The southern plateau of Isan together with its surrounding mountains is almost identical with the Mun River Basin, except for it s downstream section, where it borders the Mekong River. By present administrative units, the southern plateau comprises, from west to east as the Mun River flows, of the provinces of Nakhon Ratchasima, Buri Ram, Surin and Si Sa Ket. Its area is larger than the country of Bhutan, and substantially larger than Switzerland. In terms of physical geography, the southern plateau of Isan is slanting from high mountain ranges in the west, southwest and south toward the Mekong River in the east, at the average rate of one metre per kilometre.
The Phang Hoei Mountain Range in the west, the San Kamphaeng Mountain Range in the southwest, and the Dong Rak Mountain Range in the south are the headwater areas of numerous creeks, rivulets, and rivers, known as lam nam, lam, huailam, or huai in Thai. By their sheer number, they seem to hold great potential as a reliable water resource. The Mun River rises in the far west, together with several larger tributaries such as Choeng Krai, Takhong, San Phet, and Chakarat in Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Along the course of the Mun River, numerous tributaries empty into the main stream. They include such major ones as Plai Mat, Chi, which is shorter than a longer river of the same name to the north, Sathaet, Phang Chu, and Nang Rong in Buri Ram Province; Phlapphla, Thap Than, Phai, and Lam Phok in Surin Province; and Samran, Tha, Siao, Hung, Kha Yung, and Chi, the longer river of the two with the same name, in Si Sa Ket Province. Yet the large areas of the two plains, Thung Samrit in the west and Thung Kula Rong Hai in the east, are seasonally semi-arid lands.
The cause of the ensuing environmental deterioration over the centuries is large-scale deforestation in historical times, to lasting detrimental effect. As evident from meteorological records for the past 125 years, at fearsome regularity one disastrous flooding and one devastating drought used to occur at five-year intervals. The clustering of monuments of antiquity holds both the core explanation of existing conditions and the potential for further improvement, in the course of ongoing development efforts.
Fossils of animals and plants give evidence of early life on the southern plateau. Actinopterigian fossils discovered in grey sandstone at a site of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, in 19921, show fish with hard bones and stemmed fins, 34.5 centimetres long and 12 centimetres wide, with diamond-shaped scales and asymmetrical tail. They are dated as of the Early Jurassic Period (195-177 million years ago). It is assumed that these fish fossils are about 190 million years old. In the same province, elephantine fossils were discovered in a sand pit on the bank of the Mun River. They include bones, teeth and tusks ascribed to four-tusk elephants in the Gomphotherium genus, to four-tusk elephants in the Stegolophodon genus, and two-tusk elephants in the Stegedon genus. These fossils are dated as of the Late Middle Miocene Period (150 – 130 million years ago). Also in this province, at a site in Mueang District, more than 10,000 pieces of petrified wood were excavated at a depth of eight metres. Their size reaches from pieces as small as pebbles to some large ones which are longer than one metre. They are assumed to be between one and 20 million years old. This site has been declared a nature reserve, named Uthayan MaiKlai Pen Hin.
Evidence of prehistoric settlements was found in Nakhon Ratchasima and Buri Ram provinces. At a site in Sikhio District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province which is littered with sandstone rocks, and where the monastery named Wat Khao Chan Ngam of Ban Loet Sawat is situated, pictographs tell of human habitat some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Two sets are distinguished, one showing human figures hunting animals, painted in red, and another one of hardly discernable drawings. One particular sandstone rock has pictographs which are four metres high and show human as well as animal figures. Inside the Khao Chan Ngam Cave, pictographs cover the length of 2.2 metres, drawn between four and five metres above the ground. Also in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, in its Non Sung District, is the Ban Prasat Ancient Culture Site. It is considered second only to the Ban Chiang Prehistoric Site, situated in Udon Thani Province of Isan.
At Ban Prasat, three excavation sites yielded evidence of continuity of human habitat, from prehistoric to Dvaravati and, then, Khmer civilizations. The earliest community existed about 3,000 years ago. To date, it is the oldest settlement discovered in the south of Isan. Findings at 5.5- metre depth include female human skeletons only, owing to the objects deposited in the graves, which include earthenware, jewelry such as necklaces made of mollusc shells, beads, bronze rings, bronze bangles, bronze brooches, and burial paraphernalia for the dead, as well as utensils. Of special significance are pieces of red band-ceramic pottery dated as more than 3,000 years old, including the first and oldest pots with a trumpet-shaped opening, and some black-patterned ceramics made 2,500 years ago. At the Phimai Historical Park, famous for its Khmer antiquities, random excavations yielded Neolithic pottery, jewellery and shell ornaments. Traces of a prospering Bronze Age community were found at Ban Mueang Pha in Buri Ram Province. The variety of objects includes human skeletons, animal bones, mollusc shells, and artefacts such as plain and painted pottery, some in the shape of animal figurines, utensils made from stone and quartz, ornaments, as well as spear-tips and axe-blades made from iron. Experts concluded that buffaloes had been reared and probably used to work the land.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO EARLY HISTORY : CHENLA AND DVARAVATI PERIODS FROM THE 7TH CENTURY ONWARD
There are indications that early in history the southern plateau of Isan saw the encounter, acculturation and assimilation of ethnic groups which, to use a befitting concept of social anthropology, upheld their very own “little traditions” while performing vital roles in shaping successive “great traditions”.
The earliest documented testimony is a set of inscriptions in Pallawa characters and Sanskrit language which record the feats of King Chitrasen of Chenla, a realm in the eastern part of Mainland Southeast Asia. The inscription found in Buri Ram Province, still in pristine condition, dates from the 7th century. It also refers to King Mahenthravarman [607 – 616] of the “Lower Khmer Realm”, which is the area south of the Dong Rak Mountain Range. The inscriptions found in the provinces of Surin and Si Sa Ket are now preserved at the National Museum in Bangkok. They record that the ancient Khmer towns in the wild forests of Isan, i.e. to the north of the Dong Rak Mountain Range, were considered the “Upper Khmer Realm”. Its major towns named in the inscriptions are Khukhan (now Khukhan District, Si Sa Ket Province) and Sangha (now Sangkha District, Surin Province). By then, they were under the rule of the Chenla Kingdom, with its centre to the east of the Mekong River. Remains of the Dvaravati Period are concentrated at sites in present Nakhon Ratchasima Province, with few sites in Buri Ram and one site in Surin provinces. Phimai in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, evidently the site of human habitat in prehistoric time, was one of the early Dvaravati towns, around the 3rd to 4th centuries and remained a focal point of Mahayana Buddhism until the 10th century. By the 7th century, the town named Sema gained importance. Its ruins are located in present Sung Noen District. Although only ramparts and moats are still visible in part, which encompass an oval area some two kilometres long and 1.5 kilometres wide, inside are several mounds of collapsed brick, laterite and sandstone structures, some of them excavated, and also some ponds. The sheer size of the ancient site suggests that Sema was a regional centre, strategically situated in the land corridor between the central plain of the Chao Phraya River and Isan. In its surrounding area are remnants of monuments built of laterite and sandstone.
Excavations yielded many artefacts. The most significant artefacts are a reclining Buddha statue and an ancient Dharma Wheel. They are preserved, together with other artefacts, at the nearby monastery named Wat Thammachak Semaram. The reclining pink sandstone Buddha image is the largest and oldest of its kind in Thailand. It was created around the year 650 by cutting, assembling and sculpting large blocks of red sandstone, to the length of 13.3 metres and the height of 2.8 metres. The Dharma Wheel was sculpted from one large piece of sandstone rock. It is engraved with the symbols of the “Lord of the Forest”, “phanasabodi” in Thai, including the Bo Tree, Banyan Tree and Fig Tree, trees that produce fruit without flowering. Other Dvaravati artefacts include a bronze Buddha image cast in a lost-wax mould, quartz beads, ornaments, and band-ceramic pottery pieces. All these items are preserved at the Phimai National Museum. Fragmented boundary markers, baisema, dot the surrounding area.
Excavations at the Ban Prasat Archaeological Site in the province’s Non Sung District yielded Buddha images from one and the same period of the Dvaravati culture as well as women’s ornaments and decorative items of a sanctuary named “Ku Thara Prasat”. All these artefacts were found in the second of three layers, the one with remains from the 8th to 9th centuries. In the first layer of the excavation site glazed ceramic pots made from red clay were found, which are dated as about 1,500 years old.
Fewer Dvaravati artefacts were found in Buri Ram Province. They include a two-metre high statue made of laterite and a bronze-cast image, both of which are housed in the monastery named Wat Hong, also known as Wat Sisa Raet, in Phutthaisong District. This is the location of an ancient town, founded in the Dvaravati Period and in existence until the end of Khmer rule. On the ground of the monastery named Wat Khao Angkhan in Chaloem Phra Kiat District are many Dvaravati sandstone boundary markers, bai sema. Among the artefacts found at the prehistoric site of Ban Mueang Phai is one large-size bai sema, which is thought to belong to an ancient, dilapidated Buddhist temple.
The site of Mueang Phra Thai Saman, also known as Ku Phra Thai, in Surin Province shows traces of an ancient town surrounded by two walls and moats. The remains of four ancient communities outside the walls are believed to pre-date the founding of that town.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 7TH UNTIL 13TH CENTURIES : EXAMPLES OF KHMER STYLES
In history, one of the great territorial expansions in Mainland Southeast Asia had been driven by Khmer rulers based in the area around the Tonle Sap Lake, in present Cambodia. Their advances in establishing strategic outposts towards upstream areas of the Mekong River Basin, the Tanao Si Mountain Range in the West and the Upper Peninsula are manifest in numerous ancient monuments. Their highest concentration exists on the southern plateau of Isan. There, some one hundred ancient sites are known, to date. In one of the four provinces, Buri Ram, 60 sites are listed. Archaeological as well as historical research, and ensuing large-scale restoration works trace the Khmer presence over a period of seven centuries, between the early 7th and late 13th centuries. One salient finding of scholarly work explains the complexity of most ancient Khmer monuments, as they appear especially after restoration through anastylosis of ruins, many of which had dilapidated to heaps of fragments, since the faltering of the Khmer Empire under the onslaught by the Thai Ayutthaya Kingdom, in the 14th century. Characteristically, the existing ancient sites had evolved through a prolonged process of building which resulted in the incorporation of various styles of Khmer architecture and art. It is for this reason that a chronological approach is adopted in presenting
examples from among the many ancient monuments.
