Tag - religious

Festivals and Holidays in Malaysia

Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Festival and Holidays in Malaysia

Malaysia is a real melting pot, where a large number of cultures live side by side. This means that the country celebrates a large number of festivals, with the Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist religious festivals all being observed.
Malaysian festivals tend to be loud and colourful, marked with plenty of singing, dancing and parades through the streets. Malaysian people tend to be tolerant of people from other faiths and welcome them into their homes to celebrate with them. These festivals are a good opportunity for foreigners to learn more about Malaysian culture and hospitality.

Here are some major Malaysian festivals to look out for. Many festivals revolve around the lunar calendar, so dates vary slightly from year to year.

New Year’s Day
January 1st is a public holiday and New Year’s Eve is marked in most cities with sporting events, competitions, exhibitions and cultural performances by Malaysian multi-ethnic groups.

Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days and is very colourful, filled with feasting and firework displays.  Gather to watch the traditional dragon and lion dances, which take place to the beat of gongs and drums. Penang is the best place to experience Chinese New Year in Malaysia.

Thaipusam
This festival is celebrated by Hindus on the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. Thaipusam is a day for penance and atonement and during this time devotees to fulfill a vow they have made to Lord Muruga, who is also known as Lord Subramaniam. Devotion is demonstrated by fasting and piercing their bodies with elaborately decorated metal structures decorated with colored paper, fresh fruit and flowers and parading through the streets. To get the most out of this festival, head to Kuala Lumpur to watch Lord Muruga’s jeweled chariot carried  through the streets to the Batu Caves in Selangor.  

Wesak Day
Buddhists celebrate this festival in May to remember the birth, enlightenment and ascension of Lord Buddha. The daytime is filled with visits to the temple and merit making, while there are processions of floats and candles in the streets after dark.

Gawai Dayak
On the 1st of June the people of Sarawak celebrate the good annual with parties, games, processions and feasting. People gather to sing traditional songs, dance and drink the locally produced rice wine. Children bring their parents plates of food and cattle is sacrificed to ensure that there is a good harvest the following season.  

Hari Raya Aidil Fitri
Also known as Hari Raya Puasa, this Muslim festival marks the end of fasting throughout the month of Ramadhan, which is the tenth month of the Muslim calendar. The celebrations last for one month and feature bright decorations, feasting and parties

Lantern and Moon Cake Festival
This festival is celebrated by all Malaysians, who hang colourful lanterns on their houses and eat moon cakes in this celebration of peace and unity. 

Hungry Ghost Festival
According to Chinese tradition the gates of hell are opened during the 15th day of the seventh lunar month to allow the hungry ghosts to wander the Earth in search of food and possibly seek revenge. The Chinese hold a festival at this time to remember their dead ancestors and pay tribute to them, setting aside food for them and burning money so that their relatives can use it in the afterlife.

Deepavali
The Festival of Lights, also known as Deepavali, is celebrated as the triumph of good over evil, marking the legendary time that Lord Krishna is said to have defeated Narkansura. Mainly celebrated by Hindus, people visit the temple during the day and lit candles and oil lamps in the evening. There are colourful parades through the street and much merrymaking.

Christmas
Unlike most Asian countries, Malaysia celebrates Christmas much like people do in western countries. Houses are decorated with lights and a large Christmas tree, carols are sung and the traditional roast turkey dinner is often eaten to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Phongsaly, Laos

Phongsaly, LaosSituated in north Laos, not too many people venture into the town of Phonsaly. However, those who do take the time and trouble will find an area rich in traditional culture and natural beauty. With more than twenty ethnic tribes living in the area, this is a good place to discover the diverse life styles, dress styles and religious practices that make these tribes unique. (more…)

Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia

The second largest city in Cambodia, Battambang makes the idea base to explore the surrounding attractions. Situated to the northwest of Cambodia, Battambang is full of interesting buildings left over from the French colonial era and has a pleasantly relaxed feeling that entices many travellers to extend their stay for a day or two.

Battambang takes its name from the legend of an ancient Khmer king, who is said to have calmed the city’s rebellions with his battambang staff. As you wander through the city streets you will see a statue representing this event as well as a number of interesting statues depicting mythical animals and religious characters.

There is plenty to see and do in Battambang. Start by climbing the hill of Phnom Sampeu to enjoy spectacular views of the city and explore the hill’s caves, stupas and monastery. Near the hill is Wat Banan, which is dubbed a mini Angkor Wat and contains a large Buddhist shrine. Just to the west of the city, Wat Ek Phnom has also been constructed in Angkorian style, while Wat Baydamran is home to hundreds of fruit bats.

