My stepdaughter Peng has started her long summer holidays and she recently asked if we could spend the day in Nong Khai on the river Mekong as a holiday treat. We have been to Nong Khai many times over the last three years and you will find attractions I share in this post are also in several previous posts in the blog. But for new readers this will be new information and I hope there’s enough fresh material for the oldies.

Our home is just under Nong Bua Lamphu on the left. You can see Nong Khai above Udon Thani on the border with Laos, which is defined by the Mekong River.

The trip from our home to Nong Khai is about two hours of easy mostly dual carriageway driving on the highway 210 to Udon and then highway 2 to Nong Khai. We left reasonably early, by my standards anyway, to get there before it got too hot because Peng’s first request was to see Sala Kukaew or Sala Kaew Ku or Sala Keoku (you can see why GPS searches often don’t work in Thailand!) It is a very treeless place so not recommended for the hot season. GPS 17°53’14.1″N 102°46’52.1″E

The following words about this slightly strange sculpture park are provided by Mut Mee Guesthouse situated right on the Mekong and highly recommended HERE in case you wanted more information; otherwise skip ahead:

You can’t come to Nong Khai and not see the very strange Sculpture Park known as Sala Kaewkoo… World famous, as one of the most extraordinary artistic creations of South-East Asia, it contains sculptures that rise more than seven stories high!

It was built by the mystic shaman Luang Poo Boun Leua Sourirat, who passed away in 1996, after constructing it, with the help of devotees, for more than twenty years.

Luang Poo Boun Leua Sourirat loved snakes, so much so that he believed in the “coming of the age of the snake”. Seeing them as the purest of all animals, having no arms or legs with which to destroy the world, he described himself as being half man, half snake. Was this love of these phallic like animals in some way connected with his reputed homosexuality?

He claimed that in his youth he had fallen into a hole in the forest where upon he met the acetic “Kaewkoo” who lived at the bottom of it. “Kaewkoo” taught him all secrets of the underworld, not least about snakes which were the principal inhabitants of that realm. Later, he trained as a Hindu Rishi in Vietnam and mixed Hinduism into his system of beliefs.

As a Lao national, he first started to produce sculpture on the riverbank on the Lao side of the Maekong river. But as the communists became more powerful, he became concerned that they may not accept his unorthodox views and so fled to Nong Khai in 1974, where he embarked on the creation of Salakaewkoo; his grandest artistic vision. The name means the “Pavilion of Kaewkoo”.

Luang Poo passed away in 1996 aged in his early seventies. He was ill, it was said, from a fall from a ladder up one of his sculptures. But others claimed that he was suffering from some kind of anemia.

Today his mummified body can be seen on the third floor of the main building, under a glass hemisphere. Disciples claim his hair still grows and must be cut once in a while!

The main building and incense chapel were built after his death, following his plans and drawings.

He always claimed that his followers, who built all the statues, were entirely untrained, but their skill came to them from a divine source. Moreover, he frequently warned that anyone who drank even a sip of water in the park would eventually give to it all their money!

However, in the years following his death Salakaewkoo became more and more run down and untidy… until the local government stepped in and decided that his legacy should not be allowed to deteriorate further, so now it is being repaired and restored to its former grandeur.

There are more than one hundred sculptures in the park some of them reaching seven stories up into the sky.

Some depict snakes, others images taken from either Theravada or Mahayana Buddhism. Hinduism is well represented too, with images of Shiva and Pavati, Brahma and Vishnu.

The greatest sculpture of all is the Wheel of Life at the far end of the park. As this diagram shows (for a clear printable copy, click HERE), life in Luang Poo’s view, is a cycle of influences and phases, which start at one’s conception and end at one’s death.

The Buddhist elements of heat, breath, wisdom and change are represented, as are the stages of birth, aging, suffering and death.

If you want to read more about the artist himself go HERE.

It is nice to see that us foreigners are treated the same as Thais at this site. 20 baht = A$0.80.

