Daily Archives: March 26, 2006

A Thai Funeral


We came back from the beach in the early evening. Like any Thai event, the first thing that we were asked when we arrived was whether we had eaten yet. The truth is that we had eaten plenty on the beach all afternoon. But, these were only snacks and we still had some room for a proper meal with rice. A few minutes after we had finished eating, the chanting started in the main assembly hall and we went in to take some pictures. This went on like this for about an hour or so. There weren’t that many people here on the first day. Most people were coming down from Bangkok for the main event on the second day. Not everyone was wearing the black mourning clothes but rather normal clothes with muted colours.

After the chanting had finished, everyone filed outside for the fireworks. First a display was set alight which showed the name of the deceased. Then little fires beneath floating lanterns were lit so that they would float up and away into the sky. Then finally a fireworks show. Nothing too spectacular but a number of the local people had come to watch. That is the thing about funerals. There is always plenty of free entertainment, so it attracts crowds of people. It doesn’t really matter if they knew the family or not. There was already quite a few mobile food stalls and people were sitting down having a meal.

At funerals, the main entertainment is usually either a khon masked drama or a likay. At this one, we were entertained with a likay, which is a bit like an outdoor variety show. It has short sketches, singing and some banter between actors and audience. I have shown you pictures of this before. The people wear a lot of make-up and are dressed in these amazingly colourful costumes that sparkle. For events like funerals it doesn’t really matter if no-one comes to watch or not as it is really put on for the benefit of the deceased. But, on this night, a lot of local people came to watch the free show.


The majority of the mourners arrived the following morning from about 11 a.m. onwards. At about this time, there was another session of chanting and then the monks were given food to eat. Monks can never ask for, or prepare their own food. They cannot even store food for longer thana day. It always has to be offered to them by lay people. Once this was done, there was nothing for us to do again until the cremation ceremony in the late afternoon. So, we had some more free time. We decided to go back into Cha-am to do more sightseeing. I will tell you about this later.

By about 4 p.m., the main assembly hall was packed with people. There were even rows of seats outside. The ceremony started with a sermon from a monk. Once he had finished about 80 or so monks entered the hall. I had never seen so many. The person who had died must have either been well respected or very rich. The more monks that come to chant the more merit that is made for the deceased. But, it also costs a lot more. When they leave, each monk is given a white envelope with some money inside. They are also presented with some robes. Do you see the tape in the above photograph? I have never seen like this before. It was all rolled up in a contraption and then unrolled from one end to the other. Women are not usually allowed to present anything to monks directly. The monk would normally first put down a small piece of cloth for the woman to put the offering on. However, in this case, the robes were put on this tape. I think it is acting like the sai sin string where it becomes a collective offerring.


The next part of the ceremony was also very interesting. What happened was that family members and important dignitaries took turns in placing some robes on a pedestal in front of the coffin. A monk would then come up to receive these robes. I thought it was a way for the deceased person to make merit by giving robes to the monks. But, someone later told me that in the old days it was common practice for the monks to take the rags from dead bodies to make a robe. Although they no longer need to do this, it has now become an important part of the funeral ceremony.


When I didn’t realize at first was that the crematorium at this temple was actually attached to the main hall. In fact it is directly behind the display on the stage that you can see in my earlier photos. Also unknown to me, by this time the coffin had already been taken from the table behind the floral display and placed inside the oven. As soon as the robe giving part of the ceremony had finished, the senior dignitary came up on to the stage and lit a long flower made from wood shavings. He then put this into the oven. Then everyone else rushed to the stage where they were given a small flower also made from wood shavings, called dok mai jan, which they threw into the oven. I have never seen like this before. At other funerals I have been to, the dok mai jan is symbolically placed under the coffin as you file past. It is like you are adding fuel to the fire. But, in this case the fire (and probably the body) was already alight. As the people went down the steps on the other side they were given a small book which commemorated the life of the deceased. At other funerals you might be given a souvenir. At the same time as this was happening, three very loud rockets were shot up into the sky to signal the start of the cremation.

