The Khao Kha Archaeological site — Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, Thailand.
location: Sao Phao sub-district, Sichon District,
Nakhon Sri Thammarat Province
If you have an interest in history and archaeology you will be intrigued by a small archaeological site in the southern Thai province of Nakhon Si Thammarat (Nakhon Si). This is the Khao Kha Archaeological site, which consists of the restored ruins of three ancient Hindu temples and a museum. As is usually the case, the brick and stone foundation of a temple survives, while the superstructure, made from perishable materials, does not.
The site dates to the 8th-9th century when Hinduism was the dominant religion in what is now southern Thailand. The temples are situated on the Khao Kha Hill that represents the Hindu mountain of Khao Phra Sumen—the residence of the god Shiva. The inhabitants of the area were Hindus of the Sawai Nikai Brahman order, who regarded Shiva as the highest god.
Modern exploration has revealed a number of archaeological digs in the region. These have revealed an abundance of Hindu religious and cultural artefacts. Most of which are now in Bangkok. The Thailand Fine Arts Department (responsible for archaeology in the Kingdom) completed its renovation and examination of the site in 1997.
For visitors, the starting point of the archaeological site is the small, one room museum on the road near the temple ruins. On the other side of this road is a village restaurant. If the Museum is locked on your arrival (likely) ask here and in a few minutes a tour guide will arrive and show you around, but no English.
The museum houses a collection of Hindu artefacts from the nearby digs, all labelled with Thai only descriptions. The artefacts are an impressive collection. A visitors’ book reveals an average of one Thai visitor a month.
Next, the three ancient temples themselves. Along with your non-English speaking guide walk around and behind the Museum to a set of steps leading up the Khao Kha Hill. After a few minutes, you will come to the first temple. Here you will see a rectangular foundation constructed from stone bricks that encloses an elevated base. This temple is the smallest of the three, measuring 7 metres by 13 metres, and half a metre high, oriented near north-south (along the slope of the hill). The entrance to the temple is on the northern side (upslope), and the altar on the southern. Feel free to walk around and over.
The second temple is further up the hill, has the same design, but is double in size. The foundation of this temple measures 18 metres by 10 metres on a side and is also half a metre tall, and with the same orientation. The entrance is on the north, but this time the altar is a natural rock outcropping near the centre of the temple.
The third temple is on the hill top, and is larger again, with a different orientation and design. It has a westward facing entrance and consists of two levels. This was clearly the main temple. The first and lower level is square, 28 metres on a side. The second and higher level is also square, 18 metres on a side, approximately two metres high, with steps on the western side. There is a modern looking altar near the centre of this second level. Each of the three temples is still visited by locals, who pay their respects and leave offerings.
In modern Thailand this area is in a backwater of a minor province, however, a millennium ago it was on the southern Silk Road, linking east and west in trade and commerce. It would have been a busy, noisy region. When this third temple was constructed it would have been the most important in the land, large and impressive, with pilgrims and people from the district visiting on special days to offer their thanks and to ask for a safe life in return.
Outside the three temples, there would have been noisy temple markets. Merchants, traders, soldiers, drifters, blacksmiths, farmers, and entertainers would bustle by as others sat and watched. Inside the temple monks and acolytes chanting, incense burning, and imposing statues of Shiva inspiring the faithful. The now-gone walls would have been covered with intricate artwork, paintings, murals and religious symbols. The sounds of bells, gongs, voices, and singing would have filled the temple and the surrounds with a rich and vibrant atmosphere.
Now, a quiet, rarely visited site, with only the foundation stones remaining to tell the story of the past, in a clearing, surrounded by forest.
This site is easy to reach, from anywhere in southern Thailand. It is situated halfway between the two provincial capitals of Surat Thani and Nakhon Si, around 50-70 kilometres. Just off Highway 401, which links the two cities.
The turnoff is sign posted and is located at north 8.8777 east 99.899725. From here head five kilometres west along a minor road and you will see the Museum.
Public transport—there are many buses large and small traversing the route between Surat and Nakhon Si. Hop on one of these and in an hour you will be at the turn-off. Ask your driver to stop (inform before hand), and flag down a passing driver to take you to the museum. You will always be able to find an enterprising local who will drive you where you want to go. Payment 200 baht return. On your way back flag down another bus.
A few words of caution. Don’t damage anything, and keep an eye out for stray dogs. They can bite, and a small percentage carry rabies.
This trip can be an enjoyable day or half-day tour. There are also a number of other stops you can make along the way, but take the time to see a little rural Thai life and see a little ancient history.