By far most ancient sites with Khmer monuments are sanctuaries called Prasat3, on account of their characteristic main edifices shaped like towers, since antiquity and until this day. By and large, this designation precedes the proper name of any such sanctuary and edifice. It is, therefore, retained in presenting the selected monuments, in chronological order since the earliest evidence of their foundation and first construction.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 7TH CENTURY ONWARD : SAMBOR PHREA KUK * SOMBO PHRAI KUK, AND PHREA KO * PHRA KHO STYLES
The oldest Khmer sanctuary in Isan as well as in Thailand is Prasat Phumi Pon, located in Sangkha District of Surin Province. It consists of four ancient structures, three built of brick and one of laterite, in different periods. Its largest and tallest central ‘tower’ and the one situated to its north were built of brick in the style defined, in internationally adopted nomenclature, as Sambor Phrea Kuk, in the first half of the 7th century. They are the very oldest such monuments. Another small tower, resembling the Preah Ko style, was built of brick probably late in the 9th century, and one more built of laterite was added, probably latest in the 11th century, as inscriptions suggest. Prasat Phumi Pon was designed as a Hindu sanctuary. Its original stone inscriptions dating from the 7th to 11th centuries are preserved at the Surin National Museum. Located in the same province is Prasat Ban Beng, the only other very old Hindu sanctuary built in the Sambor Phrea Kuk style, also in the first half of the 7th century.
MONUMENT AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 9TH CENTURY ONWARD : KULEN, PREAH KO * PHRAI KHO, BAKHEN * PHRAI KHAMEN, KLEANG * KHLANG, BAPHUON * BA PUAN, AND BAYON STYLES
Prasat Phanomwan has a long history of building its various edifices, spanning some 300 years. Construction of this sanctuary began in the Kulen Period7 which is characteristic of the first to the third quarter of the 9th century. Its entrance structures date from the transition period of the Preah Ko to the Bakheng8 style, at the end of the 9th century. They form the oldest part of the monument, as it exists today.
Most structures reflect the style of the transition period from the Kleang to the Baphuon9 style. While almost all carved lintels of the structures were moved to the archaeological collection attached to the Prasat Phimai Sanctuary or the National Museum in Bangkok, one fine, carved lintel is still in place above the north entrance of the main sanctuary. The large towers of the prasat with doorways, known as gopura in Sanskrit and sum pratu in Thai, and ledges represent pure Baphuon Style10. The central tower is an edifice with a vestibule leading to a hall, the inner sanctum, and a tapering upper part topped by an artistic spire. It is known as mandapa in Sanskrit and called mondop in Thai. The inner wall of the sanctuary is built of sandstone and its outer wall of laterite. At a hillside nearby, named noen oraphim in Thai, is the characteristic pond, named saphleng in Thai. One building of the prasat called prang noi houses a large Buddha image sculpted of sandstone, indicating the transformation of the erstwhile Hindu into a Buddhist sanctuary, located in present Mueang District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province.
Archaeological evidence underscores that construction of the Hindu sanctuary remained unfinished. A local legend relates the competitive construction of the twin sanctuaries of Phimai and Phanomwan, between teams of women and men. The women built Prasat Phimai, while the men built Prasat Phanomwan. The outcome explains the variation in degree of completion, with the Prasat Phanomwan unfinished. It had been agreed beforehand that upon completion of construction work, a hot-air-borne lantern (as still popular nowadays in Isan, called yi pheng, and in northern Thailand, called yi peng) would be floated to send the agreed signal. Fearsome of losing out, the women let their balloon rise and float before they had finished the construction of Prasat Phimai. On sighting the lantern signalling their woman competitors’ accomplishment, the men felt despondent and abandoned their work.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 9TH CENTURY ONWARD : PREAH KO * PHRAI KHO, BAKHENG, KLEANG * KHLANG, PREAH RUP * PRAE RUP, BANTEAY SREI * BANTAI SI, AND BAPHUON * BA PUAN STYLES
The Mueang Tam Sanctuary is a complex whose construction was started in the last quarter of the 9th century11, in the style of the Preah Ko Period. The Hindu sanctuary proper, the prasat with five towers, prang, built of brick on a single laterite base in the middle of the complex, as well as the large barai or reservoir with its embankment and sluice gates built of laterite, to its north, date from this period. Most figurative sculptures represent themes of the Hindu cosmology. Sandstone lintels show images of Indra riding the elephant named Erawan and of Shiva with Uma Haesuan seated on his knees. Work was completed more than one hundred years later12, in the period known as the transition from the Kleang to the Banteay Srei style, in Thai also referred to as a “papon”, mixed style, not to be confused with the Baphuon Period, known in Thai as Ba Puan. The inner wall was built from sandstone in a square shape, with one long, narrow corridor and large ponds in the four corners.
The ponds were enclosed with lowrise kerbs and downward steps constructed of sandstone. Sculpted cassia blossoms decorate the sandstone structures. The outer wall was built of laterite. Well-restored as it appears today, the elegant ensemble of Prasat Mueang Tam presents the result of blending different styles over a period of about 130 years. It is located in Prakhon Chai District of Buri Ram Province.
Upon its marvellous restoration, the grand and majestic ancient Khmer monument of Prasat Phanom Rung crowns the southern ridge of an extinct volcano, a big, rung in Khmer, mountain, phanom in Khmer. Earliest evidence of its construction dates from its oldest, existing structures of two small brick sanctuaries near the main tower whose architectural features reflect the overlapping stylistic periods known as Preah Ko and Bakheng (both late 9th to mid-10th centuries), Preah Rup (mid-10th century), and Banteay Srei as well as Kleang (both second half 10th century). Founded as a Hindu sanctuary, it was laid out as a heavenly abode of Shiva. Prang Noi, a small square chapel in pink sandstone, was built in the style of the transition period from the Kleang to the Baphuon14 style (early 11th century). Its four sides have sculpted decorations in the Kleang style.
Other structures built of laterite including the Phlapphla PlueangKhrueang, commonly called the White Elephant Stables, were likely added in the 11th century. Design and architecture of the central tower, the main chapel called prang prathan in Thai, were executed in the style characteristic of the early Baphuon Period15 (early 12th century). Presumably the two laterite buildings to the left and right of the main entrance of the sanctuary, in their rough appearance contrasting with that of the refined main temple edifice, its prang, were built as structures to house the library, known as bannalai. The staircase with its segmentation by three terraces or bridges, saphannakharaj, of diminishing size in upward direction, each with balustrades flanked by mythical serpents, naga, as well as the rectangular perimeter, rabiang chan nok, were constructed in the style named after its most famous monumental example, Angkor Wat16 (12th century). Additions in this style were resumed in the late decades of the 12th and into the early decades of the 13th century17, when King Jayavarman VII converted to Buddhism and had Hindu sanctuaries consecrated as sanctuaries of the Mahayana Buddhism tenet. The magnificently restored Prasat Phanom Rung, with a host of splendid sandstone sculptures such as the famous Narai Lintel, is located in Chaloem Phra Kiat District of Buri Ram Province. The monument named Prasat Sa Kamphaeng Yai in Uthumphon Phisai District of Si Sa Ket Province is one of the best examples of the transformation which numerous ancient sanctuaries have undergone, over the centuries. The present Buddhist monastery named Wat Sa Kamphaeng Yai is situated right next to the ancient sanctuary. Its large site, the largest in the area dotted with such ancient monuments, might be the result of repeated modifications.
The construction of originally six towers points to the architectural style of the Preah Ko Period18 (late 9th to early 10th centuries) as the time when the foundation of the sanctuary was laid and the six towers were first built. Established as a Hindu sanctuary, it was constructed by erecting three of the six towers on a single terrace built of sandstone and laterite. Early on, it was probably dedicated to Brahma, before becoming a Shiva sanctuary. The existing central tower was built of sandstone combined with brick, while the three other existing towers, those flanking the central tower, prasatprathan, and the existing fourth tower, one of the erstwhile other three towers, were built solely of brick. Two rectangular edifices, built of brick and likely used as livingquarter and storehouse were presumably added in the Kleang Period19 (early 11th century). Structural components hewn of sandstone include frontons or pediments, lintels, colonettes and balustrades of the four doorways of each tower, called gopura in Sanskrit and sum pratu in Thai. Sculptures on sandstone include a pediment on one rectangular building showing Narai Banthomsin and another pediment on the second rectangular building showing Shiva with Uma. Some lintels depict images of Brahma or Shiva. Excavations yielded many artefacts such as intricately carved sandstone lintels; stone inscriptions relating details of construction, reference to the area from which resources were drawn, and the number of slave workers required; and Buddha images such as the ones in meditation posture and seated under a canopy of Naga heads; and some fired-clay and bronze artwork. The Buddha images, particularly the statue of the Buddha seated under a canopy of Naga heads sculpted from sandstone, render strong evidence that the site was transformed into a Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary20, around the turn of the 13th century.
