Roi Et is a province capital and a province of the same name on the Khorat Plateau in Isan. It's off the main routes from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani or Bangkok to Khon Kaen / Nong Khai and insofar in a more isolated position than the cities along the northeastern railway. The local climate is that of a tropical, monsoonal climate with plenty of rain and floods in the rainy season and draughts in the dry season.
Phalan Chai Island
The pavilion on Phalan Chai Island. The island is quite large with lawn, trees, a Buddha statue, a woodwind instrument as a monument, representing some arts of Roi Et, an artificial waterfall, some animals as a crocodile and a rhinoceros, sports instruments for fitness - all together, a great element for a city which stands in contrast to the monotonous and mercantile character of modern cities in general. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2015.
It's actually remarkable how similar the cities along the eastern branch of Isan's railway line, Khorat, Buriram, Surin and Si Saket, are - these faceless concrete deserts. Roi Et is distinctively different in it's city architecture, but only due to the grand park Phalan Chai in the very heart of the city. There is a green island inmiddle of a large, natural lake, a green lung without traffic, what makes the place much more pleasant than other cities. Along the lake's shores are not only the usual buddhist temples and a monument with a statue of Siamese king Rama VI, but also a very nice aquarium with a number of local sweetwater fish species (see below).
The whole inner, historical part of the city is still almost completely surrounded by the old city moat. In the past there was also a city wall with allegedly eleven gates (other sources speak of merely seven gates; there is little left of the city wall, one can see a smaller remain at the western side where an elevation of 1.60m or so is left over a few dozen meters). Due to that, it's said, has the place it's name: Roi Et means 101. Why eleven city gates who led to trabant towns are equal to 101 remains a mystery. An exaggeration? Might be a transcript error, for the number system once changed.
Roi Et's clocktower in Somdet Phra Srinakharin Park. It's a place for festivals and with them come always many temporary, small shops and the unavoidable, mountebanks din. Image by Asienreisender, 2015
The local people are mostly of Laotian roots, mixed with a few with old Khmer roots, some Kuy and people from central Thailand and the Thai-Chinese, of course. There is also a small community of Westerners who live here with a 'farang' meeting point, kind of a pub, at road which surrounds the lake. The city of Roi Et has officially about 35,000 inhabitants, the province counts 1,3 million.
It looks very much as the city would be mostly concentrated within the limits of the old moat. Outside of the moat there has been a considerable growth also, but not so much as it is to see in other Isan cities, those along the railway lines. Here the growth happened mostly along the main highways who lead into town, but it's not (yet) too far outside where the countryside with the rice paddies starts.
However, it's here as it is almost everywhere in nowadays Thailand: you don't go far on any road until you meet a big road. Thailand's landscapes are turned widely into a monstrous highway architecture for the sake of the car manufacturers. The growing traffic is additionally blocked by redlights at almost any crossroads, who jam the flow by a permanent stop-and-go. Since long it is known that roundabouts are a much better traffic solution who safe the drivers a lot of time and nervs. But the implementation of redlights is good business for the electronic industries, and so it goes. Efficiency is capitalisms enemy.
Roi Et's sweetwater aquarium, which was nine years ago smaller, has been expanded and has now even a water tunnel from where the visitor has the impression of being part of the scene, being surrounded by water and fish. Many local people go here with their kids who apparently enjoy it.
Roi Et Province is part of the Greater Mekong Region. The fish species here in the aquarium are just a very small faction of the grand variety of species living in the local rivers Chi and Mun who drain into the mighty Mekong River at Pakse in Laos. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 11/2015
Most of the province's enonomy is based on agriculture, that is mostly rice cultivation, additionally some cash crops and silk production. There are irrigation efforts to cope with the problem of annual water shortages. The rainy season here is shorter than further south in Cambodia, for much of the clouds of the southwest monsoon are raining down in the lower plains south of the Dangrek Mountain Range and the Sankamphaeng Range in central Thailand, before elevating up to the higher regions of the Khorat Plateau.
Silk Production in Roi Et
Village women weaving silk in a place in Roi Et Province. The whole production chain of silk, beginning with the breeding of silkworms until the final product happens here. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 11/2006, 11/2015
The landscapes are a prairie-like plain on an elevation of averagely 150m above sea level. The largest river in the province is the Nam Chi, which is a tributary of the larger Mun River.
Among the service sector of the local economy the education plays a significant role.
