Category Archives: Festivals

Feast for Chinese Gods

Tomorrow marks the start of a new year for Chinese people. It is the year of the Rabbit. Today, it is still New Year’s Eve. Firecrackers have been going off all day and local shopkeepers have been setting up shrines in front of their premises. Several that I passed today were burning paper money and other objects. At school this afternoon, the administrators made an offering of a large banquet to Chinese Gods and also their ancestors. It is also traditional to wear red on this day but for some reason not so many people do that these days.

On New Year’s Eve, many of the Thai people with Chinese blood will go and visit their elders. At my school, there was an average of about five students in each class that were absent today. They eagerly went with their parents to visit their grandparents as they knew they would receive a red envelope with some money inside. My next door neighbours this morning had set up a small shrine in front of their house. As I was eating breakfast they had just finished their offering of food to the Gods and were setting off the firecrackers.

At school they probably had one of the biggest feasts laid out for the Gods in my area. Maybe with the expectation that they will receive great merit in return. Each of the food items have special meaning. For example: glass noodles (longevity), chicken (dignity), duck (cleanliness and harmony), pig (abundance), fish (wealth and fertility), oranges (affluence), pear (good fortune) and gourd (abundance). So they pick and choose the food carefully.

After paying respect to the deities, the burning incense sticks are then placed in each of the plates of food. Each person does this three times so they end up lighting three sets of incense sticks. This number is linked to how the Chinese bow three times to their elders and images of their ancestors. In fact, every part of this ceremony has meaning from the time it starts to the layout of the food. Nothing is random. For Gods there should be one rice bowl in front of the incense bowl. Then there are four rows of food: vegetarian dishes, meat dishes, fruits and desserts.

Furthest away from the incense bowl are the stack of paper clothing and gold and silver papers. Once all of the food has been offered to the Gods, then it is time to burn the paper offerings. This starts with the paper clothing and paper money. And then the gold and silver paper. There was also paper mobile phones and even cars. At the completion the firecrackers were set off. Nothing is wasted. The householders can now eat the food themselves, though often this is donated to friends and neighbours. I certainly got more than I could eat today.

Where to Celebrate Chinese New Year

On Thursday 3rd February 2011 we will see the start of the Chinese New Year. This time it is the Year of the Rabbit. Already I have started to hear the crash of cymbals and the occasional firecracker. I was in Chinatown yesterday where I took these pictures. There were many people there buying decorations and festival sweets. As you can see, the colours red, yellow and gold are very popular. On Wednesday we will see a lot of activity outside many homes belonging to people who have Chinese ancestors. They will be offering food to their dead ancestors and burning paper. They will also set off firecrackers. However, Thursday is the real start of the new year.

In Bangkok, they will be closing a section of Yaowarat Road near Odeon Circle for three days, 3-5 February 2011. This is obviously the best place to go if you are in Bangkok as there will be cultural performances and lots of delicious Chinese festival food. However, they will also be having big celebrations on this day at Central World. Although there will be celebrations for Chinese New Year all over Thailand, the following are the main locations: Suphan Buri, Ayutthaya, Chon Buri (Pattaya district) and Ratchaburi in Central Thailand, Nakhon Ratchasima in Northeastern Thailand, Nakhon Sawan (Pak Nam Pho) and Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, Songkhla (Hat Yai district) and Phuket in Southern Thailand.

Nakhon Sawan: “Amazing Nakhon Sawan Chinese New Year, Celebrate H.M. the King’s 84th Birthday”, 27 January – 7 February 2011. The activities will highlight Chinese culture from various parts of Nakhon Sawan like writing auspicious Chinese characters, fortune tellers, and Chinese food festival.

Nakhon Ratchasima: “Chinese New Year Korat 54 “Amazing Shanghai”, February 3 – 5, 2011, at the Thao Suranaree Monument courtyard and memorial park. The activities will highlight the decoration of Chumphol Road to make it look the same as Shanghai city, golden lion parade, Chinese food, souvenir shops, ‘Ung-Pao’ (money-envelopes), and lucky draws.

Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya: “5th Chinese New Year Celebration 2011 in the Ancient City, Ayutthaya”, February 4 – 8, 2011, 17.00-23.00 hrs, in front of Chao Prom Market, Naresuan Road and in front of the Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Municipal Office. The activities include the opening ceremony, the contest of Miss Chinese New Year and kids and Chinese costume.

Suphan Buri: “Chinese New Year in Suphan Buri, Amazing 3 years of the Dragon Descendants Museum”, February 3 – 7, 2011, at the Descendants Dragon Museum. Activities include the opening ceremony, fireworks, performances of folk music, and Chinese dance.

Ratchaburi: “Ratchaburi China Town 2011”, February 2 – 6, 2011 at the Ratchaburi National Museum. Activities include the Ratchaburi China Town parade, water curtain show, fireworks, light and sound show, Mister and Miss Chinese New Year contest.

Phuket: “Chinese New Year Festival – Back to the Past of Phuket Town”, February 8 – 10, 2011, at the Chalermprakiat Park and Thalang Road. Activities will highlight the lifestyle of the Phuket people in the old days, local people wearing traditional Phuket apparel, the show from Suining city of the People Republic of China, signing the MOU for Twin cities between Suining city and Phuket.

Chiang Mai: “China Town in Chiang Mai”, February 4 – 6, 2011, 09.00-24.00 hrs at Trok Lao Cho. The outstanding activities will be the exhibition of the giant oranges basket, Kung Fu from Guangxi, fire dragon show and lion dance.

Chonburi (Pattaya): “Chinese New Year Festival in Pattaya City”, February 3 – 5, 2011, Pho Na Klue Courtyard, Banglamung district. For further information on activities, please contact the TAT Pattaya Office, Tel: 038-427667, 038-428750.

Songkhla (Hat Yai): “Chinese New Year Festival in Hat Yai”, February 2011 at Srinakorn School courtyard. For further information on activities, please contact the TAT Hat Yai office, Tel: 074-231055, 074-238518.

Although we have a large Chinese community here in Samut Prakan, we don’t really have any major celebrations. So, this weekend, I will be heading to Nakhon Sawan for their Chinese New Year festivities. Are you planning on going somewhere?

Light and Sound at The Grand Palace

If you are in Bangkok at the moment then you shouldn’t pass up on the opportunity to go and see a light and sound show at the Grand Palace called “The Golden Heritage of the Rattanakosin Era”. It is running from now until 28th February 2011. It pays homage to the kings of the Chakri Dynasty, but more importantly it is a celebration of H.M. The King’s 84th birthday which takes place at the end of this year.

The presentation starts with the formation of Bangkok and then passes through the ages telling the story of the kings, nation and the people. One of the main themes that comes across is their fight for independence from the colonizing Western powers and also of their struggle to modernize the county. The last half of the show is devoted to the present king who is the “heart and the pillar of the kingdom”.

The shows producers use a combination of different techniques to bring us this world standard light and sound show. On the stage there are about 100 actors but these numbers are greatly increased at times by the clever interaction between man and the multimedia characters shown on the big screen. At times this creates a kind of 3D affect. Some of the music used in the show was composed by H.M. The King.

They also make use of their greatest asset, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha which is to the left of the audience and also the Grand Palace itself which is behind the main stage. All of these buildings are beautifully lit up. As we are told the story and history of Bangkok, we are constantly reminded that we are sitting at the very heart of where all of this began over two hundred years ago.

There are nine acts in total during the performance. These are: The Founding of the City, The Glory of Rattanakosin, The Civilization of Siam, Democratic Siam, The King in the Heart of Thai People, The Royal Paths of His Majesty, Royal Virtuoso, The Heart and the Pillar of the Kingdom and Paying Homage. I am very familiar with the History of the Kings, but it was good to be able to see new photos and film footage as well as listen to live performances of His Majesty’s compositions.

