Tag - shrines

Savannakhet, Laos

Savannakhet, Laos
Savannakhet, Laos
Savannakhet, Laos

Located in the southern section of Laos, Savannakhet province is bordered by both Thailand in the west and Vietnam in the east. Many travellers pass this way on their way in or out of Thailand as the Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge spans the mighty Mekong River, connecting Savannakhet with Mukdahan in Thailand.

Another way to reach the town is by boat from northern Lao areas such as Vientiane and Tha Khaek or from Pakse in the south. Travelling through Laos by boat can be very relaxing and a great way to see the countryside at a leisurely pace.

The name Savannakhet means ‘city of paradise’ in the Laos language and this is Laos’ second-largest city. This is a good place to pause for a while as the town has a lot to offer tourists and there are a good number of guesthouses, hotels and restaurants serving international food. You will also find plenty of Asian delights such as curries and spicy salads from Thailand and Vietnamese noodles.

Savannakhet’s close proximity to Thailand and Vietnam means that you will discover a number of different styles as you explore. Take a look around the city’s old Vietnamese temples, French colonial quarters and Buddhists temples. Among the most popular temples are Wat Inghang and Wat Xayaphoum, while the large Catholic church provides an interesting contrast.

If you are interested in the history of this unique area, take a day trip to Heuanehine or Stone House. This rocky house was designed by the Kham people and is thought by many to be one of the most important and interesting sites in the province. The house was built somewhere between 553 and 700 AD and contains a collection of Khmer artwork.er important site is the That Phon stupa, which was built around the same time as the Stone House. Unlike most of the religious shrines and temples in Laos, this stupa is Hindu in origin and dedicated to Phra Shiva and other Hindu deities.

Before you leave Savannakhet, drop by the Dinosaur Exhibition Hall in the town of Khanthabouly at the heart of the province. Here you will find a collection of dinosaur remains that were discovered by an intrepid French scientist in the 1930s. This is one of the few collections of dinosaur remains in Laos and they make an interesting break from exploring the country’s temples and jungles.

 

Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia

Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia
Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia
Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia

Located in the southern province of Takeo, Angkor Borei is one of the oldest sites in Cambodia, started in the 5th century and predating the famous Angkor complex. Angkor Borei was originally named Vyadhapura, and this picturesque town is divided into two halves by a gently flowing river and encircled by an ancient and gently crumbling wall.

Those who have a love for history and culture are sure to get a lot out of their visit to Angkor Borei, which was established more than 2,500 years ago. However, archaeological findings suggest that the town was established much earlier than this, as artefacts have been discovered here that date all the way back to the Neolithic period. To view these and a whole host of other interesting findings, visitors should check out the displays that can be found in the local museum.

Head 20 kilometres out of town and you will come to the hill of Phnom Da. Climb the hill of spectacular views of the area and to explore an 11th century brick temple commissioned by King Rudravarman as a tribute to the Hindu deity Shiva. Make sure you also check out the gently crumbling temple of Ashram Maha Rosei, which features unique decorations and intricate carvings.

A series of five manmade caves can be found around Phnom Da, which were originally created to serve as Buddhist shrines and were once the hideouts of the Viet Cong. One of the most striking and mysterious sites in this part of the world is the so-called floating bounder, which balances on three points so that seen from the right angle it appears to float in the air. This is also a good place to take in stunning views of the area all the way across the Vietnam.

An interesting way to get to Angkor Borei is by travelling by bus from Phnom Pehn to the city of Takeo and then taking a boat along the Prek Angkor River. The boat will stop for a while to allow enough time to explore Angkor Borei and then continue to Phnom Da.

Ko Kred – Bangkok’s Hidden Gem

Ko Kred - Bangkok's Hidden Gem
Ko Kred - Bangkok's Hidden Gem
Ko Kred - Bangkok's Hidden Gem

The artificial island of Ko Kred lies cuddled between two bends of the Chao Phyra River at a point where the river wends to its narrowest. It is a counterfeit structure, as this straight and narrow channel was cut to speed the journey of river traffic as it plied between Ayutthaya and the Gulf of Thailand.

