Tag - monks

Festivals and Holidays in Laos

Festivals and Holidays in Laos
Festivals and Holidays in Laos
Festivals and Holidays in Laos
Click on a picture to see more images by the photographer. (Some pictures do not have links.)

Bun Pha Wet

Celebrated at the end of December or early January, this festival marks the birth of Prince Vestsantara, the last Buddha to walk the earth. A large number of men enter monkhood during this period and it is a good time for families to get together.

Vietnamese Tet and Chinese New Year
This three day festival takes place in March and is marked with fireworks, loud street parties and visits to the local Vietnamese and Chinese temples.

Boun Pimai
Visitors arriving in the middle of April will witness one of Laos’ most lively festivals, held over three days to celebrate Lao New Year. This is the hottest part of the year and during Boun Pimai people soak each other in the streets with water guns, hosepipes and buckets of water to cool down a little. Luang Prabang is a great place to experience this festival as there are parades through the streets and the residents party long into the night.

Boun Bang Fai (rocket festival)
Not to be missed, the rocket festival is a Buddhist rain-making festival where huge bamboo rockets are built and decorated by monks. The rockets are carried in procession and then launched into the sky. There is much singing and dancing during this festival and the atmosphere is highly charged.


Visakha-Busaa

Celebrated on the 15th day of the 6th lunar month, this festival marks the days of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. Activities focus around the country’s temples and there are pretty candlelit processions in the evening.

Khao Phansaa
This festival marks the start of Buddhist Lent, when the monks must retreat to their monasteries and commence a period of fasting. Many men become monks for a short time during Khao Phansaa, which lasts from June or July until October.

Boun Ok Phansaa
The end of the rainy season is celebrated with huge boat races along the Mekong River. Smaller boats are decorated and paraded through the town before being floated on the river.

Awk Phansaa
As the monks emerge from their monasteries once more people gather to greet them and present the spiritual guides with gifts such as robes, alms bowls and candles. Small banana-leaf boats containing candles, and incense are floated on the rivers and other waterways.

That Luang Festival
Taking place at That Luang in Vientiane, people travel from all over the country to witness the hundreds of monks, who gather to receive alms early in the morning. This festival lasts for a week and features a vibrant procession between Wat Si Muang and Pha That Luang. As well as music, dancing, chanting and delicious food.

Lao National Day
December 2nd is the day to commemorate the 1975 victory of the proletariat over the monarchy. There are parades through the streets, speeches and mass flying of the communist hammer-and-sickle flag.

Sekong, Laos

Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos

Sekong is the ideal place for those who really want to step off the well worn tourist trail and get to know the real Laos. This pretty area is situated in the southeast part of Laos in the Sekong River Valley, and the river is a good spot for fishing and swimming and perhaps even a boat trip down the river to one of the nearby villages.

This is a great place for hiking and trekking and as you walk through the countryside you will wander through lush rice paddies, fruit orchards and tropical forests which are home to a large number of unusual animals and pretty plants and flowers.

A number of different ethnic tribes live in the Sekong River Valley and the countryside is full of small villages belong to people such as the Lave, Lanam, Kaleum, Dakchung and Thateng. This is a good place to get to know the different tribes and discover their unique lifestyles.

A great way to pass the time is by getting up at around 5a.m to watch people fishing in the river and walking along the banks. The Buddhist monks wander through the villages early each morning to receive alms and you will see processions of orange robed monks carrying large metal bowls.

 Part of Sekong’s appeal for most people is its remoteness and the fact that not many travelers make it this far. Don’t expect to find a large number of fancy guesthouses or restaurants selling international food here. But for those who do decide to stay, the gentle pace of life and friendliness of the people can be very addictive. However, people who need their creature comforts will be able to find a hotel or two here and it is possible to hire a motorbike to explore.

Sekong is blessed with electricity around the clock, but if this seems a little too decadent pay a visit to the nearby village of Tha Teng, which is extremely picturesque and without electricity or running water offers a real insight into the traditional Lao way of life.

