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Visiting a Bronze Age Village in Thailand

By Nazir Keshvani
Special to The Epoch Times
Jan 29, 2007

Ceramics at Ban Chiang. (Nazir Keshvani)

In the northeastern part of Thailand, at the confluence of three small tributary streams in the Udon Thani province, lies the Bronze Age village site of Ban Chiang.

Legend has it that Ban Chiang was discovered by a clumsy American college student, who fell in the road of the present town of Ban Chiang, and found ceramics eroding out of the roadbed.

The first excavations at the site were conducted in 1967, and this, and subsequent excavations have revealed evidence of prehistoric occupation beginning possibly as early as 3600 B.C. and continuing, probably intermittently, until about A.D. 200.

The site is among the largest prehistoric Bronze Age sites in this part of Thailand, measuring at least 20 acres (8 hectares) in size.

Ban Chiang is remarkable in that before its discovery, mainland southeast Asia was considered a cultural backwater during the Bronze Age; archaeological research at the site has revealed a fully developed Bronze Age metallurgy, but lacking the weaponry so often associated with it in Europe and the rest of the world.

Like many long-occupied cities of the world, the present day town of Ban Chiang was built on top of a cemetery and older village remains; cultural remains have been found in some places as deep at 13 feet (4 metres) below the modern day surface. Because of the relatively continuous occupation of the site for perhaps as long as 4,000 years, the evolution of pre-metal to Bronze to Iron age can be traced.

Artifacts include distinctive highly varied ceramics known as the "Ban Chiang Ceramic Tradition." Ceramic decorative techniques found at Ban Chiang include black incised and red painted on buff colourations; cord-wrapped paddle, S-shaped curves and swirling incision motifs; and pedestaled, globular, and carinated vessels, to name just a few of the variations.

Ceramics at Ban Chiang. (Nazir Keshvani)

Also included among the artifact assemblages are iron and bronze jewellery and implements, and glass, shell, and stone objects. With some of the children's burials were found some intricately carved baked clay rollers, the purpose of which nobody at the moment knows.

Ban Chiang is also among the earliest multi-disciplinary efforts in archaeology, with experts in many fields cooperating to produce a fully realised picture of the site.

While the chronology at Ban Chiang is somewhat controversial (some of the earliest dates for the Bronze Age occupation are 1,500 years earlier than any other in Thailand, and roughly equivalent to the date for the Chinese Bronze Age), the site is without a doubt one of the more important ones in southeast Asia, providing us a glimpse into the peaceful village life of a bygone age.

At the Phu Wiang Dinosaur Museum. (Nazir Keshvani)

What to See in Udon Thani

Udon Thani
The city of Udon Thani thrived as a major U.S. air base during the Vietnam War and a strong American presence remains there, including the Voice of America transmitter for all of Southeast Asia. It also functions as a trading and communications centre for the northern I-san region. The city provides a good base for visiting some of the unusual spots in the surrounding province.

Ancient Civilisations
Ban Chiang is about 50km east of Udon Thani and is the site of a 4,000-year-old civilisation whose artifacts are still being unearthed. The area, declared a United Nations World Heritage site, includes a museum.

Phu Phra Baat Historical Park
42-km northwest of Udon is Phu Phra Bat Historical Park, featuring strange rock formations with shrines and temples built among them. Many of the caves have prehistoric paintings inside. A path weaves through the park and takes an afternoon to explore with monuments named from the local folklore of U-sa Barot, a popular story in northeastern Thailand.

Weaving Villages
Just a few minutes ride out of Udon Thani are a couple of weaving villages that specialize in handmade khit fabrics, a geometric diamond grid pattern used in many decorative applications. Other villages near Udon also specialise in fine quality silks at prices a fraction of what you would pay at home.

Massage at Prijak Silpakom Reservoir (Nazir Keshvani)

Nong Prajak Silpakom (Reservoir)
The Prajak Silpakom Reservoir located in the centre of city. Originally, it used to be a city reservoir but now it has changed to be an area of public park. At evening time, it's an area for eating and massage.

Wat Pho Sri Nai Open Museum
The first open museum in Thailand. This museum shows how people in the past lived, their pottery and their tools.

Rachinuthit Building or Udon Thani City Museum
This building was built in 1920 but was converted in 1988 into Udon Thani Museum and exhibits the story of Udon Thani such as history, archaeology, culture, etc.

Ban Chiang National Museum
This museum exhibits the story of Ban Chiang Prehistoric period of Thailand. It located in the site of historic place where so many artifacts, especially pottery and bronze pieces, were found. Open daily 9.00-16.30. Admission fee: 30 baht.

A showman and friend at Nampong King Cobra Village. (Nazir Keshvani)

King Cobra Village
For an exotic cobra show, visit Ban Khok Sa-nga King Cobra Village. The villagers here earn their living by catching and breeding the King Cobras, the king of the snake. The villagers even put on cobra shows to supplement their income. Visitors can experience an exotic show and buy local herbs at a king cobra breeding house at Wat Si Thamma in the village.

Address: The King Cobra Club of Thailand
Phone: 66 10495044
Address: 96 Mu 6, Ban Khok Sanga, Tambon Sai Mun
Directions : To get to the King Cobra Village, take the Khon Kaen-Udon Thani road for 33 kilometres to Tambon Sai Mun. Then, turn left onto Road No. 2039 (Nam Phong-Kranuan) for 14 kilometres. A 2-kilometre road leads to the Ban Khok Sa-nga Village.

Shopping in Udon Thani

Charoensri Complex and Robinson
The biggest mall in town includes Plaza, Robinson department store, a major cineplex, food court and convention hall. Here, you can find Pizza Hut, Sizzler, Mister Donut, KFC and B2S bookshop.

The market at Lum Udom at night (Nazir Keshvani)

Shopping at Ban Chiang
The products here are mainly about the remodeling of Ban Chiang pottery and I-san textile. But you can also find local products in some shops. Try to walk around, compare and choose the best one, there are so many shops inside.

Lum Udom Night Market
This is a large, busy outdoor market complex by the train station at the eastern end of town. You can buy clothes, luggage, food, household gear, toys, DVDs and games. It is a very peaceful experience wandering around these markets without being hassled—just friendly nods and waves, no hard selling or anything like that. Most shops close at 10pm but a few remained open a bit later.

The market at Lum Udom (Nazir Keshvani)

Travel Notes :

For more information, contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand (Singapore office) at Tel: 62357901

How To Get There

Tiger Airways flies to Udon Thani three times a week on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Fares start from S$29.98 (one way excluding tax) for travel up to 27 October 2007.