This 10 kilometer square island is a delight. There are no cars, and the roads are narrow concrete strips splayed out around the island. The only traffic is an occasional motorbike or bicycle. What bliss, a stone’s thrown from Bangkok, a city that is being strangled by the motor vehicle!
 
As you step off the ferry that has brought you across the river from Pakkred in a brief minute or two, you step back into a Thailand of 50 years ago. This island is home to a community of Mon people who came here from their homeland in the river Kwai valley north of Kanchanaburi . The temples and Buddha shrines scattered around the island are visible evidence of this neo-Burmese heritage.
 
The island is the site of a pottery industry. The rich clay soil provides an ideal medium for the red terracotta earthenware pots and water containers that were the mainstay of this economy. Sadly, others elsewhere, produce alternatives at a cheaper price and brick kilns have outlived their usefulness. Now the potters have turned their attention to the tourists who visit the island, usually on a Sunday in one of the large tour boats that sail up river from Taksin Bridge. However, the rich soil also supports a verdant landscape of palms, and fruit trees giving the place a wonderfully tranquil and rural feel. As a visitor you can walk around the island, hire a bicycle or zip quickly by on one of several motor cycle taxis. It’s quite a long walk, just over 5 kilometers, but a wonderful one at that! The path takes you under plantain tress with bunches of bananas overhanging the walk way and down below limes, papayas, pomeloes and all sorts of fruit I cannot identify grow in profusion.
 
For the really discerning travellers, there are rooms available to rent a very reasonable Bt 200 per night. The KoKred Restaurant has a verandah that juts out over the river. It is an ideal venue to eat or just sit, sip a drink and watch the sand barges and other water traffic as they glide by.
 
You don’t need to take the big cruise boats, chock full of tourists. Instead make you way to Victory Monument on the BTS. This missile like structure, which commemorates the Indo-Chinese War of 1940-41, serves as transport hub for Bangkok. Walk along the arterial skyway, and below you will see a sea of bus stands. Go as far as you can, descend and then wait for a 166 Bus. This will take you to Pakkred by motorway, thus avoiding the worst of the traffic jams. On reaching Pakkred, which is the terminus. You alight obliquely opposite the TMB bank, walk straight ahead until you encounter the motorcycle taxi-rank situated at the rear entrance of Jusco. Mumble something about KoKred and the driver will take you to the ferry stage at Wat Sana Nua. Enjoy the trip!

About the author:
Alister Bredee is a freelance author specialising in articles on health related topics.

Ancient City

Ancient City, Near Bangkok, Thailand
Ancient City, Near Bangkok, Thailand
Ancient City, Bangkok, Thailand
Ancient City, Bangkok, Thailand
Ancient City, Bangkok, Thailand
Ancient City, Bangkok, Thailand

There are so many interesting places to explore in Thailand that trying to visit them all can take many months, if not years. One good solution to this is the Ancient City, which contains 116 replica monuments, buildings and shrines other places of interest in Thailand.

Officially named Muang Boran in Thai, the Ancient City covers 320 acres and is arranged in the shape of Thailand. The park was opened to the public on 11th February 1972. In my opinion, the best way to explore the park is by bicycle, which can be hired for just 30 baht by the park entrance.

CITY 1 After paying my admittance fee, I pass through the city wall and gate. Modelled after Thailand’s oldest stone fence, which dates back to the 12th century B.E and is situated near the Maha That Temple in Sukhothai, the gate features beautifully decorated rounded pillars.

I cycle through the gates and first come across a reproduction of a city sala, which is a wooden building, constructed by townspeople within the city walls to act as a meeting hall. The one here is modelled on Wat Yai Intharam in Chonburi.

