NORTHEAST THAILAND (ISAAN): THE LAND OF THE RED SHIRTS

NORTHEAST THAILAND

NORTHEAST THAILAND is known to the Thais as Isan, or Isaan. It embraces the large Khorat plateau and the mountains, national parks and rolling farm land on it. The least known as least traveled part of Thailand, its is also, in the eyes of many experienced travelers, the most authentically Thai and most interesting part of country. Old traditions remain alive in part because of lack of development. Even though the region is rich in folklore, friendly people and Angkor-Wat-style Khmer temples (Northeast Thailand contains the largest set of Khmer ruins outside of Cambodia) less than five percent of foreign tourists that visit Thailand venture there.

Northeast Thailand occupies about a third of Thailand. It is cut off from the rest of the country by two low escarpments: the Phetchabun to the west and the Phanom Dong Rak to the south. Geographical features of the northeastern region comprise the flatland in the center, with rugged hills to the west and the south. The region is dominated by the Khorat Plateau, a gently rolling area of low hills and shallow lakes drained almost entirety by the Mekong River.

Mountains ring the plateau on the west and the south, and the Mekong delineates much of the eastern rim. The north and west of the region is bounded by the Mekong River.

Northeast Thailand is arid and often plagued by droughts. The short monsoon season brings heavy flooding in the river valleys. Almost every year there are floods or drought or both. Unlike the more fertile areas of Thailand, the Northeast has a long dry season, and much of the land is covered by sparse grasses. The typical winter climate of the northeastern region of Thailand is usually windy and cool, dissimilar to the damp cool of the north. The main exception to this is the provinces near the Thai-Laos border. These provinces are known for their mist in the winter, especially around lovely Nakorn Panom. Season periods: 1) Summer – February to April; 2) Rainy – May to October; 3) Winter – November to January;

The farming is poor. The soils are “thin” and their water retention is poor. The prevailing vegetation is stunted trees and sparse grass. Even so the region accounts for 36 percent of Thailand’s rice production. Much of the rice is glutenous (sticky rice), the variety favored by the Lao. Much of the Khorat is unsuitable for agricultural but has good pastures and lots of cattle and water buffalo are raised here and cowboy culture is very much alive. The Mekong flows past much of the northern and eastern edge of the region, enabling cultivation in several provinces. Most of Thailand’s jasmine rice, or Hom Mali, is produced in the region. The weather can be quite cold in winter and hot and dry in the long summer months.

The Northeast covers an area of 168,854 square kilometers, and is comprised of 19 provinces: Amnat Charoen, Buri Ram, Chaiyaphum, Kalasin, Khon Kaen, Loei, Maha Sarakham, Mukdahan, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nong Bua Lamphu, Nong Khai, Roi Et, Sakon Nakhon, Si Sa Ket, Surin, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, and Yasothon. Mukdahan, Nong Khai, and Nakhon Phanom share the border with neighboring Lao PDR.

People and Culture of Northeast Thailand: The Northeast is the most populated and poorest of Thailand’s four regions. It is home to a third of Thailand’s 67 million people. The culture and language are strongly influenced by their Khmer and Lao counterparts, Most of its people are Lao speakers. They are called Lao Isan, Northeastern Tha or Thai Lao. They have their own styles of music and are regarded as the best silk weavers in Thailands. Many are subsistence farmers or poor workers for sugar growers, who are either heavily in debt or barely get by. Many have been forced into debt by corrupt village headman, working in cahoots with wealthy landowners, using unscrupulous methods.

In the Northeast many people are employed by sugar cane barons and motorbike is regarded as a symbol of wealth. Incomes, education levels and health standards are lower than elsewhere in the country. Thais from outside the region tend to regard those from the Northeast as slow, backward and ignorant. It has traditionally been ignored by national-level politics. Many of the migrants to Bangkok are Northeasterners who have come there in search of opportunities. With wages in Bangkok being 12 times higher than those in the Northeast it is no surprise that one out of every six Thais works there is from the Northeast.

People in Northeastern Thailand uphold their monthly merit-making event, known as Hit Sipsong, or the Twelve Rites, when people in communities come together to make merit, representing their deep faith in Buddhism, with the chance for a communion which contributes to a strong community. A famous festival of the region is Phi Ta Khon, or the Ghost Festival, based on a belief that originated in the Great Final Life of the Lord Buddha. When Prince Vessantara (the Buddha in his previous incarnation),who later became king, and his wife Matsi were returning to their city after a long exile, wild animals and ghosts from the forest formed a procession to follow them; they were known as phi tam khon, the ghosts following people, and phi ta khon at present. Festival-goers joining the procession wear headdresses made of woven rice steamers, decorated with carved coconut peels. Phi Ta Khon is held during Bun Luang, the Great Merit-making Festival, to pay homage to the guardian of the city, and as the biggest merit-making event of the year. The masks and headdresses worn in the festival represent the local wisdom of the Isan people. The festival is also fun-filled, in line with the character of the Northeasterners.

History of Northeast Thailand: The Northeast has long history. Farming has been practiced for around 5,000 years. The world’s first Bronze Age culture was found here. The region is freckled with ancient burial grounds, tanks and weirs. In the A.D. first millennium powerful civilizations with advanced irrigation methods occupied the area but were gone by the early second millennium, when it was dominated by the Angkor-based Khmers. In the 14th century it was part of a Lao kingdom, which partly explains why so many Lao live here now, and was fought over by Lao and Thai dynasties. By the 19th century much of what is now Laos was a Siamese tributary state. The Siamese ceded that area to the France in 1862.

In the 20th century people from the northeast were involved in uprisings against the central government . Some were “men of merit” rebellions led political-religious leaders who claimed they had magical powers. Ho Chi Minh lived in Khorat and Udon Thani in the late 1920s and a number of Indochinese Communist Party leaders fled to Isan from Laos in the 1940s giving a boost to Communist Party of Thailand . In the 1960s, Communists who fought against the Thai government had a lot of support here. The northeast also has a long tradition of gangsters and thugs enforcing the will of corrupt politicians an businessmen. At the same, the northeast is also known for its meditation centers for monks.

RED SHIRTS

The Red Shirts are supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. They draw their ranks from the populous and impoverished masses in the countryside, who live mostly in northern and northeastern Thailand. After Abhisit Vejjajiva became prime minister in 2008 the “Red Shirts” became a major political force in Thai politics. On Thailand’s red white and blue flag, the red stands for nation, blue is for the monarchy and white is for Buddhism. The political pressure group at the heart of the Red Shirts is the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship or UDD.

Chang Noi wrote in The Nation: “The red movement has two main streams - hardcore Thaksin enthusiasts, and a broader audience that supports democracy and opposes military intervention in politics. Thaksin had won support in the Northeast and upper North among people who felt pandered to and empowered as never before. After the coup, they protested through community radio, and resisted military intimidation. [Source: Chang Noi, The Nation, May 4, 2009~]

“In parallel, anti-coup protests in the capital attracted a few thousand activists, mainly veterans of the democracy campaigns of 1973-6 and 1992. In February 2007, Thaksin loyalists tried to set up a cable TV network to rival ASTV but were blocked. Following the Yellow Shirt's example, they then took their campaign onto the street. In June, they announced a "united front", combining the democracy activists and Thaksin loyalists under one umbrella. Over the following months, they campaigned for the rejection of the junta's constitution. After the 2007 election, the movement became dormant but was revived in the following May to counter the PAD rallies. As governments were toppled, parties banned, ministers removed and more coups threatened, the movement attracted more support among people who felt democracy was under threat, including many who had earlier supported PAD. ~

“When the movement initiated mass rallies in October 2007, the audience included quotas bussed down by pro-Thaksin ex-MPs from the North and Northeast, along with growing numbers of walk-ins from the capital. In his early phone-ins, Thaksin talked mainly about himself, but soon switched his theme to reflect the changing weighting in the audience. He began to speak about "full democracy" and railed against its enemies.~

“In January 2008, the movement founded D-Station on the model of ASTV. In March it launched a mass protest in Bangkok and provincial centres. The appearance of the Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts is the most dramatic change in Thai politics in three decades. At the core of both is the rebirth of the civil society activism of the 1990s. The big innovation of these movements was to break the state's grip on the electronic media and so gain the means to recruit mass support through political broadcasting. ~

“Of course, in the background is Thaksin's money and ambition on one side, and military power and meddling on the other. But this should not be allowed to obscure what these movements stand for. Thai politics is often criticised for being dominated by small, self-serving cliques of businessmen and generals. Both these movements want to move beyond. Their main enemy is not each other, but the old, old politics desperate to resist this challenge. ~

NORTHEASTERN THAI FOOD

Northeastern dishes are usually eaten with sticky rice and are distinctively spicy-hot, with a tinge of saltiness and a low amount of water. Many of the dishes can be eaten with hands instead of flatware. The salty taste is obtained from fermented fish (pla ra), the spicy-hot taste from fresh and dry chilies, and the tangy taste from lime, olives, and sour tamarind (and in a particularly dry season, red ants are used).