Situated 70 kilometers north of the city of Battambang in northeastern Cambodia, Bantaey Chhmar is a pretty temple complex built by Jayavarman VII as a tribute to the death of his son Indravarman and four generals in battle. Dating back to the 9th century, this is a great place to explore on a day trip. A mighty battle took place on this site in 1177 when it was invaded by the Cham people. Those interested in the areas unusual history can find the story engraved on the stone ways that surround Bantaey Chhmar. The complex has been overgrown by forest, giving it a mystical quality and it features large Avalokiteshvara faces which are reminiscent of the Bayon temple near Siem Reap.

Head out of Battambang to discover the ancient wooden houses of Watkor, which is a very pretty village. Other nearby villages worth exploring include Kompong Seyma, and Ksach Puoy. These villages offer a real insight into traditional Khmer life and you will still find people engrossed in skills such as weaving and basket making.

An interesting way to explore this area is by riding the bamboo train known as the norry. The Wat Poveal Museums is a good place to learn more about the Khmer arts, while just 44 kilometres from the city is Pich Chenda, a very pretty nature and wildlife preserve.

Walk along the bank of the Sangker River in the evening and you will discover a large number of small food stalls selling traditional Khmer food and also delicious French bread. This is a great place to get a cheap meal and perhaps wash it down with a beer or two.

A great way to travel to Battambang is by boat from Siem Reap. This scenic journey takes you slowly through the countryside, past floating villages and fishermen along narrow canals and waterways.

Ubon, Thailand

Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

Ubon Ratchathani Province is located in the southeast of the Isan region of Thailand. The capital city bears the same name, but is more commonly known as Ubon. The name means Royal Land Lotus Blossom in the Thai language and refers to the exceptional natural beauty of the area.

The city, which sits on the northern bank of the Mun River, was originally founded in the late 18th century by Lao immigrants and still retains many aspects of Lao style and culture. For an insight into the rich and interesting history of this area, pay a visit to the Ubon National Museum.

Ubon Ratchathani is best loved for its stunning national parks. No visit is complete without seeing the spectacular Phu Chong Na Yoi National Park, which covers an area of 687 square kilometers, featuring stunning views from the cliffs at Pha Pheung and the huge Bak Tew Yai Waterfall.

Another area of great beauty is the Kaeng Tana National Park and don’t miss the Pha Taem National Park with its pre-historic cliff paintings showing scenes of fishing, rice farming, figures of people and animals.

There are many beautiful waterfalls in the area, and it is possible to swim in the clear waters of most. Some of the best include Nam Tok Saeng Chan, Nam Tok Thung Na Muang and the magnificent Nam Tok Soi Sawan.

It goes without saying that there are many interesting temples to explore, embodying design features of both Lao and Thai temple art. Look out for Wat Tung Si Muang, Wat Supattanaram, the rectangular chedi of Wat Phra That Nong Bua, Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram and many others.

Koh Hat Wat Tai is a small island in the Mae Nam Mun which is great for swimming and sunbathing. Another attraction in the area are the Warin Chamrap District Temples. These are two temples where people from all over the world gather to study meditation. Wat Nong Pa Phung is reserved for Thai people, while Wat Pa Nanachat is for non-Thais.

The silk weaving village of Wat Nong Bua is located 18 kilometers from the city and makes a great day trip, while many people travel to ride the Kaeng Saphue rapids or take a boat trip on the turbulent white waters.

Ubon has a large night market, which is a great place to get a cheap meal and buy some local produce.

If you are in the area during the festival of awk hansaa in July, make sure you stay for the Candle Festival, when processions of wax religious images are carried through the city on floats.

Festivals and Holidays in Thailand

Festivals and Holidays in Thailand
Festivals and Holidays in Thailand
Festivals and Holidays in Thailand
Festivals and Holidays in Thailand
Festivals and Holidays in Thailand
festivals_and_holidays_6
Festivals and Holidays in Thailand

There are a wide variety of festivals in Thailand, all of them vibrant and colourful. Although the majority of festivals take place from November to February when the weather is cooler, practically every month is marked by some sort of celebration or public holiday.

Most festivals are full of traditional cultural practices, and although many celebrations seem light-hearted, most are also marked with a visit to the local temple to give gifts, say prayers and make wishes (known as making merit).

