In March I visited a serene wat in Warin Chamrap in the province of Ubon Ratchathani in the Isaan (northeast) region of Thailand. More specifically it is located about 8 kilometers southeast of Warin Chamrap. If you’re coming from Ubon you can take a pink local bus from the bus terminal to “Ban Gor” and then walk the 2 kilometers from there heading west toward the temple.
“Wat Nong Pa Pong” is a large forest wat (temple) established by revered monk, “Ajahn Chah”, on a large piece of flat land on the outskirts of the city of Warin Chamrap. The name of the temple means, “Forest monastery of marsh and pong”. Pong is a type of Thai grass that grows very high. Prior to building the temple there the land was thought by local Thais’ to be inhabited by the ghosts of those cremated in the past. Apparently this land was used as a cremation grounds for many years.
This is the main wat that “Wat Pa Nanachat” is a branch of. Wat Pa Nanachat is a forest wat for English speaking (mostly) monks and those seeking to become ordained as monks, that Ajahn Chah established in the Buddhist forest tradition. Wat Suan Mokkh in Suratthani province and established by “Buddhadassa Bhikku” is another of these temples based on the forest tradition and that accepts English speaking monks.
The current Buddhist abbot at Wat Nong Pa Pong is “Ajahn Leeum” who is a Thai man of about 50 years of age.
Upon entering the wat you’ll see a visitors center with some descriptions about the wat written in English. A guestbook is there to collect signatures and places of origin of visitors that stop by. I searched the book back through about 30 pages of signatures and found only one other entry handwritten in English, so this is definitely off the beaten path for English speaking visitors to the area. It is widely quoted that the Isaan region of Thailand receives about 1% of Thailand’s total visitors. If that’s true then only a handful of westerners have ever seen this temple and grounds.
The visitor’s center is full of memorabilia from years past. There is the usual display of shells, bones and things that are there to remind visitors of the impermanence of life and that life is a continuous cycle of birth, life, and death.
Here is a short video of the inside of the Wat Nong Pa Pong visitor’s center >
You can hear a cock crowing in the video. There are lots of chickens and roosters roaming around as well as birds and some frogs can be heard during the evening.
Short video of the outside of the visitor’s center >
If you listen closely you can hear a dhamma talk being given over the loudspeakers that are around the temple grounds. One can hear the message anywhere in the temple.
As I walked down dirt paths that led to monk’s hootchies (kutis) and other buidlings and halls I had the feeling as if I was intruding. I usually have this feeling when exploring a wat for the first time, like I’m disturbing something. Everyone that I met during the walk made me feel welcome and some tried out their English greetings or had a short conversation with me. I did see one western monk among perhaps 40 or so Thai monks that were preparing for breakfast. They do accept western monks at this temple but I believe one needs to be moderately literate in the Thai language or the dhamma talks and other instruction and activities wouldn’t be understood very well.
There is a chedi in the large gold building you see in the photo at the top of this article. This chedi contains the cremated remains of “Ajahn Chah”, who was known worldwide and revered as a very special teacher of meditation and who established the forest tradition.
There have been over 140 temples established as branches of Wat Nong Pa Pong overseas in Europe and America.
Here is a link to a great Buddhist site with a detailed description of Wat Pah Nanachat as well as Wat Nong Pa Pong.
If you are planning to visit Wat Pah Nanachat or Ubon or Warin, and you have an interest in Buddhism why not stop by Wat Nong Pa Pong and sign the guestbook… you’ll find my name in there from sometime in March 2007!