While driving along Thanon Mittraphap (ถนน มิตรภาพ, Thai Highway No. 2) on the way to Mueang Nakhon Ratchasima one hot afternoon, I caught a glimpse of a glistening white thing mid-way up a mountainside that was enveloped in low-hanging clouds. I made for the nearest U-turn slot on the highway to investigate further.
Turning into the road leading to the place, this was what one would see. Notice that the road was very straight and aligned exactly with the white speck perched on the mountainside.
Getting closer, it became more apparent that it was a statue of the Buddha built on the mountainside. The U-turn actually took a while and by the time I was at the threshold of the site, the clouds had lifted although a hazy mist could still be seen.
From afar, the view of the Buddha was magnificent and beautyful! It seemed like it was floating over the tropical forest that covered the mountain (which I later learned to be Khao Si Siaat Aa). If one drove down this very straight road, eventually, one would reach an arch that serves as the gate of a temple complex. To the right of the archway was a large parking lot with basic amenities for travellers. On that afternoon, only one other vehicle was parked and there was a scattering of vendors, ostensibly local farmers, selling fruits and vegetables. Among those that greeted me were a flock of peacocks and peahens, a quaint detail because these fowl were not endemic to Thailand.
When I walked into the temple complex, some monks and a few other people were cleaning up the public dining area (it was around 2 p.m. by then). Apparently, this temple provided free meals to anyone who happened to be around the time the monks would be having their last meal for the day.
As it was mid-day, there were only a few souls wandering about the place (definitely not more than five) and doing some of the usual rituals that Buddhists and Thais call “making merit.” Down a small lane, one could see the monks’ huts and what I surmise are lecture halls for those studying to be monks.
At the center of the complex is a shimmering white Buddha mirroring the one midway up the mountain that could be reached by climbing a little over 600 steps (618 to be exact) on each side of the platform at the back of the more earthbound Buddha. Information that one could gather from the net would indicate that a total of 1,250 steps led to the Buddha on the mountain. Whichever of these was right, I would not find out because I did not have the time (nor the courage) to do the trek.
I recall the time I went with colleagues to a cave in Central Vietnam that entailed climbing about 1,200 steps to reach the entrance only to find out that just beyond the mouth of the cave, we had to go down another 1,200 steps to reach the floor of the cave. I was expecting that somehow, the exit would be somewhere at the end of that cavernous hall inside the cave only to be informed that the way out would entail climbing up and down those 2,400 steps again. Or, if we did not want to endure that, we could walk about 40 kilometers into the cave to reach an exit that did not require using those stairways! I now look back and wonder how we survived those 5,000 steps; to think there were even pregnant women among the crowd that visited that place that day. But that is for another post…
I was told by a Buddhist nun that people visit the place to make wishes at the shrine. Apparently, if one offered lotus flowers, lit candles and joss sticks (conveniently on sale at a stall near the earthbound Buddha) and fervently prayed for whatever it was that they were wishing for, it would be granted. Maybe that was the reason why people made treks to this place.
I was also told that this place was built by a former army soldier who wanted to do something spiritually meaningful when he retired. Judging from what I saw, it was a really busy retirement, indeed. But then, seeing the amount of work and dedication one had to put into making this shrine a reality, one could only admire the determination and zeal of the person behind it.
Following are a few more photos I took during this visit.
Though one could spend hours meandering all over this place and going up the mountain to see the big Buddha up close and take in the view of the Korat Plateau, this trip did not accord me with that luxury as it was all unplanned. On the way out, this peahen bid a colorful farewell.
What a beautyful goodbye!
Wat Thep Phitak Phunnaram Drone Video from Air Vision on YouTube
Getting there is a challenge if taking public transport. As with most places in rural Thailand, the best way to travel is to rent a car either to drive on your own or with a driver. Rentals are reasonably priced and service is superb.