Where the Faithful Worship Among the Tourists

JUST before midnight, the monks were still arriving. Dressed in long, flowing white robes, they resembled fireflies as they rode through the darkness on their motorbikes, descending on the towering temple at the heart of the Cao Dai holy land in southern Vietnam. Many were attending their fourth service of the day.

Removing his sandals and smoothing down his robes, Vo Huu Nghia, 60, who had befriended me that day last year, joined them. He silently entered the cavernous temple and, finding a spot, knelt down and began to chant his prayers. Above him were the serene faces of Jesus, Confucius and Buddha, while a giant all-seeing eye stared down at the few hundred worshipers.

“We are Vietnamese, this is our religion,” Mr. Vo told me later in halting English.

For 70 years this elaborate, dragon-adorned temple outside the small city of Tay Ninh, about 60 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) near the Cambodian border, has been the center of Cao Dai, which has five million adherents. While it is not the country’s dominant religion, it has the distinction of being its largest homegrown one.

Every year tens of thousands of visitors, pilgrims and tourists, visit the temple to worship or simply to gaze in awe at its vaulted ceilings, vibrant color schemes and praying masses. And then there’s its unusual collection of saints, prophets and religious iconography, which in range, kitsch and spectacle presents an impressive cross-section of religious and aesthetic styles. But that’s befitting a religion that aims to unite all of humanity through the common vision of an individual creator — the same God honored by most major religions. The protagonist of Graham Greene’s “Quiet American” (1955) described the temple like this: “Christ and Buddha looking down from the roof of a cathedral on a Walt Disney Fantasia of the East, dragons and snakes in Technicolor.”

I had been drawn to the temple after coming across a list of Cao Dai (pronounced gao-DIE) saints that included Joan of Arc, Thomas Jefferson, Sun Yat-sen (the revolutionary father of Chinese republicanism) and Victor Hugo. This diverse group was apparently drawn from those spirits who reached out to Cao Dai priests during séances to impart wisdom and guidance. Some, like Victor Hugo, were said to have regularly communicated with the Cao Dai from beyond the grave.

Visitors to the compound today won’t see a séance — the government banned the practice in 1970s — but there is more than enough to thrill and confuse even the most temple-weary tourist.

The compound has two ornate temples, and a pope’s office, in front of which believers subjugate themselves out of reverence for the first, and only, Cao Dai pope, Pham Cong Tac. (He died in 1959 in exile in Cambodia after running afoul of the South Vietnamese government.) The 188-acre grounds include dormitories and kitchens for the hundreds of resident priests, a high school, a hospital, forests and a large area for religious processions.

I decided to forgo the $6 daily tour buses from Ho Chi Minh City for a three-hour trip by crowded public transport to the nearby town, a journey that still afforded a view of the city’s vast sprawl giving way to miles upon miles of paddy fields. Tay Ninh is in a tropical, agricultural area, and besides the Cao Dai temple and the nearby Cu Chi tunnel system left over from the Vietnam War, there is little to draw tourists.

Checking into the nearest hotel in the small, ramshackle town that has grown around the outskirts of the temple complex, I quickly headed out for what would be the first of many Cao Dai services, which are held every six hours throughout the day and night.

Inside the main temple, worshipers and priests were already bowed, their heads planted firmly on the cool stone floor as they chanted words of praise, accompanied by a single drumbeat and a few stringed instruments.

Closest to the Divine Eye above the altar, several priests in bright red, yellow and blue robes adorned with a large eye and with elaborate headdresses led the worship. On the balconies above, foreign and Vietnamese tourists watched in silence, a concession made by the temple priests, who allow tour groups in exchange for much-needed dollars. (Every day, about a half-dozen busloads of visitors come to see the noon service before heading to the Cu Chi tunnels and then back to the city.)

Thirty minutes after the chanting had begun, it was over, and with that the worshipers stood up and quietly filed out. The priests and student priests remained, enjoying the cool temple air rather than braving the outdoor heat; some went to their rooms to rest.

Soon the tourists were gone too, and the only people left beside me were a handful of sun-worn priests occupying the temple, constructed to be the center of a holy land for a religion created from the vision of a civil servant in 1919.

Today’s striking multicolor, dragon-adorned temple was built from 1933 to 1955, and in architectural terms, is part church, part pagoda, crammed with ornate drums and gongs, haloed statues of saints and other holy figures, and lavish and colorful symbols of other religions. There’s also a sphere depicting the all-seeing Divine Eye — Cao Dai’s offering to the religious cornucopia.

Beyond the four daily services there is little for visitors to the temple complex to do but wander the well-kept grounds, talk to — or simply smile at — the priests and practitioners, and seek shelter from the scorching heat in one of the airy temple buildings. Despite this, I found that the hours drifted by in peaceful contemplation.

I also struck up conversations with a few of the faithful, aided by a translator. Most of the worshipers and temple leaders were long past retirement age, perhaps a sign of the decline of the religion or simply a natural byproduct of people raising families and working. It also seemed to be an egalitarian faith, with just as many of the priests and student priests older women.

“I was born into the faith but had a family life and raised six children,” said Ho Huong Pham, 82, a student priest. “When my husband died 20 years ago, my children were grown up and I came here to devote myself to the faith.”

On the final morning of my two-day stay in Tay Ninh — during which I had left the complex only to eat nearby street food or sleep — I was invited to drink tea with one of the temple’s bishops. A quiet, elderly man, he smiled and explained to me the importance of the various robes (yellow represents Buddhism, blue Taoism and red Confucianism). After a while we sat in silence until it was time for him to put on his yellow ceremonial robes to lead the midday service. As I got up to leave he shook my hand and invited me to come back, before slowly making his way toward the temple a hundred yards away.

On the cramped, un-air-conditioned bus that took me out of town, I remembered a conversation with a man at the temple worshiping with his granddaughter. “Cao Dai is a collection of the best parts of many religions,” the man, Huynh Van Hgoat, 53, had told me.

Despite this, he was doubtful about the future of the religion.

“Ninety percent of believers live in the Mekong,” he said. “Of course I hope the religion is growing, but I doubt it. One day there might be only tourists here.”

A History of Cao Dai

In 1919, Ngo Van Chieu, a lowly Vietnamese civil servant working for the French colonial administration, received a vision of God and, following the heavenly message, began preaching a credo based on the unity of world religions. According to his new doctrine this would be the third alliance between god and mankind, the first coming at the time of the founding of Judaism and Hinduism, and the second around the time that Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism began. Cao Dai would be the third and final alliance, the religion that would unite and prove the unified message of all of these earlier religions.

The new religion followed the Buddhist cycle of reincarnation, drew upon the ethical precepts of Confucianism, had an ecclesiastical hierarchy similar to that of the Roman Catholic church and yet preached the Taoist concept of yin-yang, of two balancing forces, good and bad.

Cao Dai spread quickly through Vietnam, and by the 1950s it was such a force that it was said to command an army of 25,000 in the Mekong region during the turbulent and uncertain days at the end of the French occupation and claim an eighth of the country’s population as believers.

This rapid growth wouldn’t last. After the Vietnam War — during which Cao Dai priests refused to side with the Vietcong, even after their military had been subdued by the South and their pope exiled — the religion had all of its land confiscated. The land around the temple was returned in 1985.

Thailand diseases and dangers.

There are diseases and other health issues to watch out for if you are visiting or living in Thailand. Yes Thailand has malaria in some places but personally I have never had preventative injections before visiting and touch wood have not had any serious disease in the 26 years of visiting Thailand. I have family and friends that have contracted dengue fever over the years and I know it isn’t a pleasant experience and can be costly for a non Thai to get medical aid. However there are other things healthwise to watch for and a major one for visitors is caused by food and water. Most Thais are well protected from stomach problems simply by becoming immune to the bugs present in street food where utensils and dishes are washed in cold water (I notice in many  street restaurants they use the plastic dishes because they don’t break like ceramic but they get a stain from frequent use and those stains can harbour germs -I personally would soak the dishes in a bleach solution to remove the stains and improve the look and safety for customers after rinsing thoroughly of course). Chopsticks are another thing I watch for for the same reasons and prefer to use spoon and fork unless a place has throw away ones.   Raw food like “somtam” is probably one to steer clear of for a “farang” and the novelty of eating insects can also be dodgy as most contain a parasitic worm. Ice can be a problem as many street food places have a “gradic” or “ice box” which is opened and closed many times a day allowing bacteria and other things to fall in plus many are not cleaned out but ice is regularly delivered and placed on top of old ice. I always make my own ice or buy in sealed bags from seven eleven and other shops. Some places may even use tap water which can cause problems as well. I never have ice in my drinks but prefer to buy a drink from the fridge. If a stomach problem occurs it is advised to go to a doctor or even a chemist will sort you out -diarrhea can be stopped by buying “imodium” but a very cheap local version is exactly the same called Noxzy and only @ 10 baht a dose but also an antibiotic may be prescribed for more serious cases. 

