Chasing old Buddhas & the new face of Ton Phueng.


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Ton Phueng used to be a quiet, quaint little village directly opposite Chiang Saen.
However, the outrageous wild west development at the Lao Vegas, Kings Roman casino complex just 4 kms upstream has seen a dramatic change in Ton Phueng.
The place has definitely lost its charm, with a frantic building frenzy as a service town for the thousands up the road at the Lao Vegas.

Once upon a time though the Ton Phueng area was the site of an ancient city: Souvannakhomkham.
It is thought that Souvannakhomkham, came about after Wiang Yonok, suffered flooding & needed to be moved.
The Souvannakhomkham ancient kingdom stretched as far as Vietnam at the height of its power.

Chronicles by early French explorers state that Tai people had settled in a place they called Wiang Yonok in present day Chiang Saen District, Thailand. When their city “disintegrated into swamp” during the 11th century, they “set up a new town to the southeast…This settlement was on high ground on an island that was formed” when the Mekong’s path changed. This site became Souvannakhomkham. Souvannakhomkham played a significant role during the Lanna Era, but by 1545, the Lane Xang Kingdom took control of the trade hub. It is believed that most of the ruins visible today date from this era.

According to legend, the story behind the name “Souvannakhomkham” began when Lane Xang Viceroy Ayakoumarn journeyed to the Golden Triangle’s Kheun Island. He had a son, Souvanna, but the palace believed the young prince brought bad luck, so they sent him downriver on a raft. To save him, Ayakoumarn ordered a “khoumkham” ceremony, in which people lit candles as an offering to Phaya Nak, the mythical Mekong serpent-god. Phaya Nak answered their prayers, and returned the raft to Kheun Island. To honour Phaya Nak, Ayakoumarn named the city “Souvannakhomkham”, and some believe this is the origin of October’s Boun Auk Phansaa Festival, which marks the end of Buddhist Lent, when the Mekong boat races are held.

The Mekong changed course & a lot of the history of Souvannakhomkham vanished, although downstream near Ban Done That, there are multiple ruins scattered around in the banana fields, albeit with most sites looted long ago.


Then in March this year, the building of a new levee bank road along the Mekong started to turn up old Buddha images & relics in the river bed.



Almost 1000 pieces, hundreds of years old, have been discovered in the last couple of months!

Too good to miss out on this exciting discovery it was time to pop back over across the border for a look.
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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Rock 'n roll ready to pop back across the Mekong for a couple of nights on the Laos side.
5pm I'm at the bridge & start the documentation process.
None of it is difficult, especially when you've done it a few times & your data is already in the (customs) computer.

Step 1 is the immigration for your docs.
It is on the front corner on the right as your exiting.

Look above the door & the sign says it all.

The gal inside at the first booth completes the docs for, no charge or tip, although once upon a time they used to request a 200-baht tip.

Step 2 go back outside to present your passport with the docs to get stamped out of Laos.

The friendly immigration officer asks why I'm only going for 3-4 days & coming back?
Well, I'm going upstream to check out Ton Phueng & the excavation site for the ancient temples & Buddhas.
Yes ok, but you have a 1-year visa, & no re-entry!
You lose your 1-year visa if you don't have a re-entry visa first!
Oops. Let's go back in the office & sort that out before you stamp me out please.
Lucky man, in my haste I forgot about that securing a re-entry first visa first, before leaving.
My 1-year visa is new & only 2 months old, there are ten months left on it.
15 minutes later, all clear & proceed to step 3: Thai customs.


Park your bike in the designated spot, so they can take a photo of the front & rear of the bike to enter it in their database.

This should be the quickest process with my bike data in the computer from my trip to Luang Prabang just 2 months ago in March.
No, your bike is not in the computer.
Strange I thought.
I went out & in at Huay Kon in Nan, maybe they have not linked up the data?
No, it is not here.
Never mind I will enter the data again for our records.
Ok up to you.

15 minutes all is done & it's time to ride across FB4 & enter Laos.

At 5.30PM the light allows stunning views of the Mekong.

