BAN CHIANG (UNESCO)


WHERE LIFE IN SEA BEGAN

Ban Chiang UNESCO Heritage Site is considered the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in South-East Asia. It marks an important stage in human cultural, social and technological evolution. The site presents the earliest evidence of farming in the region and of the manufacture and use of metals.  It is literally where life began in SEA.


DISCOVERY

Ban Chiang is one of only five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Thailand.  It was discovered in 1966 when a visiting Harvard anthropology student named Steve Young literally tripped on a tree root and fell face first into the dirt, which happened to contain exposed pottery that he immediately recognized as an important cultural find.  Through the years, excavations and analysis followed, unearthing everything from Bronze Age objects like jewelry, spears and farm tools to colorful ceramic dishes. The oldest pieces date back to 2100 BC, the newest about 200 AD.


RED POTTERY

Discovered in 1966, the site attracted enormous publicity due to its attractive red painted pottery.  This distinct style of pottery, found only at Ban Chiang, is now so well recognized that the value of the pieces have soared leading to a much criminal smuggling of the pieces out of Thailand.  Whilst these are now being recovered and brought back, pieces can still be found in the world's top museums.  You can read the story here.  Fortunately, you don't need to resort to theft if you decide a piece of the ancient pottery would look nice on your mantle. The town of Ban Chiang has plenty of shops outside the museum selling pottery knockoffs for those who want to bring a legal reminder of their visit home with them.

MUSEUM

All the finds and the history are showcased beautifully in the Ban Chiang National Museum, an incredibly well curated facility with excellent displays and information that highlights the three main periods and six sub-periods of prehistoric Ban Chiang.

Basically, it takes visitors through the region's evolutionary journey from a primitive agricultural society to a community with high technological skills. The museum also offers an in-depth look at the history of the actual Ban Chiang excavation process through the years, including some of the key people involved. 


WAT PHO SRI NAI

Wat Pho Si Nai is a Buddhist temple that sits about 500m away from the museum.  It is also the site of of the original pottery find as well as the first excavations.  Next to the temple one of the original excavation pit of a burial site has been preserved as a open air museum to demonstrate the Ban Chiang era of civilization and how they cared for their dead.   Typically, when you see pictures of Ban Chiang it is normally pictures of this open air museum next tothe temple as they museum itself doesn't allow photography

With all the focus on the excavation, many forget to see the buildings of the temple itself.  True to say that virtually no one goes to Ban Chiang to look at Wat Pho Si Nai and most ignore the temple completely.  Yet it is worth spending at least a few minutes to tour.  The ordination hall was built over 100 years ago and houses a Buddha image of the subduing-mara-posture where the left hand lies in the lap, palm upward. The right hand bends over the right knee, with fingers slightly touching the ground.  This gesture symbolizes enlightenment, as well as steadfastness (imperturbability). 


Ban Chiang Town

Ban Chiang town's 3,000 years of history would probably have come to an end by now if it had not been for the discovery of the ancient settlement and UNESCO heritage status.  Beyond farming, there would have been little to sustain it.  Now though, slightly enriched and given purpose by the steady trickle of tourists it has become a sleepy but well preserved example of a Isan town.  Around the museum and Wat Pho Si Nai you will find several shops selling tourist items, including replica pottery, at very reasonable prices.  There are also a few cafes and restaurant which, while not posh, do serve very tasty traditional Isan food.  The locals, well used to tourists, are more than friendly so do take a few minutes to tour the town and get a sense of what life is like in an exemplary example of a true rural Isan town.


More information: Trip Advisorwiki, Unesco

Time: 45 minutes drive each way and anywhere between 1-4 hours at Ban Chiang

An alternative day trip is to combine The Lotus Lake with Ban Chiang UNESCO Heritage Site as they are, roughly, in the same area though do note that the Lotus Lake blooms only between September and February.



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