Buddhism

How Sumana-Setthi Was Converted To Buddhism By A Toothbrush And A Prostitute

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historic painting from India of man plowing field with two oxen

A little-known peripheral figure in the Buddha’s life story, Sumana-Setthi’s (สุมนะเศรษฐี) conversion is one of many great folktales in ancient Buddhist texts. This one is found in the non-canonical Dhammapadatthakatha, the commentary on the Dhammapada book of the Pali Canon. My version here is abridged and, I think, improved from the original. Once he became a Buddhist, Sumana was an ardent supporter of the Buddha. And because of the vast… Read More

Folktales

Phadaeng Nang Ai

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shallow lake with lots of grass growing in it

One of the best-known folktales in Isan, the romantic legend of Prince Phadaeng (ผาแดง) and Princess Nang Ai (นางไอ่) explains the formation of Sakon Nakhon province’s Nong Han (หนองหาน) lake, the largest natural lake in the northeast. Some people in Udon Thani tell the same tale about their famous “Red Lotus Lake,” which is also called Nong Han. This version of the story was written by my friend Amaralak (Pim)… Read More

Temples

Wat Jomsri Bottle Temple

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entrance with naga

To the disapproval of the abbot, but with the support of many people in the community, a renegade monk at Wat Jomsri (วัดจอมศรี) who is focused more on magic than dharma has created his own little domain at the back of the temple. Here he has built a mock-cave shrine using old beer and energy drink bottles. Hidden behind foliage, this small, unique sanctuary is built of concrete, stone, and… Read More

History

Sri Than Ancient Community

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aerial view of town and moat from 2021

Founded in 1789 (or 1838, depending on your perspective) Khon Kaen is anything but ancient. But long before the city began there was another significant settlement here. The Sri Than Ancient Community (เมืองโบราณศรีฐาน), named after the modern village that now occupies the same space, sits on a moat-ringed oval mound a bit west of the city center. It covers about twenty-five hectares and rises up to ten meters above the… Read More

Khmer Ruins

Ku Ban Ton Khmer Ruin

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abbot standing with bai sema

The meagre remains – mostly a broken pedestal and three laterite blocks – of Ku Ban Ton (กู่บ้านโต้น) are displayed in a small garden in front of the ubosot at Wat Si Pimon on the north side of the village that the Khmer ruin was named after. The actual site is out in the rice paddies a bit northwest of Wat Si Pimon, but the abbot told us there is… Read More

Travel Advice

Si Satchanalai – The Other Sukhothai

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elephant statues at base of ancient stupa

The Sukhothai Kingdom (1238-1438 BCE) laid much of the foundation for the art and culture of modern Thailand, and its gracefully ruined capital is one of the country’s most popular historical attractions. Fifty-five kilometers to the north was the Sukhothai Kingdom’s second city of Si Satchanalai, another splendid Buddhist holy center in those days. Though it’s smaller and a little less impressive than its famous twin to the south, Si… Read More

Travel Advice

The Lamphun Loop – Not Your Ordinary Chiang Mai Daytrip

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old woman weaving with backstrap loom

As overtourism begins to choke the charm out of Chiang Mai, it bears reminding that one of the things making Thailand’s second city such as great travel destination is the abundance of wonderful places to visit nearby. Lamphun province to the south is probably not one of the first places for a daytrip escape that comes to mind, but for cultural travelers with an adventurous spirit it’s one of the… Read More

Travel Advice

Nakhon Nayok Daytrip

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large dam at the end of a road

There are many well-known daytrip escapes out of Bangkok, such as Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi, and the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Khuean Khun Dan isn’t one of them. Tucked up against the foothills of the Khao Yai Mountains in northeast Nakhon Nayok province, this little spot has become a weekend getaway for young adventure-seeking Bangkokians and families looking for a budget break that isn’t at the beach. With a bit of nature,… Read More

Khmer Ruins

Ku Non Thaen Khmer Ruin

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front view of Khmer ruin with Buddha in back