After looking around the sala I cycle past the stupa of Phra Maha That to the old market town. This mini town has been recreated to represent the atmosphere of an ancient Thai self-contained community. There are shops selling goods, theatres, casinos and religious monuments. One of the best features of the Ancient City is the fact that you are free to wander in and around the structures, and I spend some time exploring the traditional-style houses and shops, which are filled with relics and implements. Everything is perfectly placed and it feels as though this is an actual village, the inhabitants having left momentarily to attend a meeting or festival.

As I climb on my bike once more, I am particularly drawn to the bell tower, a red-hued wooden structure elaborately carved and decorated in the ancient style.

Scattered with pagodas, statues and carvings all following the Chinese style, the palace garden of King Rama II is not to be missed. Next to it, the audience hall of Thonburi, with its murals depicting the fall of Ayutthaya provides an interesting insight into Thai history and style.

Situated next to a beautiful pond, the Khun Phaen House shows an Ayutthaya-style house, which would have been owned by a wealthy family. I park my bike for a minute and wander around, gazing enviously at how the other half lived.

Back on my bike, I ride past a large statue depicting a battle atop elephants, past a wooded area and pause briefly at three stone pagodas, replicas of those at Three Pagoda Pass near Kanchanaburi. The originals are a bit difficult to get to unless you are willing to go on a package tour with dozens of other tourists, so I welcome the opportunity to view these at my leisure.

Also not to be missed is the reproduction of the Grand Palace, complete with murals but minus the crowds and the nearby Sanphet Prasat Palace of Ayutthaya, complete with shining silver roof and red brick ruins.

Further into the park, I am taken by the sight of the Phra Kaew Pavilion, an octagonal, red-roofed building set beside a lily pond and ornate bridge.

But for me, the highlight of the park is the footprint of the Lord Buddha, originally located at Saraburi. I have often read about this relic, which legend tells as having been discovered by a hunter named Phran Boon. One day, the hunter shot and wounded a deer. After following the deer to a pond it was drinking from, Phran Boon saw the deer’s wounds magically disappear.

Investigating the pond, the hunter realised that it was actually the footprint of Buddha. An impression of the footprint is located in an elaborately decorated shrine atop a flight of steps and for me, visiting the replica is still an auspicious event.

I spend the next two hours cycling around the Ancient City, past the magnificent ruins of Lopburi, Singburi, Phitsanulok and Sukhothai.

The outstanding Garden of the Gods provides another resting point, as does the scale version of a traditional floating market, complete with vegetable sellers in boats, bridges and networks of waterways.

At the very north of the park I am filled with awe by the reproduction of the Prasat Phra Wihan, originally of Si Sa Ket. This ancient monument is seated atop a high hill, reached by a long flight of steps. Surrounded on all sides by lush plant life, I am reminded of the monuments of Angkor Wat. Climbing to the top offers spectacular views over the park and of the lush fields and waterways beyond.

Cycling around the Ancient City takes me about four hours and each site offers a new surprise. As I approach the exit I am greeted by yet one more surprise. The enchanting rainbow bridge is a tribute to Thai people’s belief that rainbows symbolise Thailand’s fertility, happiness and natural beauty.

As I reach the city gate once more I feel reluctant to leave and contemplate going around again. However, the park will be closing soon, so I’ll have to wait for another day.

Information Address:

Samut Prakan,
km 33 (old) Sukhumvit Road,
Bangpoo

The admission fee is 300 baht for adults, 200 baht for children.

Website: www.ancientcity.com


Getting There:

A taxi from Bangkok should cost no more than 400 baht. Alternatively, catch air-con bus 511 from the Southern bus terminal (Ekamai) to the end of the line. Then take minibus no 36, which passes by the entrance.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is currently living in Bangkok where she she is a travel writer.

Incense

Incense
Incense
Incense
Incense

In many parts of the world incense is an important part of daily life, associated with religion, ritual and health. As you wind your way through narrow streets in bazaars and market places stalls are crammed with colourful boxes of incense with exotic and evocative names and the air is filled with rich incense smoke as you wander past temples and shrines. But what exactly is incense and why does it play such a prominent role in society, especially in temples?

