Today Thais celebrated Khao Phansa, the beginning of Buddhist Lent. Today marked the three-month period when Buddhist monks and novices stay in the temple to study and practice Dhamma. The custom is for monks to spend the rainy season in a fixed place has been observed since the time of the Buddha. The Rainy season was purposely selected for this period to prevent crop damage, as unnecessary travel by them during this period could damage young rice seedlings planted by villagers. During Khao Phansa it was traditional to give the Monks in the Temple candles to aid in their nighttime studies. Today, the candles have become quite large and ornate.
Every morning without fail, the Buddhist Monks from the local temples throughout Thailand take off on foot (barefoot) to collect alms of food for all the Temple Monks. Even today, in Thailand, monks still rely on receiving alms for most of their food. The monks leave the monasteries early in the morning and they walk single file, oldest first, carrying their alms bowls in front of them. Thai People who live in the area wait for the Monks and place food in the bowls. Women of the community must be careful not to touch the monks. The monks do not speak, but do offer a prayer for the person or people giving the alms as if in thanks for the food. The giving of alms is not thought of as charity but the alms giving creates a spiritual connection between the Monks and the people.
While the alms giving takes place all over Thailand, there are places that are enchanting to see. One example is the Monks in temples along the waterways of the country. The keep in tradition of rowing individually in boats, stopping at each pier along route along the river. The video below has a video clip of the Monks on the water. I have also seen Monks on their daily alms collection at the beach - also magical to see...
There are many floating markets throughout Thailand, many within a couple of hours drive of Bangkok. There are colorfully clad merchants at these lively markets paddling their goods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, along congested canals in sturdy canoes to sell to shoppers on the banks. These markets are busy with lots of chatter and activity.
The floating markets in Thailand have developed over a long history in the region, likely developing before history is well documented. Much of central Thailand, including Bangkok, is located in wet lowlands of broad river valleys, all in a tropical climate. This meant that this area was heavy jungle prior to human development. The areas adjacent to the rivers were likely the first to be populated and the people living there would be using boats as their main mode of travel rather than trying to push their way through the dense jungle that once dominated the region.
Boats would have been used for both local and regional trade, bringing goods from those that produced to those that could buy or trade. Within the communities along the waterways, smaller boats were likely used to bring goods to those along the rivers, which included the majority of the people.
As the region grew in population and Bangkok began to develop into the areas capital city, the area had to be drained and this was done by excavating an extensive system of canals. While roads would have been built in this same time period, the already establish market system using the small boats would have remained the favorite method of distributing goods. So, the "Floating Market" would have remained ingrained in the Thai historical culture.
With many of the Thai Buddhist Temples were also constructed along the rivers within in these communities, and the custom of giving alms to the Monks has extended to people living along the waterways. The Monks set out early in the morning in small boats to collect alms for their Temple.
There are several types of floating markets today. Some are focused on attracting the local Thais, and remain similar to the floating markets of long ago. Most are "constructed" floating markets, with concrete piers constructed adjacent to the rivers edge with markets stalls for various vendors. There are still vendors who provide more personalized service by bring food and drink to houses and resorts in the vicinity of cities along rivers. A good example of this is Amphawa, along the Maekong, where I was able to buy a tasty hot soy milk beverage at a small resort along the river.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is the second type of floating market and was developed primarily for tourists to get a taste of the floating market culture in a short period of time. However, in this market the roles have reversed where the tourists are giving a boat tour and most of the vendors are along the edge of the canals of the city.
Viharnra Sien Art Museum in Pattaya makes for a great day trip not far from Pattaya Beach. The museum is a mix of Chinese and Thai Art. The Chinese art was donated by the Chinese Government and includes some amazing pieces such as a few authentic clay warriors and an amazing collection of Chinese Buddha Statues. There is also a replica of the great wall of China as well as life size statues of ancient Chinese and folk heroes. The Thai section of this museum contains a whole wing of art related to the Royal House of Chakri, the current Thai King's dynasty. Another area of the museum contains large paintings of the life of the Buddha. A place worth stopping while in the area for sure.
Her Majesty the Queen, has in the past urged the authorities to properly preserve the classical art form of “Khon” mask dance. Khon mask dance, a performance that combines traditional dance and acting, and used to depict episodes from the Ramakien, the Thai take on India's Ramayana. Thailand has already begun revitalizing this historic art form with the establishment of the National Khon Institute with the Fine Arts Department part of the Ministry of Culture, leading the effort with plans of seminars, demonstrations and talks on Khon related information. There are even plans of a TV related series showing the complete version of the Ramakien, which, I am told is volumes long. I was fortunate enough to see the Khon Performance of the ‘Prommas' episode of the Ramakien at the Auditorium, Thailand Cultural Center in the past and I took the attached pictures and video at this performance, which was, again, inspired by Her Majesty the Queen.
Gain a basic understanding of some of the historical culture leading to what is Thailand today. Click here to view a list of Articles about Thai Culture.
Bangkok's 9 Royal Temples
Bangkok Must Sees
Exploring Thailand's Nature
Islands of the Thai Gulf
Thailand's Royal Palaces
Thailand and World War 2
Explore Chiang Rai
Explore Chiang Mai