Monthly Archives: April 2011

Bathing Monks and Novices during Songkran

One of the more traditional events that takes place during Songkran is “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 have about 300 novice monks at the moment who ordained for the summer holidays.

Pictures of Songkran on Bangsaen Beach

The Wan Lai Bangsaen Festival is taking place this weekend, 16th-17th April 2011, on Bangsaen Beach in Chonburi. This is the annual water flowing festival that takes place a few days after Songkran. People in this area of Chonburi Province are descendants of the Mon and they celebrate Songkran later than the rest of the country. I went down there today to take some pictures, but the main day is tomorrow on Sunday.

View Photo Album on Facebook >>>

The highlight for the Bangsaen festival is the sand pagodas that are built on the beach on the first day of the festival. It is traditional in temples all around the country to make merit by building sand pagodas. In Bangsaen the local people build both gigantic and beautiful sand pagodas. Tonight the judges will chose the best looking pagoda.

Usually I drive down to Bangsaen on the second day to see the completed sand pagodas. However, this year I am not free as I am taking pictures at my local temple tomorrow. Instead of going down early in the morning, I decided to go after lunch with the hope that some of the pagodas would be finished. I wasn’t disappointed as you can see from this picture.

For most people, the weekend means another excuse to have water fights. This resulted in Beach Road being one long traffic jam of pick-up trucks with people on the back throwing water at each other. However, unlike in Bangkok, it doesn’t really matter if you get wet and dirty here as you can always just run down to the beach and jump into the sea!

Also along the waterfront there were a couple of venues where they were putting on free concerts. Free, that is, if you don’t mind getting a bit wet. For people who want something more traditional, there is a Buddhist ceremony on Sunday morning at 7 a.m. with chanting and offering alms to monks. This is followed by pouring scented water over the hands of elders and on a Buddha image.

Tomorrow there also some traditional games played by the local people which include saba and relay races. One of the most fun competitions to watch is “sea boxing”. They had the qualifying rounds today. Two competitors face each other astride a pole. The winner of each round is the one who manges to stay on the pole. It is not easy to box and keep your balance on the pole. If you slip off you fall into the water.

Bangsaen is only an hour or so away from Bangkok and is the capitals nearest beach. This is a great place to come and relax and eat in the shade on deckchairs. Information about this festival was posted in advance on two of our blogs and Make sure that you bookmark these two sites if you want to experience some festivals that many foreign tourists don’t get to see.

Map showing location of Bangsaen Beach in Chonburi:

[cetsEmbedGmap src=,100.916634&spn=0.054712,0.077162&z=14 width=450 height=425 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

The First Day of Songkran

Songkran in Thailand has become famous around the world as one big water fight. However, in reality, there is a lot more to this festival which marks the start of the traditional Thai new year. These are some of the pictures that I took on the first day, 13th April. The day started early with prayers, chanting and giving alms to monks. By making merit in this way the Thais believe that they will get good luck for the new year.

Next came the pouring of rose scented water over the hands of senior citizens. Elderly people are greatly respected in Thai society and people all over Thailand took part in this ceremony called “Rod Nam Dam Hua” with their parents and grandparents. They would also pour water on the hands of any revered adults. In return they would receive a blessing. This is really how all the water fights started.

Later in the morning came the Songkran Parade through the city. There were colourful floats and marching bands. The main float is for the seven daughters of a Prince who take turns to be Nang Songkran. This year it was the turn of “Kirini Thewi”. She is dressed in emerald green with emerald ornaments. On one of her ears she has a Magnolia flower. She is riding an elephant with an elephant hook in her right hand and a gun in her left.

A prophecy is also linked to whose turn it is to be Nang Songkran.  This year Thailand will be faced with plague and people will die because of disasters and mishaps. Subordinates will listen to their superiors. Product prices will be expensive and the country remains fertile. Wildlife will be endangered. Widows will have fortune. Troops will have victory over their enemies. You can interpret that in any way you like. But, this year it doesn’t look too good.

Lining the streets were several thousand local people. Many of them were armed with water pistols but quite a few also had small bottles of scented water. They would then shake this bottle at every Buddha image that passed them. For those who didn’t have this bottle, they would respectively splash water over the image. Once the parade was over, some continued with the water fights while others went with their families to pay respect to their elders.

Other traditional events that take place during Songkran include, paying respect to dead ancestors at the temple, building sand pagodas and also washing the hands and feet of the monks. The days this happens will vary as it is up to each temple. For my local temple they are doing this on Sunday afternoon. I will be going there to take pictures. You can follow me live on Twitter @RichardBarrow. I will then write about it here when I get back. Meanwhile I will be heading down to Bangsaen tomorrow where they will be having their Songkran Festival. It isn’t over yet!

Parade of the Centipede Flags and Swans

Some of the most beautiful parades that I have photographed are ones organized by the Mon people of Phra Pradaeng. 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.

Photo Album of the Parade >>>

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 there yesterday 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 22-24 April 2011 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.

Attending the parade 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 once they got back to their own temple. The parade 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. On the return trip, people representing each of the temples broke away from the parade in order to go back to their respective temples.

I am always worried taking pictures during Songkran parades that I might get my camera equipment wet. Most people respect the fact that I am working. However, it is quite easy to get hit in the crossfire or someone to throw water on you from behind without seeing your camera. However, there was no real cause for concern. Not many people in Phra Pradaeng were playing water fights. This is because they play the week after the rest of the country. This year Songkran here takes place between 22 and 24 April 2011.

Songkran Festival in the Four Regions

A good place to enjoy the traditional side of Songkran, and probably learn a bit about its culture and history, is at the Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue in Bangkok. For this month, until 30th April 2011, they have a free exhibition where you can learn about Songkran in the four regions of Thailand. I certainly learned a lot and you will find the information boards in both Thai and English.

Outside of the Rattanakosin building, there is an old style food market where they are selling a wide range of delicious Thai food. A lot of this food you don’t often see and so it is a great opportunity to come and try them out. The vendors are also dressed up in traditional costume of the era.

Next door at Wat Ratchanaddaram, there is an opportunity to bathe 32 revered Buddha images around the base of the Metal Castle. Thai people believe this brings them good merit by sprinkling rose scented water on the images. This takes place only this week during Songkran.

Also next to the Rattanakosin Hall, there are cultural shows being performed free of charge in the Mahajesadabodintr Pavilion Court. They have different shows each night between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. up until Sunday 17th April 2011. The night that I went they put on a performace of Khon, a masked play.

Visit my Facebook page for more pictures from this event. Feel free to add me as a friend.