Tag Archives: Road Trips

Song Nam Phra during Songkran

One of the more traditional events that took place during Songkran recently was “song nam phra“. This is the practice of bathing Buddha images with rose scented water. Most tourists, and even some Thai teenagers, seem to think that Songkran is only about throwing water at each other. However, it was originally more a bathing of Buddha images and pouring water on the hands of monks and elders. The latter ceremony is called “rod nam dam hua“. Over the years people tend to spend more time playing water fights which is obviously more fun.

I took these pictures at Wat Mahawong in Samut Prakan last week during their annual “song nam phra” ceremony. People came to the temple in their best clothes with their families. Much like they did for the “phra chedi sai” ceremony which I told you about before. They then prepared some rose scented water which they first poured onto a Buddha image. Next they walked down a line of seated monks and carefully poured some water onto their hands. Some people, who were a bit more familiar with the younger monks, poured some colder water down their necks.

I am sure the monks didn’t mind this public bathing. Their chairs were all lined up in the sun and it was extremely hot. In the shade it reached a scorching 39 degrees Celsius that day. Once the lay people had finished pouring water on the monks, they then had some fun splashing water on each other. This is basically where the water fights started. In the old days, it was mainly restricted to the temples. Now it is on all the streets and no-one is safe from the roaming pick-up trucks armed to the teeth with barrels of water and powerful water guns.

I am glad that Songkran is finally over. For us in Samut Prakan it lasted seven days. After the final day I decided that it was finally safe to go and get my car washed. During the week there was no point as it was often smeared with white paste. I can now also walk down the street without having to keep looking over my shoulder. Not that I am walking around outside much at the moment. It is so hot here in Thailand. At least with Songkran there is plenty of water being thrown around if you don’t mind getting wet. I have written quite a few stories about Songkran in Samut Prakan. You can find them all in the Festivals in Samut Prakan section of our local website www.Paknam.com.

Sand Pagodas at Songkran

The Songkran Festival in Thailand is not all about water splashing and having fun. Thai people also take time out to visit their local temples to make merit and also to pour rose scented water over the hands of their elders. They do this in order to receive a blessing and good luck for the new year. Some families also go to their local temple to pray and make merit for dead ancestors. The ashes of these ancestors are often contained in miniature “chedis” which are like upturned handbells. This afternoon I went to visit Wat Chaimongkol in Samut Prakan where they were taking part in an activity called “phra chedi sai” or Sand Pagodas in English.

This is an activity for all the family to enjoy. According to local tradition, at this time of year, people bring back bowls of sand to the temple which they may have inadvertently carried away on the bottom of their shoes. They would then use this sand to build miniature pagodas in the temple compound. Over the years this has evolved as it is no longer practical for townspeople to find sand to bring to the temple. So, the temple now orders sand b ythe truckload and the monks prepare everything by making equal piles of sand in an open space in the temple. They also prepare for the local people candles, joss sticks, flowers and flags. They will then “buy” these by giving the temple a donation. By doing so they are making merit.

The size and style of each chedi is really up to the individuals. Some have very basic designs with little thought apart from the need to make merit. However, others pull out all the stops to produce a dazzlingly beautiful and unique chedi adorned with beautiful flowers and colourful pebbles. The competition seems to be fierce at times with some families doing their best to outdo their neighbours. Coins are often buried in the chedi for good luck. Once finished, all of the family members will light joss sticks and then squat down to say a short prayer. The pagoda is then sprayed with scented water. The paper banknotes are later given to the temple as part of the merit making.

Many temples all around Thailand celebrate this form of merit making at this time of the year. One of my favourite places is Bangsaen in Chonburi, where they build giant pagodas and other designs along the beachfront. This year it is taking place on 16th-17th April 2009. I will be going down on Friday to take some pictures and I will share these with you later at www.thai-blogs.com. Songkran is not actually over yet. The people of Phra Pradaeng will celebrate this weekend. More information and pictures about Songkran in Samut Prakan can be found at our website www.Paknam.com which we has been online now for ten years.

Songkran at School

In Thailand at the moment it is the summer holidays for school students. At Sriwittayapaknam School in Samut Prakan they have just come to the end of Summer School. Next week marks the start of the Songkran Festival which is the start of the traditional Thai new year. As it is the hottest time of the year, young people like to have some fun by taking part in water fights during the three day Songkran Festival.

Traditionally, Thai people pour rose scented water over Buddha images and the hands of elders and monks. They do this in order to receive a blessing and also good luck for the new year.

Thai people also go to the temple to make merit by offering food to the monks and taking part in activities such as “chedi sai” where they build stupas out of sand.

