We were on the road today visiting Khon Kaen, a city an hour and a half south of us, for my stepdaughter’s six monthly check-up at the huge Queen Sirikit hospital. A 9.15 am appointment which ended up happening early afternoon, a good reason to have private health cover if you can afford it as described in my post HERE.

The trip to Khon Kaen took us through the small town of Phu Wiang, where a guy who was fitting some gutters at home the previous week told Gaun there was a good temple to visit. If you search online for suggestions of places to explore outside the very limited range offered by Trip Advisor, which is mostly focussed on the main centres, then you are reliant on tips like this one to discover the hidden gems of Isaan. It’s the frustration of relying on the English script internet. I am sure there are all sorts of places I am missing out on because I can’t access the Thai internet. Mind you between Gaun’s translation of the name into English and my phonetic interpretation it is all a bit hit and miss. If you search for Wat Tham Pha Keong you get sent to Wat Tham Pha Plong, which is outside Chiang Mai in a beautiful part of Thailand called Chiang Dao. Funnily we have been there and you can read about the “other” wat HERE. However if you search using the Thai script วัดถ้ำผาเกิ้ง you get heaps of links.

Having “wasted” the morning we decided to call into this wat on the way home as I am eternally (mostly!) optimistic that the next temple I visit will be worth the effort. Many aren’t but this one was definitely a go’er and therefore it has replaced my partly finished “Isaan – the Small Stories 10” post as the next story to share with you.

For those increasing number of readers living or planning to visit my bit of Isaan then you can find this wat by turning right at the roundabout at Phu Wiang coming from Si Bun Ruang (our home town) heading south.

The relationship between Si Bun Ruang, Phu Wiang and the wat can be seen courtesy of Google maps below. Just out of interest (or not) that large bluish area on the right is a lake called Ubol Ratana (Ratana being the name of the King’s eldest daughter), which I covered in a post HERE and HERE.

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Having turned at the roundabout just follow the comprehensive signage trail for the next 20 km – all in Thai but in the spirit of being a helpful blogger they look like this:

Your signpost to wat heaven.

Your signpost to wat heaven.

The road starts off as the 2038 before you head into small back roads winding through some attractive farming country and small moo bans (villages). Unfortunately at this dry time of year with the rice and most of the sugar crops harvested the drive is a lot less scenic than it will be once the rains kick in mid-2016 and the new rice and sugar crops start to green-up the landscape.

A hint that this might be a useful trip to make.

A hint that this might be a useful trip to make. A huge Buddha and temple set into the hillside.

The entrance.

The entrance.

On patrol.

On guard.

Once past the entrance the road winds through a forest (the “Pha” bit of the name), which would be lovely in season but as many of the trees are deciduous (or “drop-leaves” as a good friend of mine calls them) it is all a bit bare at the moment. Worth a return visit.

You pass some accommodation provided for those travellers doing Thailand on $10 a day!

You pass some accommodation provided for those travellers doing Thailand on $10 a day!

Halfway up the hill you meet the turtle on your right and that’s a good place to pull over for a look at the temple and other buildings in this area. Although you can’t see the turtle’s head from the road you will see the shell structure which sits above one of the temples.

Although you can't see the head from the road you will see the shell structure which

A “tao” or turtle in Thai. You can see the “shell” running to the right forming the roof over the temple.

Sort of Jurassic Park in Isaan.

Sort of Jurassic Park in Isaan.

Under the "shell"

Under the “shell”

Plenty more photo opportunities.

Plenty more photo opportunities.

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To the right of the turtle temple there is a very small chedi (pronounced “jaydee” in Thai) a spire structure containing a Phra Kaew copy, a emerald green Buddha. You can read the history of the statue HERE as it is one of the most important Buddha images in Thailand and you’ll come across copies all over the place.

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Phra Kaew.

This wat has three of these statues as shown in that photo. They represent the three seasons of dry, hot and wet, which I presume relates to the Wikipedia link I just gave you containing these words:

The King changes the cloak around the statue three times a year, corresponding to the summer, winter, and rainy seasons, an important ritual performed to usher good fortune to the country during each season.

To the rear of the turtle is a large timber structure with a wood Buddha statue, something I don’t think I have seen before in a Thailand temple.

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Gaun and Peng. We hit cleaning time and there were monks everywhere sweeping and mopping, also unusual in a Thai Buddhist temple situation. They must have a fussy abbot monk in charge.

Gaun and Peng. We hit cleaning time and there were monks everywhere sweeping and mopping, also unusual in a Thai Buddhist temple situation. They must have a fussy abbot monk in charge.

A timber Buddha.

A timber Buddha.

More structures to the back of this part. This looked like a meeting type building.

More structures to the back of this part. This looked like a meeting hall building.

