The other day my brother-in-law Tham, who is married to Gaun’s older sister Paed (number four of the seven children – Gaun is number six), told us of a cave wat (temple) in his village of Ban Don Han. As this wasn’t far from our home and I don’t need much of an excuse for an explore we hit the road today to check it out.

If you look at the name of this wat you will get a couple of clues about its location. I have covered this in other posts so if you are a long time reader please excuse the Thai lesson and skip this first bit. The “Pa” in the name means a forest so we know the wat is in a treed area. Pa also relates to the type of Buddhism practised in the temple. The forest tradition is described as follows:

The Thai Forest tradition is the branch of Theravada Buddhism in Thailand that most strictly holds the original monastic rules of discipline laid down by the Buddha. The Forest tradition also most strongly emphasizes meditative practice and the realization of enlightenment as the focus of monastic life. Forest monasteries are primarily oriented around practising the Buddha’s path of contemplative insight, including living a life of discipline, renunciation, and meditation in order to fully realize the inner truth and peace taught by the Buddha.

The other clue is the “Thum” bit of the name which means a cave in Thai. So you now know that this is a wat in a forest with a cave, which usually means it is in the hills. So much easy information available about what type of wat (!) if you are here even for a foreigner.

This was a trip where the journey was just as interesting as the destination and I find that this is so often the case in Thailand. If you are totally fixated on the place you have picked out to see you will often be disappointed as the big “wow” experiences are a little thin on the ground here. But if you keep your eyes open and are prepared to stop to explore you will be rewarded in many small ways that makes the trip worthwhile whatever the rating of the original destination.

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The 228 label on the left is our local town of Si Bun Ruang. Our home is located a few km to the north. The temple is almost directly east of us maybe a 30 km and a 30 minute drive. That deeper green on the right is a large Phu or hill. 16.58’37.01 N 102.25’29.62E

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Looking at the Google image of that hill above I noticed that there was a entry into the central part of the sort of crater the hills form with small moo bans (villages) inside. I have marked it as “who Knows”. Worth another drive to explore. I will report back.

This was our first stop was as we approached the hills and Tham’s village which is situated at the base. Being closer to a hill the area must get more rainfall than us on the plains because this small river was flowing very well and in Thailand where there’s water there’s fishing:

Being closer to

This large net system was dipping in and out to capture fish being caught in the current.

This fishing system was a shoreside version of the houseboat net fishing we saw on Lake Ratana, which I wrote about HERE.

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Lake Ubol Ratana. The house is on the left and the large net pulley arrangement on the right.

And a happy Yuan collecting her mixed net of purchases.

And a happy Yuan collecting her mixed net of fish bought from the locals on that day.

Back to today:

Being a Saturday Peng, my stepdaughter, joined us. A splash of colour on a bit of a gloomy day.

Being a Saturday Peng, my step daughter, joined us. A splash of colour on a bit of a gloomy day.

BTW if you haven’t introduced a Thai kid to the pleasures of Pooh sticks then you are leaving their education incomplete! If you have no idea what I am talking about then you are either too young or you’ve missed out of one of the great sporting traditions given to us by the English and Winnie the Pooh. More HERE.

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Pooh and friends.

Back to the real world:

The road to Tham's village with the hill in the background.

The road to Tham’s village with the hill in the background.

I stopped for another of those unexpected photo moments. These kids were washing their (parents?) bikes in the steam while others were doing what kids do everywhere given warm weather and water.

Spin the rear wheel and both clean it and give the other kids a spray.

Spin the rear wheel and clean both it and give the other kids a spray. Cool in all sorts of ways.

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Looking back on the causeway and swimming children.

Another fisherman but small time. Net fishing. Thais use even the tiniest of fish, which in our culture would be thrown back. Here they are mushed up and used as a sort of dipping sauce with sticky rice.

Another fisherman but small time. Net fishing again. Most of the locals we (Gaun) talked to knew of Tham. Once a villager always a villager.

Thais use even the tiniest of fish in their cooking, which in our culture would be thrown back. This explains why so many nets are used. Here the fish are mushed up and used as a sort of dipping sauce with chilli and sticky rice.

Once again a lot more wtarer happening here. No scene like this in our area even though it is just down the road from here.

Once again a lot more water happening here. There are no scenes like this in our area even though it is just down the road.

This could be a replica of most Isaan villages. Very simple dwellings and with a few "corner" shops and street stalls.

This could be a replica of most Isaan villages. Very simple dwellings and with a few “corner” shops and street stalls. Dogs and chickens are always part of Thai rural streetscapes.

Was this the wat?

Was this the wat?

We stopped at this collection of motorbikes and a sign on the right, which Gaun told me was the name of the wat. No this isn’t a group of people off to the wat even though today is a Buddhist holy day, marked by the half and full moon each month. Look at any Thai calendar and holy days are shown by a small Buddha in the corner of the day.

Think hills, trees and this time of year with rain and you should be thinking mushrooms not Buddhas! These were all mushroom hunters coming out of the hills with their harvest. Talking to them (Gaun not me obviously) many spend the night in tents so they get a first run at newly emerging mushrooms in the very early morning. They invited me to join them for a night. No problem with a shower evidently because there was a lake up there! Good news indeed.