The arid, infertile geographical condition affects the way people eat because it is difficult to find plenty of basic ingredients for food. The sources of ingredients for their dishes are found in forests and rivers, and in overgrown bushes near their homes, such as fish, some types of insects, and vegetables and plants. The region borders the Mekong and is fed by its numerous tributaries, the sources of fish. Condiments and the culture of consumption are influenced by the neighboring countries: Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Northeasteners have also devised ways to preserve foods to keep for future's use.

Most northeastern dishes are spiced with herbs for appealing aromas and flavors, in particular Laotian parsley, lemon grass, and kaffir lime, so they are not only tasty but also filled with vitamins and minerals that are high in nutrition and improve digestion. The three balanced flavors - salty, tangy, and sweet - are appetizing and they help reduce stomach discomfort and improve digestion; dishes like spicy bamboo soup, papaya salad, and hot and spicy fermented fish dip include a variety of herbs.

The Northeasterners served their meals in two different types of vessels, either on a glossy round tray with bright printed designs or on a woven rattan stool tray similar to the northern tok. Northeasterners like to roll the sticky rice into balls and eat it with their hands.

NORTHEASTERN THAI DISHES

As is true in Laos, sticky rice is also the staple food in the Northeast. It is often eaten with som tam – spicy papaya salad – grilled chicken, spicy Isan salad with meat, and with an indispensable ingredient, pla ra – preserved and fermented wild fish, a product of the Northeasterners’ ingenuity in food preservation. [Source: Tourist Authority of Thailand]

Northeasterners are familiar with spicy food, especially the hot taste provided by herbs grown in the households, mixed with fish and shrimps caught in the rivers. Such natural foods with herbs are considered health food, as well. Pla ra (fermented fish) is an important condiment in the northeastern kitchen that shows a difference in the people's consumption habit. A northeastern meal almost always contains pla ra.

Northeasterners have several types of dishes: spicy and sour half-cooked minced beef with herbs, ground rice spiced with fermented fish juice, spicy and sour raw minced beef without ground rice, spicy and sour medium-rare grilled beef slices, spicy and sour cooked shallot dip, and spicy and sour vegetable soup with ground rice.

Well-knowm northeastern Thai dishes include kai yaang ( grilled spices chicken) ad som-tam (spicy salad made with grated papaya, lime juice, fish sauce and chiles). Korat noodle (kua mee) is made from rice. The noodle is thin and soft. It is usually eaten with som tum korat. Other popular Isan dishes are spicy bamboo shoot salad (chaeo bong , based on the preserved fish in pla ra, and kaeng om (spicy soup made of various vegetables, spices, and dill, and mixed with pla ra, without coconut milk).

Snack and desserts of the Isan people are similar to those originating in the North, with sticky rice and young rice as the main ingredients. They are simply made, such as khao chi and khao pong , ancient foodstuffs made of sticky rice. Khao chi is sticky rice laced with salt and grilled, while khao pong is steamed sticky rice, pounded and pressed into thin sheets before being grilled. Moreover, there are items made for religious functions, such as khao pradap din, kraya sat, and khao thip.

Tom Sab pork soup is a popular Northeast Thai dish. Kazuo Nagata wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Wow, that’s spicy!” The moment I had a mouthful of the Tom Sab soup at Kum Poon restaurant, which specializes in serving northeastern Thai dishes, I could feel perspiration building up on my brow. One of the most popular items at this Bangkok eatery, the soup is both spicy and salty, with a moderate hint of herbs. In addition to a variety of vegetables including onions and carrots, the soup also contains crispy pork ribs and such herbs as parsley, cicely and lemongrass. The soup tastes irresistibly spicy. Before I knew it, I had poured the soup from a small serving bowl into my cup over and over again. The soup is priced at 155 baht (about ¥490). Restaurant staffer Sau Temsau, 27, said proudly: “Tom Sab is spicy with a rich taste of chili peppers. Such a [spicy] taste is common in northeastern Thai dishes.” [Source: Kazuo Nagata, Yomiuri Shimbun, March 4, 2014]

NAKHON RATCHASIMA

NAKHON RATCHASIMA (260 kilometers and 3 ½ hours north of Bangkok by bus) is the gateway to Northeast and by some measures Thailand’s second largest city. Also known as Khorat, it is a busy commercial and transportation hub and has some fine shrines and a museum with an excellent collection of Khmer art objects. The entire region was occupied by the Khmer in the pre-Thai era. Today is known for its brave women, fine silk material, tasty Khorat Rice noodles, the Phimai historical site, and Dan Kwian pottery. Tourism though came late the city it didn’t get its first international hotel until 1992. During the Vietnam War, a large American air base was located here and some former American GIs still live here with their Thai families.

Nakhon Ratchasima Province is the largest province in Thailand (20,500 square kilometers). Most of it inhabitants are engaged in agricultural activities, mainly growing rice, sugar cane, sesame, and fruit. There are more than 100 savings and agricultural cooperatives in the province, 35 irrigation projects, and 7,122 industrial factories. Most of the factories are rice mills, tapioca product manufacturers, and industrial factories. Some of the best silk in Thailand is made in Pak Thong Chai, 30 kilometers southwest of Khorat on Route 304. Khao Yai National Park is located in Nakhon Rathchasima Province.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Nakhon Ratchasima office, 2102-2104 Mitraphap Road , Tambon Nai Mueang, Amphoe Mueang,Nakhon Ratchasima 30000, Tel. +66 4421 3030 , +66 4421 3666, Fax. +66 4421 3667, E-mail Address: tatsima@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/nakhonratchasima. Accommodation: As Northeastern Thailand’s main transportation hub and economic center, Nakhon Ratchasima has a wide variety of accommodation options for visitors on any budget.

Getting to Nakhon Ratchasima: As Northeastern Thailand’s main transportation hub and economic center, Nakhon Ratchasima can be reached by many means, including private car, public bus, and train. By Air: There are no regular commercial air services to Khorat. By Train: An express train bound for Ubon Ratchathani departs Bangkok's Hua Lumphong Station at 9pm and arrives in Khorat at 2.03am Rapid trains on the Ubon railway depart at 6.50am, 6.45pm and 10.45pm, arriving in Khorat at 11.48am and 11.51pm and 4.07am respectively. There are also two ordinary trains (3rd class only) that depart Bangkok at 3.25 and 11.25pm, arriving in Khorat about 5 1/2 to 6 hours after departure.

By Car: Route 1: Take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road) from Bangkok to Saraburi and then take Highway No. 2 (Mittraphap Highway) from Saraburi to Nakhon Ratchasima. The total distance is 259 kilometers. Route 2: Take Highway No. 304 from Bangkok and proceed past Min Buri, Chachoengsao, Phanom Sarakham, Kabin Buri, and Pak Thong Chai to Nakhon Ratchasima. The total distance is 273 kilometers. Route 3: Take the Bangkok-Rangsit-Nakhon Nayok route and then take Highway No. 33 to Kabin Buri and finally Highway No. 304 past Wang Nam Khiao and Pak Thong Chai to Nakhon Ratchasima.

By Bus: The Transport Co., Ltd. (known as Bo Kho So) has both air-conditioned and regular buses departing from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) daily. Air-conditioned buses depart from Bangkok every 10 minutes all day; traveling time is 3.20 hours and the fare is around 160 baht. Non air-conditioned buses depart from Bangkok every hour from 5am to 8pm; traveling time is 4.30 hours, and the fare is around 90 baht. Buses arrive at Korat's bus terminal on Mittraphap Highway. For information, call 0 2936 2852-66. Private companies that offer bus services to Khorat include Ratchasima Tour Co., (Khorat: 0 4424 5443, Bangkok: 0 2936 1615) and Air Khorat Co. (Khorat: 0 4425 2999, Bangkok: 0 2936 2252.

Buses running to other provinces leave from Bus Terminal 2 in Khorat. There are services to the northeastern provinces of Chaiyaphum, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom, Sakon Nakhon, Kalasin, Ubon Ratchathani, Buri Ram (the old route goes past Nang Rong and the new one past Huai Thalaeng), and Surin (past Nang Rong-Ban Tako). In addition, there are buses to Chon Buri, Pattaya, Rayong, Chanthaburi, Lop Buri, Sing Buri, Nakhon Sawan, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai (up to Mae Sai). All depart from Bus Terminal 2 in Khorat.

Getting Around in Nakhon Ratchasima : Traveling within the province is easy, with many mini-buses and local buses operating in the city and in/around/to nearby areas. The fares are around 5 baht, including comfortable air-conditioned buses along Highway No. 2 (Mittraphap Road). A more convenient way to get around is to take a tuk-tuk or samlor in the city. Samlors around the city costs 20 baht; while tuk-tuks cost 40 baht to most places around town (30 baht for a short hop) and 50 to 60 baht for longer trips. The rate for motorbike taxis is within the same range (towards the lower end). Please note that the price must be agreed upon before a trip. If traveling to another district, it is possible to take either a bus or mini-bus at Bus Terminal 1 on Burin Road. Bus Terminal 2 only provides bus services to Amphoe Phimai and Dan Kwian-Chok Chai. For information, call Bus Terminal 1 on Burin Road, tel. 0 4424 2899 and 0 4426 8899 and Bus Terminal 2 on the Mitraparp-Khon Kaen Road, tel. 0 4425 6006-9 ext. 175, 176 (air-conditioned), 178 (regular).