The 90 minute show takes place on the lawn in front of Sahathai Samakom This is the area that you see when you first enter the gates of the Grand Palace. The show starts at 7 p.m. and runs nightly apart from Mondays. Tickets cost 500 baht each and you can use the seating plan to choose where you want to sit. The tickets have to be bought in advance at the Grand Palace during office hours only. You cannot buy on the door.

Although I enjoyed the show immensely, it should be noted that it has been designed for a Thai audience. Foreign tourists who don’t speak Thai or are not familiar with Thai history, might find it confusing at times. The performances and the multimedia productions should be enjoyable for everyone. But there are long stretches of voice-over in Thai. They do have screens on either side for projecting English subtitles, but unfortunately it was only used for a brief description of each act. It should also be noted that photography during the performance is not allowed. I was able to take these pictures from the media area at the back.

Chinese Festival Parade

The Chinese people of Samrong in Samut Prakan Province believe that their God Jao Por Tap will help them get rich. Behind Imperial World, on the old Paknam Railway Road, they have built a large Chinese shrine dedicated to this God. Every year during January, they hold a parade through town which is attended by literally thousands of local people.

I love attending Chinese Festival Parades as it is always a feast for just about every one of your senses. Just about every direction I looked there was something else to take a picture of, or an incident to experience. Everything was very colourful from the dancing dragons to the painted faces. The sounds were loud and almost continuous with the banging of drums and clashing of symbols.

There must have been over 1,000 people in the parade but there were also thousands of people lining the parade route through town.  From where I stood taking pictures, it took them about 45 minutes to pass by me. Then as quickly as it started it was all over. Though, of course not for them. They still had a long way to go. I had to leave to go and take pictures at another job. But when I came back this way three hours later, they were still parading through the town!

It was a big event on the calendar for Samrong. Many shopkeepers had set up tables outside their shops with a small shrine. As with any Chinese festival there were also plenty of firecrackers being set off. The smell of burning incense and pyrotechnics was thick in the air. An event like this can only be appreciated by watching a video. Pictures only tell one part of the story. You can watch a video that I shot last year over at paknam.com.

Many festivals in Thailand like this one don’t get featured in any of the guidebooks. However, often they are more enjoyable and authentic than the ones aimed at tourists. Of course, the problem is finding out about them. For myself, quite often it is by accident that I stumble across a festival that has just started. I also sometimes see them advertised in the Thai media. If you want information about upcoming festivals then visit our Thai Festival Blogs. You can also follow me on Twitter.

New Year Merit Making 2011

Happy New Year 2011! I hope everyone had fun celebrating last night and managed to get safely back home. This time of year is really dangerous on the roads and I prefer to stay at home rather than travel to other provinces. Too many drunk drivers out there. However, the big exodus from Bangkok still went ahead leaving a virtually empty city. I drove into Bangkok yesterday and a 90 minute drive took only 20 minutes. I wish it was like that all the time.

Judging by these photographs, not everyone was nursing hangovers this morning. The main road through Samut Prakan was closed at 6 a.m. for a big merit making ceremony. I was up before sunrise this morning and headed down to the City Pillar for the ceremony. I go every year to take pictures of the Governor for my local newspaper and also for our online news magazine about Samut Prakan. By 7 a.m. there were already over 1,000 people.

This picture shows the Governor of Samut Prakan and his wife making merit by giving alms to the monks. This is a traditional Thai way of bringing yourself good luck for the new year. Merit making events like this one are not easy for the local media as we get less than a minute to get a picture of the Governor before it is all over. Each monk also has a “luk sit” or temple boy, who continually empties his alms bowl into a sack. I think I was lucky to get a clear shot.

Exactly 99 monks from nine local temples were invited to attend the chanting and merit making. Tables had been lined up on both sides of the road and people came early with food and essential supplies to offer to the monks. After the chanting, the Governor of Samut Prakan then gave everyone a blessing for a prosperous new year. Then the 99 monks came out to receive the alms. You can see the temple boys in this picture with their heavy sacks. A lot of alms were collected today.

I have posted more pictures of this merit making event on my Facebook page here.