Other things to be aware of for visitors are the suspect alcoholic drinks served at bars and particularly the beach parties. However common sense can save you from many problems -the old saying is “do not leave your brains at the airport” watch what you put in your bodies and a great holiday will be the outcome.

Diseases and deaths.

Population: 69,892,000
Per capita income: $7,640
Life expectancy at birth women/men: 77/70 yrs
Infant mortality rate: 12/1000 live births

Top 10 Causes of Death

Source: GBD Compare, 2010

  1. Cancer 19%
  2. Ischemic Heart Disease 12%
  3. Stroke 10%
  4. Lower Respiratory Infections 9%
  5. HIV 4%
  6. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 4%
  7. Diabetes 4%
  8. Road Injuries 4%
  9. Chronic Kidney Disease 2%
  10. Cirrhosis 2% ——–Although not a disease as shown road injuries are quite high and visitors need to take great care traveling or crossing roads. 
  11. As mentioned above Dengue fever is becoming more common and other mosquitoes born diseases like – malaria and Zika- although malaria doesn’t seem to be a big problem these days it is still in some places so avoid being bitten by them. Zika virus is a risk in Thailand.
    • Pregnant women should not travel to Thailand because Zika infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects.
    • Partners of pregnant women and couples planning pregnancy should know possible risks to pregnancy and take preventive steps. Before travel, those planning pregnancy should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider.
    • All travelers should follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during and after their trip. Travelers should also use condoms during and after their trip to prevent sexual transmission of Zika and other sexually transmitted disease.
    • Although not a disease but a danger is the presence of box jellyfish that sometimes frequent the sea around Southern coasts especially during the rainy season so watch for local news and flags pointing out the dangers.
  12. Dog bites/cat bites and other animal bites can be a serious problem and must be treated however small because of “rabies”. Rabies requires a series of anti-rabies shots @ 5 shots but this will also give a few years protection as well -it is well to stay clear of the many stray street dogs -most are friendly but you never know.
  13. Dangerous Animals in Thailand
    • Poisonous Snakes.
    • Giant Centipedes.
    • Jellyfish.
    • Coral.
    • Mosquitoes.
    • Scorpions.
    • Spiders.
    • Ants. Yes there are some things that can be a danger to life in Thailand although the possibility is small it is better to stay clear of these animals -my own farm has regular visits from venomous snakes and I have become quite an expert at removing them with professional equipment but I always treat them with great respect and as a Buddhist do my best never to kill them. Most visitors will never come across these things if they are in tourist areas but visitors to wildlife parks can come into contact with any one of these and also wild elephants -monkeys -crocodiles and other animals and once again common sense is needed (this year a tourist lady tried to take a selfie with a sleeping crocodile in Khao Yai national park and she slipped next to it so it grabbed her by the leg. Fortunately it let her go instead of dragging her into its pond). Driving as well in these areas takes caution as elephants are easily spooked and can wreck a car and you inside -always be quiet and non threatening especially if babies are with mothers.
    • Apart from animals people can also become a problem. Thais are wonderful and have a lifestyle which is geared around non-conflict and as long as respect is shown you will get along well with Thais -however they have a breaking point and will not be pushed beyond -beware of upsetting a Thai-man or woman as my wife of many years says “we are gentle people with hot blood” once a Thai is pushed too far it is atomic -always wai and smile if in a difficult situation -better to be safe than brave. Having said that I have found Thais very friendly even drunken ones if you handle them right -remember “psychology every time”. 
    • Attitude. Yes attitude can make all the difference when the traveller comes across a problem and a calm non confrontational approach works every time -aggressive-shouting-angry  attitude will work against you in fixing a problem. I remember a British guy who had slept in and missed his van to Ban Phe yet another companies van took him there as a concession to the first company but he arrived without the ferry ticket to the island of Koh Samet and  he was shouting red faced at the young girl of the company he had originally booked at. The girl was straight faced and obviously under pressure while the young guy got angrier. I approached to see what the commotion was and he told me about sleeping in and not getting his boat ticket. I asked him “is this your first time in Thailand”, “yes my first time”. “Do you know that shouting and being angry will make your problem worse and cause the Thai girl to lose face”? “The best thing is to keep calm and smile-yes I know it is hard” . “Have you been to Kho Samet before” I asked him. “No never”, “well it’s like bloody paradise with white sands-clear blue sea and palm trees -you are standing here wasting time when you could be laying on those sands”. “Do you know you can go over the road and jump in a boat and be on Samet in 30 minutes and the ticket is only 25 baht”? “REALLY” he said excited -“YUP”- he patted me on the shoulder and said “thanks mate” and was off like a shot haha. I saw him a few times on the island and he always gave me a thumbs up.
    • There are other things in the sea besides jelly fish but mostly it is safe -no recorded shark attacks despite the movie “The Beach” but there are things under the sand that can hurt as my son-in-law found out on Koh Samui when he stood on something that stabbed under his foot -whether it was a sting ray or shellfish we don’t know but it became infected and very painful and he had to go to hospital and get whatever it was out and have injections as well -his language was a bit ripe as the poor doctor dug into his foot with a scalpel but he was in great pain.
    • The wasps here are lethal especially the large Asian hornet so best to keep away and same with the awful looking centipedes that have a bad bite (the long brown round ones are harmless).
    • All in all Thailand is very safe and you will not have a problem but as the old motto when I was in the “observer corps” “forewarned is forearmed”. It is best to adopt the Thai attitude summed up in these phrases “jai yen yen” (keep a cool heart) and “mai pen rai” (never mind everything is OK). Have a great trip and “Chok dee krup”  (be lucky).

The history and evolution of Traditional Thai massage.

“Thai massage” or “Thai yoga massage” is an ancient healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures.

In the Thai language it is usually called nuat phaen thai (Thai: นวดแผนไทย; lit. “Thai-style massage”) or nuat phaen boran (Thai: นวดแผนugfgoโบราณ, IPA: [nûət pʰɛ̌ːn boːraːn]; lit. “ancient-style massage”), though its formal name is nuat thai (Thai: นวดไทย, lit. Thai massage) according to the Traditional Thai Medical Professions Act, BE 2556 (2013).[1]

The Ministry of Health’s Department for Development of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine regulates Thai traditional massage venues and practitioners. As of 2016 the department says 913 traditional clinics have registered nationwide.[2]

Traditional Thai massage uses no oils or lotions. The recipient remains clothed during a treatment. There is constant body contact between the giver and receiver, but rather than rubbing on muscles, the body is compressed, pulled, stretched and rocked.[3]

The recipient wears loose, comfortable clothing and lies on a mat or firm mattress on the floor. In Thailand, a dozen or so subjects may be receiving massage simultaneously in one large room. The true ancient style of the massage requires that the massage be performed solo with just the giver and receiver. The receiver will be positioned in a variety of yoga-like positions during the course of the massage, that is also combined with deep static and rhythmic pressures.

The massage generally follows designated lines (“sen”) in the body. The legs and feet of the giver can be used to position the body or limbs of the recipient. In other positions, hands fix the body, while the feet do the massaging. A full Thai massage session may last two hours and includes rhythmic pressing and stretching of the entire body. This may include pulling fingers, toes, ears, cracking knuckles, walking on the recipient’s back, and moving the recipient’s body into many different positions. There is a standard procedure and rhythm to the massage, which the giver will adjust to fit the receiver.[4]

Traditional Thai massage vs ancient Thai massage[edit]

There are two main variations of the healing art: a traditional form which can be found most prominently in Thailand, and an ancient form which is more common in Nepal and northern India. Although the two forms may appear similar to an observer, there are differences that will be felt by the receiver. Ancient Thai massage starts with meditation performed by both the giver and the receiver. The giver will then recite a special mantra.

The variations in the two styles can be attributed to the loss of ancient texts and teachings that occurred in Thailand during the numerous wars between Thailand and Burma, during the course of three centuries of the Burmese–Siamese wars. This loss of information gave rise to traditional Thai massage. The ancient style has no corresponding breaks in its historical lineage.

The founder of Thai massage and medicine is said to have been Shivago Komarpaj (ชีวกโกมารภัจจ์ Jīvaka Komarabhācca), who is said in the Pāli Buddhist canon to have been the Buddha‘s physician over 2,500 years ago. He is noted in ancient documents for his extraordinary medical skills, his knowledge of herbal medicine, and for having treated important people of his day, including the Buddha himself.[5]

In fact, the history of Thai massage is more complex than this legend of a single founder would suggest. Thai massage, like Thai traditional medicine (TTM) more generally, is a combination of influences from Indian, Chinese, Southeast Asian cultural spheres, and traditions of medicine, and the art as it is practiced today is likely to be the product of a 19th-century synthesis of various healing traditions from all over the kingdom.[6] Even today, there is considerable variation from region to region across Thailand, and no single routine or theoretical framework that is universally accepted.

