History buffs visiting Udon Thani should make a beeline for the excellent Ban Chiang National Museum. The museum showcases the remarkable discoveries that have been made in this area and explains the story of the excavations in Ban Chiang which have led to archaeologists describing this corner of Thailand as the most important prehistoric settlement in South-East Asia. And even if history isn’t your thing, the village of Ban Chiang is a lovely destination in its own right. Those who do make the journey to this quiet village in north-east Thailand will find old wooden houses, a thriving arts and craft scene and a warm Isaan welcome awaiting.
Excavations at Ban Chiang
It was as recently as the 1960s when archaeologists first became aware of the importance of Ban Chiang. Although locals would have probably seen pottery artefacts, their historic significance wan’t fully appreciated until a chance discover my a visiting Harvard student. Steven Young apparently stumbled across a number of pottery jars embedded in the ground. Scientific analysis by the Thai Fine Arts Department and the University of Pennsylvania prompted archaeologists to establish more excavations in the Ban Chiang area. The incredible discoveries in this area of north-east Thailand completely changed previous notions about Bronze Age history in South-East Asia. Hundreds of human burial sites were unearthed together with a staggering amount of ceramics and ancient artefacts dating back more than 5,000 years. The importance of the finds led to Ban Chiang being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. UNESCO website describes Ban Chiang as, “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.”
The informative displays at Ban Chiang National Museum recount the life and times of the people who lived here over 5,000 years ago. At a time when life expectancy was around 30 years old, many ceramic urns have been discovered which archaeologists have identified as being used for infant burials. However, what remains unknown is whether this was because of a high infant mortality or because the villagers practiced infanticide at times when the food was scarce or for other reasons. The well laid out exhibits at the museum provide some fascinating context to the story behind the human skeletons and ceramics on view.
The signature russet coloured swirl is a feature of Ban Chiang and even if you don’t make it to the village or museum, the distinctive style of pottery is proudly displayed in replica ceramics at Udon Thani airport and Udon Thani train station.
In addition to the artefacts found in the Ban Chiang area, exhibits are also on display at the museum from other parts of Udon Thani province as well as nearby Nong Khai and Sakhon Nakhon provinces.
History of the Thai Puan people
Ban Chiang National Museum is also an excellent source of information on the Thai Puan, an ethnic minority group that settled in the Ban Chiang area two centuries ago.
If you make a visit to the museum, you may a notice shrine in the area to the right of the main entrance. This is to honour Khun Chiangsawat, a village leader in Ban Chiang in the 1900s who is still revered today with locals continuing to pay respects to the man who is considered to be the guardian spirit of Ban Chiang.
Wat Pho Si Nai
Wat Pho Si Nai is located a short walk away from Ban Chiang National Museum with the temple grounds home to a fascinating open-air museum. The display features a large excavation site with human skeletons and ancient pottery providing an insight into ancient burial rituals in the area.
Ban Chiang village
If you are taking the time to travel to the museum, don’t miss the chance to spend time in Ban Chiang village. This is a friendly community which is a pleasure to explore either on a day trip or as an overnight stay at one of the village home-stays. And if you are interested in pottery, you can test your artistic skills at the Ban Chiang Pottery and Painting Group. If you’re visiting during the cool season months (December-February), the trip to the Red Lotus Lake (around 40 km south-west of Ban Chiang) makes a picturesque addition to the journey.
- Ban Chiang National Museum is open Wednesday to Sunday. Closed Monday, Tuesday, and on public holidays.
- Opening times 9am-4pm.
- All of the displays at the museum are in Thai and English.
- Admission is 30 Baht for Thais and 150 Baht for non-Thais. The ticket price includes entry to the exhibition at nearby Wat Pho Si Nai.
How to get to Ban Chiang
Ban Chiang is located approximately 50 km east of Udon Thani city centre. Although it is possible to get there by public transport, the journey isn’t direct. You need to take one of the buses from Udon Thani that is heading to either Nakhon Phanom or Sakhon Nakhon and there are then a couple of locations you can change for onward travel to Ban Chiang. The village of Nong Mek is probably the best place to get off the bus and from here you can hire a songthaew or tuk-tuk for onward travel to Ban Chiang. A more comfortable alternative is to hire a taxi in Udon Thani to take you direct to Ban Chiang and back. Expect to pay at least 1,500 Baht for the return trip and waiting time for the driver. If you use the Grab app, cars/taxis are also available in Udon Thani with the one-way fare to Ban Chiang approximately 600 Baht.
To see more of Ban Chiang and learn more about the local community, consider booking a trip with the Thailand Village Academy or a responsible tour operator such as Local Alike or Friday Trip who specialise in community based tourism.