SIGHTS IN AND AROUND NAKHON RATCHASIMA

Prasat Phanom Wan (20 kilometers from Nakhon Ratchasima on the Nakhon Ratchasima-Khon Kaen road) is believed that it was built in the 15th Buddhist century (the A.D. 9th century) . Later during the 18th -19th Buddhist centuries, a stone building was built over it. From inscriptions found at the site, it is known that the sanctuary was by Hindus and later became a Buddhist site. Although most of it is in ruins, there is a clear form present, like the square main pagoda facing east and a tiered pagoda in front, as well as a path linking the two structures.To the southwest is a building of red sandstone called “Prang Noi.” Inside is a large stone Buddha image. A roofed sandstone walkway and a laterite wall go around the sanctuary. A gopura (a sanctuary doorway or porch) in the form of a tall tower is situated in all four directions. Around 230 meters east of the sanctuary are traces of a moat and an earth hill that was the site of another Khmer building called “Noen Oraphim.”

Hours, Fees, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 7.00am to 6:00pm. Contact: Ban Makha, Tambon Pho, Amphoe Mueang, Nakhon Ratchasima, Tel. 0 4421 3030 , 0 4421 3666. Prasat Phanom Wan is in Ban Makha, Tambon Pho, around 15 kilometers from Nakhon Ratchasima on the Nakhon Ratchasima-Khon Kaen road. A sign on the right shows the road. Travel five kilometers more.

Khao Luk Chang (near Pak Chong village, three kilometers from Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima province) is famous for bats. It is possible to sit n the edge of a cliff and watch thousands of wrinkle-lipped bats stream out of a cave at night. Khao Luk Chang means Baby Elephant Mountain. The show, which starts around 5:45-6:00pm, lasts for roughly an hour and a half. The cave is about 3km from Khao Yai National Park and is actually quite difficult to find without the aid of GPS. Check this blog nakrian

KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK

KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK (205 kilometers northeast of Bangkok) is the premier wildlife park in Thailand. Only three hours by bus from Bangkok, it is relatively easy to get is located on a 540,000 acre piece of land, encompassing rain forests, grasslands and mountains—the highest of which are about 4000 feet high. The park has numerous hiking trails that lead through rain forest and along rivers with spectacular waterfalls.

Thailand's oldest park, Khao Yai is one of the best places in Asia to view wildlife. It is home to over 1000 species of animals including tigers, pythons, elephants, gaur (wild cattle), Great pied hornbill, cobras, jungle fowl, sambar deer, wild boar, Asiatic black bears, eagles, grebes, bitterns, and silver pheasants. Two species of endangered gibbon are commonly seen, sometimes even from the road. Elephants periodically walk through the parking lot of the visitors center. Sometimes they sleep in the road at night. Gaur are spotted less often. Generally you have to hire a tracker-guide and trek deep into the forest to find them.

Tigers are even rarer.

Tigers used be seen every week or two at by the park rangers. Now they are rarely seen. It believed that few than a dozen a remain. About a week before I was there in the 1990s some tourist saw one in the tall grass chasing after a sambar deer which are plentiful in the park. In the 1930s, a small girl was killed and eaten by tiger when she left her home to look for a lost pen.

Although seeing large animals other than deer is uncommon, you can see sometimes see tiger-scared trees and bark torn up by the claws of the Asiatic black bear. Poachers in the parks have been shot and killed. .

The best time of the year to visit the park is in the dry season from December to March when the temperatures are reasonably comfortable and there aren't any leaches. The best time to spot wildlife is early in the morning in the hot months of April and May, when animals often gather at water holes and salt licks. The cool season or is from October to February. In the rainy season, the area is refreshingly green with overflowing waterfalls.

Most of the trails begin near the Park Headquarters, which has 33 bungalows, some modest motels, camp sites, a museum, restaurants, bungalows and six dormitories for hikers with sleeping bags. Some of the trails are difficult to follow. "Night shining" tours are offered. Usually you only see a lot of deer. There are

also salt licks and watch towers for wildlife viewing. Parts of the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach were shot in Khao Yai.

Khao Yai National Park covers an area of 2,168 square kilometers (about 800 square miles) in the Phanom Dong Rak mountain range and stretches over 4 provinces including Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Nayok, Saraburi, and Prachin Buri. The park is comprised of mixed forests and rainforests with some wide plains and grasslands interspersed with verdant forests. There are many valuable plants, including commercial plants, scented plants and herbs. In addition, there are several mountains with peaks ranging from 800 to 3,000 meters above sea level making Khao Yai a cool climate area, even in summer.

Khao Yai National Park became Thailand’s first national park in 1962. Popular activities in the park include butterfly and bird watching, animal watching and trekking. Numerous species of butterflies and birds live in the park. Surveys indicate that 293 species of birds use Khao Yai as a feeding ground and over 200 species live there. In addition, the park is home to an abundance of wildlife. The most frequently spotted animal are the deer that grazes on grass plains and sometimes come to be fed around the park office.

To facilitate animal watching the park built two wildlife watchtowers—at Mo Singto and Nong Phak Chi—which visitors are allowed to use between 8:00 am and 6:00pm If you want to join one of night safaris you must contact the park office before 6:00pm. Khao Yai has over 20 trekking trails. While some trails like the Kong Kaeo trail and the Kilometer 33 trail (Thanarat Road-Nong Phak Chi) take one to two hours to complete, other trails like the Nang Rong-Khao Yai trail, Samo Pun trail or Kho Yo 4 Unit-Wang Heo waterfall trail require overnight stays. Information and guides can be obtained from the tourist service centre. Accommodation: There is a campsite at Pha Kluai Mai that can accommodate up to 1,000 visitors. The fee is 10 baht for children and 20 baht for adults per night. There is a restaurant and tents and sleeping bags for rent. Moreover, there are 2 more service areas at Kong Kaeo and Yaowachon that can accommodate up to 250 tourists. The fee is 30 baht each, though sleeping gear is not provided. Visitors can obtain permission from the park before 6pm For more information, call the National Parks Division, Royal Forest Department, Tel. (66) 2579-7223 and (66) 2579-5734, or contact the Park Office at P.O. Box 9, Amphoe Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima 30130.

Hours and Contact Info: Khao Yai National Park is open everyday from 8:00am -5:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima 30130, Tel. 0 2562 0760 or Khao Yai National Park, Mu Si sub district, Pak Chong district, Nakhon Ratchasima 30130. Tel. 037-356033, 044-249305

Due to over capacity and to protect the environment of Khao Yai National Park, Royal Forest Department began limiting the number of visitors to the park in 2008. Visitors should inquire Khao Yai National Park directly before travelling at tel. 08 1877 3127 , 08 6092 6531 which operate 24 hrs. or visit website www.dnp.go.th . Admission fee: Adult 400 baht and Child 200 baht and the fee of one car is 50 baht.

Getting to Khao Yai National Park: Khao Yai National Park is only about 205 kilometers from Bangkok. From Bangkok, take Highway No.305 (Rangsit-Nakhon Nayok) for around 75 kilometers. Then turn right to Highway No. 33 for around 20 kilometers. Turn right again to Highway No.3077 for approximately 40 kilometers, and finally turn left to Highway No. 2090 for around 3 kilometers to reach Khao Yai National Park headquarters.

If traveling by bus, get off at Amphoe Pak Chong and continue on a mini-bus up to the gate of Khao Yai National Park. The fare is 15 baht and services are provided between 6am and 5pm From there, visitors should flag a passing car to the park office or rent a car directly from Pak Chong.

PLACES OF INTEREST IN KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK

Kong Kaeol Waterfall (Namtok Kong Kaeol) is a low waterfall, which is especially lovely in the rainy season, Originating from Huay Lam Takhong, which divides Nakhon Nayok and Nakhon Ratchasima Provinces, the waterfall can be reached by a walking distance of 100 meters from the tourist service center. Visitors can enjoy swimming at the waterfall or taking short nature trips on nearby nature trails. Pha Kluai Mai Waterfall (Namtok Pha Kluai Mai) is a medium-sized waterfall in Huay Lam Takhong with two separate bodies of water flowing down rock levels to merge at the bottom. In the area visitors can find the Red Dendrobium orchid. The waterfall is about 7 kilometers from the park office and can be reached by car and on foot. In addition, there is a trail from the waterfall that leads to Heo Suwat Waterfall. Heo Suwat Waterfall (Namtok Heo Suwat) is a famous waterfall that cascades from a 20-meters high cliff. The waterfall, which is located at the end of Thanarat Road and thus accessible by car, is only 100 meters by foot from the parking lot or a 3-kilometer walk from Pha Kluai Mai Waterfall. Visitors can view the falls from a distant viewpoint that offers a high-angle view of the waterfall through the trees or from the waterfall itself. However, please note that in the rainy season the water flows rapidly and caution should be taken.