The river is clearly low at the end of the hot dry season.

Downstream on the Thai side with low water, the locals enjoy the Ban Don Mahawan beach.

On the Laos side all is quiet.

The uncompleted towers for the proposed new Houei City development that seems to have stalled for an unnecessarily long period of time.

It's the end of the business day on the Laos side & the lack of other people entering Laos is a joy.
Enter earlier in the day & you may get caught up with tour groups & lines of other vehicles entering.
It is always a bit cumbersome entering Laos & every time there is almost something new.
Step 1 is get your visa to enter Laos.
Step 2 is get stamped in.
Step 3 is clear transport police.
Step 4 is pay your entry fee.
Step 5 is clear customs & you should be away.
What was different this time, was entering my data in their online bridge vehicle computer.
The last time I crossed at FB 4 in June 2023 the Lao online bridge vehicle computer was out of action = we don't use that now?
In 2024 it is working again & all the vehicle rego data goes back in the database once more.

By 6.15Pm I was cleared on the Laos side.

Overall, it was a quick process, but not without a few worrying moments.
I was watching the Lao customs guy writing the bike rego down & thought he was wrong.
No, it's not wrong, it's what is in the book.
Oops. let me have a look.
Horror I had brought the book for my other Vstrom that is parked up.
Wrong bike or wrong book.
The other bike is all yellow, but this one is still the original yellow tank & black plastic.
Your bike is yellow is says, yes, that's right yellow tank.
Oh ok, then you can go.
A massive relief & phew, I hung around the rear of the bike, covering the rego, & couldn't get out of there as quick as I could.
I'd almost blown it.
Today was my lucky day.

15 minutes later I was sitting by the Mekong having a nice beer Lao & damn happy.



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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
A night in Houei Xai
Could not have been quieter

A test drink & meal at the Bar How was totally disappointing.


Plus an almost inedibly totally bland larb moo, minced pork dish, that I gave up trying to finish.

Disgusted I sauntered off down the street looking for some action.

Success was not attained.


In desperation I tackled the mighy steps to the BAD Rooftop bar, hoping to catch up with the two enchanting young gals from last year.

Success was not attained at the Bokeo After Dark pub either!


Whilst the view might be a winner, the heat of the concrete pad was not.
Bed it soon was after 1 small beer.
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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Day 2 Houei Xai Ton Phueng: 53 kms.
A magnificent start to the day with a glorious view of Chiang Khong city.


Brekky for the day is at the Bokeo Cafe.


Fast & easy & it does the trick filling a hole in the tummy.

On the road at 10AM, the asphalt ride up to Ton Phueng is always a bit harrowing, with what seems like only maniac drivers on the road: in a hurry to the casino or fleeing a bill maybe. Whatever this road really does seem the have the craziest drivers in a hurry racing to / from HX to the Lao Vegas. Everyone seems to be on the gas with no respect for other vehicles, people of the villages they drive through. You've been warned!

53 kms & it is a 2.5 hour dawdle up the road for me.
The river is damn low & it's always worthy of a photo or two.


An ineffectual road sign for the nutters driving.

Wat Simuangngam en route to Ton Phueng.





8 kms before Ton Phueng is the huge new Bokeo International airport.


The airport is open & operating with 2 flights a day, morning & afternoon, from Vientiane.



Security was minimal when I was there.


More to come.
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Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Amusingly enough at the entrance to the airport turn off there's only a sign for the new golf course.

It's a wide 4-lane road to the golf course & airport.

It would appear as if they are not expecting many English-speaking visitors.

The golf course is very new & still a work in progress.





Further down the road you enter frantic ratty Ton Phueng city.
Not sure exactly where to go to find the Buddha excavation site I figured I'd just follow my GTR nose ...... & overshot the mark by 2.5 kms.
Wat Donsavan was where I ended up.



Just another old Mekong temple with a couple of ancient chedis & a tree stump?
But there's probably a decent little story there & I wished I knew more.





I asked where the old Buddhas were being dug out & stored.
There are some old Buddhas from the Mekong here in that sala just over there.
And so they were.



