Thursday, December 31, 2009

Isaan (อีสาน)

Isaan (อีสาน; also Isan), Thailand's north-east region, is an often overlooked part of the country.

Isaan is completely landlocked and resides on the Korat plateau, situated well above the central basin, the Chao Praya plains and Bangkok. In the North, East and South-East Isaan's border is marked by the Mekong River.

Isaan is a multicultural area where Laos, Cambodia and Thailand meet. Isaan has a rich history and culture. A mainly agricultural region, Isaan is the poorest part of Thailand.

The population of Isaan is around 22 million people.

Isaan consists of 19 Provinces

  1. Amnat Charoen
  2. Buriram
  3. Chaiyaphum
  4. Kalasin
  5. Khon Kaen
  6. Loei
  7. Maha Sarakham
  8. Mukdahan
  9. Nakhon Phanom
  10. Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat)
  11. Nong Bua Lamphu
  12. Nong Khai
  13. Roi Et
  14. Sakon Nakhon
  15. Si Saket
  16. Surin
  17. Ubon Ratchathani
  18. Udon Thani
  19. Yasothon
Mayor Cities

  • Buriram
  • Khon Kaen
  • Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat)
  • Nong Khai - gateway to Vientiane, Laos
  • Sakon Nakhon
  • Surin
  • Ubon Ratchathani
  • Udon Thani
  • Yasothon
  • Mahasarakham

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hmong New Year Festival

The Hmong New Year is a Hmong tradition which takes place annually in areas where large Hmong communities exist. In Laos provinces such as Luang Prabang, Xieng Khouang, Vientiane and Oudom Xay the festival is held at several different places.

During the New Year's celebration, Hmong people dress in traditional clothing and enjoy traditional foods, dance, music, bull fights, and other forms of entertainment.

The Hmong New Year occurs usually during November and/or December (at the end of the harvest season), serving as a thanksgiving holiday for the Hmong people.

Historically, the celebration was held to give thanks to ancestors and spirits as well as to welcome in a new beginning. The New Year celebration lasts for ten days.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Mekong River bank erosion in Vientiane

The stretch of Mekong River between Laos and Thailand is characterized by its meandering course and relatively low gradient through the Khorat plateau and the Isaan. The major consequence of this characteristic is the natural instability of the River banks, its erosion and a growing sedimentation of the river itself.

The Mekong River also changes largely in river height occurring between the rainy season in the months of May to September and the the dry seasons in the rest of the year.

Annual flooding along the Mekong River and its tributaries cause a progressive weakening of the river's embankments. It is this process, which creates steep sloping river banks at various locations along the Mekong river. This phenomenon poses a constant danger to village houses and temples, roads and agricultural land situated along the Mekong River.

Erosion occurs and is affected by the following natural factors: heavy rainfall, vanishing vegetation cover, river bank soil in-stability and river sedimentation amongst other conditions.

In Vientiane, the bigger parts of the Mekong River banks have been cleared of trees and vegetation. Some places along Don Chan Island have been re-used for agricultural purposes. Local people planted vegetables and crops along the banks – raising concerns with the Vientiane municipality and the Lao government about the increased erosion of the unprotected river banks during high flow periods.

Therefore in Vientiane and other places, river bank revetment is considered to be the best engineering solution to stop and prevent the more and more serious Mekong River bank erosion.

To date, approximately 3 km of river bank protection and revetment work has been undertaken and more is to follow.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Caves and Wat Dane Soung

Located some 30 km northwest of Vientiane, Dane Soung is accessible by following the RN13 towards the direction of Luang Prabang.

After 22 km, turn left at the village of Bane Houa Khoua follow the path until you reach a small lake.

Another 3 km further down the road (just after a small bridge), after a corner, leaving the road and take the straight track, which is in fairly good condition.

The track deteriorates somewhat but remains accessible to ordinary vehicle in the dry season.

You will soon be rewarded for your efforts with some nice nature and great views once you reach the top of a large sandstone plateau.

Leave your vehicle near the temple where you can admire a magnificent footprint of Buddha carved into the stone.

Explore the surrounding by walking between and through great slabs of sandstone. Many of them host caves, which are home to some Buddha statues of various sizes and indefinite period.

Continuing your walk eastward, you soon will arrive at the eastern edge of the site that dominates the plain of Vientiane. Weather permitting, you may encounter one of them most superb views over Vientiane, the Mekong River valley and the Nam Ngum reservoir.

The small Wat is been taken care of by one single eremite living there whole year round. Enjoy a tea or some coffee with him.