The school invited monks from a local temple so that the students and their parents could make merit. But, the highlight for most of the students were the water fights that they took part in afterwards. Everyone had fun splashing water. This will now be a daily occurrence for the next four or five days.

Road Trip from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket via Krabi

“Are you sure you could drive all the way from KL to Phuket?” Many friends thought I was insane to ever think of taking such a long overland trip. “It’s the journey and not only the destination that counts. If you take a flight, you will miss out a lot of scenery and the fun. It’s like life, you don’t want to reach your END destination too soon” I retorted.

I have been planning to visit Phuket during the Vegetarian festival for years but the trip never materialize due to work commitment. With another week or 2 to go before I start another 2-year contract with a Bank, I manage to convince my wife and a friend, Kenny’s and his wife to drive to Phuket from KL during the long Idul Fitri holdays. Kenny and I have driven from Phuket to Ranong before and we are comfortable with driving in Thailand.

1 October, Kuala Lumpur – Krabi
We left KL on at an ungodly hour of 2:15 AM hoping to arrive at the Sadao immigration at 9:00 AM before the crowd built up. Our Malaysian-made 1.6 Proton Gen2 sedan did quite well despite of unrelenting rains along the PLUS highway.

Surprisingly, the border was not crowded despite of the holiday season. The Thai Immigration officers in Sadao have the notorious reputation of asking for “overtime charges” of 10 bahts or 1 Malaysian Ringgit from each visitors entering and leaving the Kingdom. My usual response is to use my thumb and point to the back. Not that I don’t believe in Dana, but paying a bribe is a totally different matter. There are runners for Immigration officers to help some impatient tourist to stamp their passport at 100 bahts.

The rain stopped chasing us after crossing the Thai border and with day beak driving became a breeze. Our plan was to stop at Krabi for a night before moving on to Phuket. Although I have been to Krabi, the rest have not. It was no mistake to drive to Krabi. We stopped at Tesco-Lotus just before Krabi town for MK suki lunch. Met a friend from Malaysia with his elder brother who is a Thai national for more than 30 years and he owns and operates a factory.

In my previous trip, the Minivan took me straight to AoNang beach bypassing the town. With a car, I can drive to other beaches and the town and market. My previous impression on Krabi was entirely formed in AoNang beach and I had ill-advised my friends before about Krabi. That reminds me of The Blind Men and the Elephant by American poet John Godfrey Saxe. Kenny could not stop laughing at me for telling him that Krabi is just a small beach town with a few streets before the journey.

Krabi Town & MarketWe stayed in Ao Nang beach Resort http://www.aonangbeach.com/aonang_beach.html The small bill board says that the rate is 700 Bahts. It is just another scam to get tourists in first and the boss will talk you into going for a deluxe and more expensive room. And if you insist, then she will show you a small room. We settled at 800 bahts per night for a deluxe room with breakfast for 2 thrown in.

The hotel is quite convenient as it along the beach. The air conditioner and breakfast were letdowns though. After dinner, we took a stroll before going for a foot reflexology massage. Met a chatty Malaysian by the first name of Michael from the Northern state of Kedah who told me about how Malaysia lost millions of foreign exchange to Thailand as the border states male will head for the border town of Sadao or Haadyai every weekends to spend their hard-earned money. I guess he is speaking the truth based on his own experience.

2 October, Krabi – Phuket
I am an early riser, perhaps due to age. In the morning while sauntering along the main road facing the beach, I found 2 Malaysian tour buses parked in one of the hotel. Chatted with the driver and got some contacts for information.

Back to Hotel and had breakfast with my travel mates. The buffet breakfast is just OK. Chatted with 2 Indonesian tourists who stayed in the same hotel. My Indonesian language is getting bad since my sojourn in Jakarta in 1996. Tanned on all the exposed parts of their body, these 2 gentlemen and heading for island snorkeling after breakfast.

The drive to Phuket was as uneventful as the drive to Krabi. On the way, there are temples having vegetarian festival celebration. I took some photos of the festivity in one of our stops.

As I had been to Phuket about 2 weeks just after the Tsunami devastation, I gave some first-hand account to my mates of devastation and where the bodies are kept near the Wat.

The Chinese restaurant in town that I used to patronize was closed for vegetarian festivals so we headed for Patong beaches for lunch and accommodation. Stayed in Sand Inn at 700 Bahts sans breakfast. The place is convenient but the noise and pollution can be quite bad. http://www.channels.nl/27060b.html Sand Inn is just next to the complex that houses Carrefour and Robinson. The ladies had endless fun looking for bargains. A bar nearby in the opposite soi was serving all brands of small bottle beers at 60 Bahts. With beer bottles in their hands, most customers are sitting and watching endless herd of tourists passing by. There were some VIP visiting with TV coverage and some of us were caught shaking hands with the VIP.

