ways. Even though they’re a part of the Pali Canon… Read More

Buddhism

Mahanipata Jataka at Wat Nong Wang

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woodcarving of a giant naga and a man threatening two others with a sword

The carved wooden doors and window shutters on the seventh floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang tell the last ten Jataka tales. The artist was Tawon Gonkaew. อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.) The Jataka tales (chah-dok in Thai) are a collection of 547 birth stories from the Pali Canon (the Buddhist equivalent of the Bible) recounting pre-enlightenment lives of the Bodhisatta (what… Read More

Culture

Boon Khao Jee Photo Essay

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women making khao jee at the temple

These photos are from the Boon Khao Jee (บุญข้าวจี่) ceremony in Ban Hua Na, Amphoe Nong Ruea, Khon Kaen province on February 7-8, 2020. Thanks to Pra Kru Sathaphon Thammasan, Mae Turian, and Khun Pam for helping me out. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Khao Jee and an overview of heet sip-song, the twelve Isan merit-making traditions. Preparation The day before Boon Khao Jee was a mostly… Read More

Buddhism

What the Bodhisatta was Born as in the Jataka Tales

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mural painting of a gold-trimmed elephant and a man taking one of his tusks

These are all the past-life incarnations of the Bodhisatta (what a Buddha-to-be is called) as recounted in the Jataka tales. The first of the two lists simply records his main character in each of the 547 stories while the second tallies all the individual lifetimes found in the Jataka tales taking duplicates, multiple lifetimes, and passing mentions into account. Any list of this sort will be inexact because it’s not… Read More

Buddhism

Gods of Directions and Celestial Bodies at Wat Nong Wang

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painted doors

The paintings on the window shutters and doors on the fourth floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang feature four separate but related things – gods of the celestial bodies (เทพนพเคราะห์), daily Buddhas (พระประจำวันเกิด), the guardians of the directions (เทพประจำทิศ), and animals of the directions (สัตว์ประจำทิศ) –all in groups of eight. For religious purposes Wednesday is split into daytime and nighttime resulting in eight days in… Read More

Temples

Wat Nong Wang

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stupa seen from across a lake

Wat Nong Wang (วัดหนองแวง) is Khon Kaen city’s biggest, most important temple, and also its one must-see tourist attraction. It was founded in 1789, the same year the city was settled, though there are no old buildings left. It became a royal temple in 1984. About 55 monks and 225 novices live here. It’s ordinary in most regards, except for the stunning nine-story Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon, a stupa unlike… Read More

Culture

Boon Khun Lan Photo Essay

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man putting sack of rice on the pile

These photos are from the Boon Khun Lan (บุญคูณลาน) ceremony in Ban Thung Nang Ok, Amphoe Mueang, Yasothon province on December 30, 2019 to January 1, 2020. Thanks to Mae Nang, Mae Yewa, Khun Noi, Khun Noot, Khun Wii, and everyone else in the village for being such great hosts and answering all my questions. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Khun Lan and an overview of heet… Read More

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