Khong Island, Laos

Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island

Also known as Don Khong, Khong Island is located right in the south of Laos near the Cambodian border. Part of the 4000 islands that comprise the Sii Pan Don area, this is an area of intense natural beauty.

The pace of life is slow on Khong Island and this is a great place to relax and unwind. Although not a lot of travellers make it this far south there are still a good range of hotels and guesthouses here and many visitors are tempted to extend their stay as they become seduced by the gentle pace of life.

The 12 mile long island is home to a stunning collection of flora and fauna and for the patient it is possible to spot the rare Irrawaddy dolphins playing in the Mekong River. A good way to spend a day is trekking to the the Khonephapheng waterfall, which is one of the largest falls in Southeast Asia.

Another pleasant activity is to hire a boat and simply sail away. Many villages are located on the banks of the river such as Muang Saen village and this is a good way to visit these villages and meet the friendly people that live there.

There are a number of pretty temples and monasteries to explore on Khong Island, among them Wat Phu Khao Kaew, where the monks who stay there are welcoming and happy to answer questions.

Palm sugar production is big business on Khong Island due to the large number of palm trees. As you wander around the island you will be able to watch to sugar being harvested for the palm trees and women boiling it in huge metal pans. When the palm sugar is cool it hardens and tastes a lot like fudge. The palm sugar is delicious either eaten on its own or added to tea or coffee and makes a great souvenir.

The evenings are quiet on Khong Island. Sit by the river and watch the sun set through the palm trees. Many people gather at the night market, and this is a good place to swap gossip, do some shopping and find a good meal.

Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane feels more like a large village than a capital city. Pigs and cattle ramble aimlessly beside the slowly flowing river, watched over by women chatting and washing clothes. Pavements are a futuristic concept as are cinemas, shopping malls, fast food and most other types of entertainment.

Yet for many travellers this is the perfect Asian city; there is plenty to see and do here and yet the city has an approachable, unassuming feel.

Pha That Luang is the symbol of Laos and this huge, unusually shaped gold stupa is definitely worth a visit. In the Laotian language, Pha That Luang means Great Scared Stupa. The most prominent part of the temple is a 45 meter tall central tower, surrounded by 30 smaller stupas. The stupas are covered with gold leaf and shimmer brilliantly in the sunlight.

Nearby the temple is the Sok Pa Luang Forest Temple. Here you will find a sauna and massage room in a traditional wooden two-story house, where robed monks relieve your my weary muscles as you relax and listen to the gentle sounds of wind chimes, birds, cicada beetles and breath in the scent of jasmine and lemongrass.

On the way to Pha That Luang you will probably pass the Patuxai, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Climb to the top of this 7th century gateway for a great view of the city. 

Not to be missed is the very unusual Buddha Park or Xieng Khuan, which is situated on the outskirts of the city. Here you will find a large garden full of weird and wonderful Hindu and Buddhist sculptures which need to be seen to be believed.

Vientiane has a huge collection of interesting buildings and temples in a range of styles and a great way to explore is simply by walking. Take a stroll along the river and you will view a interesting collection of buildings from across the road, then simply follow the shining golden roves to find the elaborately decorated temples.

This is a great place to satisfy your craving for Western food as there are a large number of excellent restaurants offering a range of international food, especially in the area near the river. You will even find restaurants serving gourmet French food, and this is the perfect time to indulge. For those looking for cheap traditional food, a number of small carts set up trade on the bank of the river in the evening.

Inle Lake, Burma

Inle Lake, Burma
Inle Lake, Burma
Inle Lake, Burma

Without doubt one of the most beautiful spots in Myanmar, Inle Lake is a large water wonderland filled with floating gardens, ancient stupas and pretty villages with a backdrop of mountains, valleys and lush forests. Bird watchers in particular will want to spend some time here as Inle Lake is home to a huge variety of species of birds.

