The 547 Jataka tales (chah-dok in Thai) recount stories from some of the past lives of the being who would eventually become the Buddha. The final ten, called the Mahanipata Jataka in English and tot-sah-chat chah-dok in Thai, are morality tales in which the Bodhisatta (what a Buddha-to-be is called) develops the ten paramitas (“perfections of character”) that one needs to master in order to reach enlightenment. Mural paintings of… Read More
At the foot of Phanom Rung mountain, Kuti Ruesi Ban Nong Bua Rai (กุฎิฤษีบ้านหนองบัวราย) was the temple for one of the 102 arogayasala (hospitals) built by King Jayavarman VII (r. 1181-1219) around the empire. Like a lot of his projects, it was not fully completed. Like other arogayasala, it’s built with laterite using sandstone for the trim and has a single east-facing tower for the main sanctuary with a single… Read More
Just 750m away from Prasat Muang Tam, Kuti Ruesi Ban Khok Mueang (กุฏิฤาษีบ้านโคกเมือง) was built much later by King Jayavarman VII (r. 1181-1219) for one of the 102 arogayasala (hospitals) he opened across the empire. It has the standard arogayasala design: a single east-facing tower, a single bannalai southeast of the tower, an enclosure with just one gopura, and a rectangular pond outside to the northeast; all built of laterite… Read More
Prasat Ban Bu (ปราสาทบ้านบุ) is one of the 17 dharmasala fire shrines King Jayavarman VII (r. 1181-1219), a devout Buddhist, built along the road from Angkor to Phimai, and one of only two in Thailand that have been restored; Prasat Ta Muean being the other. The clear color difference shows that over half of the laterite blocks used to rebuild it are new. Prasat Ban Bu is a single east-facing… Read More
One of the great things about visiting Khmer temples is that most have their own unique style. But in Thailand there are two exceptions to this, the arogayasala (hospital) and dharmasala (resthouse) temples, all of which have the same general layout and design as the others. Both of these were specialized temples commissioned by King Jayavarman VII (r. 1181-1219). One of the greatest Angkor kings, he restored a beleaguered empire… Read More
Maha Sarakham city is never going to become a top tourist destination, but if you do find yourself here, there’s an abundance of museums that can keep you occupied. None are worth a special trip – in fact, several are so small they hardly qualify as museums – but each has its own appeal. Boon Tam Tan Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์บุญตามทัน) This small private museum on the southern outskirts of the… Read More
In 1964 Dr. Phra Ariyanuwat Khemacharee, the former abbot of Wat Mahachai, saw foreigners coming to Isan to buy ancient artifacts – Buddhas, Khmer stone carvings palm-leaf manuscripts, etc. – so he requested people bring these things to the temple to protect them. Later the two-story Northeastern Local Culture Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์วัฒนธรรมท้องถิ่นภาคตะวันออกเฉียงเหนือ วัดมหาชัย) was built to house the diverse collection that had resulted, including a lot of Khmer-era sandstone statues and… Read More
At first glance, all you’ll see of Ku Khu Khat (กู่คูขาด) is a large Buddha on a small, tree covered hill. But get closer and you’ll find that the hill is a pile of laterite blocks and brick covered almost completely by dirt and leaf debris. Some laterite is still visible and a few bricks can be seen sticking out of two places under the big tree.
This fantastic short story is taken from the Maha-Ummagga Jataka Tale (#546), but it’s not actually a part of it. It’s a footnote in the book The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births (E. B. Cowell ed., Cambridge University Press, 1895-1907) and is told by one of the ancient scholiasts to demonstrate the exceptional wisdom of Queen Talata, who is smarter than all ten of the royal advisers.… Read More
Virtually unknown, Khao Hin Tat Ancient Quarry (แหล่งตัดหินเขาหินตัด) lies a kilometer away as the crow flies (by road it’s either two or three kilometers, depending which direction you’re driving due to needing to U-turn on the Mittraphap highway) from the well-known Si Khio Ancient Quarry, and naturally they share similar characteristics and histories. The grey sandstone is of the Phu Phan Formation, which is around 120 million years old. The… Read More
These photos are from the Boon Samha (บุญซำฮะ) ceremony in Ban Thung Mon, Amphoe Ban Phai, Khon Kaen province on June 5, 2019. Here, as in many places in Isan, locals use the name Boon Berk Bahn (บุญเบิกบ้าน – “Opening the Home”) instead of Boon Samha. Thanks to Catherine Stebeleski for the invitation and Lung Sura Laebong for answering all my questions. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon… Read More
These photos are from the Boon Bang Fai (บุญบั้งไฟ) celebration in Ban Nong Na Kham, Amphoe Nong Na Kham, Khon Kaen province on May 24-26, 2019. Thanks especially to Suriya Wongjum for answering my questions, Somporn Poltham for showing me around, and the owners of Sarali Resort for driving me into town. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Bang Fai and an overview of heet sip-song, the twelve… Read More
These photos are from the Boon Songkran (บุญสงกรานต์) celebration at Wat Phothiwararam in Udon Thani city in April 2019. Thanks to everyone for making us feel welcome and especially to Khun Mon for answering my many questions. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Songkran and an overview of heet sip-song, the twelve Isan merit-making traditions. While Songkran, the Thai New Year, is famous for its water wars that… Read More
Inspired by the amazing butterfly alphabet, here is my “Thai” alphabet. I know some of these “letters” are a real stretch, but they’re the best I’ve found so far. This project will probably be perpetually in progress since I’ll add add new, better letters and numbers as I find them.
These photos are from the Boon Pha Wet (บุญผะเหวด) festival in Ban Lan, Amphoe Ban Phai, Khon Kaen province taken on March 26-28, 2019. Thanks to everybody we met at the temple, especially Phra Tao, Paw Jan Sanit Khemla, and P’ Kruea for answering so many questions. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Pha Wet, a short version of the Vessantara Jataka (wetsandon chadok in Thai) folktale from… Read More