Situated in the heart of Northeastern Thailand, the small province of Maha Sarakham is considered to be a regional education centre, earning the name "Taksila of Isan" (Taksila was a city where education of all branches centered around in ancient India). The province also houses a sacred Buddha image and has many historical sites, with the province being the former site of the ancient Dvaravati city of Nakhon Champa Si. Maha Sarakham's beautiful hand woven silk and cotton fabrics are sought after for their original patterns. Maha Sarakham is 470 kilometres from Bangkok and has an area of approximately 5,291 square kilometres.
Archeological findings excavated from Phra That Nadune , or the Isan Phutthamonthon, indicated the area was once an ancient, prosperous town called'Nakhon Champa Sri'. The artifacts discovered here are now displayed at the Khon Kaen National Museum. More importantly, a miniature chedi containing the Buddha image of Phra Barom Saririkathat encased in a golden, silver and bronze box dating back to the 10-11th century of the Dvaravati era was found. The present Phra That Nadune was modeled after the miniature chedi.
The Isan Arts and Cultural Research Institute , located in Maha Sarakham University, regularly organizes shows and exhibitions on the Isan (NE region) culture and traditions, the evolution of silk weaving and local handicrafts, musical instruments, written literature, ancient inscriptions, and other related topics. Demonstrations of traditional classical dances and production of local handicrafts can also be seen at the Isan Arts and Cultural Center located in Maha Sarakham Ratchapat Institute.
The Dvaravati-style, red sandstone Phra Buddha Rup Yeun Mongkon and Phra Buddha Rup Ming Muang (Suwan Mali) Buddha images are considered the city's principal Buddha images, both built the same time as the founding of the provincial city. According to legend, when the town of'Kantarawichai' encountered a drought, the men created a Ming Muang Buddha image and the females created the Yeun Mongkon image. Finishing at the same time, the townspeople held a great celebration. Since then, rain has fallen regularly during the proper season, transforming this arid land into a fertile one. Both images are located at Wat Suwannaward , 14 km from the provincial city.
The Wat Mahachai Museum houses a collection of artifacts discovered in Isan, a collection of Isan written literatures and numerous ancient Buddhist scriptures.
Situated on the bank of the Chi River, the Kosamphi Park resembles a forested garden with a variety of plants and trees creating a dense canopy, inhabited by plenty of birds and harmless monkeys. A beautiful natural brook flows by, creating a pleasant, scenic environment.
The Chi Loung Park is an island created by the changing currents of the Chi River. The park was cut off from the mainland when the river's strong currents washed away the connecting piece of land, creating a new water route. A road encircles the island, which is teeming with large rubber trees.
Located 3 km from town, the Kaeng Loeng Chan is a large water reservoir and the site of the Freshwater Fishery Breeding Station. Its shoreline is a popular relaxing place for locals, particularly in the evenings.
Heading towards Roi Et, you'll pass the Pottery Village (Mooban Pan Mor) where locals sustain an income by making pottery the traditional way. Other Isan people use the products for containing water, curry and other uses.
The 8-m tall Ku Mahathat (Prang Ku Ban Kawao) is an ancient Khmer stone sanctuary that dates back to the 14th century. The shrine houses 2 earthenware Buddha images. Interestingly, the only entrance into the main Prang (tower) faces east, while the other 3 false doors face the other directions.
The historical Ku Santarat is a Khmer stone sanctuary that was created in the Bayana style of art approximately during 1157-1207, during the reign of King Chaiya Woraman VII, the last emperor of the Khmer Empire. Excavations made in 1971 unearthed many religious objects.
Isan Arts and Culture Centre is in Maha Sarakham Rajabhat Institute. The centre has exhibits on the origins of Isan art, Isan literature on dried palm leaves and handicrafts such as weaving and fabric designs.
Isan Arts and Culture Research Institute is in Maha Sarakham University. The institute has exhibits on Isan arts and culture. Of particular interest are displays on the origins of weaving, the development of local fabrics, basketry, woodwork, metalwork, the development of pottery, household items, animal traps, related tools, musical equipment, literature, including ancient language inscriptions, displays of the contemporary art of students and various details on regional arts and culture, which are for sale.
Wat Maha Chai Museum is in the town. It houses artefacts found in the region, like stone temple markers, ancient Buddha images, door panels, and woodcarving over a century old. In addition, it has a large collection of Isan literature and dried palm leaf scriptures.
Kaeng Loeng Chan is 3 kilometres from town beside Liang Muang Road on Highway No. 213. Kaeng Loeng Chan is a large reservoir that is used to breed freshwater fish. The Maha Sarakham Fishery Station is based here. The area also includes an exercise park and a fish species display. It is a popular place for relaxing in the evening.
Mu Ban Pan Mo (pottery village) is at Tambon Khawao, 4 kilometres from Roi Et on Highway No. 208 and 1 kilometre on a left-hand road. Villagers here still practice centuries old techniques for making clay pots which Isan people use for keeping water and soup.
Chi Long Forest Park is at Ban Wang Wa, 10 kilometres from town on the way to Kosum Phisai. The park is on an island that was formed by a course divergence of the Mun River, a main waterway of the Northeast. The island is covered with shady rubber trees and a road circling it makes sightseeing most enjoyable.
Ku Maha That (Prang Ku Ban Khawao) is 13 kilometres from town on Chaeng Sanit Road. This ancient site dates from the 13 th century. It is built of laterite in the shape of a square tent. The doorways and lintels are of sandstone. Two clay statues are inside. A laterite wall surrounds the site.
