Author Archives: Richard Barrow

International TASTE 2011: Food Festival in Bangkok

Fine food enthusiasts in Bangkok have an opportunity this weekend to participate in the “International TASTE 2011 Amazing Thailand”. This is taking place at Parc Paragon which is the area in front of Siam Paragon. About 30 of the best restaurants in Thailand have been selected to present their signature dishes from various national cuisines such as Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian and American.

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What is most interesting is that all of these delicious dishes and desserts have been made from local ingredients. For example, high-quality Kurobuta pork from a farm in Chonburi, fresh trout from Chiang Mai, Mozzarella from Chachoengsao and gourmet Japanese rice from Mae Chan district in Chiang Rai. The quality is high so you will probably not notice the difference.

The 30 well-known restaurants at the event include Portobello Day Cafe, Swang (Hua Lam Pong), Mu State Pinkaew, Arirang, Indus and many more. You can eat the food at the festival or takeaway. Prices start from a low 30 baht. It is a great opportunity to try out a variety of different international cuisine in one place. Just make sure that you turn up hungry as I must have snacked from at least six different stalls when I went yesterday.

As well as the food, there is also live entertainment which includes games, music and cooking shows. If you register when you arrive you will also receive a free copy of the “International TASTE 2011″ book which is beautifully illustrated with recipes and cooking methods from several famous restaurants. I have posted the full schedule over at Thai Festival Blogs. The food festival runs until the evening of Sunday 24th July 2011.

Candle Procession Festival in Ubon Ratchathani

One of the biggest and most beautiful festivals in Thailand is the Candle Procession which marks the start of the Buddhist Lent. In Thai this is called Khao Phansa which is the day after the full moon in July.  Traditionally during this period, Thai Buddhists take part in parades to their local temples where they offer basic essentials and candles to the monks. This year, I attended the Candle Procession in Ubon Ratchathani, which is in the Northeast of Thailand.

For the three months of the Buddhist Lent the monks are not allowed to leave their temples and must spend their time studying the scriptures. This is also the height of the rainy season and so in the past it wasn’t easy for them to travel around anyway. The idea for the large candle is to give light to the monks during this period. Some Thai people believe that by donating candles, they will have wisdom, be resourceful and be bright like the candle.

In the beginning, they probably gave the monks plain candles, but over time, the more devout Buddhists would decorate the candle or carve it into intricate designs. We have now gone from normal candles to these 15 meter long floats that depict scenes from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The normal Candle Processions still take place all over Thailand at this time, but the big floats first started to appear in Ubon Ratchathani about 34 years ago. Ubon is still the most famous though a few other cities now copy them.

The Candle Festival takes place in Ubon for the entire month of July but the main activities only take place around the full moon. If you are planning on going next year, make sure that you book your accommodation in advance. This year there was an estimated 200,000 domestic and international tourists at the festival. Ubon’s 3,100 hotel rooms were fully booked for these three days. Flights were also fully booked.

This was my first time at the festival and I had a really enjoyable time taking pictures of the dancers and floats. Though it was very exhausting as it went on for about three hours. I am not sure how many floats there were in the end but it was certainly a lot. In the evening, the winning floats were displayed at Thung Si Mueang Park. I already posted pictures over at Thai Travel Blogs of the winners. I’m not sure how long they will stay there as they were suffering a bit in the heat. But the entrants in the International Wax Sculpture competition will be on display in the grounds of the National Museum until 31st July.

I don’t have the dates yet for the Candle Festival Procession in 2012, but it will be around the full moon in July 2012. I will post the dates and schedule as soon as they are confirmed on my Twitter account @RichardBarrow, Facebook Fanpage, Thai Festival Blogs and also Thai Travel Blogs. In addition to the Candle Procession in Ubon Ratchathani, there are also big ones in Nakhon Ratchasima and Suphan Buri at the same time. There are smaller candle processions elsewhere in Thailand including some on a boat. But, Ubon has the biggest.

Hilltribe Ordination at The Marble Temple

Wat Benchamabopit, which is more commonly known as The Marble Temple, is probably the most beautiful temple in Bangkok. It is certainly one of the most unique as it is a blend of European and Thai architecture. It is a beautiful place to photograph at any time of the year. However, this last weekend was extra special as 285 Hilltribe people, mainly youngsters, were being ordained as novice monks.

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The boys and young adults taking part in this ordination ceremony came from 13 different provinces around Thailand. This is an annual project that has been organized in order to promote Buddhism among the Hilltribe people. This year it was done in honour of the 84th birthday of H.M. The King which is on the 5th December.

Normally young men being ordained as monks are supported by their families. However, as many of these Hilltribe people come from poor backgrounds, members of the public were invited to sponsor one of the novice monks. They donated 2,500 Baht to a scholarship fund and were then able to make merit by presenting the robes.

Presentation of robes took place all day on Saturday and also on Sunday morning. The same robes were presented many times to the young men dressed in white. Then on Sunday afternoon, the actual ordination took place. This started with a parade around the main chapel. This was done three times in a clockwise direction. They were led by long drums and dancers.

They then entered the main chapel where the ordination ceremony took place. Everyone first ordains as a novice. The first part of the ordination procedure is called the “Going Forth in Homelessness”. This is where the candidate requests to become a novice.

He is instructed about the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Teaching, and the Community of Monks) and the purpose and benefits of the ordination. He is then told the five basic objects of meditation which are: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin.

The first half concludes when the shoulder cloth is put over the head of the boys. After this, all of the candidates are taken outside to change from their white clothes to their robes. These are not easy to put on. The boys certainly couldn’t do it themselves. As there were so many of them, they needed the help of monks.

Once they had the robes on, then all of them went back into the hall. They next request to take Refuge in the Triple Gem and the Ten Precepts. They said: “I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.” This is then repeated three times. The abbot then tells them that they are now “samanen”.

As a novice monk, they have to obey the ten precepts. This includes basic things like not stealing or lying and also not eating after noon. But they can drink liquids in the afternoon like milk. At the end of the ceremony, the abbot reads the 10 precepts out in Pali which is the ancient language of the scriptures. The novices have to repeat them after him. The new novice monks now prostrate three times and leaves the hall.

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.

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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.