There is a bonus with this post. Not only will I take you to the beautiful Wat Pa Phu Kon, close to the border with Laos, but I will share a little of the trip along the way and back.
You will also see Peng, Gaun’s daughter, in more blog photos as we start to time our exploring of the local area on weekends so she can join in. She is 15 years old and her life mostly revolves around school, home and awful Thai TV soapies. We flew her up to Chiang Mai just before we left in late 2014 and she is the only member of the family other than Gaun to get out that way. Although some Thais obviously travel and see something of their own country and the world others seem to be stuck in the routine of farm, market and home in an endless cycle of hard work seven days a week. I want Peng to broaden her experience of life even if in a small way and today was a step in doing that.
I discovered Wat Pa Phu Kon thanks to the internet of course. The photos looked excellent and I had already driven in the general area of the wat when we visited Phu Phra Bat Historical Park that I wrote about HERE and I knew it was a scenic route.
For those of you visiting Thailand the name of this wat tells a story, as a lot of place names do. “Pa”, which is pronounced more like ba, means a forest and “phu” translates to a hill. In the North of the country around Chiang Mai and Rai a hill is called “doi”. Another popular one is “tham”, a cave. So in this case Wat = temple, Pa = forest and Phu = hill. We are visiting a temple on a hill with lots of trees. If I show you the “publicity” shot of the temple you will see that this description is pretty accurate:
According to Google Maps the drive from us to the wat would take almost three hours and for once Google actually had the temple where it actually is, an unusual event. If you ask Google for directions they are pretty good which is helpful because it isn’t a straight forward drive and getting detailed maps of Isaan is impossible. Once you get closer to the wat the signage is excellent and in typical kindly Thai fashion in English as well as Thai. Dual English/Chinese signage is probably a little way off in Australia 🙂
We left around 8.00 am and I only mention this because by 9.00 am I had two hungry Thais in the car and that is something that needs to be taken seriously! The quickest way to get injured in Thailand is not on a motorbike as most people think but by being in the way of a hungry Thai person and food. Luckily we came across a small local market in full swing and stopped for a chicken and sticky rice breakfast.
My memories of driving in Australia is that the destination was everything. By that I mean very often there isn’t much to give you reason to be distracted from the trip along the way. Of the 150 km from Canberra to the coast you pass through two small towns and a lot of grazing country and bush. The three hour drive from Canberra to Sydney, which admittedly is mostly freeway, gives you the choice of McDonalds at one service station stop and Hungry Jacks at another! A generalisation I know but it fits into my point that in Thailand there is often things to fill in time on the way to a destination and this trip was no exception.
Wats are the most consistent offering as it seems that every village has at least one and they also turn up in the most unlikely situations, sometimes miles from anything of significance. Usually they are very basic in the typical white and red theme and nothing to get too excited about unless you are a first timer in the country. Sometimes the temptation to head off down small sois or lanes based on a wat signpost can be too much. Disappointment usually results but sometimes you find a gem or at least a weird interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings.
The further we headed North the land changed from flat and pretty featureless to outcrops like this:
Because these are limestone features they seem to often include a cave or two and in the past these have sometimes become the home for monks resulting in the building of a wat by the local population. This outcrop is a good example and a tree lined entranceway leading to the base of the cliffs had us off the main road for an explore.
This name may not be right as the only signpost was in Thai and so I am basing it on Gaun’s interpretation. Not sure why/if there should be two “Pa’s” in there. Never mind – who cares! From my earlier Thai lessons you will now instantly know that we are talking cave (tham) and forest (pa) here – well done.
This is a wat of multiple Buddha statues set in a rambling fashion around one side of the cliffs formed by that limestone outcrop I showed you above. Some wats seem to get stuck on a theme, elephants, chickens, horses or mosaics such as in the one below etc
So at our wat it was multiple Buddhas with yet more being constructed.
The humour one finds in Thailand can come in unexpected ways. I had to record this series of notices on the toilet doors:
Outside the temple there is evidence of grand plans at one stage to build on top of this hill. It looks as if the money has run out.
Back on the road we continued our trip passing through mixed farming landscapes and small moo baans only taking the wrong road once, which is a pretty good effort in Thailand.
The final short drive up the hill to Wat Pa Phu Kon is very pretty and although the final bit is a bit steep it isn’t the horror climb I read about in someone else’s blog, which I include below because I thought it was amusing (after the event):
NOTE: If you have an automatic car, I would HIGHLY suggest you don’t try to drive up to the main temple grounds. The road going to the main temple grounds is VERY steep and thus it would place a heavy strain on the cars transmission. Especially going down I don’t want to imagine if your breaks fade and you get in that situation when you step on your break pedal only to have the break pedal slam into the floor board and you are coasting down the hill faster and faster! Since I have an automatic car, I turned around about half way to the main temple grounds and we got the service of one of the temple service trucks to take us to the main temple grounds.
I didn’t see any temple trucks but if they are anything like many other vehicles in Thailand I would sooner trust the brakes in my car to those offered by a service-shy Thai taxi operator.
