Phra Pradaeng Songkran Festival

Just when I thought it was safe to wash the car and hang up the wet water gear….! I took the above picture this afternoon in Phra Pradaeng, a district in Western Samut Prakan. No, it wasn’t the results of a time warp. For some peculiar reason, the people of Phra Pradaeng, who are mainly the descendents of the Mon people from Burma, decided to celebrate Songkran one week later than the rest of the country!

Traditional Game of Saba

I first crossed the river in the car ferry last night to enjoy the fun of the fair. As usual, there was plenty of food to sample so I had made sure that I was really hungry before I went. Apart from the Thai food, the main reason I was going to the fair was to witness the traditional game of Saba (see pictures above). It is very hard to explain the rules of this game. All I can say is that it is a kind of courting game. The young men place a small discus on their foot and then have to approach the maiden of their choice. Once they are about five feet away, they flick their foot so that the discus knocks over a token in front of their maiden.

Songkran Parade

This afternoon, I again drove back to Phra Pradaeng, this time to take photographs of the parade and also the traditional practice of releasing birds and fish. I had seen pictures of this beautiful event in the newspapers but this would be my first time of actually going there. Although the parade wasn’t due to start until 3.30 p.m., I left home shortly after mid-day. I had already heard that all of the roads along the waterfront were closed in the morning so it would have been impossible for me to cross by car ferry like I did last night. So, I took the expressway into Bangkok and crossed the river on the Rama IX bridge. After leaving the bridge, the first turning on the left took me onto Suksawat Road which leads through Phra Pradaeng.

Straight away I was in a traffic jam of pick-up trucks with Songkran revelers on the back. The going would be a lot slower than I had planned although I still had another two hours. I know I could have crossed the river on a passenger ferry, but I would be entering relatively unknown territory. Although the parade would start by the river, it would end up at Protket Chettharam Temple a fair distance away. This is where they would be releasing the birds and fish and so I wanted to try and position myself near that temple in order to be able to take pictures of the parade as well.

After about 45 minutes of slow crawling I noticed a sign in Thai about a short-cut to Ratburana Road. As this was near my destination I decided to take it. Maybe I should point out at this stage, I am not very familiar with Phra Pradaeng. I was basically following my nose and the crowd. I didn’t know how near the temple I would be able to get. I knew I would be very lucky to get all the way. As it was taking so long I was getting worried that I would be stuck in a traffic jam as the parade passed by.

About an hour or so later I had reached as far as I could go. The police had blocked the final 800 metres to the temple. I turned the corner and found myself somewhere to park. I had already resigned myself that eventually I would have to leave the safety of the car. I had come prepared with plastic bags for both my camera and mobile phone. I took a deep breadth and got out of the car. I stepped into complete mayhem. Within seconds I was drenched in water. At least they said “Happy Songkran” in English. Very polite. I kept walking. More water, iced this time. Then some white powder on my face.

Finally I reached the sanctuary of the temple. No waterfights here. I took a look around the temple in order to work out the best place to take pictures later. In one section of the temple, there was a building completely surrounded by water. I recongized this from the newspaper. This is where they would release the birds and fish. I stayed there for a while and then headed back along the main road to a bridge where I waited for the parade with a large group of other people.

At last the parade was in sight. They had turned the corner and they were heading straight for us. I could already see the first float which was beautifully decorated. I knew that in all there would be 20 of these floats taking part in the procession. I imagined that would take quite a bit of time to pass us by.

On most of the floats there were beautiful young ladies dressed in traditional Mon, or Raman, costume. There were also men who wore a sarong with a round-necked shirt and a colourful sash.

In-between each float there were marching bands and also more beautiful girls in traditional dress. These ones were carrying bird cages and fish bowls. There were hundreds of them. I presumed all of them would be heading towards the temple in order to make merit by releasing them into the wild.

If you had read my blog a week or so ago about the origins of Songkran, you would have remembered the story I told about Kabil Maha Phrom who had his head cut off during a wager. He had seven daughters, each one a goddess and representing a day of the week. The winner of Miss Songkran last year can be seen holding the severed head of Kabil Maha Phrom which is meant to bring good luck to all of mankind. As they dismounted from their float, I followed them to the temple. I knew the winner of Miss Songkran for this year would be coming soon and I didn’t want to miss the photo opportunity.

And here she is in green. The photographs above and below are the main reason I came today. This is a classic photo which I have seen many times. In the above picture, the winner and runners-up of Miss Songkran are releasing the fish into the pond. In the picture below, you can see the administrators from Phra Pradaeng about to release the birds. A very beautiful scene and I was very glad that I had come. The only thing left for me now was to carefully put away my camera in the plastic bag and then run the gauntlet back to the car. Actually, I didn’t run. I just kept walking. I almost made it too. However, right at the last minute, someone poured a large bucket of iced water down my neck! Very nice. I think I will try and come next year. But, next time I will try and park nearer to the temple!

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