September 28, 2014
Lotus Flower (Rap Bua or Yon Bua) Festival (ประเพณีรับบัวหรือโยนบัว)
Where & When: Bang Phli (Samut Prakan Province) 7-8th October 2014
How to get there: Bang Phli is approx. 29 km from 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.
Bang Phli (Bang Phli can translate as The Village of Offerings ) is famous for the annual delightfully colourful Lotus Flower (Rap Bua or Yon Bua) festival, which takes place on the last day of Buddhist Lent on the fourteenth day of the waxing moon in the eleventh lunar month, (October 7th 2014).
The festival is a very colourful and spiritual event, with a very long tradition, possibly since 1498. The main feature is the respect and reverence shown to the replica image of ‘Luang Pho To’ Buddha which is carried both on land, beginning the 7th October (13th day of the waxing moon of the Thai 11th lunar month), finishing on water in a lavishly decorated boat early the next morning.
The water borne parade is along the Samrong Canal that runs near the Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai Temple (The home of the ‘Luang Pho To’ 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 Dok Bua or lotus flowers onto the boat. It is a Buddhist belief that Lotuses are symbols of purity and ‘spontaneous’ generation and hence symbolize divine birth.
According to local legends, the image of ‘Luang Pho To’ 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.
For those that need their ‘fix’ of shopping there is the over 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.
Phra Samut Chedi Fair ( งานนมัสการองค์พระสมุทรเจดีย์ )
Where and When: City of Samut Prakarn (Samut Prakarn Province) 30th September to 8th October 2014
How to get there: Phra Samut Chedi is approx. 26 km from Bangkok (148 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’ ride. Be aware you should always make sure you agree the taxi costs in advance if you are hiring the taxi for a private fare. From Bang Phli you can also take a Song Taeow to the Chedi which is only 20 minutes away.
This hugely popular annual fair, is held in the city of Samut Prakarn (the city has the same name as the province and is also known by local people ‘Pak Nam’ Thai for ‘Mouth of a River’), it attracts thousands of people from all around the country, who come to join in the fun and to pay homage to Phra Samut Chedi (Chedi is an alternative term for a Buddhist stupa). The fair goes on for 9 days and nights, starting from the 5th day of the waning moon of the 11th lunar month. (30th September 2014), it is believed to not only be the largest fair in Thailand but also the longest running temple fair in the Kingdom
Phra Samut Chedi was originally built on a small island in the Chao Phraya River in 1827 and was then the first significant sight for visitors coming to Bangkok by boat. It is said that King Rama II wanted all foreigners entering Thailand to know that the Thai people were Buddhists. The temple is also known as Wat Klang Nam (วัดกลางน้ำ, ‘Temple in the middle of the water’). Over time the river has silted with the result that the island is now part of the main land located on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River.
To pay respect to the temple, during the festival a new red cloth is wrapped around the Chedi, before this is done this huge red fabric is paraded through the streets by the local residents starting at the city hall. It completes a huge circular land route and is then paraded by boat upriver to Phra Pradaeng for a mini parade there, finally ending at the temple itself in the afternoon. Once there the cloth is walked, clockwise, around the temple three times, with the attendees carrying lighted candles, which in turn brings a feeling of reverence and peace to the proceedings. During the festival, there are contests held for the best-looking procession and how the Red Cloth was actually presented at the Chedi.
There are a myriad of other activities including, boat races on the Chao Phraya River, candlelight processions, and traditional Thai entertainment. There is also what could be termed as a western style fair with Ferris wheels, shooting galleries etc. along-side stalls and booths selling a multitude of delicious local food and the obligatory sellers of souvenirs, t-shirts and all manner of other products. The most surprising of all the shows is a ‘Lady Boy’ Beauty contest.
With a bit of forward planning you could get to participate in both festivals as the two locations are within easy reach of one another. With both venues a bit off the ‘normal’ tourist route, you will find very few westerners taking the same path, this is a real plus as you get to immerse yourself in the real Thailand, without rubbing shoulders with hundreds of foreign tourists.
If you are not lucky enough to get here for the festivities, there are still a good number of other attractions, temples and museums in and around Samut Prakan, to warrant you taking the time to visit the Province. See more