That was basically it. We returned home shortly afterwards. On the way back home, we stopped on the highway just before Phetchaburi in order to buy some of the famous Thai desserts for this area. The most famous of course is khanom mor gaeng which I told you about before. The traffic going back was pretty bad and it took nearly four hours to reach Samut Prakan. Two days later I set off on my trip to Chiang Mai in the north. That is where I am now writing this blog. I will be writing about this shortly.

Old Patong:Thai Boxing[1979]

California Jim’s voice rang out loudy from the big speaker attached to the pickup truck, Jim was hawking “Thai Boxing In Phuket”, selling tickets and getting farangs/tourists/locals/expats to buy a ticket for the nights big main event!

Local goodguy and Thai Lightweight Champion Owan Pedit was fighting and defending the Thai Championship in Phuket town vs an up and coming challenger from Ko Samui.

We had met “Wan”, his dear wife Pui and their little child Lek while he was working for Mr Bruce at Paradise Bar/Bungalows.

Wan was even tempered, always sporting a big smile, Mr Bruce had put up a small gym in the back of the bar where patrons would often workout.

Watching the Champ workout was a pleasure to see how a real Thai boxer, let alone, a Champion worked so dilligently, the sweat running off his heavily muscled torso as he beat and kicked at the huge bag hanging in the middle of Mr Bruces “ring”…

Betting was heavy in favor of the Champ, with little regard to the challenger, after all, he wasn’t from Bangkok or even Phuket, but Ko Samui!

Samai had negociated with the local BahtBus to take a full load into town and see the extravaganza, after hanging out all day at Thai Garden or Paradise, we had figured out how the match should go.

Arriving around 7PM, we were early, the fights didn’t start til 8PM and the main event wasn’t til 10PM, we loitered in the stands.

Samai had gotten us really great front row seats, we felt like VIP’s. I noticed that one section off the ring was enclosed with barbed wire. I inquired and Samai told us that was the bookie area and they had to fence it off cause there could be “pan-ha” depending on who won or lost bets or fights!

We were all excited, our first Thai boxing match and with a local friend too boot, it was a double pleasure!

The little stadium quickly filled up, the announcements for the fights, the preliminary fights began.

Watching the boxers do some type of ritual, all dressed in their totally cool Thai boxing shorts and wearing some type of head band[?], the first round was set:

Being used to watching conventional boxing since childhood, I was amazed that the boxers could grab, knee, kick and elbow any and all areas of the opponents body.

During the 3rd fight, things got a little out of hand in the stadium, as many of the “fans”[losing bettors]tried to climb over the fense and get at the bookies, but Phukets finest quickly entered the ring, firing off an M16[upward into the sky]and things quickly settled down!

Samai gave a short explanation as the fight progressed, telling us who to bet on, we either took his advice or didn’t, we knew nothing about any of the fighters, outside of the Champion, but by the end of the evening, Samai had lost more than he’d won, I got lucky and picked 4 of 6, including the main event, our Pal Wan successfully defended his Title with a swift kick to the opponents jaw, in the second round, the helpless challenger dropped like a rock!

We waited around til Wan was dressed and ready to leave, we carried him on our shoulders to the bus and the Mekhong was flowing like water on the way back to Patong Beach, where we partied into the wee hours, naturally Wan couldn’t buy a drink!

This was the last time Wan defended the title in Phuket, he later dropped the title while defending it in Surat Thani. Wan never fought professionally again, but continued to work for Mr Bruce at Paradise.

Sitting at Paradise bar late one night, there was a big foreigner who wanted to “fight” as he sat surly at the bar, Mr Bruce motioned for Wan to take the guy into the gym and show him a few moves, we all went into the gym and watched as Wan spun around a lightning back leg kick, almost knocking the bag from the chain that it hung from! The big guys eyes suddenly became WIDE open as he watched the seemingly small man work over the bag like a tornado, elbows, fists, knees, and feet flying up and down the helpless bag, the big Farang wisely went back into the bar and settled down.

Over the years, Wan and his family became close and cherished friends of ours. Wan could always be counted on to do his best at what ever he did, you don’t become Worlds Champion by taking things half-way!

Here are a few pix, two of the Title fight and one of Wan and his family at Paradise.

Over the years we’d watch many Muay Thai fights as well as convention matches, usually at Crazy Daves Thai Garden, sometimes at Paradise, but always with our buddy Wan side by side!