Although usually revolving around traditional Thai and religious practices, most Thai people are happy for westerners to join in the festivities and welcome the opportunity to show off their culture and as a way to make new friends.

Here is a list of the main festivals. Most festivals revolve around the phases of the moon, so these are only rough dates.

King’s Birthday

December 5th provides people with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate their love and devotion to His Majesty the King. The best place to experience this festival is Bangkok, which is lavishly decorated, especially along Thanon Ratchadamnoen Klang, near the Grand Palace.

That Phanom Festival

This festival is celebrated in January and involves 10-day homage to the northeast’s most sacred Buddhist stupa (Phra That Phanom) in Nakhon Phanom Province. The festival is attended by pilgrims from all over Thailand and Laos.

Bangkok International Film Festival

Also in January, this is a great way to enjoy some award winning films and get an introduction into Asian cinema. (www.bangkokfilm.org).

Chiang Mai Flower Festival

A must see if you are in Chiang Mai in January. The city explodes in colour as the streets are filled with floats and parades exhibit Chiang Mai’s diverse plant life.

Chinese New Year

Not to be missed, this vibrant festival usually takes place around the end of January and is known as trut jiin in Thai. Celebrated all over Thailand with a week of house-cleaning, lion dances and fireworks, a good place to witness the festivities is Bangkok’s China Town.

Magha Puja

Held around the full moon of the third lunar month, this festival commemorates Lord Buddha’s preaching to 1250 enlightened monks who came to hear him ‘without prior summons’. Naturally, alcohol is banned during this festival, which features a candle-lit walk around the (main chapel) at every wat.

Songkran

Also not to be missed, this celebration of the Thai New Year takes place between April 13 – 15. Perhaps the liveliest festival of the year, people celebrate by visiting the temple, exchanging gifts and throwing water at each other.

Khao Phansa

In mid-late July, this festival marks the start of Buddhist ‘Lent’. This is the time of year when many young men enter the monkhood, where they will stay for three months during the monsoon season. The festival is celebrated in most towns and especially schools by parades of huge carved candles on floats in the streets, culminating in a visit to the temple, where offerings are made to the monks.

Vegetarian Festival

Usually taking place in October, this is a great opportunity for visitors to try the delicious selection of Chinese and Thai vegetarian food which suddenly fills the streets during this nine-day festival. As well as visiting the temple, many people demonstrate their devotion with displays of self-mortification, especially in Phuket!


Loi Krathong

One of the most awaited festivals of the year, Loi Krathong takes place at the start of November, when people float small boats made from lotus leaves, candles and incense to apologise to the water spirits for polluting the water. This is a vibrant celebration filled with fireworks, dancing and drinking.

Surin Annual Elephant Roundup

Held on the third weekend of November, Thailand’s biggest elephant show is an unusual experience which is worth a look if you are around Surin at the time.

Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai’s Spiritual Side

Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai's Spiritual Side
Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai's Spiritual Side
Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai's Spiritual Side

They say that if you only see one temple in Thailand, Doi Suthep is the one to see. Set on a mountain plateau overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, this site is steeped in history and religious significance. It’s also visually stunning. Granted, if you’re in Chiang Mai, odds are good that you stumbled upon at least 3 temples on your morning bottled-water run to the Family Mart. Believe me though, this is a temple that lives up to the hype, scenically, spiritually, and even pop-culturally (the opening to Rambo 3 was filmed on the temple steps).

A 40 Baht songtaew from the city centre takes you up the winding mountain road where Doi Suthep lies 1676 metres above Chiang Mai. The last dozen or so must be trekked on foot, up the 306-step staircase with carved dragon handrails and cool forests on either side. Of course, lazy sightseers can always opt for the 20baht cable car. While the base of the steps is swimming with chatty local vendors peddling paintings, carvings, fruit and Fanta, the temple itself is big enough to allow even the largest crowd of tourists some breathing space.

The history of the temple is a tale of monks, kings, elephants and relics. According to legend, a 14th century monk from Sukhothai found a relic from Buddha, and the Lanna King Keu Naone offered to enshrine the piece. The relic was placed on the back of a white elephant, a sacred symbol. He carried the relic up the mountain, stopped on the site where the temple stands today, and died. The temple was constructed in 1383, with a statue honouring the white elephant inside the front gate.