There are various styles of Thai massage with clear distinctions. The royal style (“rajasamnak”) historically is only used to treat the aristocracy and royal family. It is a very codified style involving acupressure on specific points and a clear distinction between giver and receiver. The popular-style (“chalosiak”) with its many regional variations, is what is commonly known as Thai massage. There is also the traditional regional medicine-style, which differs in content and practice, and is what would have been practiced by traditional doctors outside Bangkok in the past. Today, Thai massage is one of the branches of Thai traditional medicine now recognized and regulated by the government and is widely considered to be a medical discipline used for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments. On the other hand, Thai massage is also practiced and taught by a number of non-medical massage technicians in the spa and tourism industries. In North America and Europe, an increasing number of practitioners and teachers of Thai massage have emerged since the 1990s, most of them teaching the simplified officially sanctioned interpretation as found in the courses available to foreigners in Thailand.

Training.

A traditional massage practitioner is required to complete at least 800 hours training.[2]

Wat Pho, the center of Thai medicine and massage for centuries, opened the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School in 1955 on the temple grounds, the first such school approved by the Thai Ministry of Education. Wat Pho offers four basic courses of Thai medicine: Thai massage, Thai midwife-nurse, Thai pharmacy, and Thai medical practice.[7]

Thousands of students from around the world have studied at Wat Pho and subsequently gone on to work in massage, spa, and wellness centers in many countries.[citation needed] TMC is also one of the best schools in the north part of Thailand. ( Chiang mai ).

Mechanism of action

Generally speaking, givers of modern Thai massage operate on the hypothesis that the body is permeated with “lom”, or “air”, which is inhaled into the lungs and subsequently travels throughout the body along 72,000 pathways called “sen”, which therapists manipulate manually. This belief likely originating in Indian yoga, and was promoted by the government and schools, the sen being understood as either physical or non-physical structures depending on the interpretation. Traditional regional medicine, however, follows a different theoretical system, which involves the manipulation of the five body layers (skin, tissue, channels, bones, organs) to influence the relationship of the four body elements (earth, water, wind, fire), within this system, the sen are defined as tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels, and the element “lom” or “wind” is understood as the property of movement. This understanding derives from Buddhist medicine which has its roots in ancient Indian medicine.

All types of massage, including Thai massage, can help people relax, relieve aching muscles, and temporarily boost a person’s mood. However, many therapists make claims that go far beyond what massage can accomplish. It does increase circulation, gives temporary relief of pain, provides a sense of well-being, and promotes relaxation, but there is little evidence of further benefits.

How Buddhism came to Thailand by Karuna Kusalasaya

Buddhism in Thailand
Its Past and Its Present
by
Karuna Kusalasaya
Alternate format: [PDF icon]

People all over the world who are interested in Buddhism and keep in touch with its news and activities must have heard of the Buddha Jayanti celebrations held a few years ago in all Buddhist countries, including India and Japan. It was in 1957 or, according to the reckoning of some Buddhist countries, in 1956, that Buddhism, as founded by Gotama the Buddha, had completed its 2,500th year of existence. The Buddhist tradition, especially of the Theravada or Southern School such as now prevails in Burma, Ceylon, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, has it that on the completion of 2,500 years from its foundation, Buddhism would undergo a great revival, resulting in its all-round progress, in both the fields of study and practice. Buddhists throughout the world, therefore, commemorated the occasion in 1956-57 by various kinds of activities such as meetings, symposia, exhibitions and the publication of Buddhist texts and literature.

As to whether or not the tradition mentioned above has any truth behind it, the future alone will testify. However, judging from news received from all corners of the globe, it is no exaggeration to say that mankind is taking an ever-increasing interest in Buddhism. As a matter of fact, since the end of the Second World War interest in Buddhism as evinced by people in Europe, America, and Australia has reached a scale unheard of before. Any casual perusal of journals on Buddhism in any of these continents will convince the readers of this statement. It is a matter worth noticing that after the end of the First World War also, Buddhism made great headway in Europe and elsewhere. This phenomenon can perhaps be best explained by the fact that mankind’s spiritual thirst is more sharpened by calamities like war, and that in times of distress mankind realizes Truth better.

The Land of Yellow Robes

Thailand is perhaps the only country in the world where the king is constitutionally stipulated to be a Buddhist and the upholder of the Faith. For centuries Buddhism has established itself in Thailand and has enriched the lives of the Thais in all their aspects. Indeed, without Buddhism, Thailand would not be what it is today. Owing to the tremendous influence Buddhism exerts on the lives of its people, Thailand is called by many foreigners “The Land of Yellow Robes,” for yellow robes are the garments of Buddhist monks. In view of the increasing interest the world is taking in Buddhism and in view of the fact that Thailand is one of the countries where Buddhism still exists as a living force it will not, perhaps, be out of place to know something of the story of how this great faith reached that country.

Buddhism in Thailand: Its Past

Different opinions exist about when, exactly, Buddhism reached that part of the world now officially known as Thailand. Some scholars say that Buddhism was introduced to Thailand during the reign of Asoka, the great Indian emperor who sent Buddhist missionaries to various parts of the then known world. Others are of the view that Thailand received Buddhism much later. Judging from archaeological finds and other historical evidence, however, it is safe to say that Buddhism first reached Thailand when the country was inhabited by a racial stock of people known as the Mon-Khmer who then had their capital, Dvaravati, at a city now known as Nakon Pathom (Sanskrit: Nagara Prathama), about 50 kilometers to the west of Bangkok. The great pagoda at Nakon Pathom, Phra Pathom Chedi (Prathama cetiya), and other historical findings in other parts of the country testify to this fact as well as to the fact that Buddhism, in its varied forms, reached Thailand at four different periods, namely:

  1. Theravada or Southern Buddhism
  2. Mahayana or Northern Buddhism
  3. Burma (Pagan) Buddhism
  4. Ceylon (Lankavamsa) Buddhism

We shall now proceed to study each of these periods in detail.

I. Theravada or Southern Buddhism  

That the first form of Buddhism introduced to Thailand was that of Theravada (The Doctrine of the Elders) School is proved by various archaeological remains unearthed in the excavations at Nakon Pathom, such as the Dharma Chakra (Wheel of Law), the Buddha footprints and seats, and the inscriptions in the Pali language, all of which are in rocks. Such objects of Buddhistic veneration existed in India before the introduction of the Buddha image, which appeared later as a result of Greek influence. Buddhism, therefore, must have reached Thailand during the 3rd century B.C., and it must have been more or less the same form of Buddhism as was propagated by the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka. This form of Buddhism was known as Theravada or Hinayana (The Lower Vehicle) in contradistinction to the term Mahayana (The Higher Vehicle); the two schools having sprung up soon after the passing away of the Buddha. When worship of the Buddha image became popular in India, it also spread to other countries where Buddhism had already been introduced. This is borne out by the fact that many Buddha images, especially those of the Gupta style, had been found in the ruins of Nakon Pathom and the neighboring cities. Judging from the style of the Buddha images found, it can also be assumed that the early Buddhist missionaries to Thailand went from Magadha (in Bihar state, India).

To support the view that the first form of Buddhism introduced to Thailand was that of the Theravada School as propagated by Emperor Asoka, we have evidence from the Mahavamsa, the ancient chronicle of Ceylon. In one of its passages dealing with the propagation of the Dhamma, the Mahavamsa records that Asoka sent missionaries headed by Buddhist elders to as many as nine territories. One of these territories was known as Suvarnabhumi where two Theras (elder monks), Sona and Uttara, were said to have proceeded.

Now opinions differ as to where exactly this land of Suvarnabhumi is. Thai scholars express the opinion that it is in Thailand and that its capital was at Nakon Pathom, while scholars of Burma say that Suvarnabhumi is in Burma, the capital being at Thaton, a Mon (Peguan) town in eastern Burma near the Gulf of Martaban. Still other scholars of Laos and Cambodia claim that the territory of Suvarnabhumi is in their lands. Historical records in this connection being meager as they are, it would perhaps be of no avail to argue as to the exact demarcation of Suvarnabhumi. Taking all points into consideration, one thing, however, seems clear beyond dispute. That is Suvarnabhumi was a term broadly used in ancient times to denote that part of Southeast Asia which now includes Southern Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaya. The term Suvarnabhumi is a combination of the words suvarna and bhumi. Both are Sanskrit words; the former means gold and the latter stands for land. Suvarnabhumi therefore literally means Golden Land or Land of Gold. Keeping in view the abundance of nature in that part of Asia just referred to, the term seems but appropriate.

