Wat Phra That Phanom, Sacred Gem of Thailand’s Northeast

The sacred chedi of Phra That Phanom (also spelled Pratat Phanom) is famous as the oldest in the Northeastern part of Thailand. It is located in the compound of Wat Phratat Phanom Waramahawihan, 52 kilometers south of Nakhon Phanom Province.

This small city was once  the center of the glorious Sri Kotrabun Kingdom (5th-10th Century) encompassing territories  on  both  sides  of  the  Mekong river.  According to the Pratat Phanom legend, the name Sri Kotrabun (ศรีโคตม์บูร) means “The land of the Lord Buddha Kotama” to honor the pilgrimage visit of Lord Buddha Kotama in this area. It was also known by villager as Sri Kotrabong city (ศรีโคตรตะบอง) because the ruler of the Kingdom had a powerful staff as his weapon.

Pratat Phanom Chedi with its golden replica
Pratat Phanom Chedi with its golden replica

Decoration around the chedi
Decoration around the chedi

 

Legend and architectural background

Archaeological excavation indicates that the chedi was built during the 7th-9th Century. Legend says that the Venerable Mahakasapa with 500 Arhats and rulers of other cities, joined hands in building the chedi and placed the chest bone relic of the Lord Buddha inside.

The strongly constructed foundation supports a tall and slender lotus-shaped chedi decorated with paintings and engravings of golden floral plate. The chedi sits on a white marble platform, on which pilgrims can say their prayers and leave offering to the relics. On the left hand side in front of the chedi, visitors can see the statue of Venerable Mahakasapa and an inscription honoring him.

Statue of Venerable Mahakasapa
Statue of Venerable Mahakasapa

 

In 1942, the temple was honored as a first class-royal temple. Mirroring the Khmer architectural influence, the chedi has undergone many restorations. The last restoration was in the year 1975 and completed in the year 1979. The Royal Thai Government and people nationwide contributed to rebuild it in the former shape. Besides the Lord Buddha’s relic, the reconstructed chedi houses thousands of precious items. Its crown is a golden umbrella weighing 110 kilograms!

The new elegant chedi, on a square base, is 12.33 metres wide and 53.69 metres high.

Front chedi gate protecting the relic inside
Front chedi gate protecting the relic inside

 

Front chedi gate decoration
Front chedi gate decoration

 

Pilgrimage

Pratat Panhom, similar to Pratat Haripunchai of the north and Pratat Nakornsri Thammarat of the south, is one of the Eight Great Grand Chedis (Jom Chedi) in Thailand.

It is the an icon not just of Thais in the North-East but also Laotian Buddhists who consider it once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit and pay respects here. It is one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations especially during its annual festival of That Phanom Fair.

It is believed that those who have visited the chedi 7 times will be considered the children of the chedi; and prosperity can be expected. Even once in a lifetime is considered auspicious.

Thai Buddhists also believe that Pratat Phanom is the temple for those born in the year of the Monkey and those who were born on Sunday. They will try to take a pilgrimage trip to pay homage and ask for blessing for their lives and loved ones.

 

Pratat Phanom  at night
Pratat Phanom at night

 

How to get there

The most convenient way is to take an air-conditioned coach: route Nakhon Phanom-Mukdahan. At the time of writing (August 2014), the coach leaves every 30 minutes from the city bus terminal. Tell the driver to drop you in front of the temple main gate.Travelling time is approximately an hour.

You can also take a bus which has a route that passes That Phanom. It also takes approximately an hour. However, the exact bus timetable should be checked locally.

Another option is to take Nakhon Phanom- That Phanom Songtaew, a converted pick up truck with benches in the back. It stops directly at That Phanom district but with various stops along the way, it takes two hours to reach the destination

Pratat Phanom  at night
Pratat Phanom at night

 

Best time to visit

Although the temple is open all year round, visitors who are interested in seeing Pratat Phanom in full grandeur are recommended to pay a visit in the 3rd lunar month of the year (around February). At that time, there is the annual Pratat Panom fair, which is a major event for northeastern people.

Another recommended period to visit is during the illuminated Boat Procession (Lai Reua Fai) which takes place at the end of Buddhist Lent (usually some time during October).

Opening Hrs. : 05.00 – 20.00

Much more to see…

Apart from the main chedi and viharn, the temple has the large area behind the main compound where you can walk through. Behind the gate, you will see the grand Bodhi tree with the Buddha image sitting inside the niche.

If you continue to walk on the right hand side, there is the Big Bell Tower, located near the exit gate.

Main viharn
Main viharn

 

Bell Tower
Bell Tower

 

Buddha image sits inside the niche under Bodhi tree
Seated Buddha image inside the niche under Bodhi tree

 

If you continue to walk on the left side, there is a small museum explaining the story of the temple, and behind the museum is the grand white building called “Sala Chalermprakiat”, which is the place to conduct various religious activities. The back inner most compound is the Vipassana area preserving for those who come for meditation. You will easily notice the area from the giant head of Buddha statue.

 

Sala Chalermprakiat
Sala Chalermprakiat

 

Buddha image in front of vipassana area
Buddha image in front of vipassana area

 

During the Buddhist Lent or Buddhist rain retreat (around July-September), monks are required to stay in a certain Buddhist monastery. If you visit the temple this time, you will easily see the monks preaching in the temple or walking in meditation around the chedi in the evening. Night view is also spectacular as the illumination reflecting all around the place. Visitors are allowed to be inside until the gate closes at 8PM.

Monks praying in front of chedi
Monks praying in front of chedi

 

Although That Phanom is a small town that is peaceful and pretty safe, however travellers are advised to be careful about strolling around at night alone. If you are a woman travelling solo, avoid walking back the hotel in the dark. At least grab a bike or rent a motorcycle. There are some beggars and homeless around. Avoid gold leaf offers from sellers in front of the temple as tourists can be scammed.

Apart from Pratat Phanom, visitors can also visit other 6 important chedis. Each of them represents each day of the week. The nearest chedi is Pratat Renu, in Renu district approximately 15 kilometres from That Phanom district. Pratat Renu belongs to those who were born on Monday. While other chedis are mainly white with golden gild decoration, Pratat Renu was the only chedi made of pink clay. The soft and sweet color is its unique charming.

 

Story and photo by Wanweena Tangsathianraphap

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