One of the most popular festivals in the central region of Thailand is the Monkey Festival held annually in Lopburi. The city is about 150 kms north-east of Bangkok and is a convenient stopover on the northern railway line to Chiang Mai. The iconic Khmer ruin in this city is Prang Sam Yot, which was originally a Hindu shrine. However, it is its inhabitants that is of more interest to both local and foreign tourists. In and around the Khmer temple can be found literally hundreds of Crab-Eating Macaques.
Pictures of the 23rd Lopburi Monkey Festival 2011
These days the monkeys are the symbol of the province. Alighting from the train you will see a giant monkey on the platform. Then a short walk north of the station will bring you to Prang Sam Yot and Sarn Phra Karn. All around this area the monkeys are roaming the street almost as if they were teenage gangs. A naughty student at school is often called a “ling”, which is the Thai word for a monkey. That is exactly what they are. If you are not careful they will snatch a bag from your hand or rifle through your backpack.
I saw them jump onto the back of a pick-up truck as it slowed down to go around a corner. They were looking for anything that they could steal. At the next corner they would jump off and scamper up the side of buildings where they will search through the goodies that they had just stolen. If you are walking down these streets, don’t forget to look up as they are perched on window sills and hanging from telephone wires. Local people arms themselves with sticks and slingshots. Some houses also have electric fences around their windows.
The idea of the Monkey Festival, now in its 23rd year, started with a local man called Yongyuth Kitwatananusont. He is the owner of the Lopbui Inn which is where I stayed the night before going to the festival. In front of the hotel there is a large monkey which he has been using as a kind of symbol for many years. Business has been good for both him and other people working in the tourism sector. Recognizing the important role that the monkeys have played in this, he decided one year to lay on a buffet meal for them.
The first Lopburi monkey festival took place on Sunday 25th November 1989. There were 35 Chinese tables set up and covered with an abundance of food. These were placed at three different locations around the city. Phra Prang Sam Yot, City Shrine and Downtown areas populated by the monkeys. Guest of honour that first year was former prime minister M.R. Kukrit Pramoj. The monkeys were naturally stunned to have so much food offered to them in such a free manner. Normally they would have to work for it.
These days, the festival is held around the main Khmer temple. It starts at around 10 a.m. with musical performances and human monkey dances. After the speech by the Governor of Lopburi, the monkeys are then invited down to eat from the buffet tables. Normally when you explore this temple the monkeys are everywhere. But with literally hundreds of tourists standing around the tables, the monkeys were naturally shy. But, they came down eventually and people were able to get the pictures that they wanted.
The festival goes on all day with two more rounds in the afternoon at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. It was good this year to see more foreign tourists than normal. In particular there were quite a few backpackers. I asked some of them how they had heard about this event and they all said from the Internet. That just shows you how things have changed these days with websites being the prime source of news. It was also good to hear that people had come here after reading about the festival on some of my websites such as www.ThaiFestivalBlogs.com and www.ThaiTravelBlogs.com. If you missed the festival and you want to go to the party next year, then I can tell you that it will take place on Sunday 25th November 2012.
One of the biggest events of the year for Chiang Mai is the International Horticultural Exposition Royal Flora 2011. It was originally intended to open during November, but due to the flooding situation in Central Thailand, it was decided to move the event to December. This is not because the site was flooded, the organizers just felt that with rail and bus transport affected, it will be difficult for some people to go. The event will now take place from 14 December 2011 to 14 March 2012.
I visited the expo site last weekend as it is open for preview at the moment for the media and travel agents. It is about 90% finished but already looking very beautiful. The Expo is spread out over an 80-hectare area and features a display of colorful plants and flowers and greenery from Thailand and 30 other countries. The expo is aimed to mark and celebrate the three auspicious occasions – HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 84th birthday anniversary in 2011, Queen Sirikit’s 80th birthday anniversary and Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn’s 60 birthday anniversary in 2012.
Highlights of the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Fair include the Giant Flora Wheel, Imagination Light Gardens and Kids’ Eco Park. The 40-meter high Giant Flora Wheel allows visitors to enjoy the panoramic view of the entire park. The Imagination Light Gardens has millions of lights and luminous butterflies dancing around to the accompaniment of music. The Kid’s Eco Park features exhibitions and fun activities about global warming to help create the nature loving generations.
The Royal Park Ratchaphruek occupies 80 hectares of land in Mae Hia district in the provincial town of Chiang Mai. It is only 8 kilometers from the airport and has ample parking spaces. Tickets can be bought at the expo at 200 Baht for adults and 100 Baht for children. Tickets can be bought for half price from now until 13 December. The admission is free for senior citizens and children under 100-cm tall. For further details please contact the Information Center of the International Horticultural Exposition at Tel: +66 2 610 2011 (every day from 08.30-19.30 hrs.) Website: www.royalflora2011.com
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.
Yesterday marked the official start of the Vegetarian Festival in Thailand. In Samut Prakan it runs from 26th September to 6th October 2011. We went to Thong Siang Vegetarian House in Samut Prakan to watch this opening ceremony. The event was a signal for the nine Gods to come down to earth. Something similar happened all over Thailand. During the following ten days, people will keep a strict vegetarian diet and also obey ten basic rules which will help cleanse their mind and body. The symbol for the festival is a small yellow flag with the words in Thai “jay” which means “vegetarian”. In Thai culture, yellow represents Buddhism and good moral conduct. When looking to buy vegetarian food, we need to look out for the small yellow flags on the foodstalls.
According to legend, the nine Gods come down from heaven to inspect the earth and to record the good and bad deeds of everyone. So, during the festival it is important for Chinese people to be on their best behaviour. Refraining from eating meat means less animals being slaughtered which will gain them some merit. People taking part in the festival will often wear white and will visit their local shrines to pay respect to the spirits. If you want to visit a shrine then you should wear white too out of respect. In addition to not eating meat, strong smelling vegetables cannot be eaten. Such as garlic, onion, spring onion, Chinese chives and Chinese parsley. In Thailand, many popular Thai dishes are replicated by using tofu and extra mushrooms.
These days, it is not only people of Chinese descent that are following the strict vegetarian diet. It is also Thai people and foreigners who are living here in Thailand. Here are the ten rules that you must keep during the festival:
1. Keep your body clean during the nine days of the festival
2. Use special kitchen utensils that have never been used to prepare and cook meat
3. Wear white or yellow during the festival
4. Make your mind pure and mentally calm
5. Do not eat meat or animal products such as milk and butter, and strong smelling ingredients such as garlic and onion
6. No sex
7. No alcoholic drinks or tobacco
8. People who are mourning should not attend the festival
9. Pregnant ladies should not attend any of the ceremonies
10. Ladies who are having a period should not attend any of the ceremonies