If you find yourself in Udon Thani in the north east of Thailand, an unlikely possibility I know, you’ll thank me for this post because the trip I describe will make for an interesting and varied afternoon or full day out.
Wat Kham Chanot is a small temple situated about 80 km south of Udon city quoted as an hour’s drive (allow 1 1/2 hours), driving towards Sakhon Nakhon on highway 22. Shortly after the town of Nong Mek turn left on the 2096, towards Ban Dung, then, after the town about 3 kilometers turn right and drive to Kham Chanot.
The first part of the drive is pretty ordinary. The 22 is a typical Thai highway with lots of advertising and strip development down each side. If you want to make a full day of it then add Ban Chiang World Heritage site to your schedule as it is on the way. I wrote about it HERE. You’ll need to scroll through the stories to find it.
However once you turn onto the 2096 you are into farming country and at this time of year a sea of vivid green from all the newly planted rice paddies. On our trip we saw almost no sugar, which is different from the area around Si Bun Ruang where the recent drought pushed farmers to plant sugar cane as a low water alternative to rice.
The trip we did to Wat Kham Chanot ended up taking longer than expected and we arrived late in the afternoon. This ended up being a good thing because by the size of the carpark there are times perhaps earlier in the day when the place gets busy. The gates close at 5:30 pm so if you time your visit to get there around 4:00 pm then you’ll have the place almost to yourself as we did. I say this because the temple area itself is quite small and it would be difficult to get around if it was packed with bus loads of people.
This wat is one of those strange mixtures of Buddhist and a large dose of mythological, The temple is on an island and it’s claim to fame is the supposed existence of a large Naga or snake, which lives there. You find these guys all over Thailand in statue form especially at entries to temples and as handrails to stairs.
Here the Naga meets you at the beginning of the bridge that winds through trees and onto the island. You have to leave your shoes here and you can see the racks on the right matched by ones on the other side. The walkway will get very hot in the sun so I suggest you bring some socks, which is quite acceptable, or just walk quickly. The trees do offer some shade and the island itself is heavily forested so you are fine once you get to the other end.
The temple itself is almost non-existent if you are expecting an architectural wonderland. There are a few very small structures and nothing in the wow category. However it is very peaceful, minus the crowds, and you will meet an eclectic mix of spiritual characters but not much that I could relate to Buddhism.
I wasn’t kidding about the lottery numbers in the comment on a previous photo. Thais are mad about this twice monthly event and there is a whole industry built around the selection of the numbers. Any event in your life that can be translated to numbers will be used. Books are sold that translate your dream visions into numbers. Monks are consulted, although what insights they might have is beyond me. I don’t think the Buddha was much into the lottery.
In the case of this wat the sacred Chanot trees are the key to riches. You will see that powder has been rubbed into the bark of many of the trees. This has nothing to do with a deep spiritual ritual but only a very human one – to make any hidden lottery numbers in the bark be more visible! Really 🙂 In the photo above a lady is taking a photo of the tree so that it can be examined in more detail later to get those winning numbers. You will find this method used in other temples too but it is a big thing with this wat.
You can also try to make them “sing” by quickly rubbing the back of them as you can see that lady on the left doing, which is why these gongs are back to front. If you get the rhythm right it will give out a loud “song”. I was told that you should remove all the rings from your fingers to maximise your chances. I only got my first signing gong to happen at Wat Than Sang Tham a few weeks ago (no rings). I feel that I can now claim to be a true Thai gonger! Certificate in the mail. You can read about this strange cave and cliff top temple HERE.
Incense isn’t a big item in Thai temples. More with those that have a Chinese connection. Even if there is incense or candles finding a lighter is the challenge. You smokers will be more Buddha blessed than the rest of us.
The snake is supposed to come through this area and therefore the water is collected for good luck or health reasons. You can see the coconut ladles so you can spoon some over yourself or into a bottle as that girl is doing on the left. A funnel has been helpfully provided too.
A couple of things of interest. Those two stones sitting on cushions are there for a reason. The idea is that you make a wish or ask a question and then try to lift the stones. If the answer is in the positive then the task will be easy otherwise it’s a “no”. I suspect more guys get positive answers than the ladies.
The other is the statue of the monk on the right with the long white beard and animal skins. I am very proud of the information I am about to share because I have being looking for this fellow’s name ever since I met him ages ago at another wat. He appears regularly if you keep an eye out for him, often in association with cave (Tham) wats.
Gaun knew who he was and called him Lucy. Do you think the power of the internet was any help? I tried every combination and anything relating to “monk with tiger skin” returned nothing but references to the Tiger temple scandal Bangkok way.
I struck it lucky for this post and can now sound even more of a Thai expert than normal with any friends visiting. “Lucy” is correct thank you Gaun but it is spelt ruesi (also sometimes spelled reusi or lersi). I always get caught out with Thais changing the letter “R” to an “L”. You can see how reusi can end up lucy can’t you. It is like the word “hot”, which in Thai is “ron” in Isaan-speak “hon” and this can be changed to “lon” in either case.
Ruesi is a hermit monk and thanks to Wikipedia HERE is described as:
The Ruesi are Hermit sages who spend their time meditating and developing psychic powers and collecting magical herbs, minerals, rarities and other substances. They use the magical ingredients to make special love charms, spells and protective amulets. They wish to help other beings to be happier in life, and do this by telling fortunes, making rituals and spells to reduce bad karma, chase evil influences and spirits away, protect from ones enemies, or even increase one’s luck and wealth with a spell for wealth and good fortune.
I should acknowledge another Thai blog HERE, which provided the image clue to ruesi based on my search of “monk statue in thailand with tiger skin robe” 🙂
Your eyes have probably glazed over by now so back to photos:
Lottery numbers in hand we headed back across the bridge. Now this may look like just another tree photo below but there’s a story here thanks to Gaun. You’ll see these trees as you walk across the bridge.
I have no idea what they are called but the fruit they produce is what makes the base for this natural cough medicine. You can buy it at most pharmacies for 40 baht or A$1.60. Take some home.
Once back on the mainland you can have an explore of the pretty ordinary rest of the wat. This is a weird mixture of buildings and non-maintained shrines in true Thai tradition. A few interesting photos though:
You can read about the Black House in one of my early Thai posts dating back to September 2013 HERE.
Leaving Wat Kham Chanot behind we headed home passing through the salt village of Ban Dung on the way (we took another route to get to the temple). In theory I recommend you include this village in your day’s agenda out because it is an unusual sight. It was late when we passed though so we didn’t stop other than to buy some salt for my bore/well water filter cleaning system. We will be back for a more relaxed explore soon and I will report back in the blog.
We finished the day at the best Thai restaurant in Udon Thani called Samuay & Sons HERE. Book ahead because it is only small. Try the massaman curry Thai-style. Yummy.
So in conclusion Wat Kham Chanot is worth a visit as a curiosity rather than for any architectural or Buddhist reasons. The drive there once you get off the main road is a good example of rural Isaan and in the right season (green paddies late June – September/October before the rice browns) the landscapes are lovely. The salt factories are something you won’t see most other places and if you include Ban Chiang in the day you’ll have a good mix of sights.
I am about to write another post shortly about a day out heading north on the opposite side of Udon to include a great silk village, the Mekong River and other sights worth a look. Keep an eye out for that.
Thanks for reading.