Monthly Archives: July 2011

Bicycle Ride During “Bangkok Car Free Sunday”

Today, the first regular “Bangkok Car Free Sunday” was organized. The idea was to encourage people to leave their cars at home and take their bike instead. For many people, that is easier said than done. Even though I took the BTS Skytrain into Bangkok today, I still had a 45 minute drive to my nearest station. Taking my bike on the BTS was quite easy and it didn’t cost any extra money. However, it is probably only practical to do this on Sunday mornings. Coming home I had to let two trains pass as they were too full.

Cyclists from all around Bangkok were invited to join a bike rally this morning starting at the King Rama VI statue in front of Lumphini Park. By 8:30 a.m. just over 400 people had registered to join the rally with their own bikes. A further 100 people signed up for the free bikes. Quite a few people were obviously serious riders as they were all dressed up in the proper gear. But, it was encouraging to see a number of families and also teenagers on their bikes.

The Bangkok Governor was at the starting point to wave us off. He actually rode on a bicycle for a bit, but that was only for the cameras and for only 30 meters. For us, we had two loops that covered about 10 kilometers. We first went along Rama IV Road, then up Wireless Road, past the US Embassy, turning left at Phloenchit and then left again at Ratchaprasong. We then rode down Ratchadamri Road, with a brief stop at AUA, before completing our first loop back at the King Rama VI statue.

Our second loop was a bit more interesting. We headed down Silom Road first where we did a brief stop at this abandoned Christian cemetery. Only this small chapel with a cross on the roof is left. Apparently they are going to develop this into a green space for local people. We then turned left into Pan road, where we passed the Hindu temple (below) and then at Sathorn Road we turned left again. We had regular breaks along the way which made it a very easy bike ride. Our last stop was Christ Church on Soi Convent. This church dates back to 1864.

At each place we visited, there was someone there who told us about the environment and also a bit of the history of the place. This was done in both Thai and English.  Apparently they are now planning on holding this event on the first Sunday of every month. I heard that the next one will be in Bang Kae. I will post on as soon as this is confirmed. Bangkok apparently already has 28 separate cycle paths covering a distance of 20 kilometers. They said that they will work on more.

All of these pictures were taken on my iPhone and uploaded live onto Twitter and my moblog live during the event. I then uploaded the rest onto my Facebook page while I was riding the Skytrain to my next destination. Incidentally, if you are taking your bike on the Skytrain, it is advisable to use the last carriage. If you want to take it on the MRT Subway, they will only let you if you have a folding bike.

Map showing the route of the 1st  Bangkok Car Free Sunday Bicycle Ride:

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Mass Ordination of Monks at Wat Phra Dhammakaya

At the crack of dawn this morning, I was back at Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani Province. I was last there for the meditation workshop for female Buddhists (see here).  This picture shows the extraordinary dome that is a wonderful backdrop to many of the pictures that I have taken here. Lit up like this at dusk you can see that it is not a smooth dome.  In fact, it is covered with 300,000 small Buddha images. Inside the dome there are even more and when complete, they aim to have 1 million images.

Photo Album of Mass Ordination on Facebook >>>

Over the past few weeks, a massive project has been organized nationwide entitled “100,000 Monk Mass Ordination Program for Buddhist Rains Retreat”.  I have seen quite a few posters and billboards saying something like “If you were born a male then you should ordain as a monk for at least one phansa”. Others said that you should “ordain for your mother”.  The annual Buddhist Rains Retreat, called Phansa in Thai, starts next week. Traditionally, men ordain as monks for the three months of the Rains Retreat.

When you ask someone how long they have been a monk, you don’t ask “how many years” but instead “how many phansa”. Meaning, how many periods of the Buddhist Rains Retreat have they spent as a monk. This is important as it dictates proper seniority. When monks go out on an alms round or sits chanting at a ceremony, it is the monk that has seen the most Rains Retreats that is the senior and leads the way.The reason that it is called a Rains Retreat is because by now we are well into the rainy season. For the next three months, monks must stay in their temples and cannot move around or even be disrobed.

This morning I took many pictures of the men wearing white clothes holding onto the robes of a monk. At 6 a.m. they took part in a procession around the dome. They then knelt down and prostrated in a show of respect to the 300,000 Buddha images. The picture below shows an estimated 20,000 men who had come to this temple to be ordained. The same event was also happening at other temples all around Thailand. In fact, I left this one early to go and take pictures at a Hilltribe Ordination at the Marble Temple in Bangkok. I will tell you about that one later.

Candle Procession and the Buddhist Rains Retreat

During the full moon of this month we celebrate the religious holiday of Asarnha Bucha Day. It commemorates the Buddha’s first sermon to his first five disciples. The following day marks the start of the Rains Retreat which is sometimes referred to as the Buddhist Lent. It lasts for about three months. This year, these two holidays are on 15th and 16th July 2011. These are public holidays and many people will go to the temple early in the morning to make merit. Then they will be back in the evening to take part in candlelight processions around the main stupa. They will also listen to sermons and many of them will make an effort to keep the Buddhist precepts.

