Eight months ago, I was sending out applications left right and centre for teaching English abroad. I asked my Mum if she’d come and visit me if I wound up with a job in Thailand, and her response was something along the lines of, “err, hmm”. With this in mind, I wasn’t expecting to see my parents on this side of the world anytime soon. I’m not entirely sure what and at what point her mind was changed, but either way – this happened:
Starting at the roots: Exploring Nakhonratchasima
As the place I’ve called home for the past five months, my folks’ experience of Thailand began in Ratchasima. Once we’d hired a pick-up truck (the only way to do it in Korat) our adventure started at Phimai Historical Park. The site was built as a Mahayana Buddhist temple during the 10th century and now sits as a glorious Khmer ruin. If you look around, Hindu deities are visible, and the resemblance to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat is undeniable – Phimai is thought to have in fact influenced Angkor Wat’s architecture and design. It’s believed you are moving from Earth to heaven as you enter the site over a small bridge, and through many well-structured and beautifully carved doorways and halls of the temple, sits what looks like the Buddha, but is actually a replica sculpture of Jayavarman VII, the Angkor king.
Not far from the historical park and just a slight detour from Korat is Thailand’s oldest and largest banyan tree, Sai Ngam. It is around 350 years old and its branches entwine and span over a huge mass of land. Inside the forest of this one tree, there is a spirit house and shrine, as well as a lake just on the outside of its trunks. The wonder of Sai Ngam made my jaw drop!
As their first full evening in Korat, my parents experienced dinner “Thai style” for the first time at a restaurant I only know as “The Fairy Lights Place” and had been eyeing up since December. The restaurant sits around a lake beautifully lit up by fairy lights and glimmers of all different colours. We were taken by my extended Thai family, who ordered a mixture of different dishes. The traditional Thai style of eating involves lots of large dishes in the middle of the table, so everybody can try all sorts of Thai delights and have as much or as little as they want of things. Of course the only problem then is that the table’s favourites don’t last very long, so you have to get in quick!
The next day was spent venturing to the nearby rural town Dan Khun Thot , where houses stand on stilts and the roads became more and more like little dirt tracks. About an hour’s drive from Korat stands Wat Ban Rai – also known as the elephant temple, for obvious reasons:
Wat Ban Rai is quite a new attraction, being built in 2011, but is one of the most impressive temples (both inside and out) that I’ve seen. Of course, its purpose isn’t for worship, but serves as a tourist attraction to both travellers and Thais, giving anyone who wants it an insight to the routes of Buddhism and how it’s practised in various countries in Asia. The detail that has gone into this temple is astounding, with murals covering both walls and ceilings, installations to explore and small ornaments hanging from the roof like a vibrant starry sky.
Nearby the elephant is a more traditional Thai temple, with one of Thailand’s most well-known and celebrated monks, Luang Phor Koon Parisuttho. Luang Phor Koon Parisuttho is a whopping 92 years old and has played a big role in contributing millions of baht to medical research. With his help, a hospital, a temple and school in Ratchasima have been built. People can see the monk and hear his prayer once a day – we had the great fortune to see him with our own eyes, and take part in a traditionally-styled ceremony. People pray together whilst holding a string that joins for dozens of people. Once the chant is finished, we cut the string, and tie it around each other’s wrists. It’s then custom to offer alms to the monk, gifts of toiletries and dry food for the temple to use and provide the monks with the very simple diet.
This was one the few times I’ve become a tourist for Ratchasima, since as a general rule of thumb we don’t tend to explore the places we live in. Having seen other provinces, Nakhon Ratchasima seems to be a vast province with the overall middle-class city of Korat lying at the heart of it. If you’re wanting a true, authentic nibble of Thai lifestyle, I wouldn’t give it a miss.
The city of Korat isn’t exactly a prime destination for travellers; there’s only a handful of things to see or do and the lack of tourists makes seeing westerners a real novelty for a lot of locals, but the people truly are one of a kind here and can be at times generous to a fault in the eyes of some. On an average weekend, people might shake my hand, give me vegetables or just point excitedly and scream “FERANG”. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming and alienating, but usually, nothing malicious is meant by it. In fact, it might be weird going back to Europe where people don’t look at you like you’re a celebrity… To finish with and prove my point, here is a video from Yotse that still haunts me when I sleep. How has this got so many views? Chan mai ruu.