If you are an expat and you come across a dual pricing policy try producing your Thai driver’s licence (if you have one of course) as sometimes the pricing is for tourists not expat residents. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t care but others get upset. I pay no Thai tax so I get the benefit of public facilities provided by the government and paid for by Thai people without cost so being hit with a higher entry fee sort of makes sense. It’s only a few dollars usually.

You get an idea of the size of the sculptures in this photo, which is as you enter the park.

I wish someone would translate the words carved into the sculptures into an English handout. I would buy a copy to understand what they represent.

This is a photographers dream because the faces have real character.

This is the main sculpture and you can see it is pretty impressive compared to the size of Peng at the base.

True Isaan. Killing the frog no doubt ending up on the family’s dinner table.

I keep on about this subject but so much here is based on the practical at the expense of the visual. Just ugly but that is how Thais operate.

Great variety.

Gaun provides a splash of colour.

And a few more photos without words. You get the idea.

This is the view of the outside of the wheel of life as covered in the words above from Mut Mee Guesthouse.

 

Peng’s birth animal – a dragon.

The entrance to the wheel of life.

The central figure of the wheel.

Til death do you part and beyond…….

Gaun and Peng very serious focusing on the words.

A happy mum and daughter.

Feeding the catfish is always part of the programme here. You can buy a loaf of bread for 25 baht (A$1.00) or a small packet of fish food pellets for 10 baht.

Popular with school groups.

And one last photo.

Sala Kukaew is still impressive but it has a run down and slightly sad feel about it. It could be so much more. Maybe if they made the entry fee higher they could afford to maintain it better. Nothing has been touched for years by the look of it and in time it will just disintegrate as the concrete breaks down in this climate. Still well worth adding to your list for Nong Khai though as you can tell from the photos.

Next stop was THE temple in Nong Khai called Wat Pho Chai. GPS 17°53’03.3″N 102°45’27.1″E

You can see this wat’s location in relation to Sala Kukaew on the right.

The following words are pinched from The Lonely Planet:

Luang Po Phra Sai, a large Lan Xang–era Buddha image awash with gold, bronze and precious stones, sits at the hub of Nong Khai’s holiest temple. The head of the image is pure gold, the body is bronze and the ùt·sà·nít (flame-shaped head ornament) is set with rubies. Due to the great number of miracles attributed to it, this royal temple is a mandatory stop for most visiting Thais.

Luang Po Phra Sai was one of three similar statues made for each of the daughters of Lao king Setthathirat, and they were taken as bounty after King Rama I sacked Vientiane in 1778. The awesome murals in the hall housing the Buddha image depict their travels from the interior of Laos to the banks of the Mekong, where they were put on rafts. A storm sent one of the statues to the bottom of the river, where it remains today. It was never recovered because, according to one monk at the temple, the naga (which live in the river) wanted to keep it. The third statue, Phra Soem, is at Wat Pathum Wanaram, next to Siam Paragon in Bangkok. Phra Sai was supposed to accompany it, but, as the murals show, the cart carrying it broke down here and so this was taken as a sign that it wished to remain in Nong Khai.

Offerings are purchased.

And delivered at the small temple to the right of the main entrance.

The flowers are given to the Buddha. All the offerings are collected and resold.

Peng lighting candles.

The main temple building. Pretty standard Thai wat. The area where the offerings are made is that roof on the right.

Inside the main building the visitors line up to get a blessing from the monk “on duty”.

You make a donation and pick up one of those pre-packaged boxes of useful items for the monks. You then offer it to the monk and it is then put back to be sold again. Thai Buddhism has the money raising aspect down to a fine art.

Cafe Latte time. This monk is at the end of his shift and a few minutes later hands over to the next one.

That is orange string in his lap and is tied around the wrist of people coming up for a blessing. As you can tell from the size of the bundle they are expecting a good turnout.

Peng makes her donation.

And gets her wristband and blessing for good luck.

While the blessing is given water is poured into a bowl. This is then taken outside and given to a plant. I like that concept of a blessing supporting life.

A closer view.

The photo moment at the main “altar”.

Copied by many others.

You can see the murals as described by The Lonely Planet.

