Sakon Nakhon, Northeastern Thailand
To many visitors, Northeastern Thailand or Isan is the most difficult region to travel around. That, however, is changing. The biggest region in Thailand, Isan has a wealth of attractions and traditions, especially in Sakon Nakhon. Now served by daily flights from Bangkok, you can fly to the upper northeastern city in just about an hour.
Situated in the densely forested Phu Phan mountain range area, Sakon Nakhon has always been an ideal place for those seeking tranquility. The Northeast is the birthplace of the Thai Forest Tradition, a highly disciplined lineage of Theravada Buddhism. In addition to visiting forest temples and learn more about some of Thailand's most prominent monks, you can visit one of the strongest Christian communities. The city also hosts some of the most spectacular Buddhist and Christian festivals in Thailand.
Combining with natural attractions and historic Khmer ruins as well as local ways of life and cuisine, this Isan city can surely cater for all tastes. Check out these top things to do in Sakon Nakhon, Thailand, and enjoy authentic local experiences before the rest of the world catches on.
Top 10 Things to Do in Sakon Nakhon, Thailand
1. Pay respect to the city’s most sacred temple, Wat Phra That Choeng Chum
A great way to start your trip. Wat Phra That Choeng Chum is also the city’s most iconic temple. After admiring the 24 meter-high stupa, pay respect to Luang Pho Ong Saen (the city’s most important Buddha image) and footprints of 4 Buddhas.
2. Gaze at a parade of wax masterpieces at Wax Castle Festival
Well-known for their strong faith, the local Buddhists celebrate the end of Buddhist Lent (Ok Phansa) grandly. Every year in October, they handcraft Buddhist temples and castle-like structures out of beeswax. These magnificent artworks are homage to Wat Phra That Choeng Chum and paraded around the city.
3. Walk among lotuses and watch the sunset over Isan’s largest lake
The biggest lotus park in Thailand. A red bridge zigzags around the lake and you can also sit back and relax in one of the many Thai-style pavilions. Love cycling? You’re welcome to rent a bike.
The lotus park is located just across from Nong Han Lake, so make the most of your visit by visiting both. Nong Han Lake is the biggest lake in the Northeast and also the second largest freshwater lake in Thailand. Stunning sunset aside, Nong Han Lake is dotted with islets and you can take a boat to them while observing local fishermen at work.
4. Admire Buddhist arts amid nature at Wat Tham Pha Daen
Situated on Phu Phan mountain and surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers, Wat Tham Pha Daen is a great temple even for those who are feeling templed out. Its golden pagodas gleam on the enormous rocks and Buddhist motifs are carved into the rocks. Thanks to its location, the temple offers sweeping views of the city and Nong Han Lake.
5. Explore the century-old largest Christian community in Thailand at Tha Rae
Tha Rae Village is home to more Christians than anywhere in Thailand and the community has a long history. Over 100 years ago, Catholic Christians from Vietnam took refuge in Thailand and finally settled in Tha Rae. The village has a unique atmosphere with old French-Vietnamese-style buildings and Noah's Ark-like Saint Michael the Archangel Cathedral. Plus you can also try Vietnamese cuisine.
6. Have yourself a Merry Starry Christmas at Christmas Star Festival
Since Tha Rae is a dominantly Christian community, this is one of the few places in Thailand where you can enjoy grand Christmas festivities. What’s more, Christmas Star Festival is arguably one of the most colorful Christmas celebrations in the world. At Christmas time, the village is decked out with star lanterns and when the night falls, everything is illuminated. Be dazzled by more than 200 cars parading the big star lanterns around the village. Watch the story of Jesus unfold in a stage play. Meet Santa Claus, angels and many more Christmas characters.
7. Glimpse into the world of the Thai Forest Tradition
With the aim of training the mind to enlightenment, the monks Ajarn Sao Kantasilo and Ajarn Mun Bhuridatto retreated into the secluded forests and caves of the Northeast for intense meditation practice and from then on lived a highly ascetic life. A rigorous practice that’s the closest to Buddha’s.
The Thai Forest Tradition has gained a large following. Since Ajarn Mun and his notable students trained and were laid to rest in Sakon Nakhon, you can retrace their footsteps in the city. Take these following places for example:
1) Wat Pa Sutthawat and Ajarn Mun Bhuridatto Museum
Wat Pa Sutthawat is Ajarn Mun’s final resting place and in the temple grounds is a museum and shrine dedicated to his life and work. The highly revered monk’s objects are displayed in the museum along with his bronze statue and his bone shards, which have unexplainably turned into crystals.
2) Wat Pa Udom Somphon and Ajarn Fan Archaro Museum
Ajarn Fan was one of Ajarn Mun’s students and he went on to become one of Thailand’s most revered monks like his teacher. Wat Pa Udom Somphon was Ajarn Fan’s training place and the beautiful lotus-shaped museum exhibits his history as well as his ashes, tools and life-size statue.
8. Visit the Khmer-style sanctuaries, Phra That Narai Cheng Weng and Phra That Phu Pek
Though both Phra That Phu Pek and Phra That Narai Cheng Went fell into ruin, these historic temples are surrounded by intriguing legends. Phra That Narai Cheng Weng is believed to have been built entirely by women and its Khmer-style stupa still remains.
Constructed by men, Phra That Phu Pek stands at the top of a mountain in Phu Phan mountain range and you have to clamber up 491 steps to reach the temple. The ancient solar calendar, which was indispensable for rituals and agriculture, is still housed inside the temple. You can also enjoy the view from the top, especially of Nong Han Lake.
9. Wear the locals’ pride and joy, indigo-dyed clothes
The craftsmanship of handwoven, natural-dyed indigo clothes has been passed down for many generations. The village Ban Non Rua is especially famous and the locals are still developing their techniques.
However, you can find these indigo-dyed clothes all over the city. There are a lot of shops and even an indigo walking street near Wat Phra That Choeng Chum on weekend evenings. The clothes have been transformed into fashionable wear as various other items.
10. Indulge with Thailand’s best beef, Pon Yang Kham
You’ve probably heard of Pon Yang Kham beef before since you can taste it at many restaurants in major cities. Guess what, Thailand’s best beef actually originated in Pon Yang Kham Village. Time to treat yourself to premium steak and other mouthwatering dishes.
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