Tag Archives: mon

Mon Cultural Festival in Thailand

Last weekend, I was very happy to be able to go to the Mon Festival at Wat Ban Rai Charoenpol temple in Samut Sakhon. People of Mon descent came together from all over the country to celebrate their heritage and also to promote the use of the Mon language which is in danger of dying out. The Mon people are an ethnic minority in South-East Asia. They originally came from Southern Burma where they were once rulers of their own kingdom. Due to persecution and wars, they have fled their homeland and can be found in neighbouring countries. Thailand, due to its juxtaposition to Burma, is a poplar destination. It is estimated that 30 provinces around Thailand have Mon communities. Many of them seem to be in the Phra Phradaeng District of Samut Prakan, Pak Kret district in Nonthaburi and Samut Sakhon Province. In the latter province, there are believed to be 200,000 migrant workers from Burma of which 70-80% are ethnic Mons.

The cultural festival started with a Swan and Centipede Parade similar to the one I have written about before in Phra Pradaeng during Songkran. The parade reminds the Mon people of their homeland. According to legend, Buddha once went to Burma where he saw two swans swimming next to an island. He named this land Hongsawadee. Over the years the island expanded and eventually the Mon people settled there. The word “hongsa” means swan. The Buddha also predicted that Buddhism would prosper here. In fact, the Mon people are credited with bringing Theravada Buddhism to Thailand as well as many other cultural activities. The Centipede Flag represents that Buddha’s teaching. The claws of the centipede show that the Mon people will never be afraid of their enemies. The Centipede Flag is often hung on the Swan Pole in Mon temples.

As well as the parade, there were demonstrations of Mon culture as well as their food. This annual festival was probably more subdued compared to past years. This is mainly due to the persecution by local authorities of the ethnic minorities. The following letter from the Governor of Samut Sakhon highlights the feelings of local government regarding the Mon people:

To: Office of Employment of Samut Sakhon province and employers of all factories.

We now have many foreign workers from Burma, Laos and Cambodia who have come to work in factories in Samut Sakhon province, both legally and illegally. These people have created problems that could affect the foreign worker community and their employment conditions. Many of these Burmese workers are living together in one place and they create problems that affect their health, their dependants, their children not having Thai citizenship. They also have criminal problems, and problems where they do not follow Thai law.

They are also now trying to organise cultural performances at social occasions and fairs, which is not suitable. These activities should not be supported because it will make the community feel that these people are the owners of the community, and it could also create security problems. Also, it is contradictory to the government’s objective for them to be just temporary workers. Hence we would like to ask every place of employment and factory to control and monitor foreign workers under their responsibility, to check if they behave and work strictly according to the law. If they violate the law, they will be seriously punished. We should not allow them to organise cultural ceremonies at all.

Please be informed and follow these regulations accordingly.

Respectfully yours,
Veerayuth Yeamampar
Governor of Samut Sakhon Province
Provincial Administration Office

What he doesn’t realize is how much of the Mon culture has already been integrated into Thai culture. So much so, sometimes it is hard to differentiate between the two. Personally I think the Mon culture is fascinating and that it should be preserved as a living culture and language. For Thai people, it should remind them of their own cultural heritage. I have uploaded video clips taken at this festival to the Paknam Web Forums. You will also find newspaper clippings about the festival.

A Trip to Koh Kret

A long-tailed boat

Just close your eyes and pray!

A few days back I was telling you about my recent trip upriver from Bangkok to Nonthaburi Province by public boat. My intention was not to just view the scenery but also to make my way up to an island called Koh Kret. I had heard about this place for several years now and wanted to go and visit for myself. It sounded mysterious. An island in the middle of the Chao Phraya River? How could that be? I tried to do some research but most of my guidebooks barely gave the place more than a paragraph worth of coverage. As I was in Bangkok I was tempted to join a tour. I don’t normally like doing that kind of thing as I prefer to go my own pace. But, sometimes it is beneficial as they can not only save you time and money but they will also take you directly to the places of interest. However, the two companies that were running tours seemed to run only at the weekend. We were in Bangkok on a week day. So, we decided we would make our own way up there.

