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Bangkok Travelbug December 2019 Khok Mai Den Ancient City Nakhon Sawan
December 11, 2019
Dvaravati is a Buddhist civilization in Central Southeast Asia that developed in Central and North-eastern Thailand between the 6th – 11th C¹ AD.
¹ Dates vary slightly, on-site information boards give the period as 7th – 11th C, David K Wyatt's Thailand - A Short History state the period as 6th – 9th C.
The influence of the Dvaravati period can be found in ruins with relics like Buddhist statues, tablets and boundary markers in temples (sema) with inscriptions in the Mon language. The Mon are an ethnic group from the Mon State in South-eastern Myanmar. Many of them migrated to Thailand due to persecution in Myanmar.
Khok Mai Den got its name from "mai den", a type of tree that grows on the surrounding hills, (khok – hillock, mai den – name of tree). The ancient city was located between the Chao Phraya and the long ridge to the east.
Besides Khok Mai Den in Nakhon Sawan, there is one other ancient city dating back to the Dvaravati period; Chan Sen Ancient City 55 km further south.
Base on the information boards, these details can be gleaned about the ancient city. The ancient city was built within fortified city walls of 1,000 m x 800 m and surrounded by three layers of moats, earth ramparts and walls. Hardly anything is left of the old city, not even ruins or the base of the walls. Phahon Yothin Road or highway 1 passes over the site of this ancient city.
Outside the city walls, up on the ridge, are the ruins of some ancient monuments and a very old chedi. The remains of these ruins, some of which are in the grounds of Wat Khao Mai Den and the rest up in the ridge above, can still be seen.
Relief map showing highway 1 running N-S, the ancient city used to lie to the west of the road and where the road passes, the ancient monuments are up on the ridge to the east
During World War II, Wells, a British serviceman spotted the traces of an ancient city from an air photograph taken during a flight over Thailand.
After the war he returned to Thailand as Dr Wells, an archaeologist, to embark on his search for the ancient city. Together with the Department of Fine Arts, an excavation was undertaken to uncover the ancient city in 1964.
From 1999 -2000, the Department of Fine Arts made further excavations on the ancient sites outside the city walls and uncovered a wealth of relics. We will have a chance to view some of the relics excavated in the following section.
A sample of the relics discovered
Wat Khao Mai Den Museum
We drove around to the rear of the priests' camp to get to Wat Khao Mai Den where the ancient city is located. There was a priest sweeping the temple grounds and we stopped to ask the way to the old ruins.
He pointed out the way which was up the gentle slope through the temple grounds. And he also suggested we visit the museum which he kindly offered to open up for us. We didn't know about the museum before the visit.
The temple museum
According to this monk, most of the major artefacts were taken away by the Department of Fine Arts for display in the National Museum in Bangkok.
For economy purposes it wasn't worthwhile to have a small museum out here in the provinces. Secondly for security it was better to have the relics centralised in Bangkok. There have been instances of valuable relics been stolen from temples in the provinces.
Most of the items left on display are small earthen pots, containers and some beads which are in reasonably good condition. Some are badly damaged, broken to small pieces.
Some of the exhibits in the museum
Next, let us take a tour of the ruins that are still visible on the ground.
Tour of Khao Mai Den Ancient City
The ruins that are still visible consist of three stupas, a chedi and one site that only consisted of stones and could not be identified. Two of these ruins are located in the temple grounds at the foot of the ridge, the rest are on two hillocks along a long ridge behind the temple.
Please refer to the map below for the layout of the various ruins described.
Layout of the Khok Mai Den Ancient City area
If the map doesn’t appear, click on this link
Ancient monuments 1 & 2 are located in the temple grounds not far from the temple museum. The first monument, ancient monument site 1 is believed to be a brick and mortar stupa (pronounced sa-tup) The stupa is a dome-like structure with a spire and is used to store sacred relics. All that remains here is the base that is 14 m x 14 m.
Ancient monument site 1
Ancient monument site 2, another stupa, is similar except that it is slightly bigger at 20 m x 20 m
Ancient monument site 2
Next, we took a short drive up the ridge behind the temple.
Road leading up to the ridge
A short flight of steps took us up to this old chedi, another of the remaining monuments outside the ancient city walls.
The old chedi and its interior
The hillocks had rocks strewn along the slopes and baskets hanging from poles. I'm not sure of the significance of these baskets.
The slopes of the hillocks
A short walk up another hillock took us to ancient monuments 4 & 5. We didn't come across monument 3. Site 4 consists of the base of a stupa 10.7 m x 10.7 m.
Ancient monument site 4
Ancient monument site 5 consists merely of stones lining the outline of the structure to indicate the sacred area.
Ancient monument site 5
That brings us to the end of the tour of the remains of Khok Mai Den Ancient City. And with that we leave Nakhon Sawan.
It leaves us to wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Have a warm and merry Christmas with your family and friends and may the New Year bring new hope and success in all your endeavours.
Parting shot of Nakhon Sawan
Where to stay and dine
For where to stay and dine while you are in Nakhon Sawan City, please see where to stay and dine
Map to Khok Mai Den Ancient City
If the map doesn’t appear, click on this link
How to get there
It is recommended that you visit Khok Mai Den Ancient City on your way back to Bangkok after you have visited the other attractions in Nakhon Sawan. From Nakhon Sawan City, take Phahon Yothin Road or highway 1 south for about 35 km.
After you have passed the Nakhon Sawan Rural Roads Office 8, turn left, drive past the priests' camp and go around to the rear to Wat Khao Mai Den.
If you wish to visit the museum, request one of the monks to open up for you.
After the museum, drive up the road that leads through the temple. This will take you up the hill where some of the ruins are located.
To get to Chateau de Bear, continue on highway 1, cross the Dechatiwong Bridge and turn off to route 117 that passes through Nakhon Sawan City. Proceed on route 117 till you see the hotel signboard on your left just before the second bridge.
The Kung Pao 2 Restaurant is just across the second bridge from Chateau de Bear and the Bear Head Kitchen is right in the city centre.
Wat Khao Mai Den is open every day between 08:30 am – 04:30 pm. Request permission for the museum to be open for you.
Admission to the museum and ancient city ruins is free.
Have a safe and enjoyable trip! See you next month.
Mon Bridge, Kanchanaburi
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