Saturday, February 26, 2011

A visit to Roi Et.

Bordered by Cambodia to the southeast and by Laos (and the Mekong River) to the north and east, 'Isaan' is what the Thais call the large tableland on the Khorat Plateau in the northeast where nearly a third of the nation's population lives. The name comes from Ishana, the Hindu god of death, possibly referring to the infertile soil and a climate characterized by long periods of drought punctuated by downpours and flooding. However, agriculture is the largest economy, generating 22% of the Gross Regional Product (GRP). Rice is most prominent, however, an increasing number of farmers are converting to cash-crops such as sugar cane and cassava (manioc). And, in the middle of Isaan lies the sleepy countryside city of Roi Et. Home to 40,000, it is also the capital of Roi Et province. The term Roi Et translates to 101, which derives from the 11 satellite colonies around the city and the 11 gates of the roads that lead to the towns, and it is thought that the number was exaggerated.

Roi Et city and province are known for crafting 'khaen', an Isaan musical panpipe made from reed and wood. At the center of the city lies Beung Phlan Chai, a symbolic 200,000 square-meter artificial lake with an island in the middle that houses the city pillar shrine. Locals can been seen lighting candles, sitting on their knees, and giving prayers. Adjacent to the shrine is a park with a large playground and lawn with some sculptures of art, exercise area with equipment, as well as a running track. On any sunny day afternoon, after the day has cooled a bit, locals can be seen picnicking and playing around with their families, while some can be seen jogging with their portable music players. To the southwest of the lake is a small public aquarium, the only one in Isaan.

Walking north on Thanon Haisok and turning left on Thanon Phadung Phanit, walking about half a kilometer before turning right on a small dead-end alley will lead you to Wat Neua, which means 'the north temple'. Appropriately situated in the northern quarter of the town, Phra Satup Jedi, a 1,200-year-old chedi from the Dvaravati period, is what makes the temple special, though its tranquil atmosphere with its quiet garden and occasional humming of birds that helps you relax is what I enjoyed the most. Nobody was seen, not even a monk. Buddha's representing the days of the week are housed in the corridor surround the chedi, but no traces hinting they have been cleaned regularly could be seen. The chedi here boasts an unusual four-corned bell-shaped form that is rare in Thailand. Around the 'bot' are a few old Dvaravati semaa, or ordination-precinct marker stones, and to one side of the wat is an inscribed pillar that was erected by the Khmers when they controlled the area during the 11th and 12th centuries.

Strolling in the opposite direction on Thanon Phadung Phanit will take you through a couple of local shops and banks, before a tall standing Buddha easily towering above the minimal skyline of the city jumps into your view. Located near the eastern edge of the town, Wat Burapha Phiram, a third-class royal temple which was formerly known as Wat Hua Ro, houses the tallest standing Buddha image in the country known as Phra Phuttha Rattanamongkhon Mahamuni, or Luangpho Yai or Phra Sung Yai in short. The Buddha is 59.2 meters tall and if the base made from concrete is included, it would be 67.8 meters. Near the base of the Buddha is an outdoor museum that displays figures telling the story of the Buddha. Unlike the almost-forgotten temple of Wat Neua, Luangpho Yai seems to be highly revered by the people of Roi Et.

Walking south on Thanon Phloenchit will lead you to the busiest part of town, with some high-class hotels and a shopping center, though the large and lively market is definitely what draws the most attention. No, there isn't anything special about it, and it resembles any other ordinary market found in most Thai cities. However, you won't be bored watching locals selling their fresh goods or cooking meals the smells of which will make you drool, and other locals come and go, probably collecting the ingredients to make their supper. And for me, this is the first place I had 'khaw-niaw ma-muang', now my favorite Thai dessert, which is coconut-milk-steamed sticky rice topped with thick slices of fresh mangoes and additional sweet coconut milk poured on.

Is Roi Et a must-go place on a tourist's list? Probably not. But to relax and savor the atmosphere unique to Isaan, it might be worth spending a couple of days. :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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