Heo Narok Waterfall (Namtok Heo Narok) is the largest and highest waterfall in the park and has three 3 levels. The first level is about 60 meters high and water from this level flows straight down to the second and third levels, with a total drop of at least 150 meters. The water has considerable strength in the rainy season and is quite dangerous, but refreshing, when it comes splashing down on rocks at the bottom. The area around the waterfall is the usual feeding grounds of wild elephants. There have been occasional accidents when elephants drop from the cliff and die. For a beautiful view of the waterfall, visitors can walk 1 kilometer from the main road to a viewpoint. The waterfall itself is located to the south of the Park Office on the way to Prachin Buri. There are also other lesser waterfalls in the park like Namtok Mai Plon, Namtok Heo Sai and Namtok Heo Prathul. For more information, contact the Parks tourist service centre.

Khao Samo Pun (in Khao Yai National Park) is a vast plain combined with grassland and stone fields with marshy capillary water on sandy soils. Many tiny plants such as ueang nuanjan, ma wing, soi suwanna, yard namkang, dusita, and sarat chanthon burst with flowers at the beginning of winter with particularly areas having their ow distinct combinations of flows. Widely scattered ueang nuanjan and ma wing are found in the na pha fields. Crowded dusita and dok ya khao gum are found in the prommajan field. The ngorn nak field is adorned with ngorn nak thriving amid tall plants and grassland while a plains blackfoot carpet spreads all over the tarn thai field. The suriyan field is a not-to-be-missed sightseeing spot. In addition to blooming flowers, the park also boasts a number of fine cliff-top viewpoints. There is also a campsite with small streams providing water. In the cool season the mountain are sometimes shrouded in mist.

PHIMAI AND THAI COWBOY COUNTRY

PHIMAI (50 kilometers from Nakhon Rathchasima) features a small but beautiful 12th century Khmer Shrine also known as Phimai. Situated in a beautiful park and sometimes called the Angkor Wat of Thailand, Phimai shrine is the finest and largest example of Khmer architecture outside of Cambodia. Once linked by a paved road to Angkor Wat, the temple was restored by Bernard Groslier, a French archeologist, who also worked at Angkor.

Located at the end of processional path, Phimai shrine is an intricately carved temple that resembles the most impressive buildings at Angkor Wat. Set on top of a cruciform platform, it is a model of Mt. Meru, the five peaked home of the Hindu gods, and features detailed stone carving of Hindu subjects, including nagas (mythical multi-headed cobras that protect sacred places), representations of Hindu gods and scenes from the Hindu epics, the Ramayana. Only kings, Brahman priest and important nobles were allowed to the temple.

The tower wrote Oliver Bernier in the New York Times is "wholly original blend of the stepped towers of South India and the curved towers of North India. There are seven distinct platforms, each smaller than the one below...There are carvings everywhere—most alas, badly damaged. Still, the Shiva dancing inside an elephant skin on the east is clearly visible, and so is the Rama bound by a serpentine arrow on the south." Many of the engraving made on lintels, pediments and walls are related to the story of Ramayana and the beliefs of Brahman-Hindu. The pediment in the south, in the front of pagoda, is the picture of Shiva dancing 108 Thai classical dances. Inside the main pagoda, a pediment above the four entrance doors depicts the Buddha’s life.

The Phimai National Museum is an outdoor museum with a large collection of Dvaravati and Khmer artifacts, dating from the 6th through the 13th centuries. Among the most interesting items are a lifelike portrait of King Jayavaramna VII, representations of nagas and gods and many Khmer lintels in various styles. At Sai Ngarm, there are big banyan trees around the bank of the Moon River.

Chokchai Farm (160 kilometers from Bangkok) is where visitors can enjoy a Thai-style a cowboy-themed adventure, feed ponies, watch cowboys in action and enjoy animal talent shows, plus a lot more activities. Set amid farms, forests and pastureland on a vast stretch of plains, Chokchai is geared mostly for Thai families. Many of the foreigners that check it out do so for the weird juxtaposition of cowboy and Thai culture. In addition to being a tourist attraction, Farm Chokchai is a working dairy farm, where visitors can learn about milking, making ice cream, animal feed plant, and several other activities.

According to a tourist description: Chokchai Farm is the place for the whole family who wants to see what the cowboy lifestyle looks like. Here tourists are allowed to milk cows and see how the milk is made ready to drink. You can also enjoy watching a demonstration or interactively participate in making ice cream. In addition to these activities, there are farm tours that take visitors of all ages to see the cowboy way of life. A pony farm and animal talent shows are there to provide an ultimate entertainment experience for our young audience. You will be dazzled by the cowboy shows that demonstrate tie-down roping and taming wild horses.

Eat a BBQ in a boutique hotel and spend the night in a convenient air-conditioned room. Then the whole family will certainly wake up to a new delightful day. A very nice and strongly recommended restaurant is the Chokchai Steak House, where delectable well-aged beef is offered for a large variety of dishes. Finish your meal with ice cream made from top quality fresh milk. It certainly makes a big hit among kids.”

Hours and Contact Info: The farm opens on Saturdays, Sundays and Official holidays. Open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for a group visit of at least 30 persons. There are three to five rounds of tours, each taking approximately three hours. Contact: 169 Mu 2 Thanon Mittaphap, Amphoe Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima 30130, Tel. 0 4432-8485. Ext. 116, 0 4432 8386, 0 4436 1770-4. Head Office tel. 0 2532 2846 ext. 135, 0 2523 9103. Website: www.farmchokchai.com . Location: 169 Mu 2 Thanon Mittaphap, Amphoe Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima 30130. Chokchai Farm only a couple of hours from Chiang Mai on Mittraphap Road.

Phra Phutthabat (30 miles from Nakhon Ratchasima) is a revered shrine located in a 1,200 acre religious park. A holy footprint is enshrined within a 135-foot-tall pagoda. Elsewhere in the park are caves and cliffs with prehistoric paintings.

SURIN

SURIN (northeast of Bangkok and west of Nakhan Ratchasima) is a quiet rural town that comes to life in November when it host the annual Elephant Round Up (See Festivals). Known for its elephants, silk, Khmer ruins, sweet radishes and fragrant rice, Surin is a large province in the Mun River Basin of Thailand’s Northeastern Isan region. Although the exact history of the town itself is not well known, the people of the region have always been highly regarded for a particular skill: capturing and taming elephants. The Suay or Kuay (meaning simply “people”) migrated to the area perhaps thousands of years ago and established a reputation for their elephant handling prowess that is still celebrated to this day. Since 1960, around the time that elephants were being replaced by machines for most of their laboring jobs, the Surin Elephant Round-Up has been an annual event known both locally and internationally. During this celebration of both the elephants and the training skills of the Surin people, the gigantic pachyderms impress everyone with their cleverness and charm, an event that is the embodiment of the unique character of the province.

Those visiting Surin when the round up is not happening can enjoy Isaan culture, handicraft villages and a handful of Khmer ruins.Surin is the home of Prasat Si Khoraphum. Built in the 12th century in the Angkor Wat style, this sanctuary is composed of five brick prasats on a laterite platform. The tallest prasat is 32 meters high and has a profusion of beautiful carvings of guardians and scenes from Hindu mythology. It is believed that the temple was renovated during the Ayutthaya period by adding a superstructure. Inscriptions were also added to the door frame.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Surin Office, Tourist Information Center of Surin, 355/3-6 Thessaban Road 1, Muangsurin District ,Surin Province 32000 (Temporary Office), Tel. +66 4451 4447-8 , +66 4451 8529, Fax. +66 4451 8530 E-mail Address: tatsurin@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/surin . Accommodation: As Surin hosts so many visitors during the November elephant round up there is a large selection of accommodation options so visitors the rest of the year have a wide selection to choose from. Hotels are generally full during the elephant round up so book ahead!

Getting to Surin: Surin is easily reached via private car, public bus, or train. Once there, it may be easier to get around with your own car, but there are standard forms of local transport available for visitors: i.e. songtaew, motorbike taxi, tuk tuk, and if you are lucky: elephant! By Train: Regular trains depart from Bangkok's Hua Lumphong Railway Station for Surin every day. Call 1690, 0 2223 7010-20or visit www.railway.co.th for more information. By Car: From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road) to Saraburi and then Highway No. 2 (Mittraphap Road) to Nakhon Ratchasima; finally, use Highway No.226 to Surin via Buri Ram, a total distance of 457 kilometers. By Bus: Buses depart from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) to Surin every day. Contact Transport Co.Ltd at Tel: 0 2936 2852-66 or visit www.transport.co.th for more information

BURI RAM AND PHANOM RUNG HISTORICAL PARK

BURI RAM (just north of Surin, 410 kilometers from Bangkok) is a city of sandstone sanctuaries, volcanoes, beautiful silk, and rich culture. Its name literally means “city of happiness” or “peaceful city.” Buri Ram Province is the location a number of archaeological discoveries, ancient ruins from the Dvaravati period (A.D. 6th-11th centuries), Khmer pottery kiln sites that date back to the 10th-13th centuries and Phanom Rung, one of Thailand's most stunning Khmer monuments. After the fall of Angkor the area was largely ignored until the late Ayutthaya period when it was a protectorate of Nakhon Ratchasima.

