Indiana Jones’ quests for ancient treasure have long fascinated movie fans. After all, many people would love to discover an ancient cave filled with precious relics that tell stories of many years past. The earth is an ancient machine – one packed with many secrets. Start to discover these secrets and you’re most likely to get hooked. That’s what happened to Norwegian expat Dr. Nils B. Vogt.
Dr. Nils – as most people call him in Thailand – spends much of his time searching for temple caves in Thailand. Long journeys and steep hills do not stop him from hunting for his treasures.
“I just want to see them. It’s like finding jewels,” says Dr. Nils.
Born in Bangkok in 1954, Nils Vogt is half-American half-Norwegian. His parents moved to Thailand before he was born and Nils spent his childhood in Thailand until he was six. Then he left Thailand and travelled around the world twice with his family before they ended up in Norway in 1961.
Nils went to school in Norway. He has a Master’s Degree in Chemistry and a Dr. Philos degree in “Chemometrics and Chemosystematics”. He also has an MBA. His working experience includes a rather wide range of industries – Pharmaceutical/Nutraceutical through Solar/Plastics to Finance and Company Start-Up (Seed) funding – and he has worked in many different functions within these industries from Manager to CEO & President.
To Norway – and back
For many years Dr. Nils Vogt enjoyed travelling to Thailand for both business and leisure. It was on one of these trips, that he met his wife Khun Sompit Panpipat. After 18 months of convincing her to marry him, he succeeded. The couple lived in Bergen for 3 years and later moved to live in Ålesund for a year. After living in the two most beautiful cities in Norway for a total of 4 years, the couple decided to move back to live in Thailand in 2006.
“In fact, a friend of mine said to me that it seems like you have always wanted to move to Thailand. I didn’t think about it until now,” says Dr. Nils.
“It’s worrisome. My first language was Thai but I can’t speak Thai anymore and I find it difficult to learn.”
The couple owns SiamAlgamate company in Bangkok selling their proprietary Oxo-Bio Degradable Plastic Additive (Noibei). Khun Sompit also runs the small apartment building and a brokerage for industrial conveyor belts.
Time for Isaan photos
After over 25 years of working, Dr. Nils decided to retire 4 years ago as his ambition is no longer success in business. “I don’t have a big ambition to fulfill anymore,” says Dr. Nils.
Fascinated with the Khmer influence in the northeastern parts of Thailand (Isaan) and the Prasats (old Khmer ruins from the Angkor era from about 8th – 12th century), Dr. Nils started photography as his hobby and established Isaanphoto.com, presenting the beauty of Prasats from the Khmer Empires and the way of life in Isaan today. He learned a lot about history, ancient cultures and arts in Isaan and throughout Southeast Asia.
Isaan has an interesting history. Positioned in the center of the mainland in Southeast Asia, Isaan was a meeting place of people, cultures and empires.
“I think I became a Thailand-and-Southeast Asia history buff. These places that I have been to are steeped in history. To some people the Prasats simply look like ‘piles of stones,’ but the beauty lies in imagining what was there before,” says Dr. Nils.
The first temple cave
Three years ago when Dr. Nils travelled to Rayong with his wife, he happened across a temple cave for the first time.
“It was so pretty and peaceful. And I wondered how many people would have seen it. I think foreigners and even Thais don’t realize that there are so many beautifully kept temple caves in Thailand,” says Dr. Nils.
“The thrill of seeing the temple caves had me hooked. After that, I’ve been around searching for more temple caves,” added Dr. Nils.
Dr. Nils took various road trips to search for temple caves in many parts of Thailand. He said that the estimated number of registered caves in Thailand is over 4,000, though sources estimate that the real number is double. Many of the temple caves are in the North (Chiang Rai), along the border to Myanmar (Kanchanaburi is famous) and down to i.e. Phuket and Krabi. But there are clusters practically all over Thailand. “I found a couple of nice clusters in the Provinces Loei and Phetchabun and in Nakhon Sawan stretching in to Saraburi Province.
He enjoys taking pictures of the temple caves and is working on a Picture-Guide book that will also include descriptions and directions. So far he has found over 300 temple caves in Thailand and has collected pictures from about 30 temple caves for his book.
Dr. Nils has also read a lot of books about history and Buddhism in Thailand and how temple caves emerged. He certainly knows about Thai history and Buddhism more than an average Thai person who grew up here.
Want to open their eyes
“Farangs who came here either sit on a beach or enjoy the nightlife. Many don’t know about history and I don’t think many of them have seen temple caves. I’d like to present different perspectives of what Thailand has to offer,” says Dr. Nils.
There will be 3 categories of temple caves in Dr. Nil’s book; 1)Those temple caves that he has visited where pictures, description, direction and maps will be included 2) Registered Temple caves that he hasn’t been to but he knows where they are and 3) Possible temple caves.
Our talk with Dr. Nils was certainly entertaining as he has had a lot of adventures and knowledge of historical events to share. From one of many interesting stories, he told how he found a possible temple cave in Mae Phim in Rayong.
“I went to Rayong with my wife and some friends. We found 3 signs to a temple cave that I haven’t seen registered anywhere, but I just had to seek it out,” says Dr. Nils.
It was in the middle of the day near the border between Rayong in Chantaburi provinces. After a few hours searching, he thought he wouldn’t find it. With despair, he turned his 4-wheel drive car around and headed for home. Thinking it was his way out, he went for 500 meters and turned left. And there it was. The small hill with 2 stunningly beautiful temple caves that he didn’t expect to find was right in front of him.
“Wow… it was like I found a jewel,” Dr. Nils said with a dreamy voice. “Finding the temple caves made me so happy,” he adds.
For those who are interested in temple caves, Dr. Nils’s book will (hopefully) be published by the end of this year. Some of the temple caves he found are featured here with pictures and description.