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.
Visitors to Thailand will soon find themselves immersed in a culture that is bursting with gods, demons, giants and mythical beasts. They are everywhere; they tower over you as they ominously guard doorways, they grin at you from intricate carvings, they bedazzle you from golden silk threads and dance around you from beautifully painted landscapes. These exotic creations are truly Thailand. They are so deeply ingrained in the culture, customs and beliefs of the Thai nation that myth and fact have merged into one epic legend. This deeply evocative tale is a story of magic and wonder, it is the Ramakien.
A tale of truly epic proportions – with recent publications running to nearly 3,000 pages, the only known complete version of the Ramakien was penned by King Rama I in 1804. No one knows when the story first entered Thai culture, but there is evidence of the Ramakien being performed in dances and shadow puppet theatres as far back as the 13th century.
The legend of the Ramakien owes its roots to the Ramayana, an ancient tale from India. Written more than 2,000 years ago by the Sanskrit poet Valmiki, the Ramayana is the story of the Hindu god Vishnu and his 7th incarnation as Rama, the prince and king of Ayodhya.
The main story begins with the births of Rama and his wife Sita (herself a reincarnation of Lakshmi goddess of wealth and prosperity). Rama proves himself to be the perfect son and perfect husband, but before he can become king, he is forced to renounce his title and leave Ayodhya. For 14 years the royal couple live in exile, making a life for themselves in the magical Himapan Forest. During this time, Sita is abducted by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. With the help of the monkey general Hanuman, Rama rescues Sita, however Sita is forced to prove her purity before Rama will take her back as his wife.
This amazing tale is rich with lessons. It teaches about virtue, trust, honor, pride and forgiveness, and promotes love among families and towards society. It recognizes the infallibility of human nature and shows us how to control our minds in order to gain inner peace and spiritual bliss. Is it any wonder then that the Ramayana has become a sacred text throughout Asia? While the main narrative is based on the Ramayana, there are many fundamental differences within the Ramakien that make it quintessentially Thai. In the Ramakien, names, dress, customs, weapons and even the topography all relate to the Thai kingdom. Rama is now Phra Ram and instead of being incarnated from the Hindu god Vishnu, Phra Ram is a reincarnation of the Lord Buddha – making the Ramakien a distinctly Thai Buddhist text. Phra Ram is no longer prince and king of Ayodhya as in the Inidian epic, but instead he rules Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand.
As in the Ramayana, the Ramakien also exemplifies how an honorable man should conduct himself; facing situations with composure and rising to successfully lead his people, despite his own personal tragedies – a lesson that the Thai royal family has clearly identified with. During the past 200 years, nine Kings of Thailand have taken the name Rama.
Some of the best examples of the legend can be found at Wat Phra Kaew. Located within the grounds of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is sumptuously decorated throughout with images and scenes taken from the Ramakien. Splendidly attired giants stand guard whilst handsomely adorned demons support the golden chedis - and there, magnificently painted on the surrounding wall are 178 murals that depict the Ramakien. Painted in a kaleidoscopic palate of deep hues and luxurious golds the legend is laid before us in all its glory.
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