Inle Lake is a great place to relax for a few days. There is so much to do here and there are a wide range of water sports to try such as canoeing, sailing and windsailing, while swimming is a great way to keep cool on a hot day. Fishing is also a popular pastime and you can easily hire a rod and join the locals as they try to land the catch of the day.

Hiring a bicycle is a great way to explore the surrounding countryside. Make sure you stop in at the Nanthe monastery, where the meditating monks have taught their cats to jump. The area is also famous for the Intha people’s unusual leg rowing skills, and you might be lucky enough to witness this as you cycle along the banks of the lake.

There are many interesting and unusual things to discover in this charming area such as the 300 year old Banyan tree with its aerial roots and wide canopy. Walk through the paddy fields and perhaps ride a water buffalo and watch the sun set over the lake.

The nearby floating market is a great place to witness traditional life and shop bargains as well as getting a tasty meal. Fresh fish is top of the menu and there are a large number of fish curries and other dishes to try. Most people tend to stay in the nearby village of Nyaugshwe, where there is a good variety of cheap guesthouses and restaurants catering to backpackers.

A great time to visit Inle Lake is between September and October when you will have the chance to witness and perhaps take part in the Phaung Daw U festival and also the Thadingyut festival. These festivals are very lively and feature much singing and dancing as well as performances of traditional folk tales.

Chiang Khan, Thailand

Chiang Khan, Thailand
Chiang Khan, Thailand
chiang_khan_2
Chiang Khan, Thailand

Situated in the northern part of Loei Province, Chiang Khan is the perfect postcard destination. This quaint little town is full of traditional timber houses and boasts a beautiful riverside location. This is natural location is a great place to unwind for a while or prepare to take a meditation course.

The village is easy to walk around and the many temples make good places to stop and explore. Wat Pa Klang is interesting as it is more than 100 years old, whilst Wat Mahathat is the village’s oldest temple. Also worth visiting are Wat Santi, Wat Thatkhok, Wat Si Khun Meuang and Wat Tha Khaek.

12 kilometers to the east of Chiang Khan, the monastic centre of Samnak Song Phu Pha Baen is a great place for a day trip. Here you will witness the rare and unforgettable sight of monks meditating in caves and on tree platforms.

Another great day trip is the Tai Dam village of Ban Napanard, where you can interact with the Tai Dam people and learn all about them at the Tai Dam Cultural Centre. You can even choose to stay on in one of the home-stay rooms to get a real feel of the culture and general way of life of these people, who originally migrated from Laos more than 100 years ago to live peacefully in Thailand.

For the adventurous, the opportunity to ride the rapids at Kaeng Khut Khu might prove irresistible. The rapids are located 6 kilometers from Chiang Khan. It is easy to hire a bicycle and cycle to Kaeng Khut Khu, or you can easily arrange a boat trip from Chiang Khan and enjoy a relaxing boat trip along the Mekong River.

Although valued for its peace and quiet, this little village definitely knows how to party. Those arriving during wan awk phansaa at Buddhist Rains Retreat in late October will experience an entirely different atmosphere. Chiang Khan marks the end of Buddhist lent with a week of celebrations. The boat races can get especially wild, and the giant carved wax candles are extremely beautiful. Definitely an event not to be missed.

Chiang Dao, Thailand

Chiang Dao, Thailand
Chiang Dao, Thailand
Chiang Dao, Thailand
Chiang Dao, Thailand

Chiang Dao means “City of Stars” in the Thai language, and this very pretty small city is located in Chiang Mai Province, Northern Thailand. Surrounded by intense natural beauty, this is a good area to go trekking and bird watching.

For many, top of the list is Chiang Dao National Park, which covers over 1000 square kilometres and features bamboo forests, sparkling mountain streams and waterfalls. Also in the park is the mighty mountain of Doi Chiang Dao, which is a colossal 2225 metres high and is said to be Thailand’s highest mountain and offers incredible views over the area from the top. Scattered around the park are a large number of many Lisu and Karen hill tribe villages, and a good way to see them and to really appreciate the lush nature of the park is to go trekking and stay overnight.

