Wednesday, December 21, 2011

floating lotus flowers

On the first of November, the bungalow we were staying in put up a glimmering gold-metallic banner with red letters spelling out "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" in both Thai and English. A few other shops and restaurants hung the same sign, but unlike our bungalow, they cut off the part which read "Merry Christmas".

Either way, a New Years sign seems a bit untimely in the month of November, unless you're following the Thai lunar calendar. Because, if you did, the decor wouldn't seem out of place at all.  Actually, it would be strange not to see it.

What I was looking forward to was not the Thai New Year, but what preceded it: Loi Kathrong, a festival to pay respects and ask forgiveness to the goddess of water, Pra Mae Khongkha. It occurs the night of the full moon on the 12th lunar month. It also happens to coincide with the annual floodings, which seems fitting.

In some parts of Thailand, the holiday is also celebrated on the same day as Yi Peng, the lantern festival. Millions of paper lanterns are lit and float gracefully across the sky.  Sadly, due to the protected rainforest on Koh Chang, the Yi Peng celebration was prohibited.  So instead of lighting up the sky, we lit up the waters with slices of banana trees covered in banana leaves to resemble a lotus flower. 

After attending a festival in a nearby city with its staged plays, street markets selling everything from clothing to fried cockroaches, games for children, and stations to receive blessings from monks, we went back to the pier in our little village of Bang Bao and made our wishes for the new year before lighting the candles and letting our kathrong float off into the ocean.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Forest monks

One afternoon, thirteen of us crammed into an open air taxi; which appeared to me like a smaller, cleaner and more modern version of a dala dala. We were told we were going to visit a special Buddhist monastery, one with meditating monks - the only of their kind on the island. For an hour and a half we drove up hills, around corners, and through highly touristic villages, all the while trying not to jab an elbow in the face of the person sitting next to us. We only later found out that the monastery is located a mere 10 kilometers east of Bang Bao. But due to a number of mountainous hills, no road was ever created to connect the two locations. Instead, those in Bang Bao have to drive the entire perimeter of the island to reach the monastery. On our return, we opted for a boat ride instead.

The monastery is located on top of one of the aforementioned mountainous hills, surrounded by trees. It houses four small sleeping huts set on stilts (one of which being the resting place of one or two deceased monks in a coffin hanging off the underbelly of the hut),
an unpretentious temple,
a few other one-roomed buildings and places of worship. The four living monks spend most of their days sitting in meditation, or walking along a prayer path in order to release pent up energy.

The local is quite beautiful, not to mention peaceful.  Yet, I don't see how the monks manage it.  I'd be bored in minutes... (I can't manage to meditate for more than 10 minutes, none-the-less years).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Isn't it, like, an unwritten rule or something?

As touristic as it is, you really can't visit Thailand without riding (and swimming with) an elephant. It may even be borderline compulsory.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

no inhibitions

With rare exceptions, I don't mind making a fool of myself.  I'll try new things (as long as it's not compromising to my health, such as eating monkey brains or jumping out of an airplane without a parachute or something).  I'll ask to join in on things, like a Thai karaoke session, held in an open garage, if it looks fun enough.  After all, the worst that could happen is that I'd look like a fool while receiving a rejection, or in this case, while singing a song in a language I can't understand.

Then again, I didn't hear any complaints, and everyone was enjoying themselves despite the music.  Plus, they even asked us to come back the next day.