The town and province of Buri Ram are excellent places to experience authentic, rural Thai life and Isan culture. W hile the town itself has limited attractions and activities for visitors, the provincial countryside around has some places worth checking out namely Phanom Rung and other Khmer ruins.

Tourist Office and Website: 355/3-6 Thessaban Road 1, Muangsurin District ,Surin Province 32000 (Temporary Office), Tel. 0 4451 4447-8 , 0 4451 8529, 0 4451 8530. Accommodation: Buri Ram has a variety of accommodation options, including a number of budget hotels within walking distance of the train station. The most ideal place to stay if you are planning an early morning trip to Phanom Rung is the town of Nang Rong.

Getting to Buri Ram: Buri Ram can be reached via private car, bus, or train. By Train: There are rapid, express, and ordinary trains from Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Station to Ubon Ratchathani, Surin, and Nakhon Ratchasima, many of which stop in Buri Ram. For more details, call Tel. 1690, 0 2220 4334, 0 2220 4444 or www.railway.co.th . By Bus: The Transport Company Limited provides daily ordinary and air-conditioned buses from Bangkok to Buri Ram. The buses leave from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2). For more information, call Tel. 0 2936 1880, 0 2936 0657, 0 2936 0667, and 0 2936 2852; Buri Ram Bus Terminal: Tel. 0 4461 2534; or www.transport.co.th.

By Car: 1) From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road) to Saraburi, then turn right onto Highway No. 2 (Mittraphap Road). Turn right onto Highway No. 24 (Chok Chai - Det Udom Road) passing through Amphoe Nong Ki and Amphoe Nang Rong before turning left onto Highway No. 218 to Buri Ram. The total distance is about 410 km. 2) From Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat), take Highway No. 226 past Amphoe Chakkarat, Huai Thalaeng, and Lam Plai Mat. The total distance is 384 km.

Phanom Rung Historical Park (Near Surin, 64 kilometers to the south of Buriram) is a Khmer sanctuary beautifully situated on small mountain with a superb view of the Thai-Cambodian border. Reached by a long climb and dating back to the early Angkor period in the early 12th century, it has an impressive 700-foot-long laterite avenue, lined with inscribed boundary stones, leading to naga-bordered Khmer-style platform adorned with superb stone carvings and friezes. Restoring the site took 17 years.

The buildings are larger and better preserved than those at Phimai. The galleries around the courtyard retain their curved stone roofs, and the sophisticated central pavilion has a multi-layered roof with exquisite inscriptions of Hindu and Buddhist images. Make sure to check out the fighting elephants and warriors on the north side, the mischievous Ramayanan monkeys on the west side, and a chariot-riding Krishna and goddess sitting on a lion on the south side. The lintel of Vishnu reclining on a serpent was stolen from the temple but was recently returned by an American museum following protests.

Phanom Rung is a grand and majestic Khmer site. Built in the cone of a 383-meter-high extinct volcano, it is originally a Hindu religious site and later became a Buddhist one. The first thing visitors see when they arrive at the site is the grand stairway from the foot of the hill up to the top. Most of the buildings of the sanctuary are made of laterite and sandstone, all with elaborate designs. The buildings are lined all the way to the main pagoda. This layout is according to Hindu beliefs about Mr. Meru and the layout of the heaven of the god Shiva.The main pagoda is a large one with a square base and facing east. The designs on the pagoda, columns, doorway, and lintels are exquisite, most telling a stories of Hindu gods. From these designs and the architecture, it is surmised that the pagoda, the stairway and the Naga (cobra-god) bridge were built during the 17th Buddhist century.

A long well-preserved promenade leads to the main gate. It begins on a slope 400 meters east of the main tower with three earthen terraces. Next comes a cruciform base that is believed to have supported a wooden pavilion. To the right here is White Elephant Hall. On the north side are two pools probably used for ritual ablutions. From here a 160-meter-long avenue paved with laterite and sandstone blocks and sided by pillars with lotus-bud tops leads to the first of three naga bridges. The 16-headed naga found here is identical to ones found at Angkor Wat. After the here you pass through a gallery into the main sanctuary which embraces a central prasat, with four entrances topped by towers that are smaller versions of the main prang. The sculpture and ornamentation on the prang and towers is superb.

Hours, Fees, Transport and Contact Info: Phanom Rung Historical Park is open everyday from 6.00am to 6:00pm. Contact: situated at Ban Ta Pek, Tambon Ta Pek., Tel. 0 4463 1746 or 044 - 782 715. Admission fee is 100 Baht. Alternatively, a 30-day package for visiting Phanom Rung Historical Park and Mueang Tam Stone Sanctury (Prasat Mueang Tam) is available for 150 baht. Getting to Phanom Rung by car is easy. The sanctuary is 64 kilometers to the south of Buriram town. There are 2 ways to get there. Visitors can proceed from Nang Rong to Prakhon Chai (Highway No. 24) and upon reaching Ban Tako, there is a 12-kilometer road to Phanom Rung. Alternatively, if visitors proceed from Prakhon Chai, there is a road from there to the sanctuary with a distance of 21 kilometers. This route passes a branch road into Muang Tam sanctuary. Visitors can rent air-conditioned vans in town. Visitors traveling by bus from Nakhon Ratchasima can take the Nakhon Ratchasima - Surin bus and get off at Ban Tako (124 kilometers from Nakhon Ratchasima). From Ban Tako, a motorcycle service is available to take visitors to the site (fare according to agreement). There is an accommodation near the site. By Bus:: From the Buri Ram Bus Terminal, take the Buri Ram to Chanthaburi bus and get off at Ban Tako. Catch a local Songthaew or motorcycle to Phanom Rung. Rates should be agreed in advance.

Muang Tam Historical Park (near Phanom Run) dates back to the 10th century. Originally surrounded by a laterite wall, it contains some finely carved lintels and wall friezes. Restoration work is still going on. In the area there are more khmer ruins at Kutit Reuslu Nong Bus Lair, Kuti Reusli Khok Meuang ad Prasat baibaek. Both Muang Tam and Phanom Rung were stops on the road linking Angkor with Phimai.

PREAH VIHEAR

Preah Vihear (Thailand-Cambodia border, accessible from Surin, Thailand) is a stunning set of Khmer ruins. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, it is regarded as the most spectacularly-situated Angkor-era Khmer site. Perched on the edge of a giant cliff and with a commanding view over northern Cambodia, Preah Vihear is an awesome place. The series of ascents over the best part of a kilometer, the ornate buildings and the wealth of decorative detail truly staggers one’s imagination.

Built by the Khmer King Suriyavaraman I in 1037 A.D., a 100 years before Angkor Wat, Preah Vihear consists of crumbling, moss-covered structures with compounds built on four different levels. Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, the site is perched on a 600-meter cliff and escarpment in the jungle-cloaked Dangrek mountains, which form a natural boundary between Thailand and Cambodia.

Preah Vihear is also known as Khao Pha Viharn. A 162-step stairway leads from the entrance to a steep cliff, 1,500 feet above the Cambodian plains, passing a temple with bas-relief showing how Amarait, the divine Hindu drug of immortality, is made. The other temples feature crumbling gates and steps, columns, blocks of carved pink sandstone and stone nagas (five-headed snakes). There are three stone paws from a stone lion, and ornate lintels (doorway tops) with scenes from Hindu myths such as Shiva riding on Nandi (a sacred bull).

Daniel Robinson wrote in the New York Times, “The name means Mountain of the Sacred Temple. Built from the ninth to the 12th centuries atop a peak of the Dangkrek Mountains, it occupies a triangular plateau rising from the Thailand border to a prow-shaped promontory. An ever-changing architectural, mythological and geological panorama unfolds as visitors progress along the temple’s 2,600-foot-long processional axis, up a series of gently sloping causeways and steep staircases through five gopura, or pavilions, each more sacred than the last. For 40 generations, Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims have trekked to this temple, seeking to ascend toward the holy and the transcendent. Today, the awe-inspiring nature of this Angkorian masterpiece, accentuated by the challenges of getting there, confer on every trip the aura of a pilgrimage. [Source: Daniel Robinson, New York Times, December 23, 2009]

“Preah Vihear Temple is awesomely perched 1,700 feet above Cambodia’s northern plains, near the country’s border with Thailand. It makes an adventurous alternative to far-better-known Angkor Wat. While several thousand foreign tourists visit the temples of Angkor on a typical day, Preah Vihear Temple gets, on average, just five.

Unfortunately Preah Vihear was the site of nasty border conflict between Cambodia and Thailand and accessibility from the Thai side is often denied. Unexploded cluster bombs and land mines remain a danger in the area around Preah Vihear. Some date back to the Khmer Rogue era. Both Thailand and Cambodia have accused each other of setting new land mines during the conflict in the late 2000s. “Before setting out to Preah Vihear Temple, check the Phnom Penh Post (phnompenhpost.com), the Cambodia Daily or other reliable sources to make sure that Thai-Cambodian tensions are not rising. According to the Cambodian Mine Action Center (www.cmac.org.kh), the immediate vicinity of the temple is now safe, having been cleared in recent years of more than 8,800 anti-personnel mines. However, nearby areas are still heavily mined, so do not, under any circumstances, wander off the footpaths. The most useful guidebook in English (and Thai) to the temple’s architecture, symbolism and history is “Preah Vihear” by Vittorio Roveda (Bangkok: River Books, 2000), but it may be difficult to find.”

