Daily Archives: May 7, 2006

Out and about in Ang Thong

All of my travels around North West Ang Thong, and beyond, were done by car or pickup truck. This was comfortable and convenient, though I was often not sure exactly where I was. Also, I did not get a chance to discover whether I really could survive for long on my own devices, which may or may not be a good thing…

As well as visiting what could be described as tourist destinations (which I’ll talk about later) we made a lot of trips to restaurants (all excellent), markets, or the 7/11. Occasional trips to ATMs also posed no particular difficulties.

Thinking back on my trip I realise that in my ten days in Thailand I did not say one word to a foreigner. Furthermore, I only recall seeing one or two in Ang Thong province. On the other hand, I did not feel like a curiosity either. Thai people appeared to hardly notice me. If they did they would smile or respond as best they could to my feeble attempts at communication.

The cities are small, as you can see above. If you look carefully you’ll notice that we really should be on the left side of those double yellow lines. Driving like this would cause havoc in most western countries, but in Asia the oncoming traffic anticipates it, making it marginally safer. I just wish my Thai friends would wear seatbelts more often.

On Mondays there was a market nearby, with a variety of food, clothing, and household goods for sale. Not much for a tourist to buy, though I did get some shirts and shorts. People to whom I’ve shown the above picture have commented on the power lines. If they had seen the power sockets on the pole and the extension cords that the vendors ran from them they would have been even more surprised.

Inevitably, events like this are noisy, often with incredibly loud music being broadcast around the lot. But they are good fun and there is plenty to eat and drink.

Motorcycles are, of course, a widely used form of transport. I’m not sure what these workers are going to spray. I still can’t get used to the hats and balaclavas!

There are tens of thousands of temples in Thailand. It’s hard to avoid tripping over them. The local temple seemed almost deserted most of the time. However, some nights it turned into a carnival, with music (loud of course!), rides, competitions, and all kinds of stalls selling food, toys, and other items.

One of the buildings had some very graphic illustrations of what I imagine happens to people who live unwholesome lives. Scary stuff.

Towards the end of my stay I walked down to the temple to have a more careful look. A couple of km in the 35C heat had me drenched with sweat. The workmen doing some renovations looked concerned and offered me some beer and I accepted a mouthful, though it did not seem quite right to be drinking there. They offered me a ride home, but I explained in my broken Thai that I wanted to look around and take some photographs. They did understand one or two important English words. As well as “beer” they understood “New Zealand” and “rugby”.

After looking around for a while I started on the walk home. But I only got about 100m before a policeman stopped and offered me a ride on his motorcycle. This time I gratefully accepted.

Rural Thailand is such a friendly place…

A Magic Day At Khao Phra Vihaan

Some of the great attractions for visitors to South East Asia are the Angkor period Khmer monuments that can be found stretching from Angkor Wat in Cambodia to the various monuments that can be found in North-East Thailand. The principal monuments in Isaan are Prasad Hin Phimai, Phanom Rung Hill and Khao Phra Vihaan.

Prasad Hin Phimai and Phanom Rung are probably the most well known of the three principal Khmer monuments in Isaan with the subject of this blog – Khao Phra Vihaan not as well known due to its relative isolation.

Khao Phra Vihaan

Khao Phra Vihaan can be found in the Isaan province of Sisaket and sits atop a ridge on the Dangrek mountain range, which forms part of the border with Thailand and Cambodia. Although geographically in Isaan, the monument itself is actually on Cambodian soil. This came about after a World Court decision in 1962 that recognised Cambodian sovereignty over the monument – a continuing sore point between Thailand and Cambodia.

In the past 30 years Khao Phra Vihaan became a backdrop to the catastrophes that have befallen Cambodia during those times. Occupied by the Khmer Rouge, fought over by Cambodian factions and seeded with land mines – the monument became more military outpost than a place of historical importance.

My wife Mali and I first attempted to visit Khao Phra Vihaan in 1997 and got to within 1000 metres of the monument. We were turned back by a small contingent of Thai soldiers who advised that Khmer Rouge Guerillas had reoccupied the monument. Between 1997 and 2003 we attempted to visit several times but luck of the draw had it that the monument was closed due to either strife in Cambodia or nitpicking between Thai and Cambodian bureaucrats.

In November 2003 we tried again, were successful and the following is what happened the day of our trip. After arriving in Sisaket province we drove to the top of the Dangrek range to the Thai/Cambodia border. The border abounded with uniformed officials and police who just shrugged us past the first checkpoint. The next gauntlet was purchasing two entrance tickets (one Thai and the other Cambodian)

We then moved through a small Cambodian market that sold everything from handicrafts to “Alain Delon” cigarettes. It even had a few gold stores with much of the merchandise sourced from pawn shops at Cambodian Casinos which of course are heavily frequented by Thai gamblers. At the market a young Cambodian girl latched herself to our party, refused to accept no and we ended up engaging her as a guide for the day.

main staircase

Entering through a steel gate we commenced to ascend the first staircase, which was relatively difficult due to the sharp slope and the unevenness and disrepair of the stonework. The weather was cool with misty rain at times which only added to the atmosphere.

Buddhist Nun

We soon came across some of the modern realities and history of Khao Phra Vihaan – landmines. There were roped off areas with skull and cross bone warning signs. Parties of Cambodian mine clearers were hard at work. As we slowly ascended the monument the atmosphere of the place increasingly captivated us. At the middle of the monument we found a small Buddhist Shrine which had a resident Mae Chee (Buddhist Nun). Mali stopped to light incense and offer prayers.

Artillery Piece

Throughout the tumble down nature of the Monuments impressive stone reliefs were further evidence of Khao Phra Vihaan’s experience with modern times – two concrete lined bomb shelters constructed by the Khmer Rouge and an old artillery piece. We also came across several amputee Cambodian vendors selling flower garlands and soft drinks.

North-West Cambodia

When we reached the end of the complex we were presented with a magnificent view right across North-West Cambodia. Through the scuddy clouds you could see a still green terrain, dirt roads and the sheer drop down the mountain range into Cambodia.

It had been a magic visit. Not many visitors (though I believe it gets very crowded on weekends/Public holidays but I suppose what else is news) unlike Angkor Wat which we visited in 2004. But best of all it had atmosphere and for a few hours at least we held it in our embrace.

Of course Khao Phra Vihaan has now been discovered, but I hope that Thailand and Cambodia work out their differences and ensure that this very special place be preserved forever.