Samut Prakan will soon find themselves with a new tourist attraction which will tower over all others that we have now. Literally. The Samut Prakan Observation Tower will be 179.55 meters tall and there should be quite a view from the top floor. The tower is expected to be opened to the public by 2015 with free admission.
The other day, Samut Prakan Governor and the Chairman of the Provincial Administration Organization presided over a blessing ceremony of the foundation stone. This was done at an auspicious time by monks and Brahmin priests in order to make sure that the building of the tower goes ahead with no hitches.
The Samut Prakan Observation Tower is being built on the site of the Old Paknam prison. It’s not far from the City Hall and the Chao Phraya River. In total there will be four levels: a Children’s Museum, Samut Prakan Museum, Educational Library and a Viewing Platform. From the top we should be able to see north towards Bangkok and south towards the Gulf of Thailand.
Visit my other blogs at www.RichardBarrow.com for some pictures of what the view will be like. I have also posted some more pictures in the Samut Prakan Facebook page.
Today, people from all around the country are coming together to celebrate the 84th birthday of H.M. The King. Many of them are wearing pink which is an auspicious colour believed to help make the King better. The Thai monarch has been in Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok for several years now. About 1,000 well-wishers gathered at the City Hall Plaza in Samut Prakan to give alms to 99 monks in honour of His Majesty.
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The ceremony was opened by Wanida Bunprakhong, the new Governor of Samut Prakan. She first paid homage to a Buddha image and then took part in chanting. Attending the event were many local government officials who all came together to pay homage to His Majesty. A similar event was being held at the same time all around Thailand. H.M. The King is regarded as a father to all Thai people as they love him so much. This day is also celebrated as National Father’s Day.
After the chanting had finished, the Governor led the local people in giving alms to several hundred monks. Tables had been set up around the parade ground and local people had gathered behind them since early morning. They did this to make merit on behalf of H.M. The King. To make the most merit, the food should have been prepared by themselves before they arrived and not bought at a food stall. Leftovers from the night before must never be given to monks.
The local people stood behind the tables as the monks slowly made their way down the row. People were giving fresh food as well as pre-prepared packages such as pot noodles that you can see in this picture. As some of these items were too big for the alms bowls, each of the monks were assisted by temple boys who carried big sacks. The monk then emptied their bowls into these sacks. By the end of the alms giving event, the pick-up trucks from the temples were full with sacks of food. Local people also gave the monks purple orchid flowers and also envelopes containing money.
After the alms giving had finished, Wanida Bunprakhong and local people made merit for H.M. The King by releasing 1,000,000 sea creatures into the Chao Phraya River. This is a common event done to make merit for birthdays. People usually release birds or fish. I thought that 1,000,000 was a staggering number to release in one go, but it turned out to be very small shrimps. These were in plastic bags which people emptied out into a large tub of water. From this there was a pipe which washed the shrimps out into the river below. This evening, Wanida Bunprakhong will lead the local people to light candles to wish the monarch a happy birthday.
The Vegetarian Festival has now reached its seventh day in Samut Prakan. Last night, many devotees went to the City Hall Plaza to float krathongs on the Chao Phraya River. This was done as a kind of invitiation to the dead souls to come to a feast on the following day.
This is what happened today at Rong Jay Thong Siang in Taiban. Hundreds of local people came to the VegetarianHouse to offer food first to their own dead ancestors and then to all the dead souls.
In addition, they bought a food package consisting of a bag of rice and bananas. These were then later distributed to the poor. The Vegetarian Festival finishes on Thursday 6th October with a giant parade through town early in the morning.
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Everyone knows about Loy Krathong that happens on the full moon in November. However, not many people know that we have another Loy Krathong in October. The phrase “loy krathong” means to float a bowl shaped container. It is not a festival like Christmas which celebrates a particular event. You can actually float a krathong at any time of the year. The annual event I went to tonight was called “Loy Krathong Jay” and is part of the ten day Vegetarian Festival that we are having in Thailand at the moment. The ceremony started at Rong Jay Thong Sian, near Taiban Circle in Paknam, and then all the participants walked all the way down to the Chao Phraya River at the City Hall Plaza. They were accompanied with musical instruments for their fifteen minute walk through the town.
We were lucky with the rain this year as it stopped shortly before the ceremony was due to start. A table was set up with candles and a food offering for the ancestors. Three monks led the chanting. The idea behind this ceremony is to change your misfortune and to float away your bad luck on the krathongs. But, this ceremony was also held to transfer this merit to the dead souls in the water and on earth. Each krathong had incense sticks which were lit before it was floated on the water. One horse-shaped krathong was also set on fire which is a common thing in Chinese ceremonies to pass merit onto dead ancestors.
The whole ceremony was over within 15 minutes. After the last krathong had been floated on the water, everyone then set off for the walk back to the Chinese temple. We are now more than half way through the Vegetarian Festival. There are more ceremonies to make merit for ancestors. On the last day, Thursday 6th October 2011, there will be a big parade through the town. I will be bringing you pictures of this parade next week. I have also posted some pictures of the vegetarian food that I have been eating over at www.ThaiFoodPhotos.com. More pictures from tonight can be seen on my facebook page.
One of the oldest markets in Thailand that is still operating is the Bang Phli Riverside Market in Samut Prakan. It was first started by Chinese traders back in the 1850′s. This now makes it older than 150 years. The original name for the market is “Talad Siri Sopon”. It is situated along the Samrong Canal which used to be a major trading route between the Chao Phraya River and Chachoengsao. I visited Bang Phli this morning for the launch of their Old Market Fair which will run every weekend between now and 2nd October 2011.
The market consists of wooden two storey shop houses along the northern bank of the canal. The market stretches for about 500 meters along two sections which is broken up by a bridge. You can gain access to the market from Wat Bang Phli Yai Klang. There are shops along the entire length which are selling a diversity of old and new products. When I first visited this riverside market they were mainly selling items for local people. These were practical things like household items and school clothes. However, there is now more of a variety and shops selling items that are of interest to tourists. However, it still maintains its unique charm and beauty.
If you come and visit this market now, you will have a good opportunity to see the traditional way of life of the Bang Phli people living along the canal. Every weekend there will be special activities that include folk plays, sea boxing, boat tours, traditional sword fighting and of course local food. In fact, I think the variety of food on offer is one of the highlights of the market. The market runs throughout the year but they always have special activities during September in the run up to the Rub Bua Festival. The boat tours exploring the local canals also also run for the whole year.
I am very impressed in how the local people have gone about conserving the local market and also restoring the local traditions and customs to their former glory. They have certainly gone to a lot of effort. If you are in the area now then I do strongly urge you to go and visit Bang Phli and this market fair. Also make sure that you pay a visit to their local museum which is situated in the market. Although most of the displays are in Thai, there are plenty of pictures to view as well as scale models. At present the market doesn’t get many foreign tourists so this is the best time to come.
I have posted more pictures over at my Facebook Page.