Proverb Murals at Wat Nong Wang

people doing different things

The fifth-floor murals inside Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang temple tell forty Isan proverbs about living a happy, successful, and moral life that monks sometimes mention in their sermons. Many of these English sentences are clunky, but they read more poetically in the original Isan. Explanations are given when needed, though a few are self-explanatory. Many of them are no longer widely used and some of… Read More

Wat Jomsri Bottle Temple

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

The Lamphun Loop – Not Your Ordinary Chiang Mai Daytrip

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

Khmer Artifacts in the Khon Kaen National Museum

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

Khmer Artifacts in the Suan Pakkad Palace Museum

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

Wat Lang Khao Bottle Temple

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

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

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. It begins in the northeast corner, next to the main stairs. อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to… Read More

The Reclining Buddhas of Thailand

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

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

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

The carved wooden doors 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 down below on… Read More

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

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

My Abridged Versions of the Jataka Tales

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

Mahanipata Jataka at Wat Nong Wang

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

Gods of Directions and Celestial Bodies at Wat Nong Wang

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

Wat Nong Wang

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

Mahanipata Jataka Murals in Thai Temples

temple mural painting of naga on anthill

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 stories, 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… Read More

Maha Sarakham’s Many Museums

display cases with mushrooms

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 city… Read More

Khmer Artifacts in the Wat Mahachai Northeastern Local Culture Museum

five broken Khmer statues

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

The “Thai” Alphabet

mortar and pestle

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.  

Boon Pha Wet Photo Essay

people carrying Pha Wet banner through a rice field

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 the Pali Canon that… Read More

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