The reason why scholars of Thailand express the view that the capital of Suvarnabhumi was at Nakon Pathom was because of the archaeological finds unearthed in the area surrounding that town. Nowhere in any of the countries mentioned above, not even at Thaton in Burma, could one find such a large and varied number of ancient relics as were found at Nakon Pathom. By age and style these archaeological objects belong to the times of Emperor Asoka and the later Guptas. Even the Great Stupa (Phra Pathom Chedi) at Nakon Pathom itself is basically identical with the famous Sañchi Stupa in India, built by Asoka, especially if one were to remove the shikhara or upper portion. Many Thai archaeologists are of the opinion that the shikhara was a later addition to the pagoda, a result, so to say, of the blending of the Thai aesthetic sense with Indian architectural art. Moreover, the name Pathom Chedi (Pali: Pathama Cetiya) means “First Pagoda” which, in all probability, signifies that it was the first pagoda built in Suvarnabhumi. This would easily fit in with the record of the Mahavamsa — that Theras Sona and Uttara went and established Buddhism in the territory of Suvarnabhumi at the injunction of Emperor Asoka.[1] Taking cognizance of the fact that Asoka reigned from 269 to 237 B.C., we can reasonably conclude that Buddhism first spread to Thailand during the 3rd century B.C. It is interesting to note in this connection that the history of the penetration of Indian culture to Southeast Asia also started more or less during the same period.[2] 

II. Mahayana or Northern Buddhism  

With the growth of Mahayana Buddhism in India, especially during the reign of King Kanishka who ruled over Northern India during the second half of the first century A.D., the sect also spread to the neighboring countries, such as Sumatra, Java, and Kambuja (Cambodia). It is probable that Mahayana Buddhism was introduced to Burma, Pegu (Lower Burma) and Dvaravati (now Nakon Pathom in Western Thailand) from Magadha (in Bihar, India) at the same time as it went to the Malay Archipelago. But probably it did not have any stronghold there at that time; hence no spectacular trace was left of it.

Starting from the beginning of the fifth century A.D. Mahayana Buddhist missionaries from Kashmir in Northern India began to go to Sumatra in succession. From Sumatra the faith spread to Java and Cambodia. By about 757 A.D. (Buddhist Era: 1300) the Srivijaya king with his capital in Sumatra rose in power and his empire spread throughout the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago. Part of South Thailand (from Surasthani downwards) came under the rule of the Srivijaya king. Being Mahayanists, the rulers of Srivijaya gave much encouragement and support to the propagation of Mahayana Buddhism. In South Thailand today we have much evidence to substantiate that Mahayana Buddhism was once prevalent there. This evidence is in the form of stupas or chetiyas and images, including votive tablets of the Buddhas and Bodhisattas (Phra Phim), which were found in large number, all of the same type as those discovered in Java and Sumatra. The chetiyas in Chaiya (Jaya) and Nakon Sri Thammarath (Nagara Sri Dharmaraja), both in South Thailand, clearly indicate Mahayana influence.

From 1002 to 1182 A.D. kings belonging to the Suryavarman dynasty ruled supreme in Cambodia. Their empire extended over the whole of present-day Thailand. Being adherents of Mahayana Buddhism with a strong mixture of Brahmanism, the Suryavarman rulers did much to propagate and establish the tenets of the Northern School. There is an interesting stone inscription, now preserved in the National Museum at Bangkok, which tells us that in about 1017 A.D. (B.E. 1550) there ruled in Lopburi, in central Thailand and once a capital city, a king from Nakon Sri Thammarath who traced his ancestry to Srivijaya rulers. The king had a son who later became the ruler of Kambuja (Cambodia) and who, more or less, kept Thailand under the suzerainty of Cambodia for a long time. During this period there was much amalgamation of the two countries’ religions and cultures. The stone inscription under consideration probably refers to one of the Suryavarman kings who had blood relationship with the Srivijaya rulers.

From the inscription just referred to we also learn that at that period the form of Buddhism prevalent in Lopburi was that of Theravada, and that Mahayana Buddhism, already established in Cambodia, became popularized in Thailand only after Thailand had come under the sway of Cambodia. There are no indications, however, that the Mahayana School superseded the Theravada in any way. This was due to the fact that Theravada Buddhism was already on a firm basis in Thailand when the Mahayana School was introduced there. That there were monks of both schools, Theravada and Mahayana, in Lopburi during those days, is indicated in a stone inscription in the Cambodian language, found in a Brahmanic Temple within the vicinity of Lopburi city itself.

Much of the Brahmanic culture which survives in Thailand till today could be traced to its origin from Cambodia during this period. Many of the Cambodian kings themselves were zealous adherents of Brahmanism and its ways of life. This period, therefore, can be termed Mahayana Period. Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Hindus, took its root deep in Thailand during these times. 

III. Burma (Pagan) Buddhism  

In 1057 A.D. King Anuruddha (Anawratha) became powerful in the whole of Burma, having his capital at Pagan (Central Burma). Anuruddha extended his kingdom right up to Thailand, especially the Northern and Central parts, covering areas now known as Chiengmai, Lopburi, and Nakon Pathom. Being a Theravada Buddhist, Anuruddha ardently supported the cause of Theravada which Burma, like Thailand, at first received directly from India through missionaries sent by Emperor Asoka. However, at the time under consideration, Buddhism in India was already in a state of decline, and as contact between Burma and India was then faint, Theravada Buddhism, as prevalent in Burma at that time, underwent some changes and assumed a form somewhat different from the original doctrine. This, at a later stage, became what is known in Thailand as Burma (Pagan) Buddhism. During the period of King Anuruddha’s suzerainty over Thailand, Burmese Buddhism exercised great influence over the country, especially in the North where, owing to proximity, the impact from Burma was more felt.

It is significant that Buddhist relics found in North Thailand bear a striking Theravada influence, whereas those found in the South clearly show their Mahayana connections dating back from Srivijaya days. To a great extent this is due to the fact that, in their heyday of suzerainty over Thailand, the Burmese under Anuruddha were content with Upper Thailand only, while leaving the South practically to be ruled by their Khmer (Cambodian) vassals whose capital was at Lopburi.

From the beginning of the 2nd century B.C. the Thai people, whose original homeland was in the valleys between the Huang Ho and the Yangtze Kiang in China, began to migrate southwards as a result of constant friction with the neighboring tribes. In the course of their migration which lasted for several centuries, they became separated into two main groups. One group went and settled in the plains of the Salween River, Shan States, and other areas and spread on as far as Assam. This group of Thais is called Thai Yai (Big Thai). The other main group moved further South and finally settled in what is today termed Thailand. The latter group of Thais is called Thai Noi (Small Thai). The Thais in present-day Thailand are actually the descendants of these migrant Thais. Of course, in the course of their migration which, as said above, continued off and on for a long time, there had been a great deal of mixture of blood through intermarriage which was only natural. We should always bear in mind that there are several ethnic groups scattered through the length and breadth of Southeast Asia from times immemorial. But even today we can trace the language affinity of the Thais living in widely scattered areas such as Assam, Upper Burma, Southern China, Shan States, Laos, North Vietnam, and Thailand.

After struggling hard for a long time the Thais were able to establish their independent state at Sukhothai (Sukhodaya) in North Thailand. This was probably about 1257 A.D. (B.E. 1800). It was during the period of their movement southwards that the Thais came into contact with the form of Buddhism as practiced in Burma and propagated under the royal patronage of King Anuruddha. Some scholars are of the opinion that as Mahayana Buddhism had spread to China as early as the beginning of the Christian Era, the Thais, while still in their original home in China, must have already been acquainted with some general features of Buddhism. As the Thai migrants grew in strength their territory extended and finally they became the masters of the land in succession to Anuruddha, whose kingdom declined after his death. During the succeeding period, the Thais were able to exert themselves even more prominently in their southward drive. Thus they came into close contact with the Khmers, the erstwhile power, and became acquainted with both Mahayana Buddhism and Brahmanism as adopted and practiced in Kambuja (Cambodia). Much of the Brahmanic influence, such as religious and cultural rites, especially in the court circles, passed on from Cambodia to the Thais during this period, for Hinduism was already firmly established in Cambodia at that time. Even the Thai scripts, based on Cambodian scripts which, in turn, derived their origin from India, were invented by King Ram Kamhaeng of Sukhothai during the period under consideration.

Of the period under discussion it may be observed in passing that Northern Thailand, from Sukhothai District upwards, came much under the influence of Burma (Pagan) Buddhism, while in the central and southern parts of the country many Mahayana beliefs and practices, inherited from the days of the Suryavarmans and the Srivijayas, still persisted. 

IV. Ceylon (Lankavamsa) Buddhism  

This is the most important period in the history of the spread of Buddhism to Thailand, for it witnessed the introduction to that country of that form of Buddhism which remains dominant there until today.

About 1153 A.D. (B.E. 1696) Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 A.D.) became king of Ceylon, known in ancient days as Lanka. A powerful monarch and a great supporter of Theravada Buddhism, Parakramabahu did much to spread and consolidate the Dhamma of the Lord in his island kingdom. He it was who caused (according to some scholars of Southern Buddhism) the Seventh Buddhist Council[3] to be held under the chairmanship of Kassapa Thera, of Dimbulagala in order to revise and strengthen the Doctrine and the Discipline (Dhamma and Vinaya).

