Quite a few people, Thais included, didn’t believe me when I said that I was going down to the city hall in Samut Prakan to take pictures of the Loy Krathong ceremony. “But, Loy Krathong isn’t until next month!”, they said. “Are you crazy?” 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 last night 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 Rongjae, near Taiban Circle in Paknam, and then all the participants walked all the way down to the Chao Phraya River at the city hall. They were accompanied with musical instruments for their fifteen minute walk through the town. This wasn’t the main parade for the festival and so I waited at the city hall for them to arrive.
There was a steady drizzle of rain as everyone huddled together on mats, sheltered by a scattering of umbrellas. A table was set up with candles and a food offering for the ancestors. Five 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, Wednesday 8th October 2008, there will be a big parade through the town. I will be bringing you pictures of this parade next week. Now it is time for me to go down to Racha Market to buy some vegetarian food. I am actually surviving quite well on this vegan diet. I am pretty confident that I can make it for the full ten days.
As it is the Vegetarian Festival in Thailand this week, I thought I would share with you pictures of our vegetarian meal today. We are all eating meals for ten days that don’t have any meat, fish or animal products. This first one looks like our old favourite “moo krapao” which is minced beef and basil. However, this version is cooked with tofu, shaped to look like minced pork. It is called “pad krapao jay rat khao”.
The second dish is another of our favourites. But, it isn’t “som tum tai” even though it may look like it. It is missing three main ingredients, fried shrimp, fish sauce and garlic. It tastes alright, but obviously not the same.
The next one is the famous “laab”. However, this one has no meat and is called spicy chopped mushroom and fried tofu.
The next dish is fried egg plant with sweet basil leaves.
This one is called “gra poh pla jay” though there is no fish in this one. Main ingredients, other than tofu, are mushrooms, bamboo shoots and carrots.
The final is our dessert. It is called “khanom pang na maprao jae” which is basically shredded coconut on bread. There will be another selection next week. All of these vegetarian dishes were bought at Racha Market in Paknam, Samut Prakan. The market opens fully at 4 p.m. I will be going back there soon to choose my meal for this evening. Another five days to go of vegan meals.
The annual Vegetarian Festival in Thailand (known as the Gin Jay Festival) is now in full swing. It started with the raising of a pole at Chinese temples around the country which signaled the nine gods to come down to earth. In Samut Prakan, the festival will run for ten days from 29th September to 8th October 2009. In other parts of the country it will run for nine days and nights. The dates are different each year as they are set by the phases of the moon. Most of the attention is on the events happening in Phuket, but really you will find that Chinese communities all around Thailand will be celebrating the Vegetarian Festival at this time. The main venue in Samut Prakan city is at Rongjae Thongsiang near Taiban Circle. That is where I went last night. But first, I went to eat at Taiban Circle where there were dozens of food stalls selling vegetarian food. These roadside vendors are easy to spot as they fly yellow flags with the Thai words “jay” written in red letters. Most of my favourite stalls had gone vegetarian with special versions of pad thai and red curry. I had a dish that looked very much like minced pork fried with basil and chili but the vendor assured me it was 100% “jay”.
Every evening for the ten day festival there is a special ceremony at Rongjae starting at 7 p.m. when I turned up there were about 150 people already sitting down and chanting in a large hall. At the front were about five monks leading the ceremony. I was actually expecting more people because out on the street that there were literally hundreds of people either eating the vegetarian food or waiting for take-away. I was a bit nervous about going in as I don’t normally visit Chinese shrines. At the doorway, two lay people motioned that I should put on a white cloak which was the kind of thing that doctors wore. I hadn’t come wearing white as I didn’t think it would be so strict for observers. Luckily, I was also wearing my white jacket and so I asked if it was alright if I just zipped that up. As I was also wearing grey coloured trousers, they said it would be alright. I didn’t take pictures at first but just sat and observed the proceedings. It wasn’t long before someone came up to offer me some warm and sweet tasting tea. They asked if I had eaten already. Then a bit later someone else came over to chat. Everyone was so welcoming and warm. They kept asking if I had eaten yet. They were obviously pleased to hear that I was eating vegetarian for the full ten days of the festival.
Although I didn’t fully understand everything that was going on, it was similar in many ways to Buddhist ceremonies that I have attended in the past. After the chanting, everyone took part in “wien tien” a procession around the main shrine. The yellow and white sheets that everyone was holding during the chanting and procession were then collected up and taken outside to be burned. Next, one of the monks walked around the hall blessing everyone with sacred water. Then came “kruat nam” where the people poured water from one container to the next to pass the merit onto dead ancestors. The ceremony concluded about one hour after it started with some more chanting. As people started to leave, one of the lay people reminded everyone that there would be another “wien tien” the following day. I was about to go myself when one of the organizers came up to me. He turned out to be the main supplier for uniforms at my school. He proved to be very useful as he filled me in with the details of all the events that will be happening. The next big event will be on Friday with “Loy Krathong Jay” at the city hall. I know that sounds strange to have Loy Krathong in October, but I will tell you more about that later.