In the days leading up to this Buddhist holiday, there are many parades around the Kingdom of Thailand of large candles that are given to monks at the temples. The candles are large enough to stay alight for the entire three months of the Buddhist Rains Retreat. However, some are much larger than others and certainly more beautifully decorated. The best of these can be seen in the annual parades in cities in Isaan such as at Ubon Ratchathani. I’ll be flying there next weekend and hopefully will be able to get some great photos to share with you. I have never been to the Candle Procession Festival in Ubon before and so I am very exited to be able to go this year.

One of my favourite festivals in Thailand for taking pictures is Tak Bat Dok Mai Festival at Wat Phra Phutthabat Ratchaworamaha Wihan in Saraburi Province. This always takes places at the start of the Buddhist Rains Retreat. This temple is famous for the Mondop at the top of a hill which houses a large Buddha’s footprint. Local people make merit by giving flowers to the monks. The flower is called Dok Khao Phansa and only blooms during this time of the year. The monks then climb the steep steps to the top of the hill. Then, after paying respects to the footprint, they descend the other side where even more followers are waiting. This time the lay people wash the feet of the novices and monks as they walk down the steps. This year this takes place on 15-16 July 2011 at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The tradition of the Rains retreat dates back to the time of the Lord Buddha. He made it a rule that during the rainy season monks shouldn’t go wandering around the countryside as they could damage crops and insects underfoot. So, for the next three months, the monks have to choose a temple where they will stay. Tomorrow I will be going to take pictures at a mass ordination of an expected 20,000 monks. This is traditional for Thai males to become a monk at least once in their life. In fact, they are not considered a full man until they do so. If they work in a government office, then they are entitled to paid leave while they are in the monkhood. These days they usually only become a monk for a couple of weeks. However, if they become a monk during this time, they have to stay until the end of the Rains Retreat as no-one is allowed to leave during this period.

Bicycle Tour of Chiang Khan

Chiang Khan, in the upper north-east of Thailand, is a quiet town along the banks of the Mekong River. In ancient times it used to be an important town on the trade route between Thailand and Laos.  It never really got that many tourists passing through as it is quite isolated. Which is probably why over the last few years it has become a popular tourist destination. It is the kind of place that you go to get away from it all and to experience rural Thai life. But, don’t tell anyone!

There are basically only two main roads in Chiang Khanwhich run parallel  to each other. Connecting them at regular intervals are smaller lanes. The road of more interest is Chai Khong that runs along the Mekong River. This is where you will find the more photogenic old wooden houses and shops. This is also where you will find many guesthouses. The best way to explore the town is by bicycle. My guesthouse was renting them out for only 50 Baht for the whole day.

We were visiting the town during the week and so it was very quiet. I can imagine that it gets very busy at the weekends and during the high season. The weather was very pleasant and I think that the cool temperatures in the winter will make it popular with Thais. One of the main activities that you can join is the morning alms round. Our guesthouse arranged small baskets of sticky rice to offer to the monks as they passed us early in the morning at about 6 a.m. Giving sticky rice is similar to the tradition at Luang Prabang in Laos but not as many monks here.

The highlights for me were the views along the banks of the Mekong. The river here is not very wide compared to other places so you can easily see across to Laos. The mountains in the distance in this photo are in Laos. There is a path that runs along the river and I had a wonderful time cycling along this and watching the sun gradually go down. East of the town are the Kaeng Khut Khu rapids. The shiny rocks here are supposed to be very beautiful but the water was too high for us to see anything.

The early evening is another great time to explore the quiet lanes as it is a lot cooler. In addition, Chai Khong Road is turned into a walking street after 5 p.m. A number of local people set up stalls outside their houses during the evening selling handicraft and other souvenirs. This picture shows Heon Luang Prabang Restaurant where we ate during the evening. From their garden we got some great views as the sun set in the distance. I had a relaxing time in Chiang Khan and would love to go back and spend more time there.

Map of Chiang Khan in Loei Province, Northeastern Thailand:

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Phi Ta Khon Museum in Dan Sai

Phi Ta Khon is the most famous festival that takes place in Loei Province in either June or July each year. At Wat Phon Chai, in Dan Sai, you will find the Dan Sai Folk Museum that goes into great detail about the tradition of the Phi Ta Khon. You will also find examples of the various masks and costumes worn during this annual festival.

Read the report of my visit to the Phi Ta Khon Festival in 2011.

The Phi Ta Khon costumes are made from rags and colourful pieces of cloth. Hung around their necks or tied around their waists are tins cans and wooden cow bells. These create a rattling sound as they move around and dance during the parades. Some of the people also carry a symbolic weapon made in the shape of an oversized penis.

Although each of the Phi Ta Khon masks seem to be unique, they are all made using the same guidelines. Each mask has three parts: the hat, the face and the nose. The hat is made from a “huad”, which is a traditional woven bamboo container used for steaming sticky rice. The face is made from the husks of a coconut with small openings cut for the eyes. The nose is made from soft wood.

The various parts of the mask are joined together using string and nails and then the masking is elaborately painted. Mask makers use acrylic paints and urethane to give the mask a sheen. Traditionally, only three colours were used, white, black and red.  To complete each mask, pieces of cloth are sewn together and then glued onto the back part of the mask.

Masks today look very different from the ones 50 or so years ago. Now they take much longer to make and more money is spent on them. In the old days they were thrown into the river at the end of the festival to dispel bad luck. But, these days they keep them or sell them to tourists. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Map showing location of the Phi Ta Khon Museum in Dan Sai, Loei Province:

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