Ask a question and try to lift one of those stones. If lifting is easy the answer is a “Yes” otherwise a “No”. There is so much superstition mixed in with Buddhism here. Want your lottery numbers? Use this method!

This donation box was so full that Peng couldn’t get her money in.

The sales counter on the left, monk blessing for a donation on the right and a row of donation boxes separating this area from the main Buddha image at the back.

Shake these boxes full of chopstick things. When one falls out you then check the number against the list for your future.

Peng gets her number.

Some wats have printed leaflets you can take away for the results. I think here they get so many people that they just put the outcome on a board. People were taking photos using their phones.

Isaan tuk tuks parked outside. New versions. Very smart.

Our blessings topped up we then drove a few blocks to the edge of Nong Khai and the Mekong River.

Dragons guarding the Mekong. Laos on the other side.

The broadwalk. The markets I describe shortly are at the far end.

The Friendship Bridge in the far distance. That’s the main link between Thailand and Laos in the north of Isaan.

You are never far from a wat in Thailand. This one to the left of that walkway.

Enjoying their day out.

At the end of that walkway are large (mostly) undercover markets selling the usual range of made in China stuff. Lots of things you never knew you needed and a wilderness of real handicrafts as are most Thai markets.

However there was one shop towards the end of the markets on the right as you face the Mekong, which stocked mass produced items but at least some of them were made by hand. This was the best shop of its type I have seen in Isaan and you can find lots of decoration items here that would help furnish a tropical/Thai themed home. Worth the visit just for this store.

The timber panels are hand made.

The prices weren’t cheap by Thai standards but not unreasonable by what we’d expect to pay back “home”. I bought a teak carved wall panel decorated with fish for our outside living area, which has the koi pond as a feature, for A$60.00.

Next stop on the way out of Nong Khai was the aquarium, which if you have kids is worth spending an hour exploring (air conditioned bliss in the heat if nothing else). GPS 17°48’34.5″N 102°44’45.7″E. Heading out of Nong Khai you take the turn to the right signposted to the Friendship Bridge (highway 2) and then it is the first turn on the left.

The aquarium is on the Nong Khai university campus.

The aquarium focuses on the fish of the Mekong.

Who’s a handsome boy?

Peek a boo.

It is well laid out and the fish names are in Thai and English.

A underwater walkway through the main tank.

You can select the fish you want and it is ready and cooked by the time you finish the tour. 🙂 Isaan people would wish.

The main viewing window.

The feeding show times. A tip for newbies that I had picked up previously.

The diver and friends.

Every moment is a photo moment for Thais.

Back on the road I spotted an impressive entrance to a wat called Wat Dong Khaem from highway 2 heading into Udon Thani so we pulled into it to see what (ha) was behind the wall. GPS 17°42’11.6″N 102°46’30.7″E

You can see that the grounds are pretty impressive and it has several buildings scattered over the site.

A reclining Buddha in this building.

Recently constructed so all in good shape. I liked the simple design.

The endless Buddhist construction continues further up the road still within the huge grounds of this temple. That’s a crematorium being built on the right.

The Ubosot I think or monks’ ordination hall. Usually closed to the public.

Leaving the wat behind we then drove into Udon Thani itself and visited a Nissan dealership to get some details about trading in our Mazda 2 for a Nissan NP300 Sportech pickup. We ended up buying the truck this week and you can read about that transaction HERE.

Our new family vehicle.

A big day for Peng and she does what any Thai would do in downtime.

Our final stop for the day was a eating place just outside Nong Bua Lamphu called Good View. It had been recommended by a friend as having a decent fish and chips. I can only take so much Thai food and a farang break is required on a regular basis.

This is on the ringroad around Nong Bua Lamphu on the Udon side.

Inside and outside eating.

We chose inside as it was pretty hot late afternoon. A distressed look decor or maybe it was just falling apart. Hard to tell sometimes.

Iced green tea for Peng.

And something a little stronger for me. Hobbit high chairs. Good for Thais but not so much farang 🙂

The sun was setting on the paddies opposite as we left.

And did we have a good day? I think this photo gives you the answer to that question.

Thanks for reading.