I am now on day four of the Vegetarian Festival. It hasn’t actually been that difficult keeping to the strict diet. I have never done a vegan diet before. I think I was going through withdrawal symptoms the first few days as I had headaches and fatigue. I am not sure if that was to do with not eating meat or the fact that I had stopped drinking coffee as well. But, I feel a lot better now. I am confident I can keep going until the end. A number of my Thai colleagues at school have already finished as they had only planned to do three days. But, I want to do this properly. The meals in the evenings have been very easy. There are vegetarian shops all around Paknam. The best places though are at Racha Market and Taiban Circle. There is such a variety of food on offer and really good stuff. The only thing I have to do is make sure that I don’t eat too many fried dishes as I am sure that is not healthy. The teachers at school keep saying that they always put on weight during the vegetarian festival but I have been losing it so far. If you are interested in taking part yourself either this year or the next, then here are the ten rules:
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
We have a discussion over at ThailandQA.com about what you can eat during the Vegetarian Festival. I will also post news about the local festival in the Samut Prakan Forum.
Eating Vegetarian in Thailand by Richard Barrow
The Vegetarian Festival by Kitjar Sukjaidee
Thai Vegetarian Festival: an inside look by SiamJai
Vegetarian Festival Photos
The annual Vegetarian Festival has already started here in Thailand. It happens every year in the tenth Thai lunar month on the first new moon after the equinox. This year it is celebrated between 29th September and 8th October 2008. Most people make the mistake in thinking that this is a festival only celebrated in Phuket. Although it is true that their version is certainly livelier, it is actually celebrated in many places around Thailand wherever there are large Chinese communities. Samut Prakan is no exception. All through the town we have had large yellow banners hung across the roads for the past week. I actually got quite excited about it as for the first time I decided to take part myself. For the past few days I have been preparing myself. It is notthat easy as the Chinese version of “jay” is more vegan than vegetarian as you are not allowed any animal products. So, this not only means fish, but also milk and eggs. Just to complicate it, you cannot eat strong smelling produce such as garlic and onions.
At school, about 15% of our students and teachers have signed up for vegetarian meals. However, not everyone has Chinese ancestors. There are people like myself who are doing it as a kind of purification of the body and mind. Personally I think it is a great form of detox not eating animal products for ten days. I am also going to try and quit coffee and beer as these are a stimulant. However, I am not sure how well I will survive. Some teachers have already admitted to me that they will probably only do it for three days. But, I want to do this properly and I have given it a lot of thought. The first day was relatively easy. I couldn’t have my normal breakfast so I had a kind of breakfast cereal with a non-dairy creamer. This left me hungry after a few hours but luckily lunch at school starts at 11.30 a.m. To keep me going in the morning, I did like the students and had a carton of soy bean milk. Most of the junior students had “tom yum gai” this morning. The vegetarians had a similar dish though instead of chicken they had tofu and mushrooms. The senior students had a noodle dish. Again, the vegetarians had tofu and mushrooms instead of the meat. It wasn’t too exciting but was certainly filling. For a while at least.
For my preparation I went to Big C to see what I could eat. A large section of the supermarket had shelves stacked with food that we can safely eat during the vegetarian festival. It is easy to spot as there are always yellow flags with the word “jay” written in Thai in red letters. In the picture above, you can see some of the things I bought. These include soy bean milk and mama noodles. There were even cup noodles of tom yum with mushrooms and tofu. I also bought plenty of vegetables as I will be doing some cooking myself. For the first time I bought some tofu but I am not sure what to do with it yet! However, after visiting Racha Market in Paknam earlier this evening, I think I will be eating out every night. There were so many stalls with yellow flags and such a variety. It actually made me quite excited to browse what was on offer. Tonight I had a fried noodle with vegetable dish together with some tofu that looked so much like roasted beef and vegetarian spring rolls. I have already planned what I am going to eat tomorrow night. I will be taking some pictures of the food on offer at the market and will be sharing these with you later in the week. I just need to sort out breakfast and then I think I can seriously make it through the ten days. I have also discovered a good vegetarian restaurant around the corner from the school. So, if the school lunch isn’t too exciting then I could go out and grab something nearby.
Click here for part two.
We have a discussion over at ThailandQA.com about what you can eat during the Vegetarian Festival. I will also be posting there some of the pictures I take every day.