February – Buddhist Pilgrimage in Thailand

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Pilgrim sites in Thailand

I always combine my annual teachings in Singapore and other countries with traveling in Asia.
This year I decided to go back to Thailand and especially visit the Isan region, the less visited eastern part of Thailand.

But before my partner and I headed of to the east we spent some days at the temple complexes of Ayutthaya, closest to Bangkok, at about 2hrs by train (a great train ride!):


You may have seen an image of the ‘Buddha face in the tree’ before. It’s a face from a large Buddha statue that now is overgrown by a banyan tree. You can say this image has become a famous ’emblem’ for the ancient kingdom of Ayutthaya. 

The ancient Buddhist Kingdom of Ayutthaya florished between the 14th and 18th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here’s another beautiful picture of it.

After Ayutthaya we stayed some time days at the Ayutthaya Elephant Palace & Royal Kraal.
This is Yitor and in three full days I learned how to take care of her, ride her, bathe her, scrub her and feed her (and of course scoop her poo!) and yes – you do form a bond with these incredible and intelligent animals.

We lived here in this working elephant village with mahouts (riders and caretakers of the animals) and about 90 elephants right around us (there was actually one living in the garden next to our bamboo hut). Elephants that are abused can retire here as well. I felt very grateful to getting to know these amazing animals!

On our last day it was bathing time for the children! Something thy absolutely love and can’t get enough of.

Our journey continued to the East of Thailand for our main goal this time:

Ancient Pilgrim Route:
From Cambodia to Thailand and vice versa

There’s a very ancient Pilgim Route from Angkor Wat in Cambodia to the Phimai temple in Thailand, called the Dharmasala Route.
On the route we can find four large temple complexes: in between these two old Buddhist Kingdoms lie two Hindu temples, Phanom Rung and Muang Tam, that may have been secondary options on the pilgrimage. There were many smaller temples in between, at least 17 in total.
On this trip we visited the 3 main temples of this route in Thailand:


1) Phimai

We started out at Phimai. One of the finest temple complexes in Khmer style can be found here. It lies in a straight line with and forms a trinity with Phanom Rung and the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia (that I visited in 2002).
The Phimai temple was built in the 11th-12th century as a Mahayana Buddhist temple with Hindu influences, and may have been the model for Angkor Wat.

2) Phanom Rung

The second stop was at Phanom Rung, the 11th/12th century temple complex in Khmer style, built on top of a vulcano.

Contempory Thai monks must have imagined what it was like living here when this was a flourishing Buddhist Kingdom many centuries ago.

phanom-rung-thailand-templeBefore you enter the temple you are welcomed by ponds full of water lilies.
phanom-rung-thailand-natarajaIt’s a temple full of details, and dedicated to Nataraja, the Dancing Shiva.

3) Muang Tam

The temple of Muang Tam (close to Phanom Rung), where I was shown around by this sweet stray dog.

4) Angkor Wat

So the ancient pilgrim route goes all the way to the famous Angkor Wat Temple complex in Cambodia, which I didn’t visit this time, I had already done so back in 2002.

If you are interested in Buddhism and Art I’m sure you will love to visit these pilgrim sites. If you want to read more about it you can visit Dharmasala Route written by Asger Mollerup, who did extensive research on this route.
And when you’re at such incredible temple complex, imagine yourself many centuries ago living in these beautiful Budhist Kingdoms…