Incense traditionally comes from tree resins, but can also be produced from certain bark, flowers, seeds and roots. There are two main types of incense; Eastern and Western.

Western incense comes from the gum resins of tree bark such as the sticky gum found on fir trees. The gum hardens to become resin, which is collected by cutting it from the tree with a knife. The pieces of resin are called grains and are sprinkled on burning coal to release their fragrance.

Eastern incense is produced from plants such as sandalwood, patchouli, agar wood and vetiver. These ingredients are ground using a pestle and mortar. Water is then added to make a paste along with saltpetre – potassium nitrate – to help the mixture burn evenly. The mixture is then processed in various ways.

In India, the mixture is spread on a stick of bamboo to make agarbatti, or an incense stick, whilst the Chinese sieve the mixture to form strands. In some cases, incense cones are also formed and incense paste can be formed into Chinese characters, which bring good fortune when burned.

Throughout history, incense has been used by many different cultures and religious faiths to produce a wide range of results. In ancient times it was believed that plants were scared and closely associated with the gods. The burning of certain plants was believed to drive away demons and encourage the gods to appear on earth.

In Hinduism, incense made from sacred wood and flowers is burnt to purify the atmosphere and provide worshippers with a clear frame of mind to perform ritualistic worship or meditation.

Egyptians associate incense with the dead. Incense is specially blended with each ingredient selected for its unique magical properties, which carry the soul of the dead to heaven along with the prayers and good wishes of the mourners.

The Native Americans are also known to have burned mixtures of herbal smoke in ceremonial cleansing and healing rituals. These rituals date back thousands of years and are believed to drive away negative energies and restore balance. Herbs and plants such as cedar, sweetgrass, sage and tobacco were tied into bunches and fanned through the energy field to attract positive forces.

Incense is widely used throughout Buddhism for a number of purposes. It is burned in large quantities at all religious ceremonies and in daily worship. In Tibetan Buddhism, incense is also used in healing and can be used to treat a wide range of symptoms including skin diseases and fatigue.

It has long been thought that the burning of certain fragrances can heighten the senses of sight and smell and in today’s society incense is playing a prominent role in aromatherapy.

Many aromatherapy specialists promote the extensive use of incense, attributing it with a wide range of beneficial properties. Certain types in incense are used to reduce anxiety, stress and fear, alleviate insomnia, accelerate healing, revitalise and renew energy.

It is believed that each fragrance has its own vibration and can be carefully selected to aid mood enhancement and assist personal development.

To produce the most beneficial effects for your personality, many aromatherapists recommend blending your own incense. This is a lot simpler than in sounds and can also be a lot of fun.

To start, choose a selection of wood and spices that you feel positive towards. You should use at least one resin or wood as a base, which should be frozen for at least 15 minutes before use. The ingredients must be in the form of a fine powder; you can use either a pestle and mortar or a coffee grinder to produce the powder.

Although there is no limit to the ingredients you can use, it is easiest to start with just three, such as one wood and two herbs. Mix all the dry ingredients together and then add the resins. Place the mixture in a ceramic dish or a large seashell and set light to it to release the calming aroma.

Most incense sticks for sale in shops or on street stalls are produced in factories in China or India. Production is simple and economic. Large bundles of wooden sticks – known as ‘punk’ sticks – are bought from a specialist supplier in bundles of 100 sticks.

The ends of the sticks are cleaned and the bundles selected for a particular fragrance with the ends painted the colour relating to that fragrance. The bundles are then left to dry overnight.

The fragrance oils are mixed the next day and the punk-covered ends of the bundles are dipped into the fragrance and left to dry overnight once more.

Once dry, bundles are individually wrapped in wax paper, sealed in plastic bags and placed in bins to await orders for sale.

So there you have it. From cleaning the mind to honouring the spirits and mourning the dead, incense is used in numerous ways by many different cultures and religions. However, all seem to agree that these small scented sticks have the power to release human spirit and potential.
 
About the author:

Kirsty Turner This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!