Although not situated in Thailand’s territory, mention is made here of the ancient Hindu sanctuary named Prasat Phra Vihan, situated on the ridge of a promontory that is cut in half by the boundary of Thailand and Cambodia. The sanctuary proper sits on top of a high, steep cliff. In history and to this day, the Prasat Phra Vihan, known as Khao Phra Vihan in Thai, has been accessible only by ascending to it through the northern foothills and on the sloping mountain ridge. While the ancient sanctuary is situated in Cambodia, its access is routed through Kantharalak District of Thailand’s Si Sa Ket Province. The foundation of Prasat Phra Vihan dates back to the period of transition from the Preah Ko to Bakheng21 styles (turn of the 10th century). Wholesome construction was carried out in the Kleang22 style, at its beginning, and employing elements of the Baphuon style, in reaching completion.
Along the route and at high altitude, a sculpted wall spot of the cliff named Pha Mo I Daeng, situated in Thailand, features three human-like figures. Scholars interpreted these images as Shiva flanked by two female deities or celestial maidens. They might have been created by craftsmen who camped there, near the site where they worked on the construction of Prasat Phra Vihan. It probably was in the early construction phase of the Khao Phra Vihan sanctuary that the chapel named after the Pha Mo I Daeng was built, which houses an image of the Buddha seated under a canopy of serpent heads, called Phra Nak Prok in Thai, and where the oldest Khmer style bas-relief in Thailand was found.
Nakhon Ratchasima Province, are the two ancient sites of the Dvaravati city named Sema and of the Khmer city named Khorakhapura. Sema sank into oblivion after the Khmer took control of the area and established Khorakhapura as their regional centre. In the second half of the 17th century, these ancient cities, by then deserted, lent their names to the new regional centre which was established somewhat farther to the east, under the alternative names of Khorat and Nakhon Ratchasima. Among the remains of sanctuaries in the ancient Khmer city of Khorakhapura, in Thai known as Mueang Khorat Kao, the Hindu sanctuary named Prasat Noen Ku is the oldest. What remained are one of likely five towers, of square shape and built of brick on a high platform constructed of sandstone. The tower is flanked by annexes which resemble ancient library buildings. Excavations in 1991-1992 yielded many artefacts, including images of Phra Isuan or Shiva and of celestial maidens. Lintels discovered in the dig were taken to the Phimai National Museum for safekeeping.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 10TH CENTURY ONWARD : KOH KER * KO KAE, AND PREAH RUP * PRAE RUP STYLES
The Prasat Tamnak Sai, also known as Prasat Tham Chan, in Khukhan District of Si Sa Ket Province seems to be of enigmatic origin. Its construction probably began in the Koh Ker Period23 (first half of the 10th century), owing to its architectural style. It was built of brick as a single, square-shaped tower based on a platform built of laterite, and dedicated to Brahma. In its perimeter, a sandstone image of Brahma was found. A sandstone lintel of the tower shows Narai Banthomsin. Both sculptures are preserved in the Phimai National Museum. Still in place is a pair of lions which guard the entrance and the doorway, gopura, leading to the tower. All these structures were built of sandstone. The ensemble of components showing different styles, as it appears today, is dated as of the 11th century.
In the far west of the southern plateau, in Sung Noen District of The sanctuary has two gateways and is surrounded by a low wall built of sandstone, called kamphaengkaeo in Thai. Some design features reflect the Koh Ker Style24 (second quarter of the 10th century), while the overall architectural style is considered to represent the Preah Rup style25 (third quarter of the 10th century).
Nearly as old as Prasat Noen Ku is another Hindu sanctuary in the ancient city of Khorakhapura which is known as Prasat Mueang Khaek. Compared to the somewhat older sanctuary, Prasat Mueang Khaek is a large site of square lay-out with monuments built of brick and sandstone. Its central tower, called prasatprathan in Thai, with two library buildings, called bannalai, doorways known as gopura, terraces enclosed by balustrades, stairs, small towers built of brick, all these structures surrounded by a low wall, called kamphaeng kaeo, and ponds were built in the Preah Rup Style26 (third quarter 10th century), the same style as that of Prasat Noen Ku. Various sculptures discovered during excavations in the years 1959 and 1990- 1991, including an image of Brahma, confirmed that Prasat Mueang Khaek was a Hindu sanctuary, originally dedicated to Brahma. All precious artefacts are preserved at the Phimai National Museum. The ancient Mueang Sema has, in addition to its Dvaravati heritage, some remains of Khmer monuments built of laterite and sandstone. Comparatively best preserved is the central edifice of a Hindu sanctuary called Prasat It Klang. As its name indicates, it was built of brick as the core tower of a quincunx, in the Preah Rup Style27 (third quarter of the 10th century).
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 10TH CENTURY ONWARD : PREAH RUP * PRAERUP STYLE
The earliest among the existing sites in Isan with remains of a Khmer sanctuary laid out in a quincunx seems to be Prasat Mueang Thi in Mueang District of Surin Province. It is for this type of layout that it has been likened to the much better preserved Prasat Si Khoraphum, at close distance within the same province. The ruins of Prasat Mueang Thi appear to stand on raised ground, which itself is the remnant of the high platform or terrace constructed of laterite, now largely dilapidated. Of its originally five, square-shaped towers, prang, built of brick on a single base, three remain, including the central tower. The sanctuary was constructed in the Preah Rup28 style (early 11th century) and dedicated to Brahma. Its central tower is the tallest and has a stairway on each side reaching to its pediment. Its main and upper structure has five reduced storeys. It resembles Mount Meru of the Hindu cosmology.
An example of pragmatic restoration worth calling up is the erstwhile sanctuary now known as Prasat Tapiang Tia in Lamduan District of Surin Province. It was originally designed as a Hindu sanctuary with the layout of a quincunx, examples of which are rare in Isan. Built of brick, probably in the Preah Rup style (early 11th century), its five towers, prang, were modified several hundred years later. One might assume that the upper sections of the towers were dilapidated, by then, or else that construction had not been completed, in the first instance. Local ingenious craftsmen maintained the square-shaped lower structures and capped the short (tia in Thai) lower sections of the towers with dome-shaped roofs. The result has been called, to this day, bua tum owing to the semblance of budding lotus. To top this metamorphosis, the Buddhist sanctuary is categorized somewhat fancily as built in the “Lao Style”.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 10TH CENTURY ONWARD : KLEANG * KHLANG, BAPHUON * BA PUAN, AND ANGKOR WAT * NAKHON WAT STYLES
Among the Khmer sanctuaries erected in plains, the Prasat Phimai equals Prasat Phanom Rung on a mountain ridge in terms of splendour and grandeur. Prasat Phimai excelled, indeed, all other such monuments found in Isan with regard to its significance for the ancient Khmer Empire. A Royal Road linked Prasat Phimai to the capital city, Angkor, following a virtually straight line. From Prasat Phimai, such roads extended farther toward the northwest, west and southwest connecting to other such prasat. Along these roads smaller prasat were built.
As visible to this day, Prasat Phimai was laid out in rectangular shape, surrounded by walls and moats. The gates on each side were, like the walls, built of laterite. In the centre stands the Prasat Phimai, a tower complex constructed of white sandstone. As evident upon its painstaking restoration, the ancient regional seat of power was one of the magnificent Khmer sanctuaries. Construction of the core edifice, called prasat prathan in Thai, began late in the Kleang Period and progressed throughout the Baphuon Period30, as recorded in stone inscriptions and highly visible from the architectural style of its tower. A ledge or inner wall surrounds the central section. Two small towers or prang are in front of the main tower, prasat prathan, which is intricately designed and elaborately decorated. Most lintels recount episodes from Hindu cosmology. The outer section has stairs flanked by lions leading up to the Naga Bridge, a terrace with a balustrade flanked by mythical serpents which is linked to the gateway, gopura, into the inner sanctum. There also are paired buildings and five ponds, four of them in the corners of the inner area. All these structures are encompassed by the wall built of laterite and measuring 565 by 1,030 metres.
Beyond it, in the outer area, some more sacrosanct edifices are situated. They include the boat-landing named Tha Nang Sa Phom, the hermitage called Kudi Ruesi as well as the hospital and infirmary, known as arokhayasala in Sanskrit and arokhayasan in Thai. This ancient health care and medical treatment facility is one of altogether 104 such centres established by royal command of King Jayavarman VII, late in the 12th century and operating during his own as well as his direct descendants’ reigns31. They were the manifested concern of King Jayavarman VII about his subjects’ physical well-being, inspired by the ruler’s conversion to Mahayana Buddhism, and symbolized by the compassionate bodhisatva known as Avalokiteshvara.
The transformation of the Hindu sanctuary into a Buddhist sanctuary entailed the addition of structures as well as modification of existing structures. This explains the architectural features of the Angkor Period32 (12th century), although it had been made obsolete in the very centre of Khmer might through its conquest and pillage by the victorious Cham in 1177. Upon defeating the occupants in 1181 and ascending to the throne, King Jayavarman VII inspired the Bayon Period which is synonymous with his reign. Yet there is no evidence at the Prasat Phimai of any Bayon architectural style.
The main tower complex, prasatprathan, was transformed into a Mahayana Buddhism sanctuary and dedicated to the Vimaya Buddha. The lintel above the portal of the inner doorway portrays images of Mahayana Buddhism. A very fine statue of King Jayavarman VII was discovered in the one of two small towers or prang. It was built of laterite and called Prang Prommathat, with reference to the ruler’s image placed therein. Now it is preserved at the National Museum in Bangkok. The other small tower, known as PrangHin Daeng, owing to its red sandstone structure, was built earlier as the library building of the Hindu sanctuary. The above changes inside the sanctuary and the building of such structures as the city wall, complete with city gates, among them the most important southern gate as it connected to the Royal Road from Angkor leading straight into the sanctuary, gave the ancient site a different appearance. This explains why the ancient ensemble with the sanctuary of Prasat Phimai at its centre has been viewed as one of the best examples of classical Khmer architecture by the end of the 11th century, in the style of Angkor, which has reference to the span of time between 802 and 1453.