You may also show him the pictures you took from the area - he might give you some hints what you missed...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wat Si Muang - Vientiane's corner stone

During the monsoon months (April to September), flooding can make it difficult to explore the country side outside of Vientiane capital. It is preferable to conduct tours in and around Vientiane, a visit of Wat Si Muang is particularly suitable.

Wat Si Muang is less known as Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Sisaket, Wat Si Muang nevertheless has a special attraction.

Founded in 1563 under the reign of King Setthathirat it was destroyed by the Siamese in 1828, like most other temples in Vientiane, rebuilt in 1915 and renovated in 1960. Wat Si Muang is currently in good condition and well maintained. The temple is situated at the junction of Samsenthai and Setthathirat road. The statue of King Sisavangvong is in a nearby park just next to the main entrance.

The main attraction of Wat Si Muang however is the presence of a square pillar which perhaps was once part of a former Khmer sanctuary. This pillar became the lak muang or city pillar of Vientiane in 1560. The pillar is inside the sim.

Behind the main sanctuary, one can see a ruined Khmer twin stupa - inhabited by a large stork like bird.

Wat Si Muang plays and important role for the yearly That Luang Festival, held during the month of November.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Laos and Vietnam - border checkpoint improved

The upgraded border checkpoint in the South of Laos' Attapeu province and Vietnam 's Kon Tum province is expected to boost economic growth.

The Lao Phu Keua checkpoint is being constructed with a grant worth US$ 1.6 million from the Vietnamese government.

The checkpoint is scheduled to be fully operational within one year.

The Phu Keua checkpoint is located in the far east of of Attapeu province in the Phouvong district, which is 113 km from the provincial capital. The newly upgraded Phu Keua checkpoint will link with the Vietnamese Bo Y checkpoint.

Before only locals were able to cross the border by using this checkpoint.

It is believed, that the new International checkpoint will contribute to economic grow in the region.

The checkpoint will link the four southern most provinces of Laos (Saravan, Xekong, Attapeu and Champassak) with Vietnam and thus facilitate the transportation of good between the two countries .

Last the Phu Keua checkpoint serves as part of the east-west economic corridor not only Laos, but also Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Wat Phu Thok - “Isaan's Stairway to Heaven”

One of the most compelling and interesting destinations in the region to the east east of Nong Khai is the hilltop meditation retreat of Wat Phu Thok. Wat Phu Thok resides near the foot of two massive sandstone outcrops on a plain 35 km to the southeast of Muang Bueng Kan in Nong Khai province. Wat Phu Thok accommodates for fifty or so monks, which live in scattered huts on perches high above breathtaking cliffs on the sandstone mountains. Wat Phu Thok has been turned into a a quite Meditation retreat, famous with locals and foreigners alike.

While driving from Bueng Kan towards Wat Phu Thok, the two sandstone outcrops comes into ones sight long before one gets there. Its impressive red sandstone wall, surrounded by green vegetation and lush forests on the narrow Khorat plateau is most astonishing. While getting closer to the rock, the white lines on its wall across the whole mountain reveal themselves as wooden walkways, constructed in seven connected levels, which represent the seven different stages of enlightenment in the Buddhist belief.

The beautiful garden at the base is reflected in a small lake and houses a marble chedi, which commemorates Phra Ahjan Juen, the founder of Wat Phu Thok. He founded the temple in 1968 and died in a plane crash ten years later on the way to Bangkok.

By following long, sometimes slippery, wooden staircases takes you to the third level. Here the visitor is presented with a choice of two routes which will finally lead to the top. One – the left way is more interesting – as it leads around the rock to the fifth and most important level of the Wat Phu Thok complex, where temple's main Buddha statue is housed in the Sala Yai in a dimly lit small cavern.

The artificial ledges, which are built into the rock and across the northeastern face are not for the fainthearted, as crossing these bridges gives the feeling of walking into the air...But they will lead you finally to the dramatic northwestern end of the level five. Here a deep crevice can be crossed by using a wooden bridge which was constructed by monks to connect to the open-sided Buddha viharn.

This spot allows for most stunning views over a broad sweep of the Isaan countryside and across to the second, uninhabited sandstone outcrop. The flat top of the hill forms the seventh level, where you can wander through overgrown paths and thick forest. Make sure, that you remember where your entrance/exit to the seventh level was, as it is easy to lose the orientation on the dense jungle covered hill top - or one could say to find enlightenment will searching the way back...

The visit with my family to Wat Phu Thok was amongst the best experiences and day trips I ever did.

A great, easy and pleasant journey.