Udon Thani, Chaiyaphum, Ban Phai, Ban Chiang: "Ancient Swirls"

Udon Thani

Thailand

March 8, 2005

Dear Family and Friends,

I got tired of just sitting around at The Honey Inn so after a few days of R&R I hit the road again, this time heading to northeast Thailand.

It was a short but "monumental" ten day trip. Even a little bizarre.

Chaiyaphun. I thought was going to see a silk-weaving village outside of town but in the searing heat and under the penetrating and debilitating sun I lost my patience. (Another couple I met later in the day had the same problem. On the way out of town, on the bus, we saw the sign, facing the "wrong" direction.)

Instead of the silk, I found a large Buddhist temple and a very large two story Chinese Pagoda - under construction. I managed to smile my around the construction workers and walk up to the second floor, surrounded by dragons and an assortment of freshly painted Chinese icons and paintings.

Mancha Kiri. I needed to change buses in this little town. (See "Bali Longa") My map showed an attraction nearby called Turtle Village. I raced like a hare to see it. Dozens of turtles, alive and otherwise. An Asian symbol for knowledge and longevity is the tortoise. I took a "ride" on one.

Chonobot. I visited the Thai Silk Exhibition Hall on the campus of Khon Kaen Industrial and Community Education College. The campus was spacious and green, the exhibits were educational and carefully arranged, the students, cheerful and the gift shop irresistible.

Ban Phai. As I arrived at this small town I hired a tuk-tuk to take me to Prasat Peuay Noi. The driver first took me to his home. Then we took his 300cc motorcycle. Compared to the motorbikes I had been taking, this Honda was a monster.

We took a one-hour power ride through the fields to the temple. The guidebook says "the site is rich in sculpted lintels; the restored pediments of sandstone are also intricately carved." (OK my fellow Art Appreciation 101 students: Who can tell me the difference between a lintel and a pediment? Extra credit for cornice and gable.)

Ban Phai still. I loved this little town. I waited an extra day to see the Chinese New Year festivities including a Chinese Opera performed on a stage set up in the middle of the main street. Again, the advantage of independent travel: stay longer or leave earlier...follow your instincts and give in to your impulses.

Udon Thani. A big city with lots to see. Pu Ya Shrine is an outrageous, ostentatious, ornate temple built by the local wealthy Chinese-Thai merchants. Lak Meuang (city Phallus-Pillar) where the city's guardian deity is thought to reside.

On a shady street near a lake sat a temple and my favorite outdoor sculpture image: a young woman doting on a pleasantly satisfied young man who is protected by the seven-headed naga. Check out the grin. Hey, this is Asia! (See photo 36)

At yet another temple nearby, they were preparing for a festival. I returned the next evening.

Nok Noi. Along with thousands of others sitting on the lawns, I was fortunate to attend a performance of Nok Noi (Little Bird)- the most celebrated dance troupe in Thailand. More than 400 dancers and musicians.

Believe me my fellow Terpsichore devotees, this event was just outstanding. Forty to fifty dancers at one time, astonishing costumes of flowing decorated gowns and feathered headdresses of extravagant pastel colors, complex dance routines swirling about, accompanied by exciting, dramatic, optimistic soprano voices and exotic orchestral music from a platform behind and high above the main stage. What a show!

Ban Chiang. More swirls. A day trip from Udon, to see excavation pits and a museum exhibit of pottery and bronze objects of a local pre-historic culture dating back at least 4000 years:

"The Ban Chiang culture, an agricultural society that once thrived in northeastern Thailand, is known for its bronze metallurgy and clay pottery, especially pots and vases with distinctive burnt-ochre swirl designs, most of which are associated with burial sites. Seven layers of civilization have been excavated. The area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992." I watched the local potters and bought a small souvenir with a swirl.

The local bus service tends to end early in the afternoon so I got my first hitchhike ride back to Udon with a lovely young man and his family. With a smile, they brought me to the door of my hotel.

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