An American room neighbour in Petcpailin Hotel, who made absolutely clear that he is here only for girls, girls, girls, told me that there were some places in the closer periphery of town where in the evenings hundreds of girls come together and dance and are open for getting to know the visitors closer. Of course, that would cost something. That's also part of the local economy. Service sector, I would categorize. Many students among them, I heared, who make some money in their free time.
In the past I heared also repeatedly of a 'Swiss Village' around Roi Et; a place, where Swiss men built houses for their Isan wifes and live there with them. However, Westerners are an economic factor in the region (see also: 'The Economy of Isan').
There are traces of the activities of pre-historical people in the province.
One of the oldest chedis is Roi Et. These chedis are burial sites who contain the ashes of usually clergymen. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2015
The area of nowadays Roi Et was in medieval times, from the 10th century on, part of the Empire of Angkor. The Angkorean temple remains of Ku Ka Sing is a remaining witness in stone of the historic Khmer presence. In the 14th century Roi Et came under sovereignty of Sukothai, later under that of Ayutthaya.
In the 18th century a faction of the Laotian nobility of Champasak expanded to the area around Suwannaphum (Mueang Thong, 'golden city). Roi Et came therefor under the influence of the Champasak kingdom.
In the time of general Taksin's (re-)conquests a resettlement took place, moving people from Suwannaphum further south to Roi Et with the intention to strengthen the place by adding more manpower. In the pre-industrial past, labour was always scarce.
In the early Rattanakosin era under king Yotfa (Rama I), Roi Et became a Siamese province, based probably on conquests led by the governor of Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat).
In the old times, by the way, the place of Roi Et was named Saket Nakhon.
There is also a National Museum in Roi Et. It's a modernistic, concrete building, and started as a silk museum. They charge, as usual in Thailand, for foreigners the discriminating fee five times higher than what Thai People pay. The museum is not very promising.
As further one comes north in Isan and the distance to the old capital of the Empire of Angkor grows, as less witnesses of the medieval Khmer civilization are to see. They also shrink in size. The most significant of them in Roi Et Province is Prasat Nong Ku. It's about nine kilometers east of town, following the road 2044 and turning right at the sign 'Prang Ku'.
This site is at the first glance to identify as one of the 102 hospitals built in the reign of Jayavarman VII (1187 - 1220 CE). These hospitals are mentioned in a stone inscription in the grand temple Ta Prohm in what is nowadays Angkor Archaeological Park. There are some more of them in Buriram Province and Surin Province.
Prasat Nong Ku (1) consists of a main sanctuary (2), which faces eastward, to the rising sun, as almost always at Khmer temples. It's mostly made of laterite with the exception of the lintel over the entrance and the lotus bud on top of the towerlike sanctuary shrine, who are carved in sandstone. The sanctuary's chamber now houses a Buddha statue (3) and some other buddhist relics. A typical hindu linga (4) is placed in the center of the former gopura, which is now collapsed. The linga did originally not belong there and might have been in the main shrine in the old times. The site was also equipped with a library in the southeastern corner and two more buildings of who merely the fundaments are left. The whole compound is surrounded by a laterite wall. Outside of the wall, a few meters northeast, is a small pond (5), what is typical for these 'hospitals'.
The term 'hospital' might been misleading. Apparently that here is a temple site, and it was clearly not meaned to provide ill or injured people. If there was somewhat like a real hospital or an ambulance, then it was built in wood and there are no traces left of it after centuries of humidity in the tropical climate. Since the medical abilities in that time were absolutely miserable (in Cambodia they still are, by the way), it was most comforting for the sick to have a temple next door with the gods and spirits who were the only ones who were supposed to do at least potentially any better than the doctors.
The site has been restorated by the Thai Fine Arts Department in 2011. It's now part of a contemporary Thai wat (temple). I found it great to spend some hours here in my hammock for it's such a quiet, peaceful and beautiful place. I would have spent more time here, but the sun, creeping through the tree's canopy and starting to burn on me, chased me away.
North of the temple site is a larger lake what could be artificial and dating back to the old times as well, for the Khmer are well known for their large barrays (artificial lakes) around their temples.
Roaming the surroundings, I found another Angkorean site a few hundred meters northwest of Prasat Nong Ku. It's Ku Noi Bann Yang Ku (6), another Angkorean temple site which was here before and dates back at least to the times of the establishment of famous Angkor Wat (first half of the 12th century) or maybe a century before (Baphuon Style).
Here is very little left of the former 'glory', it's merely a laterite basement with three basins on which were lingas places (7). A few water buffalos care for the lawn around.
Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 11/2015