Nong Khai: Sala Kaew Ku: "Buddhas Bizarre"
March 10, 2005
Nong Khai. "More than 620km from Bangkok and 55km from Udon Thani, Nong Khai is where Highway 2 ends, at the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River. Across the river is the Lao People's Democratic Republic."
Some people love it here. I hated it. Typical border-town phlegmatic attitude and apathetic behavior. So un-typical Thai. But to follow my own travel philosophy, "Be happy where you are," I decided to see the sights.
Wat Pho Chai. "This wat is renowned for its large Lan Xang-era Buddha. The head of the image is pure gold, the body is bronze and the utsanit (flame-shaped head ornament is set with rubies. The altar on which the image sits features elaborately executed gilded wooden carvings and mosaics, while the ceiling bears wooden rosettes in the late Ayuthaya style."
Sala Kaew Ku. "This strange Hindu-Buddhist shrine, established in 1976, is a tribute to the wild imagination of Luang Pu Bunleua Surirat. Luang Pu (Venerable Grandfather) was a Brahmanic yoga-priest-shaman who made a concoction of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, mythology and iconography into a cryptic whole."
"The temple has many bizarre cement statues of Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha, and every other Hindu and Buddhist deity imaginable, as well as secular figures."
In addition to these sights, I wanted to cruise on the Mekong for a day or two, heading north and west. But the rainy season had not begun and the river was so low that no large boats were sailing. I will add this trip to my "To Do" list.
I left Nong Khai the next morning and headed back to Udon Thani.
In Udon, I met "Lucky" who was happy and proud to show me the scars and bullet holes he received in Bosnia. "Lucky" because an inch either way . . . .
There are many ex-servicemen living here. They were consultants to the Thai Air Force or they served in Vietnam and returned to Southeast Asia. Who can blame them? The weather . . . , the food . . . , the housing . . . , transportation . . . , entertainment . . . ! A small pension goes a long way. A large pension goes a very long way.
I stayed in Udon for a few days and then took the train south to Khorat and then a bus to Nang Rong. I promised my friend Lek we would celebrate her birthday together. (See "Jan the Caterer")
My journey "Up North" was just a lot of fun. Through mountains and across the plains, to large cities, small towns and villages, I traveled by train, bus and mini-bus, mini-van and tuk-tuk, motorbike and motorcycle.
On the road, at the markets, at hotels and restaurants, I met many local people who were helpful and generous.
And I saw some bizarre, monumental sights along the way.
I will return to this area and then cruise up the Mekong along the Thai-Lao border. There is still so much to see in Northern Thailand.