Finding detailed information on places one visits in Thailand is a real challenge and usually impossible. Maybe there is heaps of stuff in Thai but certainly the English side of things is a bit sparse. I have provided part of an excellent write-up provided by Wikipedia below. It was in German but the magic of Google has translated it for you:
The temple complex was built from 2010 to 2013. After the hilltop leveled and the basement was built, which is about 20 meters long was first Buddha figure lying on a concrete base erected before the Wihan was built around them. For the most made of white marble Buddha in Thailand 43 marble blocks were of the monks in charge of the temple on site in Italian Carrara chosen, each of which weighed 15 to 30 tons, then transported to Thailand and joined together there and sculpted . (A photo documentation of the construction history is on display in the Wihan.) After the figure was completed, was around them built the hall and finally completed the decoration of the base and walls. The construction costs (the Buddha alone is 50 million baht have cost, the entire system to the 320 million baht) to have been donated by a single individual.
I have to say as an imposing structure this temple is hard to beat. It is very newly built so is still in good shape. Given the Thai reluctance to maintain anything once built the cynic in me wonders how long it will remain looking this clean.
For me the highlight is the Buddha statue inside. I have seen the famous reclining golden Buddha in Bangkok but it is in a very narrow building which means you can’t stand back and comfortably see the whole statue. This marble version was equally impressive and the stone gave it a softer feel somehow, which seem like a mixed metaphor. He looked like a very relaxed Buddha too.
I have included another excerpt from Wikipedia here, which relates well to this picture.
The base on which engages the Buddha figure is surrounded by large panels of hammered , partly fire-gilded copper plate on which scenes from the life of Buddha are shown. The massive bronze entrance doors on all four sides of the rectangular hall are with similar reliefs provided. On the inner walls are between and above the windows in wood carving executed reliefs attached. The Buddha sits on a carved out of the same material cushion, has soft features, and is developed in a unique artistic quality.
Being an ex-car nut I have written before in one of my “Isaan the Small Stories” posts HERE about how boring the Thai car fleet is. I had to take this photo of the wat’s car park to illustrate again that the vast majority of vehicles here are painted in either white, black or silver. Soporific. Boring models too but I won’t get started and get too off topic 🙂
Further down the hill there is a chedi that is worth a visit. Turn right on the way up, left on the way down as long as your brakes are working.
My friend Mr Wikipedia tells us:
The Chedi Prathom Rattanamahaburaphachan can be reached from a parking lot on a wide staircase of about 200 steps. An inclined elevator is currently under construction (March 2014). The building is located on a terrace, is about 25 meters high and inside to find rooms on two floors that have been established in honor of some once influential deceased monks and also showcase items from their personal property. Both rooms are of domed spanning ceiling, rich – are decorated – in gold on a red background. The Chedi in Sri Lanka style, richly decorated with small golden mosaic (which, however, are already highly exfoliated), marble and granite, leans in its architectural style and its color design to the Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom on – the highest Buddhist Chedi world. In its interior are also relics of Buddha be kept.
This was a little disappointing in that they are undertaking extensive renovations completely reinstalling all the stonework on the stairs and the chedi. It will be well worth a re-visit another time.
The car park in this section is home to these amazing trees. I have no idea what they are called, maybe someone out there knows and can comment. Huge fruit and the most beautiful flowers.
Close to the base of the Wat Pa Phu Kon hill we passed another wat signposted Wat Pa (I don’t need to tell you again that means a forest) Nakuamnoi, that looked interesting. It was surrounded by a wall that went for a long way and inside seemed to be mostly trees. We decided to have a look on the way back. The entrance is rather imposing and doesn’t encourage a casual pop in:
As an English speaking farang you’d probably give this a miss as the gates are always closed. However thanks to Gaun we found out that the gates are only there and closed to keep the monkeys in!!!!!!!!! Absolutely true.
This is a retreat type wat and outsiders have limited access to the whole area, which is 1,315 lai in area (1 lai = 1,600 m2). In our terms this is either 210 hectares for those metric readers or 520 acres for us old folk. The whole place is surrounded by 7 km of wall! Lucky monkeys.
The road to the main temple building is a lovely dappled light experience.
There are 35 monks in residence living in small houses dotted around the temple. No electricity other than at this structure so pretty basic. We met one monk who was very friendly and spoke excellent English. He was a young guy, a lawyer by profession who had taken up being a monk at this wat. He told me that many professionals finish their career and then become monks here, whether short or long term I don’t know. Any retiring lawyers out there take note. No golf!
Our final side trip for the day had us following the promise of coffee plantations based on a road sign only to come up blank. However the road passed through some lovely hilly countryside, which is begging for a more thorough explore in the future and there are always photo moments like this one:
Back in Nong Bua Lamphu we relaxed after six hours of driving with a traditional Thai meal of pizza and lasagna with a cold beer chaser at Pinocchio’s Italian restaurant. The only proper farang type eatery in the town that I know of this place is my saviour when I have the urge for a decent non-Thai meal. Run by two Italians they have a good menu and service. Expensive by Thai eating standards but worth every baht. 60% of their customers are Thais.
I wrote about this restaurant in a previous post called Hidden Treasures of Nong Bua HERE. It has since moved from the previous location and I will re-visit and update my original post. This location is far more pleasant and quieter. Recommended.
A big day out and full of all the reasons retirement here works so well for me. I hope I have given you a glimpse of the fact that although Isaan isn’t as attraction rich as other places in Thailand there is still enough around to fill in a day or three of touristy activities. More to come.
Thanks for reading.
My thanks to http://2112design.com/watphasornkaew_org/photos/ for the two photos on Wat Phasornkaew.