Tuesday, September 11, 2012

NONG KHAI - THAILAND

One of my favourite spots in Thailand is the provincial capital of the province of Nong Khai with the same name.  With the location of the town along the Mekong River, Nong Khai is the northern-most outpost of the so-called Isan, the North-East of the Kingdom. 

Wat Pho Chai
Bangkok is over 600 km away, while the distance to the capital of Laos, Vientiane, is just over 20 km. In the past this area up here has had a lively and war-ridden history of conflicts between the old kingdoms of Lan Xang, Lanna and Siam. This multi-cultural influence was also the reason why we made several trip up here, since the area contains some of the most important temples and Buddha images. 

The town itself is rather quiet and laid back. Hotels and restaurants along the river are great and we always enjoyed sitting right next to the huge river and enjoying fresh fish. The Naga festival in the fall will turn this small town upside down and bring thousands of visitors. 

Wat Phra Buddhabat Bua Bok
Wat Phrabat Nong Khai
On one of our first trips we came up here from the nearby Phu Phrabat Historical Park and the temple Wat Phra Buddhabat Bua Bok. While the Historical Park is great for hiking through nature and offers great views over the lowlands to the north as well as historical sites, offers the temple an ancient pagoda and a footprint of the Buddha. Both sites are still located in the province of Udon Thani but it is just a short drive on a round tour we did to Nong Khai. 

In the city of Nong Khai we visited Wat Pho Chai twice to see the Lan Xang-era Buddha image called Luang Phor Phra Sai, which is one of my favourite Buddha images. The temple itself is actually run like a business and it is very crowded on holidays. Every tour bus stops here as well, but enjoying the temple is still exciting. 

There are many temples in the city along the Mekong, which are all important and all contain important Buddha images. We even tried all our negotiation skills to visit the temples and were turned back on several of them. Reason was the fact that they contain some of the oldest and most valuable Buddha images which are in danger to be stolen. Hence I did promise several abbots not to publish the photos I was allowed to take in some of them. 

Picturesque is the pagoda Phrathat Nong Khai to the east of the town. It offered a great view onto the river and Laos on the other side. The whole site is quiet and almost meditative when one sits on the stairs of the temple overlooking the Mekong. 

Another one of my favourite temples is Wat Sri Khun Muang, which unfortunately is more a parking lot than a temple ground, but many temples here are using their space as parking lots. The nearby market on the river is famous, so most tour groups and almost every private party comes here and is looking for parking. 

Along highway 211
The nearby Wat Sri Muang which is the starting point of the market was one reason for us to drive all the way up to Nong Khai on another trip. It was always locked up and we really wanted to visit the inside of the temple, so we got lucky one year and got permission to see it. 

Wat Phra Bat Nong Khai
To the west of the town we followed the small highway 211 along the Mekong and visited a few lonely temples with very friendly monks to get to one of the most sacred sites in Isan! It features on old Indian-style stupa, many highly respected Buddha images and a 16th century A.D. Lao-style chedi, called Phra That Bang Puan. This is a very quiet place, which allows one to stroll around and enjoy the temple structures. Many of the old structures have signs posted, explaining Buddhism and the importance of the structure. 

Wat Phra That Bang Puan
 Nong Khai is a special place to visit along the Mekong river and truly enjoyable. Unfortunately we did not yet make it across the Thai-Lao friendship bridge to visit Vientiane. Another good reason to come back here in the future.