Your ticket (30 Baht) allows free roam of the temple grounds, though tour guides are plentiful and very helpful. Amidst Buddhist statues, jackfruit trees, and rows of metal bells (rung constantly by curious children, despite the signs warning visitors not to push the bells), the outer area is cool and spaceous, with plenty of gilded doors and ornamental carving to admire.

The bookshop and cafes allow visitors a chance to rest their feet (and cameras). It’s also a chance to take in the views of the evergreen hills and exotic birds which make up the 260 square kilometres of Doi Suthep National Park. On the other side of the entrance gate, a lookout point offers an impressive view of sprawling Chiang Mai and the distant Ping river.

The middle of the temple is the more sacred cloister area, and visitors can remove their shoes and admire the golden Lanna-style Chedi, standing 79 feet high and housing the famous relic of Buddha. Ornametal umbrellas and Buddha statues, all gold, stand around the chedi. The surrounding walls are painted with murals depicting the life of Buddha. If you have the fortune of witnessing this sight on a clear sunny day, it’s easy to get lost in a trance with this shining gold scene. This area is considered to be one of the holiest in Thailand, and makes the trip up the mountain well worthwhile.

Those in search of a spiritual stay in Chiang Mai can book into Doi Suthep’s International Buddhism Centre and stay in the temple itself, finding meditative peace in the natural and spiritual beauty in the temple and its surroundings. The website provides further information at http://www.fivethousandyears.org/

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

Puttamonthon Park – Lizard Safari


Puttamonthon Park
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari

We creep slowly through the forest, taking care to tred lightly and not to make even the slightest sound. All is still; the only sounds the faint rustling of the leaves in the trees.

Suddenly, my friend stops and motions for me to stand still. “There!” he hisses, pointing to the river bank. “Can you see it?”

All I can make out is an empty patch of grassy bank splashed with shadows. Suddenly, one of the ‘shadows’ moves slightly and I can make out the long, scaly tail of a large monitor lizard. I want to rush forwards for a better look, but my friend holds me back and we watch in silence as the mighty beast suns itself on the bank.

We remain that way for several minutes, the three of us, one oblivious to the rapt attention of the other two. Then suddenly the monitor lizard sees a fish splashing in the river and slides off the bank to retrieve it. There is a short struggle, then both fish and lizard disappear from sight.

Stopping frequently to spy on the huge reptiles, my friend and I walk quietly and carefully through a large bamboo forest. It is hard to believe that we are just a short bus ride from Bangkok.

The intensely beautiful park of Buddhamonthon is located in Tambon Salaya, part of Nakhon Pathom Province. The park covers an area of about 1,000 acres and is an important religious site.

The park was built by the government in 1957 or B.E 2500 by the Thai calendar to commemorate the 2500th year of the existence of Buddhism. One of the main focal points is a bronze-gold standing Buddha image, which measures a colossal 15.8 metres. The Buddha image was named “Phra Sri Sakkaya Thosapol Yan Phratan Buddhamonthon Suta” by the current King, His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyadej.

Around the magnificent statue are four commemorative sites concerning Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, the first preaching sermon and his death. There is also a Buddhist museum nearby, meditation halls, a university and a large library.

The park is highly revered and popular during religious festivals such as Visaka Bucha Day, Makabuscha Day, Ananhabucha Day and the Loy Krathong festival, when tiny candle filled vessels are set onto the river.

In addition to being a sacred site, Buddhamonthon is also a place of extreme natural beauty. Filled with pretty ornamental gardens, bamboo forests and sparkling streams and rivers spanned by stepping stones and cable bridges, this is a great place to go for a walk or meditate in the shade of one of the mighty trees.

Because this is a sacred area, the wildlife is protected and the rivers and streams are teeming with fish. A peaceful pastime is to buy a bag of food from one of the vendors who wander around the park. As soon as the food touches the water the stream comes alive, the fish writhing so closely together that it seems as though the stream were made of fish rather than water.

You can buy almost anything to feed the fish with; from pungent fish pellets to brightly coloured corn snacks. My favourite fish treat is a huge bag of popcorn, which not only smells better than some of the alternatives but also seems to be very popular with the fish.

Among the other wildlife in the park are turtles, which splash happily in the streams and small canals and you will also see a range of brightly coloured bird in amongst the trees.

It can be quite hot and humid in the park, especially in the bamboo forest. Luckily, there are public showers next to the toilets and this is a great opportunity to cool off before getting the bus back to Bangkok.

Information:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!