Getting to Preah Vihear: Preah Vihear can be reached by renting a vehicle in Surin. The going rate for an air-conditioned station wagon is $150 (per vehicle, which can be split among the passengers). It takes about three hours to get to Preah Vihear from Surin. It also possible to rent a vehicle in Si Saket for about $50. Si Saket can be reached by two buses from Surit (change in Kantharalak) for a cost of about $3.00. Surin is about 8 hours on a $20 air-conditioned bus from Bangkok. Tours from Bangkok can be arranged through Diethelm Travel. See Cambodia

At the Thai border you pay a fee, walk 15 minutes to the Thai police, then walk to the Cambodian border post and drop off your passport and fill out some forms. Then walk along a path past barbed wire, foxholes and bunkers to the Cambodian police office where you again pay about a fee. From here an Cambodian armed guard takes you a short distance to the ruins.

Archaeology Magazine Description of Preah Vihear: Brendan Borrell wrote in Archaeology magazine: “ Preah Vihear is a series of buildings arrayed along a 2,600-foot-long central causeway that proceeds dramatically to the edge of a cliff. The complex is meant to represent Mount Meru, the home of Shiva and other Hindu gods. According to Sanskrit inscriptions at Preah Vihear, the temple’s formal origins date to Jayavarman II’s son, Prince Indrayudha, who, in A.D. 893 installed a fragment from a stone monument called a lingam at the site. The lingam, which represents the male sex organ, served two purposes. It was a powerful holy symbol of Shiva, and it was intended to mark Preah Vihear as the northern extent of the Khmer Empire at that time.[Source: Brendan Borrell, Archaeology magazine, February 11, 2013]

Much of the stone construction at Preah Vihear took place in the eleventh century, during the reign of King Suryavarman I, a Buddhist who also worshipped the Hindu gods Shiva and Rama, and was tolerant of a wide range of religious practices. By the twelfth century, Buddhism had become the Khmer state religion and Preah Vihear became a Buddhist sanctuary. A small Buddhist monastery still exists near the ruins and saffron-robed monks come to the 900-year-old buildings to conduct their spiritual practices.

Today, there is a forest at the base of the temple complex near the Thai border. A pair of stone lions flanks the path that leads to a grand staircase and the causeway beyond. The stairs themselves are guarded by sculptures of naga, supernatural multi-headed serpents. Beyond the naga stand the remains of a type of building called a gopura, which were typically built at the gateway of Hindu temples. Little is left standing of the first gopura, labeled gopura V by scholars. There are a few standing columns, some leaning at dangerous angles. The tropical environment has long been exacting a toll on these structures.

The causeway leads past a rectangular pool half-filled with black water and through several more buildings. One of them, gopura IV, is carved with a scene of gods and demons engaged in a struggle to obtain the elixir of immortality. The carving is the earliest known depiction of the Hindu creation story, the Churning of the Sea of Milk.

The causeway ends at an impressive collection of structures. Two buildings flank the entryway to what is called the central sanctuary. Walls surround the sanctuary and the ruins of the main temple buildings stand in the center. Given the way the complex is situated in the landscape, visitors might well expect this last segment of the complex to offer a dramatic vista of the Cambodian plains that stretch for miles beyond. But the temple’s builders had a different experience in mind. The sanctuary’s final wall blocks the scene. Vittorio Roveda, an art historian at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, says, “It was intended that monks not be distracted by the spectacular view.”

UNESCO Description of Preah Vihear: Situated on the edge of a plateau that dominates the plain of Cambodia, the Temple of Preah Vihear is dedicated to Shiva and composed of a series of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases over an 800 meter long axis and dates back to the first half of the A.D. 11th century. Nevertheless, its complex history can be traced to the 9th century, when the hermitage was founded. This site is particularly well preserved, mainly due to its remote location. The site is exceptional for the quality of its architecture, which is adapted to the natural environment and the religious function of the temple, as well as for the exceptional quality of its carved stone ornamentation. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site]

Preah Vihear is a unique architectural complex of a series of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases on an 800 meter long axis. An outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture, it is very ‘pure’ both in plan and in the detail of its decoration and remarkable in terms of its relationship with its spectacular landscape environment.

In the 6th century, King Yasovarmamn I ( 889-900) began work on the original dedicated to Shisa as result of spiritual development, increased political prestige and economic growth was naturally reflected in the Temple undergoing more than 300 years of consultation with deal of remodeling under subsequent King Suryavarman II ( 1113 – 1150) this increased prestige naturally changed the original small sanctuary into one of the greatest Khmer temples of all times. This ranking was the result of the finest in situ carving that depicted the highest standards of unique Khmer architecture. Under the Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1904 and 1907, the line of frontier between Cambodia and Thai along the Dongrak Mountains followed justice at the Hague officially found that the Preah Vihear Temple situated inside the Cambodia territory.

Preah Vihear Temple is located in a pleasant environment with an attractive countryside slightly east of the mid section of the Dongrek Mountains. It is perched on the edge of a giant cliff, about 625 meters above sea level in Preah Vihear Province, Northern part of Cambodia, 625 kilometers from the capital city of Phnom Penh. It is also situated close to the Cambodia-Thai border.

The temple has four levels and four courtyards which comprise of five Gopuras (entrance pavilions some times surmounted by tower). The Palace Building or Gopuras on the third level was the King’s residence when he came to pay homage to the mighty God, and the two wings were the shelters for the pilgrims. The main temple are used for the high-ranking supreme divinities, this mighty group of building is considered as the center of the whole temple complex.

The front stone stairway: this main passage is on the North side. The stairway is 8 meters wide and 78 meters long,. The fist flight has 162 steps. At the first landing is a large stone singa statue on stone block. Another 54 flight of steps 4 meters wide and 27 meters long leads up to the second landing also decorated with stone signa statue.

The Nagaraj Courtyard: this stone-paved is 7 meters wide by 31.8 meters long. From here the stairway leads up to the first-level Gropura. The Stairheads are in the form of seven-headed snakes called "Ngu Suang " facing North towards the Prasat. The heads and tails of nagas on both sides look like ordinary snakes, characterizing and early example of this type of animal figures. The head portion of the naga on the west side looks very impressive because it is made from a single solid stone.

The first level Gopura is a pavilion in Greek architecture style with cross plan on an elevated, rebates angle base on each of the roof doorway. Stone lions are placed on each of the roofs doorway.

UBON RATCHATHANI

UBON RATCHATHANI (629 kilometers from Bangkok) is one of the largest provinces in Thailand. Bordering both Laos and Cambodia, it has been dubbed the “The Emerald Triangle” because of it forests. The Mun River joins the Mekong, which forms the province’s eastern border, At the confluence of the two rivers there is some beautiful scenery, including the cliff of Pha Taem, known for its ancient rock paintings. Sandstone cliffs along the Mekong River serve as a natural border between Thailand and Laos. Ubon Ratchathani province features plateaus and mountain ranges with the Mun River running through the middle. Phu Chong Nayoi and Pha Taem National Parks are two of Isan’s most unspoiled and unvisited natural preserves.

Ubon Ratchathani is home to one of the world’s oldest agrarian communities and is regarded as the ’cradle of northeastern civilisation’. Recently discovered archaeological evidence suggests that humans settled in the region between 14,000 to 6,000 years ago. Ubon Ratchathani city is the the northeast Thailand's largest city. Located on the banks of the Mun River, its history dates back around two centuries, officially in 1780 when King Taksin the Great appointed the region’s first ruler and awarded the city its name. During the Vietnam War a U.S. military base was located here. The city is a wonderful place to witness the annual candle festival, a charming Buddhist celebration. Otherwise there is not too much here than some wats and reasonably good museum with some very old artifacts as well as stuff from the Dvaravati and Khmer periods.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Ubon Ratchathani Office, 264/1 Khuenthani Road, Amphoe Mueang, Ubon Ratchathani 34000, Tel. +66 4524 3770, Fax. +66 4524 3771, E-mail Address: tatubon@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/ubonratchathani . Accommodation: As a fairly large city and province, Ubon Ratchathani has a wide range of accommodation options to suit all variety of visitors on nearly any budget.

Getting to Ubon Ratchathani: As a major provincial capital and transportation hub for Southwestern Isan, Ubon Ratchathani can easily be reached via private car, bus, train, or plane. By Train: Regular trains depart from Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Railway Station to Ubon Ratchathani every day. Call 1690, 0 2223 7010-20 for more information. By Bus: Buses depart from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) to Ubon Ratchathani every day. Contact Transport Co. Ltd at Tel: 0 2936 2852-66 for more information. By Air: Both Thai AirAsia and Thai Airways have daily flights connecting Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani. For more information, contact Thai Airways at tel. 0-2280-0060, 0-2628-2000 / www.thaiairways.com, or ThaiAir Asia at 02 515 9999 / www.airasia.com.

