After a long period of being home based and only writing about the small happenings around the village I thought it was time to head back out into wider Thailand and spend a day being a tourist again. Two friends who had already been to Wat Pha Sorn Kaew recommended it as being pretty spectacular so I decided our first major expedition for a while should head that way. I was interested not just for the temple itself but as you can see from the Google Earth image below the road to it goes through some pretty rugged and untouched scenery.

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In doing the research I was pleased to find that Google has the wat marked and having now been there I can report back that it is in the right location, something that isn’t always the case with Google. The “directions” on maps told me it would be a three hour drive from our home in Si Bun Ruang and 195 km. Also spot on! Knock me down with a banana leaf.

We ended up with a carload for our adventure because I invited my sister and brother-in-law Yuan and Lud to join us and we timed it for the weekend so my stepdaughter Peng could come along too. Yuan in particular is always happy to get a day’s holiday from working the farm and has joined us on a few expeditions in the past, sometimes without Lud. I remember one time it was only when we were on our way that she phoned him to say where she was going! They spend all day everyday together working side by side on the farm so I think they both enjoy a brief break from each other. I think we can all relate to that!

We packed the car and were on the road by 8 am as I wanted to get there early because we have been having clear skies in the mornings gradually filling in as the day progressed to look like rain by midday, even though this often doesn’t happen. A typical wet season cycle and a wonderful break from the endless drought I have experienced since moving to Isaan in November 2014.

When I say “packed the car” I mean food of course. If you have ever travelled with Thai people then you know that the being on the road results in endless chat, laughter and the need to consume FOOD and lots of it.

Roadside stalls selling mushrooms.

In the hills we passed many roadside stalls selling mushrooms. We had to stop of course and it was mushroom soup back home that night.

Travelling with Isaan farmers is fun because although I can’t understand most of what is going on I know that a lot of the chat is a commentary on the farms and crops being grown along the way. Lud in particular gets really enthusiastic when he spots a particularly healthy crop of something and “poona”, which sort of means “look at that” is now comfortably part of my Isaan vocabulary. I have never taken much interest in eggplants before but all has changed in my post-retirement world:

A pitstop to view these eggplants resulted in this photo.

A pitstop to view these eggplants being harvested resulted in this photo.

The drive from our home took us on route 228 for an hour, which is the road running from Nong Bua Lamphu, a larger town and provincial capital to the north of us to a place called Chum Phae to the south situated on highway 12. Follow this road south and you eventually end up in Bangkok some 600 km away or Europe if you turn right! The 12 is part of the Asian Highway project described as:

Agreements have been signed by 32 countries to allow the highway to cross the continent and also reach to Europe. Some of the countries taking part in the highway project are India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China, Japan, South Korea and Bangladesh. Most of the funding comes from the larger, more advanced Asian nations like Japan, India and China as well as international agencies such as the Asian Development Bank.

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Can you spot the AH16 on this map showing the Asian highway system. It starts at Dong Ha in Vietnam and heads into Myanmar and beyond? You will see Khon Kaen in the middle, which is a city about an hour and a half from our home further to the north (up). This is highway 12 as it passes through our bit of Thailand.

We decided to skip the longer trip to Sweden and only followed the 12 for a couple of hours. It is an interesting drive some of it through typically ugly Thailand strip development, some past farmland with lots of “poonas” from Lud. There were also two sections of national park with the road winding through densely vegetated and hilly country. Many signs in this area warned you to keep an eye out for elephants crossing the road. Road-kill here means you die and the animal wanders off for lunch 🙂

The sort of wild country we past through. This sala was at the back of a small market. I am not sure I would trust that structure.

The sort of wild country we past through. This sala was at the back of a small market. I am not sure I would trust that structure but you could have lunch there if you were feeling brave.

The further we headed into the hills the grayer the sky became. I had seen photos of the wat in brilliant sunshine and this obviously wasn’t going to be one of those opportunities. The upside was that it was a lot cooler than it would have been in sunshine. We arrived about 11.00 am. There was plenty of parking and you pay 30 baht on the way out.

Walking from the carpark you follow this small soi (road) towards the three main structures of the temple.

Walking from the carpark you follow this small soi (road) towards the three main structures of the temple. A pretty spectacular introduction to the wat.

From the photo above you can tell that weather was going to be a problem. In fact it started to rain just as we passed the “tourist” stalls heading into this soi. We sheltered in a food shop where Gaun had noodles and I had homemade coconut ice cream in a typical Thai/farang split of tastes. A break in the rain got us to this recently completed structure of five Buddhas for some photos before a huge thunderstorm rolled out of the hills to drive everyone to shelter.

