Culture

Maha Sarakham’s Many Museums

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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… Read More

History

Khmer Artifacts in the Wat Mahachai Northeastern Local Culture Museum

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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

Miscellaneous

The “Thai” Alphabet

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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.  

Culture

Boon Pha Wet Photo Essay

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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… Read More

History

Khmer Artifacts in the Sawanvoranayok National Museum

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12 antefix tiles in a glass display case

The small Sawanvoranayok National Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติ สวรรควรนายก) began as the private collection of the local monk, Phra Sawanvoranayok, abbot of Wat Sawankharam, the temple in front of the museum. Besides a small collection of Thai Buddhas of various artistic styles, the majority of the museum’s items are Sangkhalok pottery and stucco from Si Satchanalai. Very little is from the Khmer era. As of February 2019, the only Khmer artifacts from… Read More

History

Khmer Artifacts in the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum

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headless and limbless deity stone carved statue

The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติ รามคำแหง) is in Sukhothai, and naturally its principal focus in the ancient Sukhothai kingdom. Khmer items make up a very small part of the collection, but three of the ruins in the ancient city were originally built by the Khmer and later adopted and modified by Sukhothai kings, so there are some Khmer items. As of February 2019, these are all the Khmer artifacts from… Read More

History

Khmer Artifacts in the Maha Viravong National Museum

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hand from statue from Phanom Wan Khmer ruin at Maha Viravong National Museum

Probably the smallest national museum in Thailand, the Maha Viravong National Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติมหาวีรวงศ์) occupies one little room on the grounds of Wat Suttha Chinda in central Khorat city, 350 meters south of the Thao Suranari Monument. Most of the artifacts come from the private collection of Somdej Phra Maha Viravong (Oun Tisso), the temple’s former abbot. And since they were generally just given to him by locals, most of the… Read More

Buddhism

Vessantara Jataka Murals at Wat Nong Wang

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Vessantara Jataka mural of gods caring for Prince Vessantara's children while Jujaka sleeps in a tree

The third-floor murals inside Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang temple in Khon Kaen city tell the story of Prince Vessantara (Phra Wetsandon in Thai). It’s the last of the 547 Jataka tales, a collection of birth stories from the Pali Canon (the Buddhist equivalent of the Bible) recounting some of the Buddha-to-be’s pre-enlightenment lives. The Jataka tales are, for the most part, morality stories in which… Read More

Folktales

Nang Phom Hom, “The Fragrant-Haired Lady” (Long Version)

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Nang Phom Hom story painted on window shutters at Wat Nong Wang

This version of the Nang Phom Hom folktale is based on the paintings on the third-floor window shutters and doors of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang temple in Khon Kaen city. It’s much longer than the story as it’s normally told, but overall the plot is the same. And though I wrote it strictly following the outline provided by these 88 paintings and the brief poem… Read More

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Culture

Boon Khao Phansa Photo Essay

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monk walking on front of a Khao Phansa candle parade float with the Thao Suranari Monument and Chumphon Gate on it

These photos are from the Boon Khao Phansa (บุญเข้าพรรษา) celebration in Khorat city on July 27 and 28, 2018. Most of the parade float-making photos were taken on July 19. Thanks to Ajahn Mai at Wat Nong Bua Rong for answering so many questions. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Khao Phansa and an overview of heet sip-song, the twelve Isan merit-making traditions. Boon Khao Phansa, the first… Read More

Culture

Ground-Floor Isan Culture Murals at Wat Nong Wang

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mural of fifth khong

This is the second of two pages explaining the ground-floor murals inside Wat Nong Wang’s Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa. These murals are all about Isan culture. Murals #1-23, about Khon Kaen history and the general introduction about the murals are on the first page. อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (click here to read a Thai version)   Northeastern Way of Life (24) Land of the Kaen. Khon Kaen is known to some as… Read More

History

Ground-Floor Khon Kaen History Murals at Wat Nong Wang

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mural of bueng bon lake

The ground-floor murals inside Wat Nong Wang’s Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa show both Khon Kaen history and Isan culture. This twin theme was suggested by the abbot, Phra Tama Wisut Tajan, and the murals were painted by local artist Kru Thammarong Kawboran. My thanks to Kru Thammarong for discussing the meanings of the pictures, and pointing out some of the specific things depicted in them – many have fun… Read More

History

Tham Sam Rock Art

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wall of paintings at Tham Sam cave

A very unusual rock art site, Tham Sam cave (ถ้ำซำ) has a long wall covered with large paintings of people. These have no connection or resemblance to the many ancient cave paintings found around the region except that both are made with natural pigments – probably derived from tree sap. These consist entirely of red, white, and black and the lively results from the limited palate are a testament to… Read More

Temples

Wat Khuat Mak Dhamma Siri

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Wat Khuat bottle temple's wihan and stupa

Wat Khuat Mak Dhamma Siri (วัดขวดมากธรรมศิริ) is the eighth “bottle temple” that I have found in Thailand. It’s quite large and the bottle decoration (mostly from beer and energy drinks) is used throughout the whole temple, not just on a few buildings. It’s definitely worth the trip. Almost always referred to as just Wat Khuat (วัดขวด), which means “Bottle Temple,” it’s less than an hour from both Hat Yai and… Read More

Culture

Wat Pho Ban Nontan Meditation Hall Art

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picture of turtles carrying books on their back on Wat Pho Nontan meditation hall

Nobody knows when Wat Pho Ban Nontan began, but the many clay Buddhas found here show that it is very old. It was upgraded around 1789, when Khon Kaen city was founded on the other side of the lake. Up until the mid-20th century, it remained surrounded mostly by wilderness. Though the city has now engulfed it, the temple retains the wilderness connections as best as it can with some… Read More

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