One of the main events organized during Songkran celebrations around Thailand is the Miss Songkran Beauty Contest. The one that I went to on Friday night was held at the municipal offices in Phra Pradaeng, Samut Prakan. It takes place every year and it is always fun to go and watch. Both male and female contestants were taking part and this is a picture I took yesterday of the two winners.
The contest is a good way to view 74 of the most beautiful women in Thailand. However, don’t go expecting a traditional Western type competition. The Thai girls are all dressed up in traditional clothes of this region and you won’t find a swimming costume category at all.
However, the beautiful Thai smile more than makes up for this. All of them did very well despite the long length of the competition and also the incredible heat. The minimum temperature on the night was 32 Celsius. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves at the gala dinner.
The winner of the contest took pride of place during the Songkran Parade that went along the streets of Phra Pradeng yesterday. It was one of the most beautiful and colourful Songkran parades in Thailand. I have posted many pictures over at www.PaknamPhotos.com.
When I attend these events I always post updates on Twitter @RichardBarrow with live pictures and video. If you want to know what is going on in Thailand or discover new places as I find them myself, then I suggest you follow me @RichardBarrow.
Taking a break from the hectic Songkran celebrations the other day, I went to Wat Chai Mongkol in Samut Prakan. It was like an oasis in the middle of a war zone. In the surrounding area, roaming pickup trucks, packed with people armed to the teeth, were patrolling the streets looking for people to squirt with their guns. However, here in the temple grounds, families were taking part in a more traditional part of Songkran. That is, the building of sand pagodas, or gor phra chedi sai in Thai.
This tradition apparently started as a way for local people to make merit. It was reckoned that over the course of a year, a lot of sand would accidentally be taken away from the temple on the bottom of people’s shoes. So, once a year, local lay people would be invited to bring back some sand and build a pagoda. Well, these days things are a bit more organized. When I visited this temple at the start of the week, a truck was just delivering the sand and the monks were busy making large piles for each team.
There was a good atmosphere at the temple. There was a lot of other things going on as well and plenty of food stalls to keep people fed. I could see that an outdoor screen had been set up so I guess that there would be a free movie to watch later that day. There were a lot of families there. Each family was working on their own pagoda. The shape and sizes did vary quite a bit and also the decorations put on them. But most of them had little flags and sticks with money attached to them.
I have uploaded more pictures to the Samut Prakan Photo Album.
One of the more traditional events that took place during Songkran recently was “song nam phra”. This is the practice of bathing Buddha images with rose scented water. Most tourists, and even some Thai teenagers, seem to think that Songkran is only about throwing water at each other. However, it was originally more a bathing of Buddha images and pouring water on the hands of monks and elders. The latter ceremony is called “rod nam dam hua”. Over the years people tend to spend more time playing water fights which is obviously more fun.
I took these pictures at Wat Chai Mongkol in Samut Prakan this afternoon during their annual “song nam phra” ceremony. People came to the temple in their best clothes with their families. They then prepared some rose scented water which they first poured onto a Buddha image. Next they walked down a line of seated monks and carefully poured some water onto their hands. Some people, who were a bit more familiar with the novice monks, poured some colder water down their necks.
Once the lay people had finished pouring water on the monks and novices, they then had some fun splashing water on each other. This is basically where the water fights started. In the old days, it was mainly restricted to the temples. Now it is on all the streets and no-one is safe from the roaming pick-up trucks armed to the teeth with barrels of water and powerful water guns. Wat Chai Mongkol had about 350 novice monks at the moment who ordained for the summer holidays.
I have uploaded more pictures to the Samut Prakan Photo Album.
As you probably all know now, Thailand is celebrating Songkran this week, which is the traditional Thai new year. It is basically a week of waterfights, but there are also some other traditional aspects to the festival which I will tell you about later. Yesterday I went to visit Ancient Siam (Muang Boran) in Samut Prakan for their Songkran activities. The highlight for my afternoon there was definitely the elephants who were playing waterfights with the tourists. But they also had some more sedate activities. If you are free this week then I suggest you head over there now. More information can be found at our www.paknam.com website. You will also find more pictures in our Samut Prakan Photo Album.
Thailand has quite a few ethnic minorities. One of these groups are the Mons which have their own distinct culture, clothing and language. They originally came from Southern Burma where they were once rulers of their own kingdom. Due to persecution and wars, they have fled their homeland and can be found in neighbouring countries such as Thailand. It is estimated that 30 provinces around Thailand have Mon communities. Many of them seem to be in the Phra Phradaeng District of Samut Prakan, Pak Kret district in Nonthaburi and Samut Sakhon Province.
The Mon people have integrated into Thai society so much that you don’t really notice them much these days. However, this week, the Mons of Samut Prakan have a number of cultural activities. The first big one in Phra Pradaeng was on 13th April. This was the Swan and Centipede Parade Festival. I was over they yesterday afternoon and it was really good to see so many Mons wearing their traditional clothes. A rare sight these days. The next big event for them is Songkran on 16-18 April which they always celebrate the first weekend after the rest of the country.
The parade through Phra Pradaeng yesterday reminds the Mon people of their homeland. According to legend, Buddha once went to Burma where he saw two swans swimming next to an island. He named this land Hongsawadee. Over the years the island expanded and eventually the Mon people settled there. The word “hongsa” means swan. The Buddha also predicted that Buddhism would prosper here.The Centipede Flag represents that Buddha’s teaching. The claws of the centipede show that the Mon people will never be afraid of their enemies.
The event yesterday started at Wat Khan Lat in Phra Pradaeng. The Governor of Samut Prakan was there for the opening ceremony. In attendance were hundreds of Mon people representing a number of local temples. Each of them carried an image of the “swan” as well as the centipede flag which was hoisted up the flag pole at the end of the parade. I had never been to this parade before so I didn’t really know what to expect. It was certainly an experience.
The large parade set off from Wat Khan Lat shortly after 4 p.m. It first went along the waterfront before turning right at Phra Pradaeng District Offfice and then up as far as Wat Klang where it did a u-turn and then back to the start. I found out later that the length was nearly 4 kms (2.21 miles) which was quite tiring in the hot sun. However, my main concern at the time was getting drenched with water as it was the first day of Songkran. But, I needn’t have worried, as most Phra Pradaeng people don’t play waterfights until this weekend.
One thing I didn’t realize at the time was that the people representing each of the temples broke away from the parade on the return trip in order to go back to their respective temples. I was walking at the lead of the parade and only noticed this once we got back to Wat Khan Lat. What happened next, was that everyone then paraded around the main chapel at the temple three times in a clockwise direction. Taking the lead was the image of the swan as well as the long centipede flag. This was then hoisted up the flagpole as the monks chanted and fireworks went off.
The next big Mon event is this Sunday with another parade and the releasing of fish and birds. This one will be VERY wet but really worth going to experience. Full information and pictures can be found at our www.paknam.com website. I also have hundreds of photos and a video from the Swan and Centipede Parade.