Gobsmacked I was, but it wasn't quite how I thought they would be.
No no, these came out of the river bed 15 years ago, 2kms further downstream.
Ah yes right. These aren't the ones that came out of the riverbed a few days ago then?
No, these came out 15 years ago.
What about the ones they are finding now?
Oh, that's back upstream in Ton Phueng..........

Back track into TP city & navigate the maze of sois with broken, bumpy asphalt & gravel.
2nd try I ended up on the river bank HQ of the quarantine dept.
Yeah, the Buddha excavation site is just down that track 300 metres.


1.5 kms later riding the new levee bank road, jackpot.


The river is still low fortunately, enabling them to continue excavating & looking for artefacts - old Buddhas.


There's plenty of litter around in the river too.


A crowd gathered under salas overlooking a couple of backhoes & a few pits in the Mekong river bed.

The backhoe would scrape a layer of earth off & a metal detector scanned the ground for any metallic signs.

Once the alert went off, the workers then dug with their hands to find whatever the object was – hopefully more ancient Buddha images.


The Buddhas found are numbered & brought up from the excavation in a parade, then placed in a tented sala on the river bank.

8 small Buddhas were found the afternoon I was there.




An attempt to join in one of the Buddha parade receptions and take a few photos was strongly halted by an obnoxious cop.
The villagers said I could join them, but not the local nazi sentry. I was not impressed & we exchanged words.


I gave up & waited patiently to see how it progressed.
Eventually it got too hot under the tent on the banks of the Khong after a few hours, so I fled the scene time to find a hotel for the night.
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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Hunting for a hotel is fun in such a busy little town, there's so traffic buzzing around, you've almost got no time to look.
I did 3 laps of the main street before I settled on my hotel that didn't look too Chinese.

Keo Long Souk Jai
A large motel type place, parking outside your room plus clean, only a claimed 5 months old.



Excellent value for money I thought @ 700 baht, but expat friends in Laos say it should 400-500 baht.
I was not fussed when you're getting weary & hot: a nice bed & cool quiet aircon is what you want.

It is on google maps but with the wrong name "Lao Kaeo Chaleun."

The Keo Long Souk Jai, is basically in the centre of town with 3 big pub & restaurants all within 200 metres.
This means that as competing night spots they play music with some volume & you won't get to sleep until the music dies down about 1am.

Some of these establishments were out of this world with the clientele I thought.



Resonably popular.

A strange place with no customers:



The most popular packed Chinese pub & restaurant with what seemed like a Thai band.







And the place I'd probably go back to for a drink, food & some music.




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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
This was the end of little ride from home, Chiang Khong, across the river.
The night life in Ton Phueng was an eye opener - who would have ever thought that would be happening in that once sleepy little rustic village on the bank of the Mekong, directly opposite Chiang Saen. The Lao Vegas King Roman Casino complex I can well understand, but I never expected Ton Phueng to be like that.

The Buddha excavation site was fascinating to see & as luck would have it the day after I returned, they found the big Buddha they were looking for. If only....









Finding & moving this huge image was quite an achievement & there was a magnificent parade moving it from the excavation site to the temple in Ton Phueng.


I wished I could have been there for that event.


The large Buddha image
Total height : 2,67m
- Height of Buddha: 1.93m
- Shoulder: 1.23m
- Lap face: 2.24 m
- 2.54 m wide platform.

Info sources:
Art & Culture of Laos.

Bokeo News

Prior to this, getting reliable info on the site & the history of Souvannakhomkham has been difficult.
There's a lot of folklore history & legends involved.

In 1870, King Saen Phu built the city of Chiang Saen and built a royal house on the Mekong River of North Don Thaen Island.
King Mahatherasiriwangso brought a Buddha statue named Phra Kaew and Phra Kham to Chiang Saen and built a temple on the north side. The temple of the Emerald Buddha is located on the south side of Don Thaen Island and 10 temples were built on Don Thaen Island.??

