Category Archives: Si Sa Ket

Biking to Sisaket

Here we are again……. and last weekend was a long one for all Thai nationals who were out celebrating the 5th of December; the date in Thailand which is both Father’s Day and the birthday of His Majesty the King.

This time around, I planned a trip to the quiet and unexplored north-eastern province of Sisaket. Some research had told me that this province was home to some very nice and ancient tourist attractions.

Located along the Cambodian border, Sisaket is renowned for some of the most magnificent Khmer ruins in Thailand. Most notable are the two ruined sanctuaries of Wat Sa Kamphaeng Yai and Noi, However, the most famous Khmer site is actually just over the border in Cambodia. That is, Khao Phra Wihan (Prasat Preah Vihear) which was built over 10 centuries ago and is one of the most spectacular Angkor-period sites.

The most enjoyable part of my trip was to be on my bike (Iron Lady) for the nearly 650 km ride to Sisaket. I left Suphanburi on Thursday afternoon at about 4.00 in the afternoon. I know it was a bit of a late start to the trip, but having to attend to some other matters, I couldn’t leave any earlier that day. Anyway, I preferred to take my time and do this trip in two and a half days . Half way to Sisaket, I made my first stop in Khorat (Nakhorn Ratchasima) and feeling rather exhausted, I quickly decided to stay at the first hotel in sight – just 400baht a night. Not bad for a basic but clean air-conditioned room. Being the cool season though, I didn’t even use the air-con during the night.

After having a long-awaited and much needed hot shower, I went out and found a country club near my hotel, which had a local band playing Thai folk songs. It must have been the new after-shave or something, as a table of attractive local ladies who were sat near-by soon showed a bit of interest in this lonesome Farang and invited him over to join them – and of course I didn’t refuse! A pleasant evening it was going to be with drinks and laughter. Time for bed (alone of course!) we asked for the bills, which were very acceptable – and to my surprise the ladies quickly swiped my bill and paid that too.

The next day I left Khorat early at about 7:00 in the morning because I had 300+ km ride ahead.

Arriving in Sisaket in the early afternoon, I had my first meal in the province, a basic Thai noodle soup at only 20 Baht. Now I was in a hurry to visit Wat Lan Khuad, about 63 km from the provincial seat ,,over good flat roads in between the paddy rice fields .This was one of those rare moments in Thailand were I experienced complete quietness. Cars and bikes were so far away from here, and the absolute silence was so blissful and tranquil. I next found the roads to Khun Han the hamlet where the temple is, to be very well paved except for some pit holes; nothing special however, to worry about. I finally arrived at the temple late afternoon.

What interested me most of all was visiting the famous Wat Lan Khuat temple , which literally means “Temple of a Million Bottles”. It is a bizarre, yet entirely serious Buddhist temple complex. A short gossip with a local monk told me, they started collecting bottles to build it and decorate their shelters in 1984, and more and more people got involved in collecting bottles for the initiative, until a sufficient number was collected to build the temple (more than a million). Totally unique.

The glass in the recycled bottles allows decent diffraction of light and is easy to maintain. The monastery is completely built out of beer bottles. So, if you have any plans to build a cheap and easy maintainable house, start drinking beer and collecting the bottles (since you may need half a million though, it is advised that you invite some friends to join in too).

As it was too late to return to Sisaket, I asked a monks where I could spend the night. Promptly, he offered me to stay for free with his relatives only 6 km away from the temple. I decided to try it as Thai people are mostly very welcoming to foreigners .I hurried myself first to the market to get some local food. I also bought deep fried grasshoppers , crickets and some local insects which I don’t know their English names .The whole family welcomed me with open arms and within just a few moments later nearly the whole village was enjoying with us. Everyone was so nice and we had a great time. I tucked myself in around 11.00.

The last day of my trip was a visit to the controversial Khao Phra Wihan National Park. The entrance to the park and temple ruins is generally open to everyone and no Cambodian visa is required, but on this occasion it was closed due to Cambodian-Thai political tensions. Khao Phra Wihan (Preah Vihear in Khmer) is one of the region’s greatest Angkor-period monuments. At 600m-high cliff on the brow of the Dangrek (Dong Rek) the large temples on the plains of Cambodia offer stunning views. I didn’t have time to visit the whole park at once, but the amiable ranger told me that deep down in the forest you can still find remains of previous artillery fighting during Pol Pot’s reign.

Waved out by the ever friendly rangers, I left this impressive national park behind me. I hadn’t had anything to eat yet, and I having a 2 hrs ride towards Sri Sa Ket still ahead, I made a fast stop at a local food stall. That was enough for the time being. That’s one of the best things about Thailand, there is food available everywhere and it’s easy to find. The trip towards Sisaket was a very relaxing trip, again it was real quiet with no cars or bikes in the neighborhood. The surrounding views were so peaceful I was only riding at the speed of 60 – 70 kms per hour really amazing, for the very first time in my life . I was surprised with myself that I was riding so slow.

A few hours later I arrived in Sisaket and moved into the Sisaket Hotel which was (just as in Khorat) only 400 Baht for an air-conditioned room – which again, I didn’t need. Fan rooms at 250baht weren’t available.

8:00 in the evening and in need of some munchies, I remembered there was a night market near Sisaket’s main railway station offering a real feast for Isarn food lovers like me. A place where you can find any kind of local ‘Jungle’ food consisting of fried insects like: grasshoppers , beetles, caterpillars and scorpions etc. Contemplating no more, I headed straight there.

I had Yam Khai Mot Daeng (red ant eggs salad) and Larb Dip (spicy raw meat salad). Typical Isarn delicacies I simply love. Some foreigners looked at me and their mouth fell open. With my belly still not satisfied quite enough, I ordered another delicatessen for dessert – a few crispy grasshoppers and crickets, very delicious .Total damage for that food was the huge amount of 130baht…. only , why is life so beautiful in Thailand?

After forking out the cash, and knowing I had a long trip ahead the next day back to my hometown of Suphanburi, I went back to my hotel straight away for a good night’s sleep.
I’m very satisfied about my trip to Sisaket a quiet and rural province in the north-east of Thailand. Both the temple and national park are memorable places to visit and worthy of being put on your Thai itinerary trips. The total damage for this 3 day trip was no more than 2000baht. So cheap can Thailand be…….

To be continued. I’ll be back (who said that again ……?)

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.