Sometimes, good things are just under your nose. Quite a few people travel far to visit cultural sites without knowing much about their hometowns. For a few Thais, Stonehenge in Britain is better known as a pre-historic site than Ban Chiang in Udon Thani. Many have no idea that the Central Plains of Thailand is home to all ages of culture, from the pre-historic period to the Rattanakosin period.
The prayer hall of Wat Ubosatharam.
"Pre-historic rock paintings can be found at Plara Mountain in Uthai Thani province. They portray dogs, monkeys and men wearing clothes decorated with bird feathers. Sites of the Iron and Bronze Ages can be found in Lop Buri, while those of the Dvaravati period _ 1,100-1,600 years ago until the Rattanakosin period _ are also found in the Central Region," said Sunisa Chitrbhandh, archaeologist and director of the administration office of the Fine Arts Department.
Exploring cultural attractions in the Central Region is suprisingly not time-consuming nor costly. Travellers can arrange their own trips, which can last either a day or more. For example, it took only a couple of days for a group, led by the Fine Arts Department, to learn about the history and archaeology of four provinces _ Sing Buri, Ang Thong, Chai Nat and Uthai Thani _ through seven temples and two museums.
Within half a day, you can see three of the region's most important reclining Buddhas _ Phra Non Wat Pa Mok and Phra Non Wat Khun Inthapramoon in Ang Thong and Phra Non Chaksi in Sing Buri.
"These places are not only tourist attractions but also places for learning. By comparing the features of the reclining Buddhas in these three temples, history and conservation of the area come to light," the director suggested.
According to Ayutthaya-based Fine Arts Office 3 archaeologist Pattharavadee Deesomchoke, the three temples and their reclining Buddha statues reflect the art of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods.
Meanwhile, the nearby In Buri National Museum in Sing Buri showcases the Dvaravati period's stone Wheel of Dhamma, stone Buddha images and pottery; the Ayutthaya period's ceramics from Maenam Noi Kiln Site in Khai Bang Rachan district and the region's ceremonial objects, kitchenware and farming tools.
About an hour's drive or 70km from In Buri, is Uthai Thani, a green province by the Sakae Krang River. It is the hometown of King Rama I's father Somdet Pathom Borommachanok (Thongdee). Apart from the famous Huay Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuary, Uthai Thani has many boathouses and Buddhist temples. Among important ones are Wat Ubosatharam and Wat Sangkat Rattana Khiri.
Located by the river, Wat Ubosatharam, also known as Wat Bot, reflects the art of the Rattanakosin period through its architectural structures and mural paintings. The temple also has a wooden pavilion, especially built for King Rama V, who visited Uthai Thani in 1906.
From Wat Bot, you can take a short stroll across a bridge over the Sakae Krang River to the old business area of Uthai Thani where you will find traditional wooden shophouses. There, you can stop at a market to buy fresh bamboo shoots and mushrooms, or at a few bakeries selling bread with Thai custard filling. You may also want to experience the retro atmosphere of Mor Virat, a century-old traditional medicine shop whose yahom tubtim (ruby tonic) is popular nationwide.
After a shopping spree, you should not miss the opportunity to pay respects to a replica of the Lord Buddha's footprint at Wat Sangkat Rattana Khiri, as well as the statue of King Rama I's father at the peak of Sakae Krang Mountain.
On the way back to Bangkok, you can visit a few more cultural destinations in Chai Nat _ Chai Nat Munee National Museum, Wat Phra Boromthat Worawihan and Wat Mahathat Muang Sankhaburi.
Located in the compound of Wat Phra Boromthat Worawihan, the museum displays ancient artifacts, such as pottery, women's accessories, Buddha statues and votive tablets, or phra pim in Thai, unearthed from several places in Chai Nat. The first floor showcases pottery, tools and accessories dating to the pre-historic times (3,000-2,500 years ago) and the Dvaravati period (1,600-1,100 years ago), as well as pottery, Buddha statues and religious objects in Lop Buri, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Rattanakosin and Chinese art styles.
The second floor displays votive tablets and small bronze Buddha images, found in Chai Nat and Ayutthaya and dating to the Dvaravati, Sri Vijaya, Lop Buri, Ayutthaya and Rattanakosin periods.
One masterpiece is Luang Phor Phet, a bronze Buddha statue in the pose of conquering the Mara and crossing his legs over each other (khatsamatphet). It is the country's only Buddha statue in the Lanna style with Sukhothai influence dating to the 15th-16th century, said museum director Saneh Prakobthong.
The nearby Wat Phra Boromthat Worawihan dates to the early Ayutthaya period or earlier. Its principal pagoda mixes the patterns of a Khmer corncob dome and a Thai-style pagoda. The temple is believed to have been built on the former site of a Khmer temple since Khmer-style sculptures of Hindu deities were unearthed here.
Another must-see is Wat Mahathat Muang Sankhaburi. The most important there is a pagoda with star apple-shaped top, inspired by Lop Buri art with Khmer influence. Such a pagoda can be found only here and at Wat Mahathat Lop Buri, according to Lop Buri-based Fine Arts Office 4 archaeologist Jatekamol Wongthao.