By Car: 1. From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road) to Saraburi and then Highway No. 2 (Mittraphap Road) to Nakhon Ratchasima; finally, take Highway No.226 to Ubon Ratchathani via Buri Ram, Surin, and Si Sa Ket, a total distance of 629 kilometers. 2. From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road) to Saraburi and then Highway No. 2 (Mittraphap Road) to Sikhio, turning onto Highway No. 24 and proceeding to Ubon Ratchathani via Chok Chai, Nang Rong, Prasat, Det Udom, and Warin Chamrap.

Pha Taem National Park (25 kilometers from Khong Chiam) is famous for its ancient rock paintings and covers an area of 140 square kilometers, where plateaus and hills dominate the parks landscape. There are sheer cliffs, which resulted from earthquakes. Most trees are deciduous dipterocarp forest. Irregular shaped sandstone rock formations are found scattered throughout the area. Beautiful flowering plants grow among the rocky ground. Travelling can be made from Khong Chiam District along Highway No. 2134, followed by Highway No. 2112, and then turning right for another 5 kilometers. P

Pha Taem and Pha Kham are located near the national park headquarters. On the cliffs surface are numerous prehistoric cave paintings dating back 3,000-4,000 years ago that offer insight into the way of life that existed during the pre-historic days and reflect the ancient lifestyle of the people who once lived in the area. These painting depict scenes of fishing, rice farming, figures of people, animals, hands and geometric designs. It should be noted that the most extensive site for cave paintings in the country is that of Pha Taem.

Hours, Fees, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm. Contact: Pha Taem National Park Pha Taem National Park, Tambon huai Phai, Amphoe Khong Chiam, Ubon Ratchathani, Tel. 0 4531 8026, 0 4524 6332 - 3. Admission Fee: Adult 200 Baht Child 100 Baht. For more information, visit www.dnp.go.th . How to get there: Pha Taem National Park is 18 kilometers from Khong Chiam. From Amphoe Khong Chiam, motorists can use Highway 2134, then 2112. Turn right at km. 8 and continue for another 5 kilometers s. to Pha Taem.

KHON KAEN

KHON KAEN lies in the heart of the Northeast and is known for its Isan food and hand-woven silk. Sometimes used as a stopover to other destinations, it is a fairly large town with a choice of restaurants and hotels. The museum houses artifacts and other items collected in Northeast. The most important objects are Dvaravati boundary stones which depict the Jakata (previous lives) of the Buddha and the story and the life of Buddha. Kalasin, east of Khon Kaen, is known for Wat Klang, with a fine black Buddha image, and a dinosaur museum containing fossils found in the region.

Khon Kaen is the commercial and political center of Northeastern Thailand and one of the fastest growing areas in Thailand. The Thai government nominated Khon Kaen as the export center for trade throughout the Indo-China Region and both Laos and Vietnam have consulates in Khon Kaen. Khon Kaen also contains the largest university in the northeast, Khon Kaen University.

Historically, Khon Kaen is quite a new town, established a little over two centuries ago during the reign of King Rama I. But prehistorically, this town on the plateau has been home to various cultures as well as dinosaurs. Amphoe Chonnabot is where excellent Mudmee silk is delicately woven by hand using a special tie-dye technique.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Khon Kaen Office, 15/5 Prachasamosorn Road ,Tambon Nai Mueang, Amphoe Mueang, Khon Kaen 40000, Tel. +66 4324 4498-9, Fax. +66 4324 4497, E-mail Address: tatkhkn@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/khonkaen . Accommodation: As a popular tourist destination, Khon Kaen has a large variety of accommodation options including quality hotels and resorts as well as lodging in the national parks and with local villagers at various home stays.

Getting to Khon Kaen: As the commercial and political center of Northeastern Thailand, Khon Kaen can be reached via private car, public bus, train, or airplane. By Air: Thai Airways International operates daily flights on the Bangkok-Khon Kaen route. For more information, call Tel.1566, 0 2280 0060, 0 2628 2000 or Khon Kaen office at Tel. 0 4322 7701 to 5 or visit the website www.thaiairways.com. Thai Air Asia also operates flights on this route. Call for more information at Tel. 0 2515 9999 or visit the website www.airasia.com.

By Train: Trains from Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Railway Station bound for Udon Thani and Nong Khai travel via Khon Kaen. Leaving Bangkok daily, there are various kinds of trains available such as rapid, express, and air-conditioned diesel locomotive. For more information, call Tel. 1690, 0 2220-4334, 0 2220 4444. Khon Kaen Railway Station can be contacted at Tel.0 4322 1112 or www.railway.co.th.

By Car: Khon Kaen province is 449 kilometers from Bangkok. Motorists should take Highway No.1 (Phahonyothin Rd.) north and turn right onto Highway No.2 (Mittraphap Rd.) at kilometer 107 in Saraburi province. Finally, follow Highway No.2 through Nakhon Ratchasima to Khon Kaen. As Khon Kaen is a transportation hub of the Northeast region, motorists can also travel via the Saraburi-Lam Narai Road then turn right, through Mueang Khom-Dan Khun Thot-Chaiyaphum, to Khon Kaen. Or from Saraburi, motorists can travel via Lam Narai-Thepsathit-Chaiyaphum-Mancha Khiri-Phra Yuen to Khon Kaen.

By Bus: A journey by bus from Bangkok to Khon Kaen takes 7 hours. Several ordinary buses, air-conditioned coaches, and 24-seat VIP coaches leave Bangkok’s Northeastern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) daily. For more information, call Tel. 0 2936 2852 to 66. Bus schedules from Khon Kaen can be checked at the Khon Kaen Bus Terminal (Tel.0 4323 7472, 0 4323 7300) and the Air-conditioned Bus Terminal (Tel.0 4323 9910) available for private charter as well.

Pratat Kaennakorn is in an area where many ancient temples are located. The chedi was built in the Indochina artistic style with influences of Esan and Tavaravadi and is called ‘the Great Net’ style. It is in a pointy-triangular shape and consists of nine stories with relics of the Lord Buddha and the Buddhist saints. Visitors can admire the view of the town and the pond from the top of the chedi. Pratat Kaamkaen is the most respected and most stunning Laos-Lanchang-style chedi in Thailand. Legend has it that Praya Langkeao was on his way to place the Lord Buddha’s relic in Pratat Panom when he made a stop to rest at Don Makam.

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR KHON KAEN

Phu Wiang National Park (70 kilometers from Khon Kaen) is site of Thailand’s most important dinosaur discoveries. The first fossils—discovered in 1976 by a uranium survey team on the hill Pratu Ti Ma—were a long neck and tail of a 15-meter-long dinosaur. The plant-eating dinosaur was named Phuwiangosaurus Sirindhornae to honour H.R.H Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. At this site, the teeth of a meat-eating Tyranosaur have also been found. It was named Siamosaurus Suteethorni after the discoverer, Mr. Warawuth Suteethorn. Visitors to the park can visit all three of the main fossil sites. The fossils themselves are now displayed in the museum of the Department of Mineral Resources. The oldest, the fossils of Siamotyrannus Isanensis, are 120 to 130 million years old. This indicates that tyrannosaurus originated in Asia. At Site No. 8 are 68 footprints of dinosaurs, dating back 140 million years ago. Most of them belong to the world's smallest species of meat-eating dinosaur, which walked on two legs. Among such footprints, there is one bigger footprint, assumed to belong to Carnosaurus. These sites are 19 kilometers from the headquarters. It takes an hour to get there by car and a four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended. In many sites, geologists found fossils of dinosaur babies, small crocodiles and mussels dating back to 150 million years ago.

Besides fossils of dinosaurs, there are also traces of ancient civilizations in this area including a high relief of the reclining Buddha on the cliff, at the crest of Phu Wiang Mountain. The Buddha image was carved in the 9th century, mirroring an influence from Indian art. Nearby is Tham Famue Daeng, Dang, or Red Palm Cave, at Ban Hin Rong. The cave wall houses prehistoric paintings of cavemen's hands from sprays of red ochre.

Natural attractions in the park include waterfalls and field of wild flowers. Namtok Thap phaya Suea is a small waterfall near to Tham Famue Daeang. Namtok Tat Fa is a 15-meter high waterfall that can be accessed by car. The waterfall is 18 kilometers from Amphoe Phu Wiang. Some 5 kilometers from Namtok Tat Fa is Namtok Tat Klang which is a 8-meter high waterfall. Savanna and rock plateaus are blanketed with wild flowers in full bloom at the end of the rainy season. Phu Wiang National Park covers a total area of 380 square kilometers.

