That Phanom / Thailand


That Phanom

The district town of That Phanom lies in Nakhon Phanom Province in Isan at the banks of the Mekong River. It's a smaller place with historical significance. A chedi which roots back to the 10th century is located in the town's center.

'On That Phanom's Night Market' by Asienreisender

On That Phanom's night market. Image by Asienreisender, 2/2010

Wat Phra That Phanom is acknowledged as the most important religious building in Isan. 'That' means relict and concerns to a bone fragment of Buddha, which is allegedly placed in the central tower. According to legends was a first building errected at the place here already eight years after Buddha's dead. In fact, the origins are rather a witness of the medieval Dvaravati Culture, for the brick construction at the chedi's base seems, in the kind it is made, to provide evidence for that. In the 10th and following centuries the place was probably a hub for the trade of places on the Khorat Plateau to places at the coastline of Vietnam, of what the southern parts still were under the control of the Champa empire.

'Colonial Style House in That Phanom' by Asienreisender

A colonial style building in That Phanom, although the place was never subdued under the French colonial empire. It's a reflection of the French architecture in neighbouring French Indochina at the time. Image by Asienreisender, 12/2015

In the 11th century That Phanom came under control of the empire of Angkor. In the late 13th century it came under the reign of the Laotian kingdom of Lan Xang. Around 1614 the chedi got upgraded and the compound got the surrounding walls. In around 1690 the chedi was again upgraded to a height of 47m. The top was bedecked with pure ornaments made in, as it's said, 16kg of gold.

Two more upgrades in the 20th century gave the temple practically the appearance it has today; the second increased the chedi again on a height of between 52m to 57m.

A lot of reliefs, ornaments and (mostly Buddha) statues depict the temple compound. The 'that' played a model in a number of other temple sites in Thailand and Laos.

Wat Phra That Phanom

'Wat That Phanom' by Asienreisender

The most sacred place in Isan attracts a lot of pilgrims, probably from both sides of the border - close by lies Laos. It's absolutely apparent that the project of western enlightenment has failed. Superstition is still rampant all around the globe, particularly in Thailand. Verymost people decline using their own wit, but hope of the favour of imagined supernatural beings. Unavoidably, a lot of business is settled in the orbit of the 'holy' place.

The stone crocodile bottom right reminds me to the crocodile carving at nearby Champasak. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2015, 2016

The town is the target for many pilgrims around the year. It seems that accommodation is rare for the many visitors and with the pilgrims grow the local businesses. That Phanom is therefore quite an expensive place. The foodstalls close to the temple site charge almost double the price as usual in Isan. It might be that the shopkeepers have to pay a fee to the religious authorities what would explain that. Organized religion is always also organized business.

The Mekong River at That Phanom

'The Mekong River at That Phanom' by Asienreisender

The Mekong River in Isan marks the 1893 border between the colonial empire of French Indochina and Siam. On the eastern banks (right side) lies nowadays Laos. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2010, 2015, 2016