Phra That Na Dun, or the Buddha Monthon of Isan, is the area where historical and archaeological findings that proved the magnificence of the ancient city of Champa Si were made. Artefacts found here are now on display at the Khon Kaen National Museum. The most important piece is the stupa (pagoda) encasing the holy relics of Lord Buddha in gold, silver and bronze caskets. The site was from the Dvaravati period of the 8 th -10 th century. This model for Phra That Na Dun comes alive every Makha Bucha Day.
Ku Santarat is on the way to Na Dun. To get there, take Highway No. 2040 past Kae Dam and Wapi Pathum, then turn right onto Road No. 2045 and drive for 1 kilometre. The site is a stone sanctuary built in the reign of King Jayavoraman VII. This Bayon-style building was completed during 1157-1207. This square laterite structure is similar to Ku Maha That. The front doorway has a remarkably beautiful lintel.
Ban Isan Museum is another interesting place that shows the way of life of the Isan people. It is located a short way from Phra That Na Dun. The museum is a research project of Maha Sarakham University. It comprises model houses of the various tribes in the region and there are exhibitions displaying household items.
Dun Lam Phan forest is a damp forest where rare plant and animal species can be found, such as the Lam Phan plant and Thun Kramom or Paeng crab which is orange, purple, yellow, and white. The forest is 56 kilometres from town
Yun Mongkhon and Ming Muang Buddha images are the most important Buddha images of the province. They are at Tambon Khan Than Rat on Highway No. 213, about 14 kilometres from town. The images are in the Dvaravati style and are made of red sandstone. It is believed that they can make rainfall in the rainy season. Legend says a man built the Ming Muang image, while a woman built the Yun Mongkhon image.
Ban Nong Khuan Chang is at Moo 7, Tambon Ban Song Khon. This village is renowned for making quality silk and cotton materials. It is 12 kilometres from town on the Maha Sarakham-Kosum Phisai Road. Turn left at the 12-km marker onto Highway No. 1027 and drive for 2 kilometres.
Kosamphi Forest Park is at Tambon Hua Khwang. This park is mainly a forest area on the Mun riverbank that is very popular with locals.
To get there , take Road No. 208 for 28 kilometres and 500 metres from Kosum Phisai. The park is home to numerous monkeys that are always asking for food from tourists.
Ban Phaeng village is famous for making reed mats. It is 38 kilometres from town (Highway No. 208). The mats are local products that are used widely in Thailand. The village does extensive reed farming and has set up a reed-mat-making co-operative to demonstrate the process of making mats and sell them at very affordable prices.
Bun Boek Fa and Red Cross Fair is held at the start of the harvesting season in February. The event is held at the provincial hall to revive and preserve Isan's cultural heritage. It features the Bun Boek Fa procession, which is a story about Mae Hosop, beautiful decorated Bai Si Su Khwan pedestals, folk-plays, local music, and many rituals.
Hotels and accommodation
- New Phatthana : 1227/68 Somthawinrat Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 4371 1922, 0 4371 1933] : 280-500 baht
- Nitsarawan Resort : 144/8 Nakhonsawan Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 4372 1084, 0 4374 2754-5] : 500-1,000 baht
- Phattana : 1227/4-8 Somthawinrat Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 4371 1473] : 100-200 baht
- Suan Warun: Inside Mahasarakham Ratjabhat Institute Amphoe Muang
- Sunthon : 1157/1 Worabut Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 4371 1201] : 150-350 baht
- Wasu : 1096/4 Sisawat Damnoen Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 4371 1201] : 150-350 baht
- Local Cuisine
- Ban Suan : Maha Sarakhram-Kosum Phisai Rd.
- Bua Kaew : Nakhon Sawan Rd., Tel: 0-4372-1066
- Jaew Hon : Maha Sarakhram-Kan Thorn Wichai Rd.
- Marine : 1110/20 Chang San it Rd., Tel: 0-4371-1396
- Nisarawan Resort : Maha Sarakhram-Kosum Phisai Rd., Tel: 0-4372-1084
- Pan Din Thong : 1632/2 Charoen Rajadet Rd., Tel: 0-4371-1120
- Pu Pang : Within Maha Sarakhram Rajapat Institute, Maha Sarakhram-Kosum Phisai Rd.
- Ruan Thip : Chonprathan Rd., Tel: 0-4371-1212
- Serm Thai : Rim Klong Samathawin Rd., Tel: 0-4371-1217, 0-4371-1051
How to get there
* By car
From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 and Highway No. 2 to Nakhon Ratchasima and use Highway No.226 to Buri Ram, then take Highway No. 219 via Satuek, Phayakkhaphumphisai and Borabue to Maha Sarakham, a total distance of 475 kilometres.
* By bus
Air-conditioned and non air-conditioned buses depart from Bangkok's Mochit 2 Bus Terminal to Maha Sarakham every day. Contact Transport Co.Ltd at Tel: 0 2936 2852-66 or Mongkhon Tour at Tel: 0 2936 3638-9 for more information.
* By train
There is no direct train from Bangkok to Maha Sarakham. Visitors can take a train to Khon Kaen and connect a bus to Maha Sarakham. for more information, call 1690, 0 2223 7010-20.
* By plane
Visitors can fly from Bangkok to Khon Kaen and then connect a bus to Maha Sarakham. For more information, call Thai Airways, Tel: 1566, 0 2280 0060, 0 2628 2000.