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.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Phra That Renu and the Phu Thai minority

Nakhon Renu is home to the Phra That Renu and to the Phu Thai minority group, which traditionally settled along the Mekong River and its tributaries. Phu Thai people preserved their unique tradition of the Baci ceremony.

Definition: "Briefly the Baci is a ceremony to celebrate a special event, whether a marriage, a homecoming, a welcome, a birth, or one of the annual festivals. A mother is given a baci after she has recovered form a birth, the sick are given bacis to facilitate a cure, officials are honored by bacis, and novice monks are wished luck with a baci before entering the temple. The Baci ceremony can take place any day of the week and all year long, preferably before noon or before sunset. [...]”. (Lao Heritage Foundation)

Phra That Renu is located within the compound of Wat That Renu. The 35 meter high That Renu is an imitation of the famous Phra That Phanom, which is located further south along the Mekong River. From Phra That Renu to Phra That Phanom it is approximately 40 km. Phra That Renu was built in 1918. The stupa itself houses the Buddhist Tipitaka - the three divisions of the Buddhist Canon, consisting of gold and silver Buddha images, some other precious items and regalia of local noblemen.

Wat That Renu can be reached from highway 212, and the following the road 2105 for another 7 kilometers.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wat Phra That Phanom (วัดพระธาตุพนม)

Wat Phra That Phanom (วัดพระธาตุพนม) is a sacred chedi, located in a small village with the same name on the border of the Mekong River, in the southern part of Nakhon Phanom Province, northeastern Thailand or

better known as Isaan. The temple is around a kilometer from the banks of the mighty Mekong River located on a small sacred hill called Phu Kamphra.

According to legends the That Phanom chedi contains Lord Buddha's breast bone (Urangkha That). With this relic, the Phra That Phanom chedi is one of the most important Theravada Buddhist structures in the upper Isaan region and much revered by Isaan and Lao people alike.

In the tradition of Theravada Buddhism of Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand it is commonly believed that Lord Buddha made a journey throughout the whole region to visit sacred and holy sites of earlier Buddha beings and also to support the emerging Buddhist monastic tradition in Southeast Asia. This travel were made by Lord Buddha shortly before his demise. However, no historical evidence profs that such a journey ever took place.

A collection of old manuscripts better known as the Phra That Phanom Chronicles tell that the first shrine was erected shortly after Lord Buddha's death. Scientist and Archaeologists date the earliest structures between the sixth and tenth centuries. While the present form of Wat Phra That Phanom was established by the Lao kings of Vientiane in the fifteenth and sixteenth century.

The main structure of the holy pagoda is constructed on a square bases which is 12 metres wide. The spire is pure gold and weigths 110 kg. The center piece of the pagoda itself is 57m high That. In August 11, 1975 at 7 pm, in a stormy and very rainy night, the chedi collapsed and fell down. Because of its imense importance, funds were raised and the chedi was rebuilt under the supervison of the Fine Arts Department and the support of his Majesty the King of Thailand.

Every year a week long festival is held to honor Wat Phra That Phanom.