Another such ancient Hindu sanctuary was Prasat Ban Phlai. It is located in Prasat District of Surin Province. Constructed in the Kleang33 style (second half 10th of the century) on a single platform or terrace, its three towers, prang, were built of brick, with the central tower housing a Shiva Lingam. It is surrounded by a moat. Although precious lintels, once decorating the towers, went missing, some other artefacts are preserved at the Phimai National Museum. A small Hindu sanctuary with three towers, prang, built of brick on one laterite base, is located in Non Din Daeng District of Buri Ram Province. It is named Prasat Nong Hong and was constructed in the Kleang Style34 (second half of the 10th century). Images of Indra riding the elephant named Erawan and of Shiva or Phra Isuan were found in this sanctuary. Its central and flanking towers as well as one library building, called bannalai, constructed of laterite, are surrounded by a wall built of laterite and a moat shaped like a horse-shoe.
What has remained of structures erected on a large, square-shaped platform built of laterite, sandstone and brick is the single and small, square-shaped sandstone structure named Prasat Ban Phluang, located in Prasat District of Surin Province. The beginning of construction of originally four towers dates from the Kleang Period35 (early 11th century). The sanctuary was dedicated to Indra, as evident from the very detailed designs and exquisitely sculptured sandstone images in the form and shape of lintels and pediments. Depicted are three sculpted images, one of Indra riding the elephant named Erawan, one of Krishna killing a serpent, and another one of Krishna lifting a bull by its horns. Decorative features on lintels and pediments include images of animals such as elephants, squirrels, pigs, monkeys and cattle, as well as floral patterns. The upper part of the tower is missing, including the reduced storeys, cornice and crowning top. Two causes are pondered. While some scholars assumed that construction of the edifice had never been completed, others assumed that by far most structures had either been destroyed or dismantled, to use the material for construction elsewhere. The restored half-tower in place is the result of meticulous restoration using artefacts and fragments discovered in the process of excavating, since 1972. The ancient platform or terrace is surrounded by ponds which are the remnants of old moats. In the main axis of the central tower, prasatprathan, is a large pond, called barai in ancient Khmer, which is still used as an irrigation reservoir. The overall layout of the sanctuary reflects the transition from the Kleang to the Baphuon style36 (first half of the 11th century).
Like the monument named Prasat Sa Kamphaeng Yai in Uthumphon Phisai District of Si Sa Ket Province, the monument known as Tat Ban Prasat or Prasat Ban Prasat in the province’s Huai Thap Than District underwent transformations. First founded as a Hindu sanctuary and laid out in the period of transition from the Kleang to the Baphuon style (early 11th to early 12th centuries), construction was carried through and completed in the Baphuon38 style (early 11th to early 12th centuries). The sanctuary is situated on a high hill. Its tall central tower and two smaller flanking towers, prang, were built of brick on a single terrace. The portals were constructed of sandstone. Their sculpted lintels depict floral decorations and what appear to be human-like figures. Obviously the sculpting was left unfinished. Such was a common occurrence as evident at several sanctuaries, owing to the fact that sculpting would have to be continued long after completion of construction work. The chiselled lintel engravings visibly outline Shiva with Uma on his lap, riding the ox named Usuparaj or Nanthi. Moreover, sandstone statues of other Hindu deities were found. The terrace is surrounded by a low wall built of laterite. Of its original four gates, only the southern gate remains. After several hundred years of dereliction, this complex was refurbished and consecrated as a Buddhist monastery, by the turn of the 18th century.
The unique attraction of Prasat Don Tuan, situated near the access route to Khao Phra Vihan, and hence located in Kantharalak District of Si Sa Ket Province, are two rows of three elegant columns which match the jambs of the portal of the tower. It is assumed that these columns are the remains of the gateway, whose roof they once supported. The small Hindu sanctuary was built in the transition period39 from the Kleang to the Baphuon styles (early 11th to early 12th centuries).
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 11TH CENTURY ONWARD : BAPHUON * BA PUAN STYLE
Stylistic elements of the Baphuon Period (early 11th to early 12th centuries) are found at numerous sites with ancient Khmer monuments. In likely as many cases they are additional features added to existing, older monuments, as there are edifices built during that period. The earliest of the examples of such Hindu sanctuaries presented hereunder is Prasat Ta Leng40 in Khukhan District of Si Sa Ket Province. The remains of its original structure (third quarter of the 11th century) include one tower, prang, and both walls of one gateway leading to the portal of the inner sanctum in the tower, all built on a raised terrace. Special attractions are the reliefs carved onto the walls of the gateway and sculpted sandstone lintels, two of them depicting Indra riding his elephant named Erawan enveloped in garlands, and another one showing a hermit in meditation. Although in ruins, Prasat Prang Ku in Prang Ku District of Si Sa Ket Province is an impressive Hindu sanctuary, built in the Baphuon Period41 (early 11th to early 12th centuries). Its three towers were built of brick, of a grand design, and erected on a single, high platform. In front of the central tower, though at some distance, is a large pond.
Similar in appearance is Prang Ku Sombun, also known as Ku Ban Nong Ku, in Bueng Bun District of Si Sa Ket Province. It was built in the Baphuon Period42 (early 11th to early 12th centuries), near a historical site with an earthen dyke dotted alongside by pools which seem to be remnants of a moat, all of which is indicative of an ancient town. The prasat has three large towers, prang, set in a row on one and the same laterite base. While the central tower was repeatedly restored, the flanking towers are in ruins. Inside the central tower is a square-shaped stone base of the kind that was supposedly used as base of a stylized phallus known as Shiva Lingam, or of a pedestal supporting the statue of a Hindu deity, or else of a lantern pillar. Artefacts include sandstone lintels and lotus-shaped decorations carved on sandstone. Facing the central tower across some distance is a large pond, a characteristic component of any Hindu sanctuary.
Of the Prasat Yai Ngao, originally comprising of three brick towers on a base built of laterite, only two edifices remain. While the southern tower is preserved almost complete, only half remains of the other. The architectural and art styles suggest that construction was carried out late in the Baphuon Period43 (11th into 12th centuries). The decoration of pediments above false and real doorways shows naga, mythical serpents, with their five heads. Of particular attraction is a sculpture of the makara, a beast in the Hindu cosmology, variously depicted such as with the body of a reptile or dolphin, the head of a lion, the jaws of a crocodile, the claws of an avian raptor, and an elephant trunk. At the inception of restoration work, the surroundings were strewn with fragments of the characteristic decorative feature, sculpted of sandstone. They include pieces likened to the cloves of jackfruit, known in Thai as klip khanun, which are placed at the corners above the fronton of the tower, yotprang, and at each of its reduced storeys rising toward the cornice, and fragments of door decorations as well as colonettes. Prasat Yai Ngao is located in Sangkha District of Surin Province.
Prasat Sikhoraphum is the sole embodiment of the essence of the Baphuon style (early 11th to early 12th centuries), among all monuments erected in this period44, which has remained intact to a degree that projects a wholesome impression of topos, layout and design. It is situated in a plain known for its heritage of various historical sites, now located in Sikhoraphum District of Surin Province. Laid out in a quincunx and rising above the surrounding terrain, the ancient Hindu sanctuary still is a magnificent sight. Its high platform or terrace was built of laterite and sandstone, almost of square shape with a side length of some 25 metres. The main edifice, prang, in the centre and one such edifice in each corner, were built of laterite, sandstone and brick, in identical style and shape. The five towers were erected to an equal height of 30 metres. Two very large ponds, barai, were constructed with earthen embankment and laterite enclosure. They flank the quincunx toward the north and south. The sanctuary was dedicated to Shiva. It is rich in artefacts sculpted on as well as from sandstone. The five towers are embellished with sculpted lintels and portal colonettes as well as decorative features, known in Thai as klip khanun, at the corners of the reduced storeys of the pyramidal upper part of each edifice. Lintels and sculpted sandstone slates flanked by carved colonettes feature details of the Hindu pantheon, its cosmology and mythology. The lintel of the central tower shows Shiva dancing. Other sculpted images show Ganesh, Brahma, Vishnu, and Paraphati or Uma. Also depicted are apsara, celestial maidens, yaksha, male deities serving as guardians, and floral patterns enhancing door and window frames. Several artefacts are preserved at the Phimai National Museum, among them a lintel from one of the surrounding towers depicting Krishna killing an elephant and a khochasi, a mythical lion an elephant’s trunk.
The Hindu sanctuary of Ku Suan Taeng in Ban Mai Chaiyaphot District of Buri Ram Province is the site where delicately sculpted sandstone fragments were discovered. Designed and constructed in the Baphuon45 style (early 11th to early 12th centuries), the sanctuary consists of one tall central tower, flanked by two smaller towers. The three towers, erected on a single terrace built of laterite, were constructed of brick. They are the only remaining structures. On the ground of the sanctuary, various sandstone fragments were found such as the lotus-shaped crown of one of the towers, the sculpture of a six-headed mythical serpent, naga, intricately shaped like cloves or segments of the jackfruit, known as klip khanun in Thai, various other artefacts, and among some lintels the famous Narai Banthomsin Lintel, an image of Phra Narai Tri Vikrom showing Narai as the triple deity of the underworld, human world and heaven. This lintel was sculpted in the style characteristic of the Angkor Period46(12th century). Together with some other most precious artefacts, it is preserved at the National Museum in Bangkok, while all other artefacts were transferred to the Phimai National Museum.
Similar artefacts preserved by the Phimai National Museum come from the Hindu sanctuary named Prasat Phakho, which is located in Chok Chai District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Of its three towers built of white sandstone in the Baphuon Period47 (early 11th to early 12th centuries), two remain surrounded by a moat shaped like a horse-shoe.