Another popular attraction is Tham Chiang Dao – Chiang Dao Cave. The extremely beautiful cave complex is cool and inviting and stretches for an impressive 12 kilometres, filled with sparkling stalactites. It is a good idea to hire a guide with a lantern for the chance to explore the caves fully.

Experienced hikers can embark on a two day mountain trip up Doi Luang Chiang Dao, which is a great way to see the area. Another good way to explore is to visit the Elephant Training Centre Chiang Dao and go on an elephant trek through the forest. The treks can last from between 30 minutes to half a day an offer an interesting view point of the beautiful scenery, seen at a leisurely pace.

Chiang Dao is also popular for river rafting, and many people chose to visit the area in order to shoot the rapids, whilst others choose to hire a motorbike and discover all that the area has to offer by themselves.

If you are looking to get in touch with your spiritual side, visit Samnak Song Tham Pha Plong, which is also known as the Tham Pha Plong Monastic Centre. Many monks travel to this very special area to meditate, and visitors can climb a long flight of steps, which lead up the mountain past limestone cliffs and forest to a large chedi. The view from the top of the steps and the general vibe of the area more than makes up for any hardship encountered on the climb.

The extremely vibrant Tuesday morning market is a good place to buy local produce and see the hilltribe people, who come to the market in order to trade their wares. The

market is open each week between 7 a.m. and 12 a.m. and is a great place to get a good, cheap meal. Don’t forget to use the bartering system to get the most for your money.

Dos and Don’ts in Thailand

Dos and Don'ts in Thailand
Dos and Don'ts in Thailand
Dos and Don'ts in Thailand
dos_and_dots_in_thailand_4

Thailand is a rather liberal country and Thai people are very accepting of the differences in the behaviour of foreigners. Generally, the need to save face means that Thai people will not draw attention to it if you have made a mistake or comment if you have offended them, so it is up to you to be aware of expectations.

However, there are a few things which are guaranteed to cause offence and should be avoided when possible.

The Monarchy

All Thai people think very highly of the royal family and will not permit criticism. In fact, Thailand’s lese majeste laws mean that criticising the king can result in 7 years imprisonment, which applies to both Thais and foreigners. Pictures of the king should also be treated with respect and if placed on the wall – as they are in most homes and businesses – must hold pride of place. Defiling a picture of the king also carries a serious penalty, as a tourist in Chiang Mai discovered when he drunkenly drew a moustache on an image of the king. He was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment, but was later pardoned by the king and released.

Religion

Always dress ‘politely’ when entering a temple or religious shrine. Many temples require you to cover your knees and shoulders and it is very important to remember to remove your shoes. Shoes should also be removed when entering private homes and some shops.

Buddha Images

Buddha images are sacred and must be treated with respect. Never climb on a Buddha image, and be very careful about taking photos – some images are so sacred that photographs are forbidden. When sitting on the floor, you must be careful not to point your feet at a Buddha image. Sit with your legs crossed or with your feet tucked to the side, the soles pointing backwards.

Monks

Women must be careful not to touch monks as they are forbidden female contact. If a woman wants to give something to a monk it must first be given to another man or put on a piece of cloth. Often, special seats are allocated on public transport for monks only, be careful to avoid them and give up your seat for a monk if there are none available.   

Head and Feet

In Thailand, the head is very scared, whilst the feet are seen as unclean. Be careful not to touch a Thai on the head and avoid touching them with your feet or pointing to things with your feet.

Saving Face

In Thailand it is considered very impolite to shout and show of anger, regardless of the situation.

General

Showing affection between partners such as kissing and cuddling in public is frowned upon – especially amongst older Thais.

