Photo: A Khon Kaen storefront.

Phra That Kaen Nakhon

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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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A centre of Buddhism in Khon Kaen city.

A centre of Buddhism in Khon Kaen city.

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.

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 main attraction.

The main attraction.

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.

No shortage of things to marvel at.

No shortage of things to marvel at.

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.

Khon Kaen's version of Sleeping Beauty?

Khon Kaen’s version of Sleeping Beauty?

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.

Bits of curio.

Bits of curio.

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.

Nice and breezy up here.

Nice and breezy up here.

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.


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How to get there
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.

Phra That Kaen Nakhon
Between Klang Mueang Rd and Rop Bung Rd, west of the lake.

Location map for Phra That Kaen Nakhon

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Khon Kaen.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Khon Kaen.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Khon Kaen.
 Read up on how to get to Khon Kaen, or book your transport online with 12Go Asia.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Khon Kaen? Please read this.
 Buy a SIM card for Thailand—pick it up at the airport when you arrive.
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