A collection heading off to the local markets.

A collection heading off to the local markets.

Magnificent colours.

Magnificent colours.

Finished picking mushrooms then what you need is an ice cream.

When you have finished picking mushrooms what you then need is an ice cream. One of the many mobile ice cream vendors you will see everywhere.

Peng and I had four scoops of coconut ice cream in a sweet bread roll with kernels of corn and evaporated milk. All the essential ingredients for 10 baht each (A$0.40).

Peng and I had four scoops of coconut ice cream in a sweet bread roll with kernels of corn and a topping of evaporated milk. All the essential ingredients for a cave visit for 10 baht each (A$0.40). Here’s me leaning and enjoying. I am well practiced at both things here.

More mushrooms off to be sold.

More mushrooms off to be sold. These motorbikes with sidecars are called salings except I may have the spelling wrong and Google isn’t happy to help.

Returning for the hills.

Hunters returning from the hills with their baskets full of mushrooms.

We were told the actual wat was 100 metres down this road so ice cream finished we were back in the car.

We were told the actual wat was 100 metres down this road so ice cream finished we were back in the car.

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There is a large main wat building under construction. It will end up being big but probably unremarkable.

A large Buddha statue hidden in the trees at the back of the wat.

A large Buddha statue hidden in the trees at the back of the wat. There’s no comparison to give you an idea of size but it stands maybe 7 metres tall.

And opposite the statue is the “entrance” to the cave.

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Follow the arrows.

By entrance I mean that somewhere up that “path” is a cave, or so we were told. It was left to me to take this mystery journey because Peng has some mobility problems and Gaun stayed with her at base camp with the sherpas.

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Even if the cave isn’t worth it the climb through what us Aussies would call “bush” was lovely.

Warning for the unfit like me. It is a very steep climb and there is no proper path. It would be hopeless in the wet and exhausting in the hot season. Best done now to February. Take water, a head mopping towel and wear proper shoes with some grip on them. No helicopters to winch you out in this situation.

Just follow the arrows and follow the arrows and...............

Just keep following the arrows and follow the arrows and……………No one had mentioned that the cave was almost at the top of what, in my estimation at this stage, was definitely a mountain.

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Spot the arrow. Really – up there?

It's a good thing the camera captured some of these images because my glasses had fogged up at this stage :-)

It’s a good thing the camera captured some of these images because my glasses had fogged up at this stage 🙂

And the end result. A bloody ladder leaning on a rock.

And the end result after hours of climbing. A bloody ladder leaning on a rock. Is this what I have come to see? Those supporting sticks pop up in many situations usually leaning against rocks and trees associated with a temple. Thye are placed for good luck.

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You see the small opening in the rock at the top of the ladder. Well the Thais may call this a cave but it falls way short in my eyes!

And here’s the photo you have all been waiting for:

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A mesh over the entrance made it impossible to even get a decent photo of the mini Buddha statues inside. What a let-down.

A glimpse back to the moo ban gives you an idea of how high you have climbed. Almost above the clouds!

A glimpse back to the moo ban gives you an idea of how high you have climbed. Almost above the clouds – well it felt like that!

A very wet and disappointed farang eventually made it back to ground level to find that Gaun had left Peng and taken off to find me. She always thinks that if left alone I will either do myself damage or get lost! How we missed on the path was beyond me. So I was back but Gaun was now missing.

Before you give up on this wat based on my words so far let me finish the story and tell you its secrets. Gaun did as I did and followed the arrows up but where I took a turn to the right towards the ladder in the photo I shared above, Gaun veered left and continued up the hill. If you do that you will come across a pond and the “house” of the head monk for this wat. He spends a lot of time actually living on the hill in the bush. Gaun asked him if he had seen a lost farang, which he obviously hadn’t. He was helpful in another way because he told Gaun of a lookout point close by where there’s a clear view of the local moo ban and surrounding countryside. So that detour would be worth putting on your itinerary.

In one of those funny coincidences one of the monks who had occupied this hillside location is now abbot of Wat Pa Silawa, a lovely guy called Phu Yaow. Silawa is one of my favourite temples in Thailand not because it is that impressive but because it is a peaceful and spotlessly maintained wat with a very good “feel”. The abbot runs a very disciplined schedule and has gone out of his way to make me welcome. We usually spend time there for their evening sessions on holy days.

The abbot now down the road from his previous hillside retreat.

The abbot now residing down the road from his previous hillside retreat.

Secondly Gaun got chatting to a group of women who were spending time in the wat over the weekend, it being a holy day. They told her that the small cave at the top of that ladder is in fact just the entrance to a larger cave that sits behind it! The mesh isn’t to exclude you but is there to stop bats getting into the main cave. You just remove the mesh and crawl through the entrance and who knows what lies behind. All too late for me as I was in need of a shower and lie down at this stage! However I can’t wait to get back and give this climb another go. After all we now have a secret cave and can life get more exciting than that?

If you ever follow in my footsteps make sure you take a flashlight for the main cave. Needless to say there’s no power there. Gaun was also told that the cave used to have an old Buddha statue in it but it was stolen. Rebirth as a cockroach for somebody is the best outcome that individual can hope for.

Another fun time enjoying the small sights of Isaan.

Thanks for reading.