The Ta Muean Cluster of Ancient Monuments, as its Thai name of Boran Sathan Klum Prasat Ta Muean translates, is located in Phanom Dong Rak District of Surin Province. It consists of three sites with ruins of ancient Khmer monuments, situated in close vicinity of Thailand’s border with Cambodia. The oldest and largest of the three sanctuaries, Prasat Ta Muean Thom, was constructed on a mountain ridge. In the Baphuon48 style (early 11th to early 12th centuries) a platform or terrace was constructed from sandstone on which all structures were erected. They include one large central tower, prang, flanked by two small towers. The square-shaped central tower has four gateways, gopura, with inscriptions. All these edifices were built of sandstone. Nearby lies the pond, a characteristic feature of any Hindu sanctuary.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 12TH CENTURY ONWARD : BAPHUON * BA PUAN, ANGKOR WAT * NAKHON WAT, AND BAYON STYLES
The transition from the Baphuon to the Angkor Wat and, further on, to the Bayon style is evident in the structures of Prasat Kamphaeng Noi in Mueang District of Si Sa Ket Province. The dominant architectural features, however, are those of the Angkor Wat49 style, known in Thai as the Nakhon Wat style (12th century). The entire complex was built exclusively from laterite. The remains include one tower, prang, which is likely the only one erected, its gateways called gopura, a library building, known as bannalai, and buildings which most likely were added after completion of the edifices characteristic of a Hindu sanctuary. All this is surrounded by a wall that was also built of laterite.
Outside, a large pond was constructed, with masonry enclosure and steps leading downward, which has remained in use, to this day. Some sculpted lintels depicting episodes of Hindu mythology are still in place. The two most wonderful lintels went missing. One sculpted lintel shows Shiva and Uma, and the other depicts Waruna, the deity of rain, seated on a palanquin shouldered by three swans. This Shiva sanctuary was transformed into a Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary. In the process it was restored and expanded, as evident from the edifices built in the Bayon50 style (late 12th to end of 13th century). The additional structures formed the hospital and infirmary, called arokhayasala in Sanskrit and known as arokhayasan in Thai. This ancient sanctuary, hence, housed one of the altogether 104 such hospitals and infirmaries, first built on the order of King Jayavarman VII and, thereafter, by his direct successors. MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED
TO THE 12TH CENTURY ONWARD : ANGKOR WAT * NAKHON WAT, AND BAYON STYLES
Construction of the Prasat Chom Phra in Chom Phra District of Surin Province was started in the late phase of the Angkor Wat51 style, known in Thai as the Nakhon Wat style (12th century). Its completion was delayed by the escalating conflict between the Khmer and the Cham in presentday Vietnam, which culminated in the conquest and pillage of Angkor by the Cham. Once construction of Prasat Chom Phra had been resumed, it was explicitly built as a Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary complete with hospital and infirmary, called arokhayasala in Sanskrit and known as arokhayasan in Thai. The square-shaped tower, prang, the library building, bannalai, other edifices, and the surrounding wall were constructed of laterite in the Bayon style52. Their sandstone components were sculpted with decorative features. The sanctuary was dedicated to the Bodhisatva Avalokiteshvara of the Mahayana Buddhism.
The second structure, in chronological order, of the Ta Muean Cluster of Ancient Monuments had been started very late in the period marked by the Angkor Wat53 style, known in Thai as the Nakhon Wat style (12th century). Its completion was delayed by the war between the Khmer and the Cham. Once construction had been resumed of the complex named Prasat Ta Muean, it was explicitly built as a Mahayana Buddhist shelter, called dharma sala in Sanskrit. The single tower was built of laterite and its portal decorated with a sculpted sandstone lintel. King Jayavarman VII had a total of 18 such stage posts built along the route to Phimai and one such near the Prasat Phimai, providing shelter and serving as rest houses.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 12TH CENTURY ONWARD : BAYON STYLE
The third structure of the Ta Muean Cluster of Ancient Monuments is named Prasat Ta Muean Tot. It was designed and built in the Bayon style (late 12th to end of 13th century) as a hospital and infirmary, arokhayasala, by royal command55, as known through an inscription in situ which was written in Sanskrit using ancient Khmer letters. The original is preserved in the Tha Wasukri Library, Bangkok. The Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary comprises of a tower, prang, a gateway known as gopura in which the said inscription was installed, and a library known as bannalai, all built of laterite as well as sandstone and surrounded by a wall constructed of laterite. Situated outside are a pond and a second hospital / infirmary building. The sanctuary was dedicated to the Buddha Bhaisajyaguru Waithuraya. Prasat Khok Ngiu in Pakham District of Buri Ram Province is another such Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary built in the Bayon56 style (late 12th to end of 13th centuries), with an ancient Khmer hospital and infirmary. It was situated along the Royal Road connecting Phimai with Angkor.
Several ancient sites, first built in earlier centuries of Khmer rule over the area, are known for their transformation into an arokhayasalaor arokhayasan, a hospital and infirmary. Their origin as Hindu sanctuaries was obscured. There is evidence in architecture and artefacts as well as original dedication reflected in the naming of Hindu sanctuaries pointing to preceding stylistic periods. They include virtually all stylistic periods prior to the last period of magnificent ancient Khmer culture, named after one of the most famous monuments, the Bayon of Angkor. Afar from the ancient city of Angkor, this period marks the conversion to Mahayana Buddhism much more than any major stylistic changes of architecture and artefacts. The placing of Buddha images and of statues of the rulers in sanctuaries as well as the creation of lintels sculpted with Buddhist motifs were, indeed, entirely new.
The ancient Hindu sanctuary of Prasat Nang Ram in Prathai District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province was purportedly famous for the image of a deity sculpted from green stone. The site has remains of two sanctuaries situated close to each other. Only at one site are there remains still standing. They include one tower, prang, a gateway or gopura connecting it to the surrounding wall constructed of laterite. Inside, there also are buildings of a library, called bannalai, and of a hospital / infirmary called arokhayasala or arokhayasan, which were built of laterite. Outside is a pond whose enclosure was constructed of laterite. Owing to the addition of the hospital, arokhayasala, Prasat Nang Ram was categorized as of the Bayon57 style (late 12th to end of 13th centuries). The ancient site nearby has remnants of a Hindu sanctuary with three towers surrounded by a wall constructed from laterite and a moat shaped like a horse-shoe.
The distinctive edifice situated near the famous Prasat Mueang Tam named Prasat Kudi Ruesi and located in Prakhon Chai District of Buri Ram Province was designed as a hospital, arokhayasan. As evident from its ruins, it was built of laterite in the Bayon58 style (late 12th to end of 13th centuries). Another such example is the Prasat Ban Bu located in the same province.
At the site of Ancient Khorat City, named Mueang Khorat Kao in Thai, which is also known as the ancient town called Khorakhapura, Mueang Khorakhapura, located in present Sung Noen District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, three ancient Khmer sanctuaries are situated. They are known as Prasat Hin Noen Ku, Prasat Mueang Khaek, and Prasat Mueang Kao, in chronological order. The first and second named sanctuaries were built in the Preah Rup style (third quarter of the 10th century); they are introduced above. The third sanctuary, Prasat Mueang Kao, is also known by the name of Prang Khoraburi. It is situated in the compound of the monastery named Wat Prang Mueang Kao, which also encompasses the ancient city gate of the historical town of Khorat. The small sanctuary rests on a platform or terrace constructed of laterite. Its single tower, prang, with sandstone jambs on all sides, its partially ruined gateway or gopura, and the library building or bannalai were built of laterite and sandstone. This complex was surrounded by a wall of which the laterite foundation remains. Outside the wall is a square-shaped pond constructed with laterite enclosure. Artefacts such as sculpted sandstone lintels are preserved at the Phimai National Museum. Given the facts that the complex was consecrated as a Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary, a Buddha Footprint was enshrined inside the tower, and it was transformed into a hospital and infirmary, arokhayasala, Prasat Mueang Kao has been categorized as of the Bayon59 style (late 12th to end of 13th centuries).
Upon transformation of the Brahman sanctuary known as Prang Sida, located in Sida District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, into a Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary, some restoration work was done, likely including the surrounding low wall. All structures were built of laterite. In the same vein, the Hindu sanctuary named Prang Ku, a small, square-shaped tower built of laterite and located in the neighbouring District of Bua Yai, became a Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary. Its tower, prang, houses several Buddha images. The restoration of the two sanctuaries in the Bayon60 style (late 12th to end of 13th centuries) led to their identification as monuments built in the corresponding period.
The two Mahayana Buddhist sanctuaries known as Kudi Ruesi Phimai, an additional structure adjacent to the famous Prasat Phimai in the district of the same name, Nakhon Ratchasima Province, and Prasat Ban Samo, in Prang Ku District of Si Sa Ket Province, are small edifices built in the Bayon61 style (late 12th to end of 13th centuries). This is attested through inscriptions such as the sandstone slate inside the single tower, prang, of Prasat Ban Samo. The site of Ban Prasat Sanctuary in Prasat District of Surin Province, with remains of its wall constructed of laterite and its ancient pond as the only structures left, is exemplary of many more ancient sanctuaries which fell into disrepair, were left to dilapidate, served as sources of construction material, or disintegrated to the effect of merely faint traces. Such sites are, therefore, not covered in this overview.
The empire of the ancient Khmer faded away, save some sites with tangible remains. Of these, a steadily increasing number in Isan is being meticulously restored so as to preserve monuments of the cultural heritage of Isan as the centre of Mainland Southeast Asia. Among the various historical causes of the collapse of the Khmer Empire, the following appear of particular significance in the context of the southern plateau in Isan. The expansion of power had become grossly overextended, given the fact that the local population was a composite of different ethnic groups. Holding sway over more and more people had been a necessity, for the simple reason that people were the single most important resource. In competing for the control over people, the Khmer rulers lost out.