Hours, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm. Contact: P.O.Box 1, Nai Muang Sub-district, Amphur Phu Wiang Khorn Kaen Thailand, Tel. 0 4324 9052. The headquarters features an exhibition about the dinosaurs and fossils found in the area. For group tourists requiring a guide, contact the headquarters in advance at Tel. 0 4324 9052. How to get there: from downtown Khon Kaen, visitors can get there via Highway 12 and connect to Highway 2038, bound for Amphoe Phu Wiang. From Amphoe Phu Wiang, take the Phu Wiang-Ban Muaeng Mai Road, passing the national park unit, Pak Chong Phu Wiang at kilometer 23. Turn left at kilometer 30 at Ban Pho Reservoir and the national parks headquarters is 8 kilometers away.

Phu Pha Man National Park (accessible from Amphoe Phu Wiang, 125 kilometers from Khon Kaen) features a towering limestone cliffs and interesting caves. Covering a total area of 218,750 rai, the park contains a number of attractions, including the cave in Phu Pha Man Mountain, About 2.5 kilometers from Amphoe Phu Pha Man, the caves is occupied by millions of bats, whose accumulated droppings cause a strong smell. Every evening, around 6 pm., these bats leave the cave in line over ten kilometers long. It takes 30 to 45 minutes for all bat to emerge. Near to Tham Klangkhao is an impressive cave with beautiful stalagmites, stalactites, and big stone pillars but is diffiuclt to enter. In Ban Wang Sawap, 17 kilometers from downtown Amphoe Phu Pha Man, is a cave with a spacious chamber, covering over a one rai in area. The flat floor and five- to seven-meter-high ceiling and good ventilation makes it a good cave for visitors to enjoy.

There are also some impressive waterfalls. Namtok Tat Yai is the highest waterfall in the park. It is 70 meters tall and originates from Phong River that runs from Phu Kradueng. A folk tale says the waterfall can sing. As water falls on thin stone, the story goes, it is diverted into different rock holes, producing strange sounds.

Hours, Fees, Contact, Accommodation and Transport Info: Open everyday from 6.00am to 6:00pm. Contact: Tambol Nanhongtum, Amphur Chum Phae Khorn Kaen Thailand, Tel. 0 2562 0760. The national park has not any accommodation and facility for tourists. Visitors should prepare everything by themselves. For more information, please contact the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department at Tel. 0 2562 0760. www.dnp.go.th .

UDON THANI

UDON THANI (50 kilometers south of Laos, 564 kilometers northeast of Bangkok) is the home of an ancient civilization that forced archeologist and historians to rethink their theories about the development of civilization in Asia and the world. The Ban Chiang site, located in this area, features burial grounds that have produced beautiful painted pottery, and bronze object dated, using several methods, to 4000 B.C., almost 1,500 years before bronze was developed anywhere else in the world. Some of these objects are in the fine Udon Thani bronze age museum along with skeleton, tools and pottery.

Modern Udon Thani itself is a busy transportation hub. The city expanded greatly in the Vietnam War era when U.S. Air bases were established nearby. Some GIs still live in the area. Outside of town a $200 million Voice of American transmitter was built in the 1990s. There isn’t a lot interest to the tourists.

Udon Thani is a major transportation hub for Northeastern Thailand. Geographically, the province is located on a plateau which is approximately 187 meters above sea level. Most of the area is covered with rice fields, forests, and hills; the Phu Pan mountain range and the Songkhram River are the provinces two primary natural attractions. The inhabitants of Udon Thani are mainly engaged in agricultural activities, and the capital city is a major agricultural market center for its neighboring provinces. Udon Thani is also known for its forest temples, Khit-style textiles and as a gateway to Laos.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Udon Thani Office, 16/5 Mu kilometers ontri Road , Tambon Makkheng, Amphoe Mueang, Udon Thani 41000, Tel. +66 4232 5406-7, Fax. +66 4232 5408, E-mail Address: tatudon@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/udonthani . Accommodation: Although not a major center for tourism, there are variety of accommodation options for visitors to choose from because Udon Thani is a major regional hub for transport and commerce.

Getting to Udon Thani: As a major transportation center, Udon Thani can be reached a number of ways directly from cities around northeastern and central Thailand, including via private car, bus, train, or airplane. By Air: Daily flights between Bangkok and Udon Thani are offered by the Thai Airways, Thai AirAsia, and Nok Air. For detailed information, contact www.thaiairways.com, www.airasia.com, or www.nokair.com. By Train: Train service between Bangkok and Udon Thani is available every day. For more details, contact the Travel Service Unit, State Railway of Thailand (SRT), Tel. 1690; 0 2220 4334; and 0 2220 4444, or visit www.railway.co.th.

By Car: From Bangkok, travel along Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road), switching to Highway No. 2 (Mittraphap Road) at kilometers 107 in Saraburi, and then drive through Nakhon Ratchasima and Khon Kaen to Udon Thani. The total distance is around 564 km. By Bus: There are ordinary and air-conditioned buses servicing the route between Bangkok and Udon Thani every day. The buses leave from Bangkok’s Northeastern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) on Kamphaengphet Road. For further information, contact the Transport Company Limited, Tel. 0 2936 2852-66, the Udon Thani Provincial Bus Terminal, Tel. 0 4222 1489, or visit www.transport.co.th

Getting Around in Udon Thani is both easy and inexpensive; visitors can opt for public buses, songtaews (pickup trucks with benches in the back), motorbike taxis, or samlors (three wheeled pedal powered cabs). Songtaews are the most common form of transportation in Udon Thani and follow different routes, designated by their number and color. There are no fixed “bus stops” per se; passengers simply hail them as they pass. Be sure to tell them where you are headed so as to get on the right songtaew. Fares should be fixed at around 6 baht for trips within and along the city ring-road and 10 baht for longer journeys. The price goes up to 15 baht after 7.00pm and songtaews are generally off duty by 8pm. Motorized samlors (a type of tuk tuk) charge a negotiated fare based on the distance, while pedal powered samlors cost less and are more pleasurable, if slower modes of transport; always agree on a price before boarding. Samlors are the only way to get around after dark, as buses and songtaews stop shortly after sunset. There are two city buses: white and yellow. Trips around town cost between 5 and 15 baht depending on distance.

BAN CHIANG AND OTHER PLACES NEAR UDON THANI

BAN CHIANG (50 kilometers east of Udon Thani) contains the excavations of the world’s oldest Bronze Age culture. The small but excellent Ban Chiang National Museum embraces part of the original Ban Chiang excavation and displays prehistoric artifacts found in the area, including a lot of painted pottery, beads, bronze artifacts, and 3,000-year-old human skeletons. Ban Chiang has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Bronze artifacts have been discovered in northern Thailand, around the village of Ban Chiang, that were dated to 3600 to 4000 B.C., more than a thousand years before the Bronze Age was thought to have begun in the Middle East. The discovery of these tools resulted in a major revision of theories regarding the development of civilization in Asia.

The first discoveries of early Bronze Age culture in Southeast Asia were made by Dr. G. Solheim II, a professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii. In the early 1970s, he found a socketed bronze ax, dated to 2,800 B.C., at a site in northern Thailand called Non Nok Tha. The ax was about 500 years older than the oldest non-Southeast-Asia bronze implements discovered in present-day Turkey and Iran, where it is believed the Bronze Age began. [Source: Wilhelm G. Solheim II, Ph.D., National Geographic, March 1971]

Non Nok Tha also yielded a copper tool dating back to 3,500 B.C.. and some double molds used in the casting of bronze, dating back to 2300 B.C, significantly older than similar samples found in India and China where it is believed bronze metal working began. Before Solheim it was thought that the knowledge of bronze working was introduced to Southeast Asia from China during the Chou dynasty (1122-771 B.C.). Solheim is sometimes called "Mr. Southeast Asia."

Ban Chiang site is located on he Khorat Plateau in northeastern Thailand. Among the discoveries made at a 124-acre mound site there were bracelets and bronze pellets (used for hunting with splits-string bows), and lovely painted ceramics dated to 3500 B.C. Most of the bronze made Ban Chiang is ten percent tin and 90 percent copper. This it turns out is ideal proportion. Any less tin, the metal fails to reach maximum hardness. Any more, the metal becomes too brittle and there is more of a chance it will break during forging. The Ban Chiang culture also developed bronze jewelry with a silvery sheen by adding 25 percent tin to the surface layers of the bronze at a heat of 1000°F and plunging it quickly into water. See History

Poo Pra Bat Historical National Park (70 kilometers from Udon Thani) features some interesting rock formations and caves with perhistoric paintings of animals, humans and mysterious symbols. Covering an area of of 5.488 square kilometers and is situated on Poo Pan Mountain, it is believed that Poo Pra Bat was a sacred place to perhistoric people, who regarded it as the entrance to the underworld. The most outstanding tourist attraction here is Nang Usa tower—a sandstone rock pillar—which it appears in many local myths. This tower occurs as a result from natural erosion. The upper part contains a chamber assumed to be used for religious ceremonies. There are also boundary markers around this tower that are still in good condition. The park is situated in the Poo Pan foothills. Visitors can travel from Udonthani by taking Highway 2 (Udonthani-Nongkai) then turn on to highway 2021 at milestone 13. Then follow the road to Amphur Baan Pue for around 42 kilometers and turn right and go straight down highway 2348 for around 12 kilometers.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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