Phra That Kaen Nakhon

Phra That Kaen Nakhon

The main attraction

More on Khon Kaen

Centrepiece of Wat Nong Waeng, the 80-metre-high Phra That Kaen Nakhon stands as a museum, repository for Buddhist relics, scripture library, meditation hall, viewpoint and symbol of Khon Kaen. If you only have time to visit one attraction in the city, this should be it.

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Located near the southwest bank of Bueng Kaen Nakhon Lake, Wat Nong Waeng was founded shortly after the city itself in the late 1700s. Decreed a royal-grade temple in 1984, its tree-lined grounds include numerous halls, statues of guys riding elephants, a community centre and a small market. Many local teenaged boys ordain here as novice monks for short periods, a Thailand-wide custom believed to bring merit to the parents while giving the boys a lesson in self-discipline.

Reach for the sky. : Stuart McDonald.
Reach for the sky. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Added in 1996, Phra That Kaen Nakhon is a very impressive example of modern Thai Buddhist art and architecture. It towers atop a 50-metre-wide base and includes nine floors connected by stairways, each with a roofed hall displaying murals, Buddha images and artifacts.

The grandiose ground floor features high ornamented ceilings rising over dozens of Buddha images. Ancient bone relics, supposedly from the Buddha and some of his chief disciples, are placed in crystal receptacles set up in ornate golden pavilions. Grab some good luck by tossing coins in all 108 brass bowls, then head outside to ring one of the gongs.

A centre of Buddhism in Khon Kaen city. : David Luekens.
A centre of Buddhism in Khon Kaen city. Photo: David Luekens

Each rimmed by open-air viewing platforms, the tiers become gradually narrower as you climb upwards. The second to sixth floors contain vivid murals in the Isaan hueptam style depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life along with some of the Jataka tales (Buddha’s previous lives) and an extensive series dedicated to local folk tales, history and ethics.

You’ll also find fairly large collections of ancient Buddha images, ceramics, ceremonial fans, old tools and coins, vintage typewriters and a real human skeleton used for contemplating the impermanent and selfless nature of the body. The seventh floor houses life-size statues of famous late Thai monks who are believed to have become enlightened.

Enjoying the view part of the way up. : David Luekens.
Enjoying the view part of the way up. Photo: David Luekens

A full set of the Tripitaka (early Buddhist scriptures) is kept on the eighth floor, and the ninth is graced by a shrine containing more relics of the Buddha—or so they say. The whole shebang is topped by a large Lao-style chedi, which is a replica of Phra That Kham Kaen. Located some 20 kilometres away, the real Phra That Kham Kaen is the province’s most sacred site.

The views get a little better as you keep going up. Huffing it all the way to the top floor rewards you with a sweeping vista of Bueng Kaen Nakhon Lake and almost the entire city sprawling northward, punctuated by brass prayer bells and half-bird/half-man khinaree. Throughout the structure, we noticed people taking advantage of the peaceful atmosphere to practice seated meditation.

Up a little higher. : Stuart McDonald.
Up a little higher. Photo: Stuart McDonald
Transport information

Wat Nong Waeng is located to the south of town, adjacent to the west bank of Bueng Kaen Nakhon Lake and between Klang Mueang Rd and Rop Bung Rd. Songthaews 8 and 13 can drop you nearby. Phra That Kaen Nakhon is open during daylight hours. Admission is free but donations are appreciated. Visitors should be respectful by wearing non-revealing dress.

Contact details for Phra That Kaen Nakhon

Address: Between Klang Mueang Rd and Rop Bung Rd, west of the lake.
Coordinates (for GPS): 102º50'3.4" E, 16º24'29.11" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps

Reviewed by

David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.

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Standard provincial museum