Local people themselves were burdened with harsh demands for corvee, labour input without remuneration and sustenance, enforced for the construction of monuments and infrastructure; conscription into the military forces; obligatory services of various other kinds such as maintaining and subsidizing assigned sanctuaries; and excessive tributes in kind to stock the rulers’ warehouses with victuals. The living conditions of the population-at-large were aggravated by the degradation of the physical environment, which was caused by the large-scale exploitation of natural resources. Infant mortality and morbidity rates were high, limiting the overall, average life expectancy to 25 years. Among the gravest endemic diseases were leprosy, dysentery, and a lethal fever that was diagnosed only several centuries later, and has become known as malaria. Under these circumstances, the ruler’s conversion to Mahayana Buddhism with the entailing establishment of hospitals and infirmaries, arokhayasala, in the compound of 104 Buddhist sanctuaries62, signals great concern about people’s welfare.
RISE OF BUDDHISM, ETHNIC DIVERSITY, AND THAI POLITY FROM THE 13TH CENTURY ONWARD
Following the demise of Khmer supremacy, the local population in the southern plateau of Isan was a mix of native and displaced ethnic groups. In present Si Sa Ket Province, for example, ethnic Khmer, Kui, Nyer, also called Yo, Yer or Yoi, and Lao, the latter a subgroup of the larger Thai ethnic group, gathered around the emerging town named Mueang Khukhan, at the site of the ancient Prasat Si Liam Dong Lamduan, which evolved into a center of Lan Chang culture. Then and there, the traditional Buddhist faith during the earlier Dvaravati Period converged with the dedication of sanctuaries to Mahayana Buddhism. This convergence became evident in the upkeeping of such sanctuaries as those called up hereunder as examples. Preserving its ancient structure, the Buddhist monastery named Tat Ban Prasat, located in Huai Thap Than District of Si Sa Ket Province, was modified by adding some structures in the Lan Chang style known as Tat. Thereupon, it was repeatedly renovated, as evident from stylistic features characteristic of the late 18th century.
Wat Maha Phuttharam, a monastery located in Mueang District of Si Sa Ket Province, houses an ancient Khmer statue of the Buddha in the posture of subduing Mara. The core of the 6.85 metre tall image was made of laterite whose surface corroded and gave it a black appearance.
The ancient Prasat Sikhoraphum, located in Sikhoraphum District of Surin Province, was maintained as a Buddhist monastery in the Lan Chang style. Its stucco decorations date from restoration in the 16th century.
Like at numerous other sites with ancient sanctuaries, old and new structures stand side by side, as of now. Examples include Prasat Sa Kamphaeng Yai in Uthumphon Phisai District, Si Sa Ket Province; Prasat Chom Phra in Chom Phra District and Prasat Mueang Thi, where stucco restoration in the cella of the main prang, hence called ruean that, suggests that a Buddha relic was enshrined, in Mueang District, both of Surin Province; Prasat Khok Ngiu in Pakham District, Buri Ram Province; as well as Prasat Mueang Kao in Sung Noen, Prasat Phanomwan in Mueang, and Prang Ku in Bua Yai districts of Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Rather unique is the historical perspective in Lamduan District of Surin Province, where the compound of the monastery named Wat Prasat Thep Nimit encompasses an erstwhile sanctuary now known as Prasat Tapiang Tia. Owing to its original design of a quincunx, it has five towers, called prang in Thai. Probably in the 16th century, local ingenious craftsmen maintained the square-shaped lower structures and capped the short (tia in Thai) lower sections of the towers with dome-shaped roofs. The result has been called, to this day, bua tum owing to the semblance of budding lotus. To top this metamorphosis, this old Buddhist sanctuary is erroneously categorized as built in the “Lao Style”.
An ancient Buddha image known as “Phra Chao Yai” is housed in the monastery named Wat Sisa Raet, also called Wat Hong, in Phutthaisong District of Buri Ram Province. The two-metre high statue in the meditation posture, sculpted of laterite, was found upon resettling at a deserted, ancient site in the 15th century.
First established among the regional centres of Isan, as they exist at present, was the town of Nakhon Ratchasima, founded farther downstream on the Takhong River and east of the ancient towns of Sema and Khorakhapura. During the reign of King Narai63, the city wall measuring 1,700 by 1,000 metres was built of laterite and bricks, with four gates and surrounded by a moat. French engineers at King Narai’s courts of Lop Buri and Ayutthaya were dispatched to build the city wall complete with fortification. Of the four original gates, remains of the western Chumphon Gate were preserved and restored. From this regional seat of power, Isan was governed. The monastery named Wat Phra Narai Maharat, locally known as Wat Klang, was built during the reign of King Narai. Its vihara, preaching and prayer hall, houses a statue of Vishnu sculpted of sandstone which is revered, to this day. It is one of numerous pieces of carved sandstone collected from nearby ruins of ancient Khmer monuments.
The monastery named Wat Burapharam, located in Mueang District of Surin Province, houses the old, revered Buddha image named LuangPho Phra Chi, also known as LuangPho Prachi, in the subduing Mara posture. The monastery was built by the turn of the 19th century. A local heroine, Khunying Mo, affectionately called Ya Mo by the people of Nakhon Ratchasima Town, thwarted the advance of the Lao invader Chao Anuwong of Wiang Chan onto Bangkok by a ruse, in 1826. It triggered the invader’s decision to beat his retreat, whereupon he was defeated by the armed forces of King Rama III [1824-1851]. The King knighted the courageous lady and elevated her to the rank and title of Thao Suranari. She expressed her gratitude through founding the monastery named Wat Sala Loi, in 1837. It is situated at the confluence of the Takhong and Mun Rivers in Mueang District of Nakhon Ratcha - sima Province. Its ubosot, the monks’ assembly and ordination hall, was recognized by the Association of Siamese Architects as an outstanding Thai-style edifice. Murals on the inside and outside walls of the ubosot, the monks’ assembly and ordination hall, of Wat Na Phra That, also known as Wat Takhu, feature Buddhist episodes as well as scenes of people’s way of life in the first half of the 19th century such as paddy cultivation and fishing. The ubosot, one chedi and the library, ho trai, in the middle of a pond, were built by immigrants from Wiang Chan, present Vientiane, in the Lan Chang Style. They were settled in Pak Thong Chai District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province during the Third Reign [1824-1851].
To commemorate the heroic actions that were conducive to repelling and crushing the invasion of Isan led by Chao Anuwong in 1826, the Thao Suranari Memorial Monument was built in the town of Nakhon Ratchasima, in 1943, and the Wirakam Thung Samrit Memorial Monument erected in honour of another courageous woman by the name of Bunluea and her heroic companions, on the historical battleground in Phimai District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Like in other parts of Isan, the vast stock of rock salt, presumably the largest geological formation of its kind world-wide, extends below the southern plateau. In the underground, it expands farther than indicated by the places in which salt farming is still practiced. Salt is being produced by flooding saline water up to the surface. In about half the area of Nakhon Ratchasima Province salt is found dissolved in either the soil or in groundwater. Saline groundwater, once a natural resource that was put to productive use, has become a severe problem, in the course of environmental degradation. Given the geophysical conditions of the southern plateau of Isan, surface water has been the vital source.
Many centuries ago, the natural setting of the Mun River Basin was a reliable source of surface water. As long as the mountains and hills had dense forest cover, rainfall was absorbed, largely retained and steadily released into the many tributaries of the Mun River. In the course of constructing ever more and ever larger strategic outposts throughout the expanding empire of Khmer rulers, in particular, the increasing demand for wood caused deforestation. The requirement of timber was immense. It was needed for scaffolding of huge dimensions, given the sheer size of the completed monuments. Hardwood was used as a structural component, as inferred by archaeologists in explaining the “missing links” in monuments built of sandstone, laterite and bricks. Timber was the raw material for the interior finishing such as ceiling and wall panels, and for doors as well as shutters. As scholars pointed out, based on inscriptions and the detailed account by Chou Ta-kuan, alternatively transliterated as Zhou Daguan, a Chinese visitor to Angkor for almost a whole year, in 1296- 1297, palatial residences and compounds of members of the feudal hierarchy were built of wood. Lumber was needed to erect worksheds, labour-lines, and huts for the common people. Moreover, wood was the virtually sole source of energy. Fuel-wood was continuously in high demand for all sorts of processing that require heating such as boiling and cooking, lighting with torches, and firing kilns. Hence, lumber and crooked wood, or kneewood, were consumed in even larger quantities than timber.
The magnitude of fuel-wood consumption is evident from the use of bricks for construction, the fired-clay decorations of buildings, the wide range of pottery, and the many kilns, known in Thai as taoboran, operated throughout the southern plateau of Isan. In present Ban Kruat District of Buri Ram Province alone, archaeological surveys led to the discovery of more than 100 ancient Khmer kilns of the type with roofs shaped like a turtle-shell. These kilns are up to twelve metres long and three metres wide. Since 1957, thorough research has been focused on selected kilns in the districts of Ban Kruat and Lahan Sai, including the ones named Tao Barani, Tao Sawai and Tao Nai Chian. Excavations yielded jars, elongated water vessels, bowls, ornamental pieces for buildings, construction materials, glazed pottery, tools for pottery production, and materials for glazing. Ban Kruat Pottery pieces are characteristically glazed in brown, green and white. The Fine Arts Department restored the ancient kilns of Tao Sawai and Tao Nai Chian. Artefacts are preserved and displayed at the Southern Isan Cultural Centre, SunWatthanatham Isan Tai, in Buri Ram Town and at the Phimai National Museum in Nakhon Ratchasima Province.
Deforestation in the plains became permanent in that land was cleared for field cropping. Food security was a necessity of high priority which by far exceeded the peasants’ subsistence requirements. Supplies had to be produced for delivery to the feudal hierarchy and for the high proportion of the population absorbed in construction works and the armed forces.
