Phu Phra Bat Historical Park to be nominated for world heritage

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U-sa's Tower in Phu Phra Bat Historical Park. Source: The Nation, 20150127

Phu Phra Bat Historical Park in Udon Thani Province Thailand is to be nominated at Thailand’s next World Heritage site. This ridge in northeast Thailand is reminiscent of Cambodia’s Phnom Kulen, and contains a long history of human occupation from prehistoric rock paintings, to remains of Dvaravati, Lopburi/Khmer and recently Lan Xang cultures. It is a beautiful landscape and I was really fortunate to have investigated some of the sites there as part of my PhD research.

U-sa's Tower in Phu Phra Bat Historical Park. Source: The Nation, 20150127

U-sa’s Tower in Phu Phra Bat Historical Park. Source: The Nation, 20150127

Phu Phra Bat Park nominated for Unesco Heritage Site list
The Nation, 27 January 2015

Phu Phra Bat Park chosen for Unesco Heritage list
The Nation, 28 January 2015

The Culture Ministry has decided to nominate Udon Thani’s Phu Phra Bat Park as a Unesco World Heritage Site and will put the plan up for consideration at Parliament tomorrow.

Situated in Ban Phue district, the park features ruins and objects dating back to pre-historic times as well as to the Dvaravati, Lopburi, and Lan Xang periods.

The 1,200-acre site is located in the lush Phu Phra Bat Buabok Forest Park, where there are many peculiarly shaped rocks owing to slow-moving glaciers millions of years ago. Also, many of the ruins and objects – such as a rock shaped to look like a stupa and another chiselled to the shape of a foot – were not made entirely by hand.

Visitors can also admire the pre-historic paintings, sandstone images and idols. The Fine Arts Department declared the site a historical park in 1991.

Full story here and here.

Revenge of the Stupa

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05 June 2007 (Webdiary) – Pardon the dramatic title, but this story has all the elements of a juicy drama – the unheeded warning, botched-up work and revenge of a supernatural nature. The mismanaged construction of the Australian embassy in Vientiene beside a 17th century That, or stupa, said to contain the relics of a Laotian prince is now returning bad karma in kind. Melody Kemp wrote about the background of the Vientiene That in November of 2006; since the start of construction works, the That has suffered some damage and now she posits the Australian community in Laos is suffering bad luck in kind.

200611 Webdiary

Tumbling That
(November 2006)

It’s probably older than European settlement in Australia, but a new Australian settlement next door threatens to destroy it.

One of Vientiane’s oldest relics, an ancient That (stupa) which reputedly contains the remains of a wayward prince, is being threatened by earthworks on the site for the new Australian embassy in Lao.

The That which sits adjacent to the site, is thought to have been built around the 16th or 17 century and is one of the few remaining structures from the ancient Laotian Lang Xang Kingdom. The Abbot of the neighbouring Wat (temple) Nak Yai and keeper of the That, is concerned that the rumbling bulldozers excavating the foundations for the embassy, may cause the already leaning top of this ancient structure to topple. It would, he said, be a very inauspicious beginning for the embassy and spell bad luck for all Australians living in Vientiane. Indeed.

Tumbled That; The Price Falls
(June 2007)

Several months ago I wrote about a 17th Century That (stupa, in this case containing the bones of a sexually profligate prince) threatened by the construction of the new Australian Embassy in Vientiane. The risk to this ancient structure made of low fired friable bricks, was a matter of great concern to the guardian, Buddhist Abbot Bounyed, whose Wat (temple) adjoins the site. He told me then that if the That fell, it would spell perpetual bad luck for the Embassy and all Australians in Lao.

Well, due to Australian incompetence and lack of diligence, it looks like I am sentenced to a few years more bad luck than what I would get from a broken mirror.

I met an erudite archaeologist working in Lao. A man of great humour and curiosity, he told me that not only had the That cracked as I had been advised the week before, but parts had indeed fallen, a victim of pile driving. An Australian environmental consultant resident in Lao had been assured earlier by Embassy staff that piles were not going to be used.

Cosmic karma? Read the stories Tumbling That and Tumbled That; The Price Falls

Books about Laos and the Lang Xang kingdom:
Breaking New Ground in Lao History: Essays on the Seventh to Twentieth Centuries by M. Ngaosivat
The Kingdoms of Laos by S. Simms and P. Simms
The Lao Kingdom of Lan-Xang: Rise and Decline by M. Stuart-Fox
Kingdom of Laos: The land of the million elephants and of the white parasol by R. de Berval

Tourism threatens fragile beauty of former Lao royal capital

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30 March 2007 (AFP, by way of Yahoo! News) – While many articles about how tourism is threatening the site of Angkor, a similar scene is happening in Laos.

Tourism threatens fragile beauty of former Lao royal capital

World heritage status has turned the former Lao capital from a ghost town into a tourism hub, but too much of a good thing could soon prove the kiss of death, say experts and residents.

In recent years a trickle of backpackers has turned into a flood of tourists coming to the sleepy town of glistening Buddhist temples and palm shaded French colonial mansions sitting pretty on a Mekong river peninsula.

Camera-toting visitors now follow saffron-robed monks on their morning alms rounds and foreigners are transforming quiet neighbourhoods into rows of cafes and hotels, say those who worry about the town’s fragile beauty.

“People are surprised at the pace of change,” said Francis Engelmann, a former
UNESCO advisor and current resident of Luang Prabang. “There are more cars, there is more noise. Behind my house three new guesthouses are going up.”

The 700-year-old town, seen as the jewel of ancient Lao heritage, threatens to turn into “a mono-industry where everything depends on tourism,” he warned.

By the standards of many Asian tourist sites, Luang Prabang retains much of the tranquil charm that led the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to list it as a world heritage site in 1995.

Nestled below lush hills between the Mekong and Khan rivers, it was once the capital of the Lan Xang kingdom, the Land of One Million Elephants, and remained the spiritual and religious centre of Laos in the centuries since.

Related Books:
A History of Laos by M. Stuart-Fox
Ancient Luang Prabang by D. Heywood
The Lao Kingdom of Lan-Xang: Rise and Decline by M. Stuart-Fox