Thailand is quite conservative and people do not appreciate seeing too much bare skin. Men should avoid walking topless as what are often mistaken for looks of appreciation are actually shares of disgust! Spaghetti tops, sleeveless tops and bottom revealing micro shorts should also be avoided.

Smoking and dropping litter in the street are illegal a 2,000 Baht fine awaits anyone who is caught.

Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani

Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani
Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani
Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani
Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani
Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani
Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani

“More and more visitors to Thailand are interested in Buddhism. Many of them come to Thailand to ordain as it is very well known Buddhist country. Wat Pah Nanachat is one of their destinations”, said a monk from England who has ordained at the monastery for 2 years. However, ordaining at the monastery seems to be really challenging for many of them. It is important that they should study and prepare themselves well beforehand about their unforeseen living at the monastery.
With a very tranquil forest monastic environment, Wat Pah Nanachat (the International Forest Monastery) is an appropriate home for many foreign monks from a wide range of nationalities to practice meditation. It is located in a small forest of Bahn Bung Wai of Amper Warin Chamrab about 15 kilometers away from the city of Ubon Ratchathani of Thailand.

The monastery has been blessed as a good place for meditation and Dhamma teaching established by Venerable Ajahn Chah, one profoundly wise Buddhist meditation master of Thailand, in 1975 as a branch of Wat Nong Pah Pong. Therefore, many foreigners who search for true happiness come to ordain at the monastery every year.

In Thailand, there are many good places for people who are interested in practicing meditation.”This monastery is also one really good and quiet place for meditation practice. It is quite far away from disturbing things. To live here is a good opportunity for me to practice. And, traditional monastic training is always provided very well here”, kindly and mindfully said one monk who is from America.

Men with shaved heads who wear loose white and long trousers with white shirts are trainees who are during the traditional monastic training before ordaining at the monastery. “The interested foreigners who want to ordain here have to be initially trained about traditional way of monastic living for a short period so that they can live peacefully and successfully. The training is relative to the Buddha’s teaching and code of monastic discipline”, explained a senior monk who is from Germany.

It is not easy but not too difficult for the trainees to be during the traditional monastic training period at Wat Pah Nanachat. They will be taught about how they can enjoyably live with local culture. They are expected to follow and join all monastic activities such as meeting and work activities, rules or regulations, and daily routine of the monastery. Therefore, all of them have to adjust themselves very well with these things.

As the trainees have to join and follow everything that the monastery expects them to do before the ordaining, early during the traditional monastic training, many of them may face some challenging difficulties. The difficulties may be relative to monastic activities, rules and regulations, and daily routine of the monastery. For many current trainees and monks as they used to be trainees of Wat Pah Nanachat, There were three most outstanding challenging difficulties: getting up early, weather, and hunger.

The first quite common difficulty for them early during the training was getting up early. It is one of the rules of the monastery. “When I first came here, it was quite difficult for me to get up so early in the morning. However, it could make them to become more active”, said one trainee from Holland.

At 03.00 AM, because of the rules of the monastery, every trainee had to get up to participate in the monastic activities such as morning meeting for chanting and meditation. Also, while monks went out to surrounding villages on alms-round, trainees did the chores such as sweeping the monastery and helping in the kitchen.

In general, for some people, getting up early in the morning may be not a problem, but it should not be disregarded for prospective trainees who want to ordain at the monastery. To make sure that they can follow the rules of the monastery efficiently can mean that they can ordain and live in the monastery more happily or without any problem.

Weather was also the common challenging difficulty that many current trainees and monks as they used to be trainees at Wat Pah Nanachat used to face during their traditional monastic training. As most of them

are from the western countries which some are considered cold countries, therefore Thai hot weather was a problem for them early during their training period.
 
However, after they had lived with that condition for a while, they could overcome the problem and their bodies could be accustomed to it. “The weather here is really hot for me. In my hometown, it is quite cold. When I first came here, I had to take a shower more frequently than before”, explained a monk from Finland who has just ordained for only 2 months.
 