The little bit of Ku Non Thaen (กู่โนนแท่น) that remains sits under a big roof at the back of Batdibattam Don Thaen Temple (สำนักปฏิบัติธรรมดอนแท่น), also known as Samnak Song Ku Non Thaen (สำนักสงฆ์กู่โนนแท่น). All that’s left of this Khmer temple is a small (6x8m) laterite platform at least partially assembled in modern times. The Fine Arts Department has no solid clue about its age, only giving the broad range of… Read More

Khmer Ruins

Phra Lan Chai Archaeological Site

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wide view of shrine

Never excavated, little is known about Phra Lan Chai Archaeological Site (แหล่งโบราณคดีพระลานชัย), though the mix of laterite and sandstone along with the apparent size suggest the possibility it was a Khmer temple. When I asked about it in the village I was sent to an old man who told me that the local legend, which he heard when he was young, is that it was used for worship during late… Read More

Khmer Ruins

Ku Prapha Chai Khmer Ruin

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view of prang seen through opening in outer wall

Sitting between Phrathat Kham Kaen (7.5km away) and the King Cobra Village (12km), two of Khon Kaen’s most popular tourist destinations, you’d expect Ku Prapha Chai (กู่ประภาชัย) to attract a fair number of visitors, but you will usually have this small Khmer ruin all to yourself. Made mostly of laterite, Ku Prapha Chai was built by King Jayavarman VII (r. 1182-1219) as a temple for one of the 102 arogayasala… Read More

History

Khmer Artifacts in the Khon Kaen National Museum

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many Khmer stone carvings on display

The Khon Kaen National Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติ ขอนแก่น), opened in 1972, has four small but interesting historical galleries with artefacts from around Upper Isan and is worth a look for anyone visiting Khon Kaen. Its most famous object, standing in the center of the Dvaravati wing, is a bai sema boundary stone of the Buddha’s wife, Princess Yasodhara (aka Bimpa Devi) cleaning the Buddha’s feet with her hair that was found… Read More

Culture

Confucius in Thailand

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statue of Confucius

One of the China’s foremost philosophers and political reformers, Confucius (ขงจือ/Kong Jeu in Thai) is a globally known icon of wisdom. Although there is scant evidence confirming any specific details, Confucius’ traditional life legend has a distinct lack of drama, success, and supernatural, which gives it far more credence than the magical background stories of most Chinese mortals who were later transformed into deities. Though there are, unsurprisingly, alternative Confucian… Read More

Miscellaneous

How To Pronounce Laos in English

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students in uniform walking across the street

You don’t need to spend much time in Southeast Asia before you notice how many English-speakers pronounce Thailand’s northeastern neighbor as “Lao” without an s sound. The s is silent, they say. But as every English dictionary (click to listen: American and British) will tell you, Laos does indeed rhyme with “house.” (In IPA it’s /ˈlaʊs/.) Usually two reasons are given by those using the no-s Lao: the locals say… Read More

History

Khmer Artifacts in the Suan Pakkad Palace Museum

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Buddha with both hands raised

Centered on eight traditional Thai teak buildings (four old and four new) in a quiet garden, the Suan Pakkad Palace Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์วังสวนผักกาด) is an underappreciated exhibition of Thai art, from khon masks to Ban Chiang pottery. Once the home of Prince Chumbon of Nakhon Sawan (son of King Rama 5) and his wife, and before that a vegetable farm, the “Cabbage Patch Palace” is a great place to visit, though… Read More

Temples

Wat Lang Khao Bottle Temple

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bottle ubosot seen from a distance

Wat Lang Khao (วัดหลังเขา) is a rather remote and ordinary temple in most regards, but it attracts a trickle of visitors because of its bot khuat (“bottle ubosot”), arguably the most beautiful example of bottle temple art in Thailand. Most of the ubosot’s decoration is typically Thai, but all the green on the walls and roof comes from 620ml Chang beer bottles. Locals gathered and donated tens of thousands of… Read More

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 quite incomplete – none of the walls are tall and some are gone entirely… 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

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