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You can see the storm approaching from the background.

I can’t pass on any insightful information on why there are five Buddhas in this structure. Nine is the lucky number in Thailand and things tend to be presented in multiples of that number. My only thought for those Buddhists types reading is that Buddhism includes a teaching on the five skandhas being form, sensation. perception, mental formation and consciousness. I won’t write more because it will be of little interest to the majority reading. There is more information available HERE.

Whatever the basis for this temple it is certainly striking and actually the dark sky setting gives the photos a more dramatic feel than the many sunny versions you will find online.

Lud in a classic pose.

Lud in a classic pose. Wet knees!

In true Thai tradition the whole place is tiled with the most slippery surfaces in wet conditions they could find. This is the plaza area in front of the statues.

In true Thai tradition the whole place is tiled with the most slippery surfaces in wet conditions they could find. This is the plaza area in front of the statues.

The view from the edge of the plaza looking towards highway 12, which runs along that hill on the right in the distance.

The view from the edge of the plaza looking towards highway 12, which runs along that hill on the right in the distance.

The core of my Thai family. Lud, Gaun, Peng and Yuan.

The core of my Thai family. Lud, Gaun, Peng and Yuan.

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Certainly dramatic especially in this light.

Towards the back of this Buddha structure was the main residence and admin part of the temple, which didn’t have public access.

A sort of Swiss alpine design.

A sort of Swiss alpine design.

We are only talking about 800 metres above sea level here although the Thai descriptions of the wat have it sitting surrounded by “mountains”. For your next Trivial Pursuit competition Doi Inthanon, south of Chiang Mai, which you can read about HERE is Thailand’s highest peak at 2,565 metres. Swiss alpine Thailand certainly isn’t.

A break in the rain.

A break in the rain opened out the landscape.

The photo above is another one of the main building. The surrounding hills are filled with accommodation places because the Thais love to experience being cool and will travel for that experience. Throw in a photogenic wat as a bonus and you have a tourist winner. Doi Inthanon has camping sites because people flock there in the Thai “winter” to get a taste of what it feels like to get cold! Something readers in my old home town of Canberra don’t need any reminder about.

The second main structure for the public is a mosaic covered chedi with nine levels (ah that lucky nine comes into play) although you can only get to the first few. This is a spectacular piece of Disney that eats up the disk space on your camera. We spent an hour or more waiting for the storms to pass, as they tend to do in Thailand. At least here it is warm rain so getting soaked isn’t a problem.

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The mosaic display. Bare feet, water and slippery tiles.

One of the staircase to an upper level gives you an idea of the detail that has gone into this place.

One of the staircase to an upper level gives you an idea of the detail that has gone into this place.

The main entrance.

The main entrance.

The online reports have over 5 million tiles used in creating this colourful structure and I am not about to argue that figure. The walls were covered in creative designs with many themes incorporated into different areas of the temple and I will try to give you a little taste in the following photos:

Seashells here.

Seashells here.

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Every part of the structure was covered and had it been sunny the colours would have been even more dramatic.

Even the steps are a photo moment.

Even the steps are a photo moment.

Looking back to the Buddhas.

Looking back to the Buddhas.

Nothing much inside the levels. A simple display here.

Nothing much inside the building itself on the various levels. A simple display here.

Spot Lud and Yuan.

Spot Lud and Yuan.

Peng and Gaun.

Peng and Gaun.

After the rain the peacocks made an appearance mainly obsessed with pruning their feathers back into shape.

After the rain the peacocks made an appearance mainly obsessed with pruning their feathers back into shape.

You can see here how the Buddha area is perched on the edge.

You can see here how the Buddha area is perched on the edge dropping away into the valley.

Leaving the wat we collected the car, paid our 30 baht and drove into the hills behind to look back on the temple complex and find some lunch.

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In true entrepreneurship style the road is being filled with eating places, cafes and accommodations. Buddhism pays. We ended up eating at the first place past the wat with tables set up to take in the views. Also in true tourist tradition we ended up paying three times the price for food as we would back in the village. However unlike Australia I could cope with the $4.00 meals. A bottle of water for 30 baht ($1.20) – outrageous!

The view from the eatery.

The view from the eatery.

All in all a great if slightly damp day out and a definite addition to my best wats of Isaan HERE.

Thank you for reading.