3 October, Phuket – Trang
As breakfast was NOT included in Sand Inn stay, we headed for Karon beach and hope to grab something to eat along the beach. In one of the hotel, we had Buffet breakfast at 200 Bahts per head. The quiet Karon beach was quite an experience and a welcome change.

While we were in Krabi, I was told that Trang has second largest vegetarian festival after Phuket (Those in ChiangMai will dispute), so we took a slight detour to visit Trang. Although I have been to Trang 2 times, I did not visit Rachada Khaw Sim Bee Na Ranong memorial park in Trang. Khaw Sim Bee Na Ranong, the governor of Trang, was the son of Khaw Soo Cheang Na Ranong who was the founder and governor of Ranong. You can read my blog on Ranong and Khaw Soo Cheang in http://www.thai-blogs.com/index.php/2005/08/10/ranong_aamp_victoria_point?blog=23

Khaw Sim Bee Na Ranong was responsible for bringing in rubber from British Penang into Trang. I have a friend in Trang whose family owned many rubber estates. The family were from Perak in Malaya and they were not allowed to own land due to race-based restriction, so they moved to Thailand and made it good in Trang. By the way, there is a small road in Penang known as “Khaw Sim Bee Road”. You can read more about him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratsadanupradit_Mahison_Phakdi

4-5 October, Haadyai – Kuala Lumpur
There were NOT much to see in Haadyai although the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has put in a lot of effort to revive the tourism industry. I was told by my Tour agency friends that TAT has spent 4 Million bahts to spice up the Vegetarian festival for the tourist. The procession is held twice a day when I was there. Once in the morning and one in the evening.

The evidence that this festival has Hindu influenceEat-shop-Massage-eat-drink-sleep is about all you will do in Haadyai.

Expecting a huge crowd at the border crossing, we left immediately after breakfast for the border. The drive back to KL was intermittently slowed down by accidents along the PLUS highway. After stopping at Kenny’s home town for a Chinese dinner, we arrived safely at around 7:00PM in KL.

Songkran Pictures at Phra Pradaeng

Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year. The true dates vary every year as they are set by the movement of the stars but are usually between 13th and 16th April. However, the Thai government have now fixed the start of Songkran as 13th April. This usually then lasts for three to five days depending on where you are in the country. The Mon people, in areas like Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan and Chonburi, celebrate Songkran a week later than the rest of the county. They had their celebrations this weekend. This afternoon I crossed the river to Phra Pradaeng to watch the Songkran parade. This picture above is of Nang Songkran, the winner of the beauty contest that I went to watch on Friday.

This was my second visit to watch the parade. This time I drove to Wat Protket Chettharam in Phra Pradaeng much earlier. Last time I did manage to arrive before the parade but they had already blocked the road. So I had to walk the remaining 800 metres. As a consequence I got a bit wet. This time I had a better plan of action. I arrived two hours before the parade and just relaxed by the canal in the relative safety of the temple. From here I could see the bridge and the passing pick-up trucks with the water throwers on the back. In the end the parade didn’t arrive for nearly three hours. At 4 p.m. I could hear the marching band faintly on the wind. As there was no longer any traffic on the road above me I decided to go and wait on the bridge. It was nearly another hour before they arrived. The parade started at the city hall which is a fair walk. Luckily I didn’t get wet while I was waiting. A few people did ask me if they could wipe wet powder on my face but I declined their offer. I knew from experience that this would then mark me out as fair game to anyone with a bucket of icy cold water.

It would be fair to say that the Phra Pradaeng Songkran Parade is quite a major event. Much larger than the one I went to watch at the Samut Prakan city hall last week. Actually, two of the floats from that parade were here today including Nang Songkran Samut Prakan. This is her picture above. In total there were about twenty major floats all of which were colourfully decorated. Many of them also had beautiful young Thai ladies on them.

As well as the floats, there were also various marching bands, both traditional and modern. Then there were the parades of people from each of the districts in Phra Pradaeng. Many of them were either carrying bowls of fish or birds in cages. It is a Mon tradition to release birds and fish during Songkran in order to make merit. Over the years, the Thai people have also adopted this tradition as their own.

The climax of the parade takes at Wat Protket Chettharam where I had parked my car. This is basically a photo opportunity as it is such a beautiful backdrop with people wearing traditional Thai costumes. However, they are indeed making merit by releasing the fish in the temple pond and also the birds into the air. In this picture is the governor of Samut Prakan (wearing the ghastly green sarong) and other local officials and representatives of government. In the front row you can see Nang Songkan wearing the red sash in the center together with the runner’s up. I have posted some more pictures at thailandqa.com.