I first spotted this temple from the back of the tuk-tuk taking me to my hotel. At first, it just looked like an overgrown vacant lot, and I suspect a lot of people pass by it without realizing what it is. But as soon as I saw little glimpses of small funeral pagodas lining the inside of the wall, and a few larger structures poking up, I knew what it was: a forest temple, right in the middle of Nakhon Phanom.
Sure enough, when I finally found my way back to the temple, I found out its name was “Wat Aranyik” which literally means 'forest temple'. The temple does not appear on any tourist maps of the city, and there are no information signs such as you'll find at almost all of the city's other temples, so the place is a bit of a mystery.
Forest temples are a tradition of Thai Buddhism going back more than 500 years. They are part of a school of thought that to truly discover the 'truth' (dharma) you must remove yourself from the distractions of city life. The major cities of the day such as Sukhothai had dozens of forest temples located outside the city walls.
I couldn't find any information on-line about the age of this temple, although I did find one Thai account of a man who was a monk there in the 1930s, so it is probably at least 100 years old. Although it's close to the city center today, it would have been well outside of town when it was first established.
The temple covers an entire block, surrounded by high walls on most sides. Within the walls, trees and shrubs are given mostly a free reign. The main chapel sits in the middle of the forest. At one corner is a small pagoda which blends central and northeastern styles. It looks rather new. Given the large number of funerary shrines around the temple, it appears to be a popular spot for cremations, and the area around the crematoria is the one spot where all the brush has been cleared. Along the western edge of the temple compound are the monk's quarters (kuti). Among these are a few new post-modern looking cells that would appear to be a student experiment.