As a result of the efforts of King Parakramabahu the Great, Buddhism was much consolidated in Ceylon and the news spread to neighboring lands. Buddhist monks from various countries, such as Burma, Pegu (Lower Burma), Kambuja, Lanna (North Thailand) and Lanchang (Laos) flocked to Ceylon in order to acquaint themselves with the pure form of the Dhamma. Thailand also sent her Bhikkhus to Ceylon and thereby obtained the upasampada vidhi (ordination rite) from Ceylon, which later became known in Thailand as Lankavamsa. This was about 1257 A.D. (B.E. 1800). Apparently the early batches of Bhikkhus, who returned from Ceylon after studies, often accompanied by Ceylonese monks, established themselves first in Nakon Sri Thammarath (South Thailand), for many of the Buddhist relics bearing definitely Ceylonese influence, such as stupas and Buddha images, were found there. Some of these relics are still in existence today. News of the meritorious activities of these monks soon spread to Sukhothai, then the capital of Thailand, and King Ram Kamhaeng who was ruling at the time, invited those monks to his capital and gave them his royal support in propagating the Doctrine. This fact is recorded in one of the King’s rock inscriptions, dated about 1277 A.D. Since then Ceylon (Sinhala) Buddhism became very popular and was widely practiced in Thailand. Some of the Thai kings, such as King Maha Dharmaraja Lithai of Sukhothai dynasty and King Borom Trai Lokanath of the early Ayudhya Period, even entered the Holy Order or Bhikkhu Sangha according to the ordination rite of Lankavamsa Buddhism by inviting a patriarch from Ceylon, Maha Sami Sangharaja Sumana by name, to be the presiding monk over his upasampada (ordination) ceremony. Many monasteries, stupas, Buddha images and even Buddha footprints, such as the well-known one at Sraburi in central Thailand, were built in accordance with the usage popular in Ceylon. The study of Pali, the language of Theravada or Southern Buddhism, also made great progress, and in all matters dealing with the Dhamma the impact of Ceylon was perceptibly felt.

However, there had been no antagonism between the different forms of Buddhism already in existence in Thailand and the Lankavamsa which had been introduced later from Ceylon. On the contrary they seemed to have amalgamated peacefully, and all had adjusted themselves to one another’s benefit. This is evident in all religious rites and ceremonies of Thailand. Indeed, somewhat characteristic of the Buddhists, there had been a spirit of forbearance in all matters. For instance, even today Brahmanic rites thrive side by side with Buddhistic ceremonies in Thailand and Cambodia, especially in the royal courts.

History repeats itself. Years after, when in Ceylon under King Kirtisri (1747-1781 A.D.) the upasampada ordination was lost due to a decline of Buddhism and upheavals in the country, Thailand (during the reign of King Boromkot, 1733-1758 A.D.) was able to repay the debt by sending a batch of Buddhist monks, under the leadership of Upali and Ariyamuni Theras, who in the course of time established in Ceylon what is known as the Siyamopali Vamsa or Siyam Nikaya, or Siamese Sect, which still is a major sect in that country. Upali worked and died in Sri Lanka, the country he loved no less than his own.

Today, for all purposes, Thailand can be termed a Theravada Buddhist country. There are, of course, a few Mahayana monks and monasteries, but they are mostly confined to foreign communities, chiefly the Chinese. All, however, live at peace and cooperate with one another.

So much for the past of Buddhism in Thailand.

Buddhism in Thailand: Its Present

According to the census taken in 1960 the population of Thailand numbers 25,519,965. Of this number 94% are Buddhists (the rest are mostly Muslims and Christians). This fact itself demonstrates more than anything else how influential Buddhism is in Thailand. In their long history of existence the Thais seem to have been predominantly Buddhists, at least ever since they came into contact with the tenets of Buddhism. All the Thai kings in the recorded history of present-day Thailand have been adherents of Buddhism. The country’s constitution specifies that the King of Thailand must be a Buddhist and the Upholder of Buddhism.

The term “The Land of Yellow Robes” has not been inappropriately applied to Thailand, for two things strike most foreigners as soon as they set foot in that country. One is the Buddhist temple with its characteristic architecture, and the other is the sight of yellow-clad Buddhist monks and novices who are to be seen everywhere, especially in the early hours of dawn when they go out in great numbers for alms. The two sights inevitably remind the foreigners that here is a country where Buddhism is a dominant force in the people’s life. Indeed, to the Thai nation as a whole, Buddhism has been the main spring from which flow its culture and philosophy, its art and literature, its ethics and morality, and many of its folkways and festivals.

For clarity and convenience we shall divide the study of the present state of Buddhism in Thailand into two parts, namely the Bhikkhu Sangha or the Holy Order, and the Laity.

I. The Bhikkhu Sangha or the Holy Order  

The Bhikkhu Sangha or the Holy Order of Buddhist monks has been in existence in Thailand ever since Buddhism was introduced there. According to the 1958 census there were in the whole kingdom of Thailand 159,648 monks; 73,311 novices; and 20,944 monasteries or temples. These are scattered throughout the country, particularly more numerous in the thickly populated areas. The Bhikkhu Sangha of Thailand, being of Theravada or Southern School, observes the same set of discipline (Vinaya) as the Bhikkhu Sanghas in other Theravada countries such as Ceylon, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia. In spite of the fact that the government allots a yearly budget for the maintenance and repair of important temples and as stipends for high ranking monks, almost the entire burden for the support of the Sangha and the upkeep of the temples rests with the public. A survey entitled “Thailand Economic Farm Survey” made in 1953 by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of Thailand gives the religious cash expenses of the average Thai rural family per year as ranging from 5 to 10 per cent of its total annual cash income. It may be added here that the report concerns the average Thai rural family, and not the urban dwellers, the majority of whom, in Thailand as elsewhere, are less inclined to religion than the country folks.

TWO SECTS OR NIKAYAS

There are two sects or Nikayas of the Buddhist Order in Thailand. One is the Mahanikaya, and the other is the Dhammayuttika Nikaya. The Mahanikaya is the older and by far the more numerous one, the ratio in the number of monks of the two sects being 35 to 1. The Dhammayuttika Nikaya was founded in 1833 A.D. by King Mongkut, the fourth ruler of the present Chakri Dynasty who ruled Thailand from 1851 to 1868 A.D. Having himself spent 27 years as a Bhikkhu, the King was well versed in the Dhamma, besides many other branches of knowledge, including Pali, the canonical language of Theravada Buddhism. The express desire of the King in founding the Dhammayuttika sect was to enable monks to lead a more disciplined and scholarly life in accordance with the pristine teachings of the Buddha. The differences between the two Nikayas are, however, not great; at most they concern only matters of discipline, and never of the Doctrine. Monks of both sects follow the same 227 Vinaya rules as laid down in the Patimokkha of the Vinaya Pitaka (the Basket of the Discipline), and both receive the same esteem from the public. In their general appearance and daily routine of life too, except for the slight difference in the manners of putting on the yellow robes, monks of the two Nikayas differ very little from one another.

ORGANIZATION OF THE SANGHA

Formerly, and in accordance with the Administration of the Bhikkhu Sangha Act (B.E. 2484, A.D. 1943), the organization of the Sangha in Thailand was on a line similar to that of the State. The Sangharaja or the Supreme Patriarch is the highest Buddhist dignitary of the Kingdom. He is chosen by the King, in consultation with the Government, from among the most senior and qualified members of the Sangha. The Sangharaja appoints a council of Ecclesiastical Ministers headed by the Sangha Nayaka, whose position is analogous to that of the Prime Minister of the State. Under the Sangha Nayaka there function four ecclesiastical boards, namely the Board of Ecclesiastical Administration, the Board of Education, the Board of Propagation and the Board of Public Works.

Each of the boards has a Sangha Mantri (equivalent to a minister in the secular administration) with his assistants. The four boards or ministries are supposed to look after the affairs of the entire Sangha. The Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council which, by the way, corresponds to the Cabinet, consists of ten members, all senior monks of the Sangha. In addition to this, there is a Consultative Assembly (Sangha Sabha), equivalent to the National Assembly, the members of which number 45, selected from various important monasteries. The Sangha Sabha acts as an Advisory Body to the Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council. Below the Sangha Sabha the administration of the Sangha continues to correspond to the secular administration of the country. All monks and novices (samaneras) have to live in monasteries which are scattered throughout the country. Each monastery has its abbot appointed by the Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council in consultation with local people. It may be pointed out here that all religious appointments in Thailand are based on scholarly achievements, seniority, personal conduct and popularity, and contacts with monks further up in the Sangha.