The first part of our trip was from Bangkok to Nonthaburi on a public express boat. This lasted about 80 minutes but cost only 13 baht each. The tour companies were charging 250–300 baht per person. So far so good. When we arrived at the end of the line we knew from our map that we still had another 20 minutes to go. The conductor on the boat suggested we should take a mini van to Pakred Market and from there a local ferry boat across the river to Koh Kret. The van was advertised as 10 baht and the ferry probably would have been only a few baht.

Wat Paramaiyikawas

Wat Paramaiyikawas on Koh Kret

While we were deciding we were approached by a long-tailed boat driver. (The boat has a long tail and not the driver!) He showed us a leaflet detailing the places he would take us on a tour of Koh Kret. He pointed out all the stops on the map and said that the trip would last about three hours in total. The price? For a minimum of eight people the leaflet said it would cost 100 baht each. As there were only two of us, he said he would do it for only 600 baht. Basically the same price as the group tour though we would have our own driver. We told him that we felt it was a bit expensive and asked for 500 baht. He said he couldn’t.

After a little contemplation we decided we would hire his boat. Like I said before, I hadn’t been able to do much research so to be honest I didn’t really know what there was to see, let alone how to get to each place! Koh Kret wasn’t supposed to be a big island. In fact you could walk around it in about 2 hours or so. There were no roads on the island, just narrow paths. The only means of transport are the motorcycle taxis. Great if you know where to ask to go on the island.

Actually, Koh Kret isn’t really a proper island. A canal was built back in 1722 in order to bypass a large bend in the river. The king at that time was trying to save on sailing time for ships heading up to the then capital in Ayutthaya. The tide soon changed direction and the little canal became a raging river. The Mon villagers, who live there now, are very isolated, and up to now, their unique lifestyle has remained intact. The Mon people are famous for their potteries and Thai desserts.

Wat Phai Lom

Wat Phai Lom on Koh Kret

Our first stop was at Wat Paramaiyikawas. This could be found at the top right-hand corner of the island. A prominent feature is the stupa that is leaning out towards the river. The temple was built in Mon style about 200 years ago. Inside we found a large Reclining Buddha. In the temple grounds there is also a museum though unfortunately it only opens in the afternoon.  From here we walked along the northern side of the island a short distance to another temple. This one was called Wat Phai Lom and was built in 1770. Like the previous temple, this was also done in Mon style and was stunningly beautiful. After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, King Taksin gave permission for the Mon people to live here as a reward for fighting bravely against the Burmese. As you can see from these pictures, the style of temples are very different to the standard Thai temple.


Our boat driver told us that we should keep walking along the path to a pottery village. He told us that he would meet us a short way down. Looking around, you could see how commercial this place had become. It was all geared up for the tourists that come at the weekend. On weekdays the place is very quiet and many shops were closed. But, we did manage to see some potters at work. With hardly anyone around it did look authentic but I guess if you came at the weekend you would see that the whole place has been set up for the tourists.

As we walked back to the boat to continue our journey around the island, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between this place and another Mon community in Phra Phradaeng that had also been isolated inside a loop in the river. I have written several times before about Bangkrachao and the other communities in the loop. Despite being so close to Bangkok they still continue to live their very unique lifestyles. However, their “island” is big enough not to be so affected by tourism. You do see Bike tours there but there are many roads and local people cannot really take advantage of these passing tourists. However, on Koh Kret, there is basically only one track and so it was starting to look like that every house had set up some kind of shop.

Edible Flowers

A local speciality – deepfried flowers!

Back on the boat we continued our trip around the island. The driver was actually quite good as every time he saw me raise my camera to my eye he would slow down. He had obviously done this before. A short while later he took us to a shop to watch a demonstration of how to make traditional Thai desserts. This was a bit touristy and reminded me of those tours where they stopped at factories on the way back for you to see “free demonstrations” before being herded through the shop. I didn’t mind so much as we didn’t have to buy anything. After this he took us to another temple where people were feeding hundreds of giant fish in the river.