A monk's accommodation.

A monk’s accommodation. Obviously not on $10 a day.

Back in the car because the best is yet to come. Continue up the hill and you will pass some better class monk/visitor huts along the way on the left:

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At the top you know you’ve arrived not only because of the massive Buddha in front of you but because this is a carpark built for huge crowds, which I guess you’d need to pay for all of this.

Only us but built for a lot more.

Only us plus a few others today but built for a lot more.

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You can’t miss this one. The cars give you an idea of scale.

The same building back in 2012. Not my photo.

The same building back in 2012. Not my photo – taken from a Thai blog and credit to author given.

Once again, like Wat Tham Sang Tham that I wrote about HERE, this is a huge infrastructure built in the middle of nowhere. Phu Wiang is the nearest town and it’s very small. Where does the concept, energy and money come from to build these structures? Heaps of monks around so it must be a popular place of worship and study.

You can't miss this one.

A mixture of Chinese and Thai.

Gaun and Peng once again giving you an idea of just how massive these statues are.

Gaun and Peng once again giving you an idea of just how massive these statues are.

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Who knows if any of this has any structured significance and who cares! It's a sort of Disney Buddhist display.

Who knows if any of this has any significance and who cares! It’s a sort of Disney Buddhist display.

The view starts to open out.

The view starts to open out as you climb the stairs to the main building.

My second last dragon photo.

My second last dragon photo.

The wat is built on three levels once you get to the top of the steps.

The main hall as you come through the front door.

The main hall as you come through the front entrance.

Monks in cleaning mode.

Monks in cleaning mode.

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An impressive hall but I have yet to see anything that beats my favourite wat HERE.

Peng making a donation.

Peng making a donation.

Looking back on the cleaners as we climb the staircase to the next level.

Looking back on the cleaners as we climb the staircase to the next level.

The monks are never shy about personal images. The wax sculptures are more lifelike than when they were alive but these take a more arty look.

The monks are never shy about personal images. The wax sculptures you often apologise to are more lifelike than when the monks were alive but these take a more arty approach.

Will I won't I?

Will I won’t I?

The central Buddha one this level.

The central Buddha on this level. A simple space.

The view higher up. Almost Australian summer brown countryside.

The view higher up. Almost Australian summer grey green and brown countryside. With five more months before any rain it will only get drier.

A lonely car at this stage and more structures to the right of the main temple.

A lonely car and more structures to the right of the main temple, which we left for next time. You can see how much greener it will be once the trees regain their leaves.

Time for a girls photo.

Time for a girls photo. Love the socks. The V fingers you often see Thais using in photo poses has nothing to do with Winston Churchill and V for Victory but represents rabbits ears, which Thais associate with fun!!!!!!!

And one for me and Peng.

And one for me and Peng. When in Thailand…….

The final level - an emerald Buddha.

The final level – an emerald Buddha. Love the sky background, which gives you a floating in space sort of feel.

One more pose - more serious this time.

One more pose – no rabbit ears this time.

Heading back down. Not a staircase for granny unless you want to inherit sooner.

Heading back down to level two. Not a staircase for granny unless you want to inherit sooner.

Back to dragons. This one is worth a photo and it sits at the back of the temple.

Back to dragons. This one is worth a photo and it sits at the back of the temple.

Big isn't it.

Big isn’t it.

And you can walk through it from head to tail.

And you can walk through it from head to tail.

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Like a scene from The Hobbit.

Lighting provided.

Lighting and steps provided.

Safely at the other end.

Safely at the other end. Now even a hobbit never got inside a dragon although the dragon was keen on the idea I seem to remember.

See ya next time Buddha.

See ya next time Buddha.

The monks still hard at it as we left.

The monks still hard at it as we left.

This trip has added another wat to a growing list of unique and special places to share with friends when they visit us and with you too. It’s hard going but the blank map of Nong Bua Lamphu province is beginning to fill up with farang friendly sightseeing spots. I hope we can continue the momentum. My wat list so far is as follows:

These are within an hour’s drive from Si Bun Ruang:

Wat Bunyanusorn, which is included in my post HERE:

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Wat Bunyanusorn.

A wat whose name and location will be revealed in “Isaan – the Small Stories 10”:

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The secret wat (because I can’t find the name yet).

Wat Tham Klong Pane HERE

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Wat Pha Silawa HERE:

Wat Pha Silawa

Wat Pha Silawa

Wat Tham Sang Tham HERE:

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And now of course the latest Wat Tham Pha Keong in this post (or something that sounds like that!).

These three temples are each a day trip:

The magnificent Wat Ph Phu Kon HERE:

Wat Pa Phu Kon

Wat Pha Nam Yoi HERE:

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Wat Neramit Wipattasana HERE:

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Thanks for reading.