The Thais & the Lao have not been able to agree on exactly who or when.
The Souvannakhomkham site downstream is perhaps an earlier kingdom than Chiang Saen?
It may have been started by the Tai / Lue fleeing the Mongkol hordes?

From info by archaelogists who have been following this recent discovery, it seems as if the island Don Thaen / Donphingkham, was an island that was part of Chiang Saen once upon a time with 8 important temples, including a "royal temple" with the large Buddha that was found.
Then the Mekong changed course, a great flood?,
The main Mekong river that flowed to the east of the island, flooded the island, changed course around to the west, causing the loss of land & temples on the Chiang Saen river bank in the process too? The island temples were submerged & buried in the flood?
This is what is being rediscovered & excavated from the river bed.

The eight temples via Google Translate.
1. The temple of the great army.
2. Wat Sangkaboun (Sangkaboun).
3. Golden temple at the palace.
4. The temple has to be white.
5. Thaiyasothisonesai temple.
6. Golden temple in the middle of the house.
7. Khwangzum temple.
8. Golden rain temple for the public.

The most realistic assessment I have found comes from a respected Chiang Mai based archaeologist Pensupa Sukkata Google Translation:

The issue of newly discovered antiquities on an island in the middle of the Mekong River at Don Phueng Kham Island, Muang Ton Phueng, Bokeo Sub-district, Lao PDR. I noted the following:
1. The flesh of the bronze Buddha (a very large one, hence called the Great God) is full of rust stains. Spread evenly over all points. There are many periods of weathering, cracking, splattering, which cannot be seen from a distance. A zoom lens camera is required to see clearly.
2. The method of casting the Buddha uses an hourglass-like "spur" that Lanna calls a "whip" to appear in many places. Therefore, it is impossible to see the details that you want to see all over the place. Especially behind the elbow internode, there is a rope to prevent access to the sides and back.
3. The issue of finding hundreds of large and small Buddha statues. It is not uncommon because this area was once a flourishing civilization.
4. All the artifacts are contemporary with the Lanna era of its heyday, i.e. about 500 years ago, not the art of the Suwankomkam period, which is a mythological story of thousands of years. Because at that time, Buddhist art was not created, but because some of Chiang Saen's places were built on top of the old land, as some people assumed, it was probably the city of Suwankomkham before. Therefore, those who believe in the Suwankomkam legend understand that all the excavated objects are thousands of years old.
5. Traces of antiquities were found. Ancient Sites of Lanna-Chiang Saen Period Contemporary with the King of Thailand, many in the city of Ton Phueng, preserved at Wat Thong Thip Pattana, Wat Pho Kham. These are all great Buddhist works that are 500 years old. When exploring the surrounding area, you will find a large number of scattered ruins, including a round pagoda (bell-shaped) and a castle-shaped castle in Lanna art.
6. Buddhist issues of the nature of the royal god Some people have noted that it looks like China because of the sharp tail of the Buddha, in fact, this type of Buddhism has been clearly identified by many Lanna scholars that have been found in many places, such as Wat Pa Sang Luang. Mae Chan District, Chiang Rai Province is considered another type of late Lanna Buddha statue. After the time of the Buddha Muang Kaew descended. It is found quite abundantly in the Thai-Lao seam zone.
7. Is it possible that Don Phueng Island is this word? In the past, it may have been "Koh Don Than" (some call it "Koh Don Haeng") that appeared in the legend that we were looking for. The island used as a place of Buddha Murthaphisek when King Lanna ascended to the throne. The Buddha must be summoned to attend the coronation ceremony on this island. The accompanying Senamat may also summon a large number of important Buddha statues for special ceremonies. On this holy island too, and enshrined without being brought back to the kingdom, a huge number of Buddha statues have been found?
8. Suggestion There should be a collaboration to study. Explore and research 5 overlapping kingdoms at the Thai-Lao border 1. Suwankomkham 2. Ionian Naganagar 3. Hirannagar Nguyang 4. Chiang Saen 5. Lan Chang Respect each other in terms of history, archaeology, art history, inscription, geography, geology, anthropology, folklore, etc.

See also
Surapon Damrihkul

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