Just over three hours later we finally made it back to our starting point in Nonthaburi. It had been a good boat trip. I am not sure if we had got our money’s worth but it had indeed been a good and easy introduction to the lifestyle of the Mon people. I am pretty sure I will come here again. Maybe not this year though, as it was quite an effort to get here. But, if I go again, I would take public transport all the way. I would then take the time to walk around the island on foot in order to better appreciate what it has to offer.

If you are planning on going yourself, I would suggest you go by public transport which shouldn’t cost you more than 50 baht there and back. If your time is limited you don’t need to explore the whole island. Just visit some of the places along the northern edge.

More information and pictures at Bangkok-Daytrips.com >>>

(On the next page I have put a map of the island to help you…)

Sakla Fishing Village

I really like it when new people come to visit me. Especially when they say to you “Let’s go somewhere you haven’t been to before. Let’s go somewhere that’s off the map!” So, that is what we did today. We got into the car, just after lunch-time, and crossed the river by car ferry. We then drove down south towards Chulalongkorn Fort (point 1 on map below) which is on the Gulf of Thailand. I wasn’t going to the fort today as I had been there many times.

What I wanted to do was to try and hire a boat (point 2) and head along a canal and out to the coast (point 3). As you can see on this map, there is a large area with no road access at all. In some areas, the tide has started to come in and some temples are now completely surrounded by the sea. You can only get to these villages by boat. I found someone who would rent us a boat for 500 baht but he said we wouldn’t be able to get all the way to the coast as it was low tide. We should have come in the morning. So, we changed our plans and decided to visit Sakla Village instead (point 4). I will do the boat trip another day.

On the map book in my car, the road is marked as only going half way. So, obviously it has only recently been paved. This fishing village is in the middle of no-where. Literally. I don’t think you would find many tourists coming this way. It is a shame because they would miss out on witnessing a lifestyle which is rapidly disappearing in urban Thailand. The main occupation of these people is fishing and the selling of produce such as shrimp paste and dried shrimp. Families have been living here for hundreds of years, since before the Ayutthaya period. Their dialect is similar to the Mons and they have their own unique culture and customs.

The shops and houses are built close to each other on the banks of the river and its branches. We walked down the narrow paths alongside the rivers for a while before crossing a bridge to visit Wat Sakhla. This temple has a unique looking prang which leans alarmingly to the left. A bit like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is supposed to be several hundreds years old and built of wood. The main Buddha image is very highly revered. They apparently have a festival celebrating it at the end of the year. Maybe I will try and come back for that.

That was a good trip today. I think I should try and make an effort to visit one or two new places every month. I am sure there is a lot more to see in Samut Prakan. The Tourist Authority is presently running a campaign for Unseen Thailand. Let’s see if I can find some more places that tourists don’t often get to see.

Phra Pradaeng Songkran Festival

Just when I thought it was safe to wash the car and hang up the wet water gear….! I took the above picture this afternoon in Phra Pradaeng, a district in Western Samut Prakan. No, it wasn’t the results of a time warp. For some peculiar reason, the people of Phra Pradaeng, who are mainly the descendents of the Mon people from Burma, decided to celebrate Songkran one week later than the rest of the country!

Traditional Game of Saba

I first crossed the river in the car ferry last night to enjoy the fun of the fair. As usual, there was plenty of food to sample so I had made sure that I was really hungry before I went. Apart from the Thai food, the main reason I was going to the fair was to witness the traditional game of Saba (see pictures above). It is very hard to explain the rules of this game. All I can say is that it is a kind of courting game. The young men place a small discus on their foot and then have to approach the maiden of their choice. Once they are about five feet away, they flick their foot so that the discus knocks over a token in front of their maiden.