Interestingly, the temple is believed to have been built in 1354 _ a transitional period in the reign of Sukhothai Empire's King Lithai (1341-1368) and also Ayutthaya's first monarch King Uthong. Its praying hall is now in ruins, while the large Buddha statue inside is still in good condition. Nearby are several other old Buddha statues, including Luang Phor Thong Dam, which is made of sandstone and said to have fulfilled people's wishes and like to watch long-drum dance in return.
A visit to various cultural sites in the Central Region not only brings knowledge of the history of present-day Thailand from pre-historic times to the Rattanakosin period, but also can instill a sense of conservation in travellers.
This reclining Buddha of Wat Phra Non Chaksi in Sing Buri is 47.4m long. Its face turns north and head points east according to a tradition, but its right hand does not support the head like most other Thai-style reclining Buddha statues. Although the founding year of the temple is unknown, the Sukhothai style of the reclining Buddha, such as the oval face and the flame-like top knot dates it to the pre-Ayutthaya period. A historical record mentions the restoration of the temple in the reign of King Boromakot of Ayutthaya (1735-1758).
The reclining Buddha of Wat Pa Mok, Ang Thong, is very important since it showcases the art of the early Ayutthaya period, also called early Uthong period, when the Sukhothai Kingdom still existed but the Ayutthaya Empire was just emerging. Its face has a beautiful and happy look like that of most Sukhothai-style Buddha images. The locks of hair resemble the thorns of jackfruits, and the top knot looks like a flame. However, the gold lacquer patterns of 108 auspicious signs under its feet have faded. Made of bricks and decorated with gold lacquer, the reclining Buddha is 22.57m long. On its back is a stone inscription on the relocation of the floating reclining Buddha from the nearby Chao Phraya River to an old praying hall in 1728 during the reign of King Thai Sa (1708-1732). Later in the reign of King Boromakot (1735-1758), the Buddha statue was relocated another 400m from the eroding river bank to its current location. According to legend, the reclining Buddha is able to speak. An ill woman was praying for improved health before the statue when she heard a voice from its bosom giving her a formula for medicine that cured her sickness. The temple was once visited by King Rama V. Both its ordination hall and praying hall that houses the reclining Buddha are in a boat shape, reflecting the Ayutthaya style.
Chai Nat Munee National Museum in Chai Nat showcases pottery, tools and accessories dating to the prehistoric times and the Dvaravati period, pottery and Buddha statues of the different art styles, and small Buddha images, found in Chai Nat and Ayutthaya. A masterpiece is Luang Phor Phet, Thailand’s only Buddha statue in the Lanna style with Sukhothai influence. Its face is round and the locks of hair resemble big shells swirling clockwise. Its top knot is round like a lotus bud while the eyebrows are crescent moonshaped. Its ears are long and the shoulders are broad. One end of its robe is short above its bosom and in the shape of a centipede’s fangs while the fingers are long and fine.
Wat Phra Boromthat Worawihan, or Wat Hua Muang, in Chai Nat is situated between the Chao Phraya and Noi rivers. A highlight is its principal pagoda, believed to have been built in the early Ayutthaya period or earlier, for enshrining the Lord Buddha’s relics. It mixes a Khmer-style corncob dome and a Thai-style pagoda. This temple is believed to have been built over a former Khmer temple because a number of Khmer-style sculptures of Hindu deities were unearthed . Both its ordination hall and praying hall are in the Ayutthaya style since they originally had no ceilings like those of the same period and the Buddha statues inside are early Ayutthaya period art.
Inspired by Lop Buri art with Khmer influence, this pagoda with a star apple-shaped top, one of only two in the country, stands tall at Wat Mahathat Muang Sankhaburi, Chai Nat. In this picture, it is in the centre . There are also several other stupas in this temple, such as Khmer-style ones and octagonal ones dating to the early Ayutthaya period. All of them have niches, each of which houses a Buddha statue. Some of them are decorated with Chinese-style ceramic tiles believed to have been added during a restoration in the Rattanakosin period. The pagoda, believed to have enshrined the Lord Buddha’s relics, are now in ruins but there are traces of its square base, surrounding corridors and a staircase on the east side.
The stunning view of the Sakae Krang River lined with boathouses are one of Uthai Thani’s symbols. In the past, present-day Muang district of Uthai Thani was part of Chai Nat’s Manorom district. However, it was merged into Uthai Thani after the then governor built his official residence here during the time of King Rama III (1824-1851), since downtown was quite far and travelling to work there was inconvenient. In the Third Reign, Uthai Thani rapidly grew as a port city for transporting rice from inner towns like the old Uthai Thani and Nong Chang to Manorom for sale.
If you cross a bridge over the Sakae Krang River linking Wat Ubosatharam and its surrounds to a business area, you will find rows of old-style wooden shophouses. There are a few bakery shops selling Uthai Thani’s famous kanom pang sangkhaya (bread with Thai custard filling).
About the author
- Writer: Pichaya Svasti
Position: Life Writer