Another cause of deforestation was quarrying. Mountains formed of sandstone massifs were denuded of their vegetation and soil cover so as to access the solid rock and operate quarries. Three ancient quarries, known as laeng tat hin in Thai, illustrate the preference and demand for sandstone. In Ban Kruat District of Buri Ram Province, the sandstone quarries of the Khmer Period in the mountain area of the Khao Kloi and Khao Krachiao, covering an area of 480 hectares, were the source of construction material for several prasat, Hindu sanctuaries. Traces of the sheer size of blocks once cut are still visible as well as some already cut yet not used blocks. Another example is the ancient quarry called Phap Salak Nun Tam where blocks were cut for the construction of the Prasat Khao Phra Vihan. This quarry is located in Kantharalak District of Si Sa Ket Province. White sandstone blocks used to build, for example, Prasat Mueang Khaek, Prasat Non Ku and Prasat Mueang Kao, situated in the ancient city named Mueang Khorat or Khorakhapura, were cut in the quarry known as Laeng Hin Tat Sikhio, as obvious from the traces in the rock from which squareshaped blocks had been cut. It is situated in Sikhio District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province.
Deforestation in the mountains and hills triggered soil erosion caused by the run-off of rain-water and wind which, in turn, led to flash floods, thus wasting water resources. In the plains, the removal of top soil to gain access to the layer of laterite caused the loss of soil fertility and accelerated erosion. By nature, laterite is a widespread layer of soft mudstone beneath the top soil. Immediately upon removal of the top soil, laterite is still soft and can easily be quarried and cut into the required shape and size. Once exposed to air and sunshine, the water in this spongy mudstone evaporates. Any such block hardens and becomes a porous rock, red in colour and with a rough surface. It was widely used in building the shells of large structures, with sandstone and bricks added to create sculpted facades. As visible, many walls surrounding ancient sanctuaries were constructed of laterite. Laterite has been used for wall construction, to this day.
Over time, environmental degradation worsened to the effect that flash floods and droughts not only wrought havoc, time and again, but also were erroneously perceived as “natural” phenomena. The tracing of the historical root causes has facilitated the conceptualization and implementation of rehabilitation strategies, envisioned by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Upon the King’s advice, a pilot project was launched, in 1986, to rehabilitate the Phang Chu River Basin which straddles parts of Na Chueak District in Maha Sarakham Province, Nong Song Hong District in Khon Kaen Province, and Na Pho District in Buri Ram Province. It is known as the Nong Song Hong Project, for short.
REHABILITATION OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Nature reserves range in size from very large to small, with corresponding varieties of plants and wildlife. By far the largest is the Khao Yai National Park, with an area of 2,168 square kilometres, which almost equals the European country of Luxembourg and is double the size of the whole of Hong Kong. The park straddles parts of Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachin Buri, Nakhon Nayok and Saraburi Provinces. It is recognized as an “ASEAN Heritage Park”. Of medium size, in comparison, is the Khao Phra Vihan National Park in Kantharalak District of Si Sa Ket Province, covering 130 square kilometres in the mountains of the Phanom Dong Rak Range, at the border of Thailand and Cambodia. Examples of nature reserves which cover small areas include the Hat Chom Tawan Section, situated in Soeng Sang District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, which is one of four sections of the Thap Lan National Park, largely located in Prachin Buri Province; the Sakaerat Forest Reserve on 78 square kilometres as well as the Khao Phaeng Ma Forest Reserve, both in Wang Nam Khiao District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province; the Khao Kradong Forest Park as well as the Bird Park, Suan Nok, in Mueang District, and the Sanam Bin Reservoir No-hunting Zone in Prakhon Chai District, all three in Buri Ram Province; and the Phanom Dong Rak Wildlife Reserve in Khukhan District of Si Sa Ket Province.
The spectrum of various types of forests encompasses damp as well as dry primary, mixed mountain forests, including hardwood and deciduous forests. Trees of note include fig [Ficus], pandan [Pandanus spp.], cinnamon tree [Cinnamomum spp.], arboreal basil [Ocimum basilicum], wild rambutan [Nephelium lappaceum], eagle wood [Aquilariaagallocha], and giant ironwood [Hopea odorata].
Given the vegetation cover, especially forests, there is a great diversity of wildlife. Examples of herbivorous mammals are elephants, gibbons, boars, porcupines, giant squirrels, and hares. Among the carnivorous mammals are black bears and dholes, also known as Asiatic wild dogs. Ungulates include the very rare gaurs [Bibos gaurus], sambar deer, barking deer and goat-antelopes. Examples of felines are Bengal tigers and Burmese civets as well as palm civets. Among fowl species are jungle fowl and Siamese firebacks. Water fowl include comb ducks, white-winged ducks and cotton pygmy-geese. The bird species are numerous, amounting to more than 300, among them some 200 residents. Examples are hornbills including the brown, wreathed, oriental pied, and great hornbills; hill myna; minivets including the ashy, rosy, small, and scarlet minivets; pittas including the blue-winged, hooded, blue, and eared pittas; barbets including the lineated, greeneared, moustached, blue-eared, and coppersmith barbets; thick-billed pigeons; doves including the barred cuckoo-doves and red turtle-doves, as well as spotted, zebra, and emerald doves; the greater and the lesser coucals; and flycatchers including Hainan blue, blue-throated, hill blue, Tickell’s blue, and Asian paradise flycatchers. The variety of butterflies amounts to about 5,000 species.
In presenting briefs on features which are intertwined into the unique cultural fabric of the four provinces on the southern plateau of Isan, namely, Nakhon Ratchasima, Buri Ram, Surin and Si Sa Ket, the various ethnic groups are called up whose traditions are reflected in language, architecture, arts, folklore, crafts, and celebrations. This cultural diversity is highlighted as a major attraction. It is the outcome of assimilation into the mainstream population, however, without acculturation. The result may be likened to a multi-facetted cultural identity.
People of Isan who identify themselves as Thai Korat are at home in the provinces of Nakhon Ratchasima, Buri Ram, and Chaiyaphum. They are also known as Thai Phoeng. Their vernacular is a distinctive variant of the Thai language. Speakers of a different Thai vernacular, concentrated in Wang Hin District of Si Sa Ket Province, consider themselves to be Thai Isan.
Like in many other places, the Lao people resettled in the south of Isan, far away from their homeland around the present Vientiane, built a Buddhist monastery as the focal point of their community. Wat Na Phra That, also known as Wat Takhu, in Pak Thong Chai District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province is a fine example. Including its chedi, ubosot, monk’s assembly and ordination hall, and ho trai, library building, in the middle of a pond, the complex was built in the Third Reign [1824-1851]. Murals on the walls of the ubosot, inside and outside, depict Buddhist episodes as well as scenes of people’s way of life in the Third Reign such as paddy-growing and fishing.
Descendants of immigrants from Champasak in present southern Laos, resettled over several centuries, live in Si Sa Ket Province. The monument to symbolize the synergy of different ethnic groups in progressing coalescence is the edifice named Phra That Rueang Rong. Its architecture blends the styles of four ethnic groups of the area, including the Lao, Kui, Khmer and Nyer, also called Yo, Yer or Yoi. The six storeys of the 48-metre high building, located in Mueang District of Si Sa Ket Province, are dedicated to be used for religious ceremonies (1st storey), as ethnographic museum representing the four groups (2nd and 3rd storeys), as abode of Buddha images (4th storey), for meditation (5th storey), and as repository of the Buddha relic (6th storey).
The Nyer are descendants of people who migrated from the area around Attopeu Town, south of the Boloven Plateau in present southern Laos. Those migrants were settled in places that belong to the present districts of Rasi Salai, Phrai Bueng, Phayu and Mueang of Si Sa Ket Province. They have formed big communities and maintain their own language, which belongs to the group of Mon-Khmer languages. As manifest in the edifice named Phra That Rueang Rong, the Nyer are part of the ethnic and cultural fabric. The living heritage of the rule of the ancient Khmer empire over the southern plateau is the population group of ethnic Khmer. They live near where the monumental outposts were built, although at substantial numbers in the belt along the Dong Rak Mountain Range. Like in Si Sa Ket Province, where the edifice named Phra That Rueang Rong attests to their assimilation, they also live in the provinces of Surin and Buri Ram. Their language belongs to the group of Mon-Khmer languages.
At various points in time such as around 1650 and by the end of the 18th century, several groups of Kui came from Champasak, in the south of present Laos, to settle in southern Isan. They are also referred to as Sui, a name which they reject as debasing. Their language belongs to the group of Mon-Khmer languages. Kui villages are concentrated in Si Sa Ket Province, where according to the official census of 1927 most inhabitants were ethnic Kui. This is manifest in the edifice named Phra That Rueang Rong, with its Kui component of the local ethnic and cultural fabric. In neighbouring Surin Province, Kui villages are situated in the districts of Samrong Thap, Sikhoraphum, Tha Tum, Chumphon Buri, Sanom, Chom Phra and Mueang. The Kui are recognized as experts in corralling and taming wild elephants, since historical time. Nowadays, they specialize in raising and rearing elephants. In more than 20 villages, mainly of Tha Tum District of Surin Province and in some of Duan Yai Sub-district in Wang Hin District of Si Sa Ket Province, hundreds of elephants are reared and trained. The famous “elephant village” is Ban Tha Klang, located in Tha Tum District of Surin Province. The Southern Isan Cultural Centre in Buri Ram Town has displays with information about the Kui and their skills in corralling, raising, rearing, taming, and training elephants.
As stated in a document published by Thailand’s Office of the National Culture Commission, “all these ethnic groups are fully assimilated and consider themselves Thais.”