Songkran Parade

This afternoon, I again drove back to Phra Pradaeng, this time to take photographs of the parade and also the traditional practice of releasing birds and fish. I had seen pictures of this beautiful event in the newspapers but this would be my first time of actually going there. Although the parade wasn’t due to start until 3.30 p.m., I left home shortly after mid-day. I had already heard that all of the roads along the waterfront were closed in the morning so it would have been impossible for me to cross by car ferry like I did last night. So, I took the expressway into Bangkok and crossed the river on the Rama IX bridge. After leaving the bridge, the first turning on the left took me onto Suksawat Road which leads through Phra Pradaeng.

Straight away I was in a traffic jam of pick-up trucks with Songkran revelers on the back. The going would be a lot slower than I had planned although I still had another two hours. I know I could have crossed the river on a passenger ferry, but I would be entering relatively unknown territory. Although the parade would start by the river, it would end up at Protket Chettharam Temple a fair distance away. This is where they would be releasing the birds and fish and so I wanted to try and position myself near that temple in order to be able to take pictures of the parade as well.

After about 45 minutes of slow crawling I noticed a sign in Thai about a short-cut to Ratburana Road. As this was near my destination I decided to take it. Maybe I should point out at this stage, I am not very familiar with Phra Pradaeng. I was basically following my nose and the crowd. I didn’t know how near the temple I would be able to get. I knew I would be very lucky to get all the way. As it was taking so long I was getting worried that I would be stuck in a traffic jam as the parade passed by.

About an hour or so later I had reached as far as I could go. The police had blocked the final 800 metres to the temple. I turned the corner and found myself somewhere to park. I had already resigned myself that eventually I would have to leave the safety of the car. I had come prepared with plastic bags for both my camera and mobile phone. I took a deep breadth and got out of the car. I stepped into complete mayhem. Within seconds I was drenched in water. At least they said “Happy Songkran” in English. Very polite. I kept walking. More water, iced this time. Then some white powder on my face.

Finally I reached the sanctuary of the temple. No waterfights here. I took a look around the temple in order to work out the best place to take pictures later. In one section of the temple, there was a building completely surrounded by water. I recongized this from the newspaper. This is where they would release the birds and fish. I stayed there for a while and then headed back along the main road to a bridge where I waited for the parade with a large group of other people.

At last the parade was in sight. They had turned the corner and they were heading straight for us. I could already see the first float which was beautifully decorated. I knew that in all there would be 20 of these floats taking part in the procession. I imagined that would take quite a bit of time to pass us by.

On most of the floats there were beautiful young ladies dressed in traditional Mon, or Raman, costume. There were also men who wore a sarong with a round-necked shirt and a colourful sash.

In-between each float there were marching bands and also more beautiful girls in traditional dress. These ones were carrying bird cages and fish bowls. There were hundreds of them. I presumed all of them would be heading towards the temple in order to make merit by releasing them into the wild.

If you had read my blog a week or so ago about the origins of Songkran, you would have remembered the story I told about Kabil Maha Phrom who had his head cut off during a wager. He had seven daughters, each one a goddess and representing a day of the week. The winner of Miss Songkran last year can be seen holding the severed head of Kabil Maha Phrom which is meant to bring good luck to all of mankind. As they dismounted from their float, I followed them to the temple. I knew the winner of Miss Songkran for this year would be coming soon and I didn’t want to miss the photo opportunity.

And here she is in green. The photographs above and below are the main reason I came today. This is a classic photo which I have seen many times. In the above picture, the winner and runners-up of Miss Songkran are releasing the fish into the pond. In the picture below, you can see the administrators from Phra Pradaeng about to release the birds. A very beautiful scene and I was very glad that I had come. The only thing left for me now was to carefully put away my camera in the plastic bag and then run the gauntlet back to the car. Actually, I didn’t run. I just kept walking. I almost made it too. However, right at the last minute, someone poured a large bucket of iced water down my neck! Very nice. I think I will try and come next year. But, next time I will try and park nearer to the temple!