There is a Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Education which acts as a liaison office between the Government and the Sangha. In general the Department of Religious Affairs works in cooperation with the Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council on all matters affecting the Sangha. For instance, it issues all legal directives concerning the entire community of monks; it keeps record of the Sangha’s property, such as lands etc.; it maintains facts and figures with respect to monks and monasteries. The Religious Affairs Department also prepares the annual budget for the upkeep of the Sangha functionaries and the maintenance and repair of temples etc. It may be added here that all temples and monasteries are State property.

In 1962, the Administration of the Bhikkhu Sangha Act of 1943 was abolished; a new one was enacted instead. By virtue of the new act, the posts of Sangha Nayaka, Sangha Mantris, and Sangha Sabha were abolished. In place of these there is a Mahathera Samagama (Council of the Elders) headed by the Sangharaja himself and consisting of not less than four and not more than eight senior monks (mahatheras) of the two sects (nikayas). The Mahathera Samagama, in collaboration with the Department of Religious Affairs, directly governs the entire Sangha.

EDUCATION OF MONKS

As is well known, the original idea of men’s entering monkhood during the Buddha’s time or shortly later, was to attain liberation from worldly existence in accordance with the teaching of the Master. Such an idea, of course, springs from man’s feeling of aversion to things mundane. In other words, in those far-off days, men entered monkhood with the sole intention of ridding themselves of life’s miseries and of obtaining spiritual freedom or Nirvana. Instances of such self-renunciation are found in the holy books of the Buddhists. With the passage of time, as is only natural, many of the ideals and practices of the early followers of the Buddha underwent modifications. Today, over 2,500 years after the passing away of the Buddha, though the ideal of becoming a Bhikkhu still remains very lofty among Buddhists of all lands, in practice it must be admitted that there have been many deviations from the Master’s original admonitions with regard to the whys and wherefores of man’s entering monkhood. Generalization of any subject matter is often dangerous but it will not be far from truth to say that today, in Thailand as in other Buddhist countries, the practice of Buddhist males entering monkhood is to a considerable extent prompted rather by the dictation of custom, the wish for education and other external considerations than by the desire to attain emancipation. Yet there are also many who join the Sangha through genuine love for a religious life and religious studies, or out of the wish to be of service to Buddhism and their country. Finally, in the Thai Sangha also those are not entirely lacking whose life is vigorously devoted to the aim of ultimate emancipation and to the guidance of others towards that goal. There have been, and still are, saintly and able meditation masters in Thailand, with a fair number of devoted disciples in Sangha and laity. There are also still monks — the so-called thudong bhikkhus — who follow the ancient way of austere living embodied in the “strict observances” or dhutangas.[4]

In view of the above facts, there are two categories of Buddhist monks in Thailand. One comprises those who become monks for long periods, sometimes for life, and the other those who enter the Order temporarily. To serve in the monkhood even for a short period is considered a great merit-earning attainment by the Thai Buddhists. Even kings follow this age-old custom. For instance, the present ruler, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, also observed the custom for a period of half a month some time ago. Government officials are allowed leave with full pay for a period of four months in order to serve in monkhood. The idea is to enable young men to gain knowledge of Buddhism and thereby to become good citizens. Life as a monk gives them practical experience of how an ideal Buddhist life should be. In rural districts the general tendency is still to give more deference to those who have already served in monkhood. Such people are supposed to be more “mature” than those who have not undergone the monk’s life. Moreover, in Thailand wats (monasteries and temples) used to be and are still regarded as seats of learning where all men, irrespective of life’s position, could go and avail themselves of education benefits. This is especially so in the case of economically handicapped males of the countryside. Instances are not lacking in which people have climbed high up on life’s status ladder after obtaining education while in monkhood. There are neither religious restrictions nor social disapproval against monks’ returning to lay life if and when they find themselves unable to discharge their duties as monks.

Cases exist in which, for some reason or the other, men have entered monkhood more than once, although such practice cannot be said to be in the esteem of the public. Looked at from this viewpoint, the institution of entering monkhood in Thailand, apart from being a way of gaining moral and spiritual enlightenment, is a social uplift method by which those not so fortunately placed in life could benefit. Judged from the ideal of adopting a monk’s life as enunciated by the Buddha, whether or not such practice is commendable, is a different story. The fact is that even today when modernism has penetrated deep into Thailand, about one half of the primary schools of the country are still situated in wats. With sex and crimes on the increase in the country, the cry for living a better Buddhist life is being heard more and more distinctly in Thailand today.

The traditional education of monks and novices in Thailand centers mainly on the studies of the Buddhist Doctrine (Dhamma) and Pali, the language in which the Theravada scriptures are written. Of the former, the study of the Doctrine, there are three grades with examinations open to both monks and laymen. Those passing such examinations are termed Nak Dhamm, literally meaning one who knows the Dhamma. The latter, i.e., the study of Pali, has seven grades, starting with the third and ending with the ninth grade. Students passing Pali examinations are called parian (Pali: pariñña = penetrative knowledge); in the Thai language the word parinna is used to mean academic degree. For example, monks and novices passing the first Pali examination are entitled to write “P. 3” after their names.

Generally the Dhamma and the Pali studies go hand in hand and take at least seven years to complete. The stiffness of the two courses, especially that of the Pali language, can be guessed from the fact that very few students are able to pass the highest grade, the Parian 9, in any annual examination. In the good old days when living was less competitive than now, passing of even the lower Dhamma and Pali examinations used to be of much value in securing good government posts. But now things are quite different; even those successful in the highest Pali examination, the 9th Grade, find it difficult to get suitable employment.

Of late there has developed a new outlook in the education of monks in Thailand. With the rapid progress of science and with the shrinking of the world, Buddhist leaders of Thailand, monks as well as laymen, are awakened to the necessity of imparting broader education to members of the Sangha, if the Sangha is to serve the cause of Buddhism well, “for the gain of the many, for the welfare of the many.” As a result of the new outlook there now function in Bangkok two higher institutes of learning exclusively for monks and novices. One is the Mahachulalongkorn Rajvidyalaya, and the other is the Mahamongkut Rajvidyalaya. Both are organized on a modern university footing and both seem to be making satisfactory progress towards that direction. Inclusion in the curriculum of some secular subjects not incompatible with monks’ discipline (Vinaya) is among the notable features of these two institutes; the aim is to give an all-round education to monks in order to enable them to be of better service to the cause of Buddhism amidst modern conditions.

So much for the education of ‘long-term’ monks. As for those who enter the Order temporarily, mostly for a period of three rainy months during the Vassa, or Buddhist Lent, the education is brief and devoted to the main tenets and features of Buddhism only. As pointed out above, such people enter monkhood either by their own genuine desire for knowledge of the Dhamma, by the dictum of custom or, as generally is the case, by the two reasons combined. Monks of this category return to lay life again as soon as the Lent is over. This is the reason why accommodations in monasteries (wats) are usually full during the Lenten period. Nowadays, owing to the pressure of modern life, the custom of temporarily entering monkhood is not so rigorously observed by people living in urban areas as by those in the countryside. The custom has its parallel in Burma, Cambodia, and Laos where Theravada Buddhism prevails.

WATS AND MONKS

The word “wat” means monastery and temple combined. It is the residence of monks and novices. There are about 21,000 wats in the whole of Thailand. In Bangkok alone there are nearly two hundred wats. Some big wats in Bangkok have as many as 600 resident monks and novices. Wats are centers of Thai art and architecture. Thai culture, to a considerable extent, flows from wats. Wat-lands and constructions thereon are donated by royalty, wealthy people and the public in general. The wat is the most important institution in Thai rural life. The social life of the rural community revolves around the wat. Besides carrying out the obvious religious activities, a wat serves the community as a recreation center, dispensary, school, community center, home for the aged and destitute, social work and welfare agency, village clock, rest-house, news agency, and information center. A wat is headed by a Chao Avas (the abbot) who is responsible for the maintenance of the wat discipline, the proper performance of religious services and rituals, and the general welfare of the inmates. Besides monks and novices, there are also the “temple boys” in wats, who assist monks and novices in various ways, such as bringing and arranging food, cleaning dormitories, washing yellow robes, etc. Usually these boys are related to resident monks in one way or another, and their stay is free of charge. Most of them are students whose homes are far away and who would, otherwise, find it impracticable to get education. This is especially so in Bangkok where accommodation is difficult to get and where all higher seats of learning of the country are situated. The census taken in 1954 reveals that there are as many as 119,044 temple boys in Thailand, which indeed is not a small figure. The institution of the wat, in itself a gift of Buddhism, therefore contributes in no small measure to the social welfare and progress of the Thai Buddhists. The benefits in this respect, of course, are more apparent among the lower strata of society than in the case of the fortunate few on the top.

Apart from engaging themselves in doctrinal studies and observing disciplinary rules (Vinaya) in general, monks are expected to be “friends, philosophers, and guides” of the people. Preaching to masses face to face or over the radio is one of the commonest ways by which monks help the promotion of moral stability among various members of the society. It may not be out of place to reiterate the fact that Buddhism lays great stress on the necessity of leading a morally good life in order to obtain happiness in life here and hereafter. In most of the ceremonies and rituals, whether private or public, monks’ cooperation and benediction are indispensable. Indeed, in the life of the average Thai Buddhists, from the cradle to the grave, monks are persons to whom they constantly turn for moral support.