RESTORATION THROUGH ANASTYLOSIS AND PRESERVATION OF ARTEFACTS
The conservation of the built environment is highly visible, and to an almost unparalleled extent and degree, at that. Numerous dilapidated ancient sites were restored by the Fine Arts Department, with Royal Thai Government funding support, to their original magnificence and splendour. Employing the method known as anastylosis and related technology, fragments of a dilapidated structure are inventoried and, likewise, the remaining structure components are dismantled. Combining the original materials and techniques with modern technology, especially by constructing a ferrocement core skeleton, an ancient structure is rebuilt following its original design, to recreate and preserve its authentic appearance. Adopting a systematic approach, ancient monuments were restored in a wholesome manner. Examples given below stand for a much greater number of such projects. Many were completed, while others have been undergoing restoration, and more are targeted for archaeological surveying. The majestic, ancient Khmer site of Prasat Phanom Rung was restored during the years 1972 through 1988 and, then, “crowned” with a replica of its famous Narai Banthomsin Lintel, upon the retrieval of the original from a collection abroad and its preservation in Thailand’s National Museum in Bangkok. The setting of the sanctuary was transformed into the Phanom Rung Historical Park, located in Chaloem Phra Kiat District of Buri Ram Province.
Nearby, in the neighbouring Prakhon Chai District of the same province, the elegant Prasat Mueang Tam was restored to its serene grandeur. The singularly outstanding example of a prasat and its ensemble in ancient Khmer architecture outside Cambodia is the authentic setting which was transformed into the cultural heritage site named Phimai Historical Park. The prasat rises above the spacious ground with classical structures, surrounded by a wall. It is located in Phimai Town, in the district of the same name, part of Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Other examples of completed as well as ongoing restoration are the very old Prasat Phanomwan in Mueang District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province; the Prasat Sa Kamphaeng Yai in Uthumphon Phisai District as well as the Prasat Ban Prasat, also known as Prasat Huai Thap Than, in Huai Thap Than District, both of Si Sa Ket Province; and the Prasat Sikhoraphum in Sikhoraphum District as well as the Prasat Ban Phluang in Prasat District, both of Surin Province. Some of the most precious items of the Isan heritage are preserved by the National Museum in Bangkok. Examples include carved sandstone lintels from Prasat Phanomwan and Prasat Phanom Rung, as well as sandstone inscriptions from the realm of King Chitrasen of Chenla, found in Buriram, Surin and Si Sa Ket provinces.
At the regional level, the Phimai National Museum has a valuable collection of artefacts from the ancient Lower Isan, as the southern plateau of Isan is also known. The museum has two sections, one that holds prehistoric items such as pottery including precious bandceramic ware, skeletons, tools, and stone as well as alloy ornaments, and another one for artefacts from historic periods. The latter collection includes sandstone boundary markers, bai sema, from the Dvaravati Period; images of the Buddha and of Bodhisatvas; fragments of ancient Khmer structures such as sculpted sandstone lintels, colonettes of gateways, gopura, and pediments; Hindu deity images; and a rare image of King Jayavarman VII sculpted of sandstone, which was found in the Prasat Phimai.
Many items of the Isan cultural heritage have been preserved at the local level, mostly by monasteries. Monks as well as members of the lay community saw to it that artefacts are kept safely and remain accessible to be viewed. In some instances, items of local cultural heritage were incorporated into a monastery such as Buddha images housed in ordination halls known as ubosot. In other cases, buildings were constructed in which to display collections.
Wat Thammachak Semaram in Sung Noen District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, built at an ancient Dvaravati religious site, houses an ancient reclining Buddha statue and a Dharma Wheel, along with boundary markers, bai sema, in the immediate surroundings. Wat Sutthachinda in Mueang District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province maintains, in its compound, the Maha Wirawong National Museum. It preserves a late abbot’s collection of artefacts found or excavated in the province and neighbouring areas. They are mostly Buddha images of the Khmer Period sculpted of laterite. Wat Phra Narai Maharat, also known as Wat Klang, built when King Narai the Great founded the present town of Nakhon Ratchasima, in the 17th century, has preserved many pieces of carved sandstone from ruins of Khmer sanctuaries situated nearby. Wat Pho Yoi, also known as Wat Ban Pakham, located in Pakham District of Buri Ram Province, is known for the preservation of boundary markers, bai sema, from the Dvaravati Period, and of colonettes which once embellished the gateways and portals of ancient Khmer sanctuaries.
The conservation of the cultural heritage of the southern plateau of Isan, of its historical assets as much as its highly diverse traditional customs, holds strong potential for regional economic development. Attracting visitors motivated by intellectual curiosity and anxious to explore historical sites in exotic places, in other words, people fond of travelling and eager to let themselves be amazed by wonders of the world, has triggered the budding of a hospitality industry in Isan.
In this vein, strategies were conceptualized to halt environmental degradation caused by the extensive and excessive use of natural sources. The challenge being tackled at present is to rehabilitate the physical environment. This is of vital importance given the topographic conditions and climatic characteristics of the area, which is situated in the rain shadow area of the mountain ranges named San Kamphaeng and Dong Rak. They form a barrier against the south-west monsoon, with the effect of a continental, semi-arid climate. Water resources development is, therefore, a much greater necessity in the southern plateau than in other parts of Isan.
To ease water shortage in the dry season and safeguard against flash floods in the rainy season, dams were built across numerous small rivers. By the sheer volume of water retention, a distinction is made between lakes and reservoirs. Such lakes are known by the name of the dam, called khuean in Thai, constructed to store water and, in some instances, also to generate electricity. Examples are Lam Takhong, Lam Phra Phloeng, Lam Chae, Lam Plai Mat, and Mun Bon in Nakhon Ratchasima Province; Lam Nong Rung in Buri Ram Province; Huai Saneng in Surin Province; and Huai Khanun in Si Sa Ket Province. Reservoirs of smaller size and volume are called angkep nam. Examples are Sap Pradu and Lam Chamuak in Nakhon Ratchasima Province; Nong Thalok, Thung Kraten, Sanam Bin, Chorakhe Mak, Huai Talat, Huai Sawai, Huai Yai, Kradong, and Thung Laem in Buri Ram Province; Ta Kao, Huai Khing, Ban Krathiam, Ampuen, Ban Ko Kaeo, Lam Phok, and Ban Phue in Surin Province; as well as Huai Sala, Ta May, Wang Hin, Huai Rai Ban Bok, Nong Waeng, and Huai Khem in Si Sa Ket Province.
As evident from the creation of protected areas, wild-growing vegetation cover is of vital importance for environmental conservation. It is for this reason that reforestation has been launched. Three projects may serve as examples. The Reforestation Project in commemoration of the King’s Throne Jubilee (Khrongkan Pluk Pa Chaloem PhraKiat Phrabat Somdej Phra Chao YuHua) covers 1,600 hectares around the mountain named Khao Phaeng Ma in Wang Nam Khiao District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Also in that district, the Sakaerat Environmental Research Station conducts the rehabilitation of a primary or virgin dry forest with valuable hardwood trees in an area of 7,800 hectares. Through a joint venture of Thailand and Denmark, experimentation and demonstration of coniferous tree forest growing were launched on a high plateau covering 100 hectares in Lamduan District of Surin Province.
Foci of agricultural development are exemplified by the following ventures. The Agricultural Experimentation Centre in Kham Thale So Sub-district of the District of the same name in Nakhon Ratchasima Province promotes integrated field cropping, poultry rearing and aquaculture. In Pak Chong District of that province lies the National Maize and Millet Research Centre. In the same province, there are two pilot ventures of bio-ecological farming in the mountainous Wang Nam Khiao District. One specializes in the growing of temperate-climate lettuce, and the other in horticulture on 6.4 hectares planted with mangosteen, longkong, longan and lychee trees. Proof of the feasibility to do agriculture has long been rendered by agribusiness enterprises operating in the area. Examples include the Chok Chai Farm specializing in cattle rearing; five vineyards ranging in size between one and 320 hectares; and a farm growing flowers of some 300 species on eleven hectares. All these commercial enterprises are situated in Pak Chong District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province.
Building productive communities lays the foundation of sustainable development. Skill training is essential for the upgrading of human resources. In this spirit, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit established the Foundation for Supplementary Occupational Research and Training, known as the SUPPORT Foundation, in short. Its outreach activities are geared to preserve traditional crafts and artisanship with the underpinning by state-of-the-art technologies and modern management practices. An example is the self-help organization of Na Pho Silk Fabric Weaving Villages in Na Pho District of Buri Ram Province. This traditional centre of silk fabric weaving has received assistance from the SUPPORT Foundation in the techniques of designing, pattern development, silk yarn dying, and marketing.
In the same vein, the Royal Thai Government launched the strategy of enabling each sub-district (tambon in Thai) to build strength in the manufacturing of one competitive product. Heralded as the One Tambon One Product [OTOP] project, its spectrum of products is wide. Examples from the southern plateau of Isan include silk production and fabric weaving, pottery, and wickerwork as well as basketry. Villagers at Lung Pradu Samakkhi in Huai Thalaeng District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province grow mulberry trees, raise silkworms, spin silk yarn, dye it using natural substances as well as synthetic colours, and weave fabric in traditional as well as modern designs. Their manufacturing is underpinned by a community-based revolving fund system. Similar home industries producing silk are operated by villagers of Chan Rom in Mueang District and of Khwao Sinarin in the District of the same name, both located in Surin Province. They turn out silk fabric of marvellous design and high-quality. In the latter village, a second manufacturing line is specialized in accessories for lady garments.
The century-old tradition of pottery is upheld in many locations. Perhaps the best-known place is the proverbial Dan Kwian Pottery Village in Chok Chai District of Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Artisans use clay from the bed of the Mun River. The name of the community is a reminder of the time in history when it was a check-point [dan in Thai] and stage-post on the trade route, with commodities transported on ox-carts [ kwian in Thai ], between Isan and the plain around the Thonle Sap in present Cambodia. Another traditional craft is upheld by villagers at Ban Buthom in Mueang District of Surin Province. Wickerwork and basketry using bamboo and rattan, in combination with applying clay and resin, are the skills employed to manufacture various utensils such as containers which are used to lift, carry as well as store water, and to create miniature items figuring local-style homesteads, livestock and vehicles, to meet visitors’ demand for souvenirs.
Taken from: Thailand: Traits and Treasures. The National Identity Board, Royal Thai Government 2005.
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