Also, as Wat Pah Nanachat allows the trainees to have only one meal a day at about 09.00 AM, the hunger can be one difficulty of many of them. Many current trainees and monks who used to be trainees said that they were usually hungry early during the training period.
 
However, after living at the monastery for a while, those trainees and monks could be used to living with those difficulties because their bodies could adjust themselves for it.
 
After the traditional monastic training in a short period, the trainees then can ordain. The difficulties that they may face after the training period (after they ordain) may be different from those they have to face during the training. However, they will certainly have 227 monk’s rules (the basic Theravada code of monastic discipline) to comply with.
 
“Actually, it is generally agreed that the monk’s rules laid by the Lord Buddha are considered great thing to keep; they are not a problem at all. However, they possibly cause difficulties for the future trainees”, said another monk from America.
 
According to monks at Wat Pah Nanachat, three most outstanding challenging monk’s rules for them were relative to speech, gestures, and damaging living plants. They said that these rules were difficult to keep.
 
Why rules about speech were challenging for the monks is that they had to be well mindful about their speech such as to avoid complaining, telling a lie, talking too loud, and saying something that might cause the break among them.
 
The next challenging rules were about gestures. In any habited area, they had to avoid swinging their arms, head, and body when they walked and avoid tiptoeing or sitting with arm akimbo.
 
The last outstanding challenging rules for them were about damaging living plants. They said that when they did the chores such as sweeping floor, it was hard to knowingly avoid damaging living plants like grass and other small plants.
 
Therefore, it will be very useful for prospective trainees to study about monk’s rules before they come to the monastery. It will be faster for them to learn about the monk’s rules when they ordain.
 
Thus, it is quite necessary that the future foreigners who want to ordain at Wat Pah Nanachat should prepare themselves well before they come to the monastery. There may be difficulties caused by monastic activities, rules or regulations, and the daily routine during the traditional monastic training. If they can prepare themselves well beforehand, they will be able to live in the monastery successfully.

Kaeng Krachan National Park

Kaeng Krachan National Park
Kaeng Krachan National Park
Kaeng Krachan National Park

Myself and girlfriend visited Thailand in January 05. We had seen Vietnam, Cambodia and other countries over a 2 month period and the most unforgettable place we visited (which for some reason is rather hard to get to?) was Kaeng Krachan National Park!!!! This place was incredible, we have told many other people about it and they say, “what?‚ “where?. We stayed overnight in the park – heard tigers roar, saw wild elephants, monkeys and countless other wild animals – it was amazing. It’s only 2 hours from Bangkok and yet most tourists don’t know about it! We had to catch a large public bus from Bangkok to Petchburi 1.45hrs we caught it not far from Khaosan Rd.

When we got to Petchburi we found accommodation and stayed a night. This was cool because they had some big market on this particular night. Lots of Makak Monkeys in Town and Monks! We met lots of locals as there were very few tourists. We had to catch a smaller (minibus) especially for the trip to the National Park, this took about another hour. We ran into 2 French backpackers and they came with us. They were just as glad to see other westerners. Once we got to the National Park it was fantastic they really looked after us and provided us with everything we needed food, water, tents even our own driver around the park!!!!! The park rangers even took us on a night safari.

We saw over 10 different large animals – Wild pigs, Barking Deer, Sanbar, Dusky Langur, Sivits (at night) squirals, we herd wild tigers roaring (one was rather to close for comfort) gibbons, we saw 3 massive horn bill birds and countless butterflies we saw wild elephants and saw heaps of wild elephant dung on all the jungle tracks! We were only there for 2 days!!!!! I could go back and stay for 2 weeks!!! My girlfriend and I are considering it!

Some people pay $10,000 or more to go to Africa and go on Safari! We saw all these amazing things in the space of four days for around $100US for both of us!

This park is a huge resource that I believe is not getting promoted enough! It should be as well known as Kruger in Africa! Please let me know why it isn’t!