The role of monks in rural districts is even more important, for there the local wat is not only the religious but also the social center of the community. It is at the wat that people come together and experience a sense of comradeship. Religious rituals and ceremonies held at wats are always accompanied by social activities: they are occasions for people, especially the young, to enjoy themselves in feast, fun and festivities. This aspect of the religious service helps the common folks to relax and satisfies their needs for recreation. Not a few matrimonial alliances started from contacts at wat premises. Acting as a moral and ethical example, monks are the most venerated persons in the countryside Thai society, remaining very close to the hearts of the people. In times of crisis, it is to monks that people bring their problems for counsel and encouragement. With few exceptions, the Sangha has well justified this attitude of respect and honor shown to it on the part of the laity and, on the whole, has lived up to the dignity of the Faith.

II. The Laity  

Throughout its over 2,500 years of existence Buddhism has been closely connected with the lay community. In Pali the word for a male lay devotee is upasaka; upasika is its female equivalent. In the history of Buddhism, right from the time of its founder, there had been numerous upasakas and upasikas whose faith in the Teachings of the Master had contributed largely to the dissemination of the Doctrine. Names of the Buddha’s munificent followers like Anathapindika, Visakha, Asoka, Kanishka, etc., are on the lips of Buddhists even today. Without the patronage of Emperor Asoka, Buddhism probably could not have spread so far and the course of its history might have been different. In India, the land of its birth, as well as in most of the countries where its Message has been accepted, Buddhism has received unstinted support from people of all classes, especially the ruling class. History of the movements of Buddhism in China, Japan, Burma, Ceylon, Tibet, etc., amply justifies this statement. In the case of Thailand too, ever since its introduction to that country, Buddhism has been warmly received and patronized by kings and commoners alike. It is well-known that many of the Thai rulers, not satisfied with being mere lay-devotees, got themselves ordained into monkhood and became famous for their erudition in the Dhamma. King Mongkut, Rama IV, probably stands out as most distinguished among this class of royal devotees. The custom of Thai males entering the Sangha also contributes much to the better understanding and cooperation between the lay community and the monkhood. After all, personal experience is better than mere theoretical knowledge.

The Buddha himself, in one of his discourses, exhorted his followers to discharge their duties well so as to enable the Dhamma to endure long in the world. One of the duties of the lay followers, as taught by the Master, is to look after the needs of monks. Hence it is the traditional practice with lay followers in all Buddhist countries, especially those following Theravada Buddhism, to see that monks do not suffer from lack of the four requisites, namely food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Although in the present age of competitive economy, when life in any field is not so easy, nobody can say in fairness that monk-life in Thailand suffers greatly from shortage of the above four requisites. As Bhikkhus are not allowed to follow any occupational activities, it is clear that they entirely depend on the laity for their existence. In return for this spontaneous support offered them by the public, monks are expected to live exemplary lives for the benefit of themselves as well as of those who look to them as teachers and guides. We have already seen what moral influence monks have upon the people.

Cooperation between the laity and the Bhikkhu Sangha in Thailand is close and spontaneous. To a very great extent this is due to the fact that in an average Thai family some of its members are certain to be found who have for some time served in the Sangha. To the masses yellow robes are symbol of the Master, and Bhikkhus are upholders of the Dhamma, to be deferred to in all circumstances. It is interesting to note that Bhikkhus or Samaneras found guilty of committing crimes are formally divested of their yellow robes before legal action is taken against them by the State, and this is done invariably under permission of the chief monk or the abbot.

“To do good” (kusala kamma) is a cardinal point in the teachings of Buddhism. Consequently the idea of performing meritorious deeds is very deeply ingrained in the minds of Buddhists. Ways of doing good or making merit (puñña) among the Thai Buddhists are numerous. A man gains merit each time he gives alms to monks or contributes to any religious rituals. To get ordination into monkhood even for a short period, of course, brings much merit. Besides, there are other ways of merit-earning, such as releasing caged birds or freeing caught fishes, plastering gold leaf on Buddha statues or religious monuments, contributing to the construction of a new temple or the repair of an old one, etc. “The Law of Karma” that each action has its corresponding result and the belief in rebirth are two important factors in molding such attitude towards life among the Buddhists. Though Nibbana (Sanskrit: Nirvana), the highest bliss in Buddhism, is aspired to by all good Buddhists, the vast majority of them still think it is not so easy to reach and that they will be reborn again in this world, in heaven or some other world, or — at the very worst — in hell. Hence, as long as they live they must try to do good in order to ensure good results in this very life as well as in the life to come. “Be a light unto yourself. Each man must strive for his own salvation” — these were the Master’s words. In view of this, Theravada Buddhism is often said to have individualistic temper. Nevertheless, it is very tolerant, as the long history of its existence will prove. Indeed, the characteristic tolerance of Buddhism, for instance in Thailand, has always permitted the absorption of many beliefs and practices from other sources which have often served to supplement or expand its concepts or to fill gaps. Animism and Brahmanism may be cited in this connection; the two being important supplements of popular Buddhism in Thailand. A foreign writer has rightly observed that the attitude of the Thai masses towards their religion is of an easy-going nature. They do not bother to distinguish among the various components of their religion; for them it is all of a piece. Only the sophisticated few are concerned with doctrinal logic and purity. Of course, they too know much about its legends, its festivals, its ideals, and its general message that “good will render good.” On the whole it can be said that the Thais enjoy their religion. Religious observances are to them as social and recreational as sacred occasions. And for the vast majority, Buddhism suffices in that it enables them to feel and believe and enjoy.

BUDDHIST ORGANIZATIONS AND THE REVIVAL OF BUDDHISM

Organizations among the lay Buddhists of Thailand are recent establishments. Prominent and oldest among them is perhaps the Buddhist Association of Thailand, under Royal Patronage, which now is about 30 years old, having been established in 1933. Having its head office in Bangkok, it maintains branch organizations in almost all major districts of Thailand. Its membership is open to both sexes, irrespective of class, creed, and color. The aim and object of the Buddhist Association of Thailand is to promote the study and practice of Buddhism and to propagate its message in and outside Thailand. Besides arranging regular lectures and discussions on topics concerning the Dhamma, the Association also publishes a monthly journal in the Thai language on the teachings of the Buddha.

Another organization is the Young Buddhists Association which came into being at the close of the Second World War. As its name implies, the Young Buddhists Association takes care of the interest of the young in matters concerning Buddhism. Its primary object is to encourage the young to imbibe the tenets of Buddhism and to live a virtuous life. Chief among its activities are arranging regular lectures and discussions on the Dhamma, issuing publications on subjects dealing with Buddhism in general, and sponsoring meetings of the young on the platform of Buddhism. The Young Buddhists Association also has branches in the districts.

As said earlier the end of the Second World War saw a great revival of interest in Buddhism throughout the world. Even in countries like Thailand where the Doctrine of the Awakened One has been traditionally accepted for generations, people seem to be increasingly eager to know more about the Dhamma. Strange as it may seem, this is partly due to the interest the Occidental World has taken in Buddhism. In times past religion has been more or less regarded in Thailand as “solace of the old.” But with the impact of the West in most matters and with the general interest shown towards Buddhism by Western intelligentsia, the Buddhists of Thailand, especially the younger generations who came into contact with the West, began to evince an inquisitive attitude towards their religion — a heritage which they have all along accepted as their own but which they have cared little to know about its true value. This is no attempt to belittle the exceedingly great importance the Thais attach to their religion. But human nature being what it is, the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” is in most cases not very far wrong. In the Thai language also we have a proverb “klai kleua kin dang” which may be rendered in English as “to have the folly to resort to alkali when one is in possession of salt.”

Having taken root on the soil of Thailand for centuries Buddhism has naturally attracted many appendages to its fold, some of which are not quite in conformity with the teachings of the Master as contained in the Canon (Tipitaka). Many leaders of Buddhistic thought in Thailand have, therefore, come forward to try to purify the Dhamma of the many impurities that have crept into it. Notable among the reformatory groups are the Dhammadana Association in Jaiya, South Thailand, under the leadership of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, and the Buddha Nigama of Chiengmai (North Thailand) started by Paññananda Bhikkhu. The two organizations are showing good efforts in the field of awakening the Buddhists of Thailand to the pristine teachings of the Buddha as treasured in the Pali Tipitaka. The mission is admittedly a difficult one but already a promising start has been made in this direction. Much will also no doubt depend on how things transpire in other spheres of human activities, chiefly economic, social and political. The present is an age of conflict — conflict between mind and body, between spirit and matter. Man must find harmony between the two if peace be his aim in life. And to this task of finding harmony within man Buddhism could contribute in no small measure.

©2005 Buddhist Publication Society.
 
You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge and, in the case of reprinting, only in quantities of no more than 50 copies; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. The Wheel Publication No. 85 (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 2005). First edition 1965; revised 2005. Transcribed from a file provided by the BPS, and with the help of a volunteer. Minor revisions were made in accordance with the ATI style sheet. Pali diacritics have been omitted. Last revised for Access to Insight on 30 November 2013.
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers

Bangkok Thailand Bloggers unite in TAT Newsroom

Bangkok Thailand Bloggers unite in TAT Newsroom

Author: Pen Drageon

Discover Thailand with Thailand Discovery

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 Bangkok Thailand Bloggers
 
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Bangkok Thailand Bloggers
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers. The winners of the TAT Newsroom Blogger competition posing with Khun Titiporn Manenate in front of Wat Arun and the Chao Phraya River

On the 16th of September 2016, the winning bloggers and photo-bloggers met in Bangkok, Thailand after flying in from their respective countries to unite in a friendly get-together and celebrations with theTourism Authority Thailand and TATNewsroom teams who were the organizers of the competition.

The winners were from Singapore (Ken Koh), India (Jyotsna Ramani), Russia (Svetlana Makarevich), Philippines (Jojo M. Vito) and me from Malaysia. We were given tickets from Thai Airways to fly into Bangkok and each of us were quite anxious to meet each other, not knowing what to expect except for a really good time. 

We all gathered at the Eat Sight Story Deck restaurant along the Chao Phraya River overlooking the beautiful Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) which is one of the iconic monuments of Bangkok.

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger

Bangkok Thailand Bloggers

We received a very warm welcome from the organizers with officials from the Tourism Authority Thailand and TATNewsroom team to greet us and introduce us to each other. The memorable dinner started with a short congratulatory speech by Khun Titiporn Manenate, one of the directors at Tourism Authority Thailand who also presented us with tokens for the trip.

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers
Khun Titiporn Manenate from Tourism Authority Thailand was most gracious to attend the welcome dinner

Enjoying a short welcome speech by Khun Titiporn Manenate from the Tourism Authority of Thailand during the welcome dinner at Eat Sight Story Deck restaurant in Bangkok

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers. Khun Titiporn Manenate presenting the gift tokens

Token presentation after the speech by Khun Titiporn Manenate to the prize winners and an introduction of the winners to the organizers

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers
Lovely T-shirts of the TAT Newsroom Blogger campaign for use during our upcoming trip to Northern Thailand the next day

We received very useful T-shirts nicely printed by Khun Sirima Eamtako and interesting reading materials about the places we will be visiting along with great maps of the places and a trusty itinerary which must have taken them a long time not just to compile but also to recce the places and co-coordinating all the transfers, hotels, locations and activities!

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers
Our travel itineraries, information booklets of Bangkok, Chiang Rai and Chiang Rai as well as some really useful maps

It was fascinating meeting everyone for the first time and soon we all warmed up to each other over dinner and drinks.

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers. Jyotsna Ramani receiving her gift token from Khun Ttiporn Manenate

At the welcome dinner not only was it a warm reception amidst one of the most beautiful sights in Bangkok but the company was such a wonderful gathering of people who made us truly felt welcomed not to mention the delicious scrumptious food that was fast appearing on our tables. Starting off with a good selection of wine to warm our stomachs followed by starters and appetizers, it was a great evening of drinks, food and new friendships.

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers
In good company with Sirima Eamtako from The Amiris, Jojo M. Vito,  Khun  Yotsavadee Limvanitrat from Tourism Authority Thailand and Khun Prompeth Lertratanapreecha from Tourism Authority Thailand

It was a good experience getting to know the organizers as well as other bloggers and this was a great opportunity to exchange ideas and understand more about the industry. We were also looking forward to  a great time as prior to the gathering, we were sent teasers of the upcoming activities which looked like it was going to be a very interesting experience.

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers. Jojo M. Vito aiming his sights on a good story later on

Our fellow winner and blogger from the Philippines, Jojo M. Vito getting a great shot of the river view during the dinner. He turned out to be a great friend and very funny person, it would be nice to do moreblogging trips with him and the others again after this.

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers. Photos first please! Jojo M. Vito strutting his stuff for upcoming blogs. Don’t worry Jo, we all do that too!

A trait of all bloggers! Pictures and more picture taking before eating …. so who says that we are just into selfies and groupfies? My popular motto and am sure with those so into social media is “Wait! Do not touch anything yet, I need to take pictures!” syndrome.

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers. A very svelte looking Sirima Eamtako from The Amiris

The entire organizing of the project by Tourism Authority Thailand and Sirima Eamtako from The Amiris was meticulous to ensure that we all had everything that is required to make the trip a wonderful and memorable experience for us. attention to details and meticulous planning equaled a great experience overall.

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers. Winners and organizers getting acquainted over a fantastic dinner at Eat Sight Story Deck Restaurant in Bangkok

We enjoyed the entire evening in good conversation with good company. Winners got better acquainted with our hosts from the TATNewsroom and TAT teams along with Khun Sirima and her team who ensured all our requirements were attended too throughout the whole trip. So this is what it feels like to be a winner, and it is a wonderful feeling plus our hosts were so very accommodating which made this whole experience fun and such an adventure.

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers. Deep in discussion towards the end of our dinner session.

We have lots of amazing stories in Thailand to tell of all our adventures and in the few days together on our trip, we even had a culture exchange night with Russian photo-blogger Svetlana Makarevich! The tag “Amazing Thailand” is not just limited to tourism but also a country where great friendships are forged and memories that last a lifetime are made!

Bloggers Unite in Bangkok in TATNewsroom Blogger
Bangkok Thailand Bloggers. Svetlana Makarevich from St Petersburg, Russia – one of the winners in the TAT Newsroom Blogger Competition 2016

I would like to say a very special THANK YOU to our hosts, the organizers of this event Tourism Authority of Thailand and TATNewsroom teams:

Titiporn Manenate
Yotsavadee Limvanitrat
Prompeth LertratanapreechaYada Suratanmanan

AmPiire Limcharoenporn (Am Kirati Limchareonporn)
Joli Kao Maharat (Kao Chitsupa Maharat)

Sirima Eamtako
Nueng Nuengruethai
Phuwadol Jankhum
John Rogerson
Otto Chatvisit
Sunisa Sookjai

#ThailandStory #TATNewsroomBlogger #TATNewsroom #DiscoverAmazingStoriesInThailand #AmazingThailand #ThailandExperience #ThailandBlogs #travelblogs #travel

**All photos by TAT Newsroom Team (Phuwadol Jankhum)

 

Thai Food Frogs

Thai Food Frogs or Kob Bizarre foods of Thailand

Thai Food Frogs or Kob Bizarre foods of Thailand

Author: Pen Drageon

Discover Thailand with Thailand Discovery

Thai Food Frogs Grilled Frog

Thai Food Frogs

Thai Food FrogsThai Food Frogs Photo credit: RCThai.net

Thai Food Frogs. While the frog is not an uncommon dish even by western standards especially in French cooking, it is considered a delicacy in Thailand. The frog or known as “Kob” กบ in Thai has many functions and one of it as a source of fat-less protein. These frogs are found in rice fields or in the jungles under damp conditions and are of the bullfrog variety so they are fairly huge about the size of a grown adult’s palm with fingers extended. The bigger they are, the more meat and the tastier. These frogs are now cultivated as the demand for them has grown and most villagers make a lucrative living from breeding these frogs for consumption.

Thai Food FrogsThai Food Frogs Frogs for cooking

Originating from the Northern provinces of Thailand such as Chiang Mai, frog dishes are a staple of the Northern cuisine. Prepared in a variety of ways from curries, grilled to deep fried frogs, each dish is as appetizing as the next. In fact, you would not even know it was frog until you are told as the meat is fat-less, tender and definitely better than even chicken. Ranging from spicy to non-spicy dishes, the frog meat dish can be found either in a typical Thai restaurant, a food court that sells a variety of home cooked economy rice dishes or from a street food stall.

Thai Food FrogsThai Food Frogs livingthroughlenses.com

Frogs became a staple in the Thai diet in the north as most of the people in the early days were agriculture based and frogs were plentiful in the rice fields and in the wild. Meat was scarce as to have meat on the table was expensive and beyond the income of the average farmer household. Frogs were a good source of protein, low in fat and high in protein value. Therefore the frog leaped out of the rice fields into the frying pans of Thai cuisine!

Thai Food FrogsThai Food Frogs Credit: cookingthebooks.typepad.com

In Western cooking, only the frog legs are eaten but in Thai cuisine, most parts of the frog are consumed. The sought after part is the liver and skin. The skin is believed to be good for the collagen while the liver is the tastiest bit of the frog. Some restaurants or street stalls will skin the frogs before cooking while others cook it with the meat and skin attached