As soon as I see the Chedi soaring in the distance, I have a feeling this is going to be a remarkable day. It’s a day I’ve been looking forward to.
Towering over its surroundings at 57 metres high, the sacred Chedi of Wat is the oldest in the North east of Thailand.
A most sacred Chedi
Located near the Mekong River in the Nakhon Phanom province, 700 kilometres north east of Bangkok, the Chedi is very significant to Buddhist people. It contains a highly revered relic – the breast bone of Lord Buddha himself.
On entering the temple grounds and joining the large crowd of worshippers, two things immediately catch my attention.
Firstly, the entire temple complex is impressive and the Chedi up close is stunning with its very elegant shape and painted in white and decorated with gold ornaments. The original Chedi is said to have been built after the death of Lord Buddha in the 10th century.
Secondly, although there are hundreds of worshippers, I am the only foreigner and people smile and make me feel very welcome.
There are several stalls in the compound selling religious amulets, artefacts and other items. Near them I see a long table with several monks seated on one side. There is a large journal in front of them. A crowd has gathered around.
Taking part is fun
In all of my travel into even the remotest area of Thailand, I have found there is always someone who speaks English and today is no exception. As I watch on, a young man politely explains to me in excellent English that people are offering donations to assist in the upkeep and running of the temple.
Their name, home city and amount are entered into the large book and then read out loud by the monks. The audience applaud politely each time.
I decide to join in. As my knowledge of the Thai language is minimal, I hesitantly walk up to the desk and, in English, respectfully bid the monks good afternoon.
Immediately one of the monks replies in English and welcomes me to the temple. He writes my details in the journal and, as I place my donation in the container, he reads them out.
The crowd clap and cheer and I join in the laughter as he wishes me “good luck and goodbye”. Everyone is smiling. To me this is a special moment, one of several I will enjoy as I drive around the Northeast.
That night, I smile as I reflect on the striking beauty of Wat Phra That Phanom, the spiritual significance of the Chedi and the warmth and friendliness of the people.
Isaan is truly the Land of Smiles.