August 28, 2016
Lotus Flower Festival (ประเพณีรับบัวหรือโยนบัว)
When: 15th October 2016
Bang Phli (Bang Phli can translate as The Village of Offerings), is famous for the delightful Lotus Flower Festival (Rap Bua or Yon Bua), which takes place annually on the day before the official end of Buddhist Lent; Wan Ok Phansa, which in turn is the Kingdoms most important Buddhist event.
This unique local festival is a very colourful and spiritual event, with a long tradition believed to have dated from as early as 1498, having been introduced by the Mon people, who fled persecution in their own home land in Burma and who once ruled these lands, from their city state at Nakhon Pathom (85 kms west of Bang Phli).
While this is a three day event, the main feature of the festival is the respect and reverence shown to the replica image of ‘Luang Pho Toh’ Buddha which is first paraded on land through the town, finishing on the water in an elaborate floating procession that gets underway by 07:00 on the 15th Ocober and features intricately decorated wooden boats rowed by local people in traditional Thai costumes.
The water borne parade is along the Samrong Canal that runs in front of Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai (The home of the ‘Luang Pho Toh’ Buddha, recognized as one of the most revered Buddha images in Thailand). It is here that the people from the banks of the canal throw Bua or lotus flowers onto the boat. Rab means “to receive”, though the festival has also become known as Yon Bua, or “Throw Lotus”, for obvious reasons as a carpet of flowers are added to the golden Buddha as it approaches the massed crowds.
The custom is to hold lotuses up to ones forehead while making a wish or prayer. It’s believed that if your lotus lands on Luang Phor Toh’s lap, your wish will come true. Any direct hit means good luck will find you. Those revelers wanting to ensure their their own good fortune will fill up their own boats with thousands of lotuses and chase Luang Phor Toh down the canal, flinging as they go.
The lotus, or bua in Thai, is a symbol of purity in both Hinduism and Buddhism. In the Buddha’s birth story, dazzling lotuses magically appear at each of the infant’s first footsteps. Lotuses also represent the human journey from suffering to enlightenment, beginning deep down in the murky water — which represents the monotonous cycle of birth, death and rebirth — before “blossoming” above the water at the point of enlightenment. In Thai Buddhist temples, lotuses are routinely incorporated into many ceremonies.
According to local legends, the image of ‘Luang Pho Toh’ was first sighted floating in the Samrong Canal by one of three brothers who were escaping the war with the Burmese during the Ayutthaya period. Many villagers along the canal tried to entice the Buddha image to come ashore. None of them were successful until the image reached Bang Phli.
The event also features competitions of folk activities such as lotus arrangement, boat contests and folk entertainment such as Phleng Ruea (Boat Song). The song entails both groups of men and women embarked in separate boats, each participant is equipped with Thai musical instruments; ching, chap, krap and a thon. Singing is performed by a member of each boat and is conducted as if they were courting. Those whose turn has not come will sing the chorus. The dialogue of the song is improvised. This event is a must see if you want to immerse yourself in Thai culture, if you are lucky to witness the song, try closing your eyes for a few seconds and let your mind wiz you back in history to a time when life was lived at a far slower pace.
During the three days there is also daily traditional Tha carnival, including a ferris wheel and a host of stalls that runs into the night, along with daily music concerts.
For those that need their ‘fix’ of shopping there is the 150 year old canal-side market. The market is sometimes known as a ‘Bang Phli Floating Market’ but there are no boats selling goods, instead there is a wooden walkway, laid along both sides of the Samrong Canal and it is here where the shop houses are positioned, selling all manner of goods including traditional delicious Thai food, clothes and of course local souvenirs. The market is also open 08.00 a.m. – 05.00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through-out the year.
This is a great spot to get away from the hurly burly of Bangkok and soak in the traditional Thai way of life. If you have time you can also join a boat tour, these only run during the festival, at the weekends and Thai bank holidays. You have two options. The longer two hour excursion is by far the better choice at 40 Baht per person. (The shorter option is for 20 minutes and costs 20 Baht). The tour takes you West along the Samrong Khlong (canal) to Wat Bang Phli Yai Klang. It is here you will find the largest Reclining Buddha in Thailand. At 53 meters long, not only is it bigger than the one all the tourists go to in Bangkok, here you can also go ‘inside’ the Buddha and see the shrine for the heart of the Buddha. Then it’s back on the boat travelling east to take you past where you started.
The next stop is the Wat Bang Chalong Nai, not the most impressive of temples and the 20 minutes stop is more than enough time to look around, before heading south to an equally short stop at the temple of Wat Bang Chalong Nok, it is here you can buy loaves of bread for 20 baht to feed some of the really huge canal fish who go into a food frenzy once the bread hits the water. Be careful that you don’t get wet as these fish can make quite a splash. This is a great opportunity to experience life along a Khlong (canal) even if you find the boats were not designed for the larger bodies of western tourists.
How to get there: Bang Phli is approx. 29 km southeast of central Bangkok (116 km from Pattaya) situated in the same province as the international airport of Suvarnabhumi. The closest BTS station is Bearing, from where it’s a 20 minute ‘Song Taeow’ (a pick-up truck with seating running down both flanks of the rear of the vehicle), ride to Theparak Road. A word of warning, not all will go all the way to Bang Phli and all the signs are in Thai, so do ask first before boarding, that goes for the return leg as again all the signs are in Thai.
Celebrations across Thailand
Celebrations at this time of the year are conducted through-out Thailand, with a vast array of different, vibrant festivals to mark the occasion of the end of the Buddhist Lent; each has its own uniqueness and is known by many names. In Thailand’s south the people celebrate this most auspicious occasion with their very own festival of Chak Phra (Phum Pha Pa; literally meaning ‘pulling of the Buddhist Monks’). The north has its spiritual Tak Bat Devo Festival, featuring hundreds of Buddhist monks, there are another two festivals similar to this event; Lak Phra and Tak Bat Thewo which is actually two events spread over two days and held in Songkhla Province, Southern Thailand, plus the far smaller ‘Tak Bat Thewo Rohana Fair‘ Wat Phutthawat in Kalasin Northeast Thailand.
The province of Sakon Nakhon features the amazing Wax Castle possession, while in the north east province of Nakhon Phanom you will find the dazzling Fire Boat Possession, the same region also has the beautiful Light Incense Festival. In the Mae Hong Son Province, of North West Thailand you can be part of the uniquely Tai-Yai peoples event, that of the Chong Para Festival. Not forgetting throughout the Kingdom you can witness a whole host of Longboat races and Festivals.
The following day across the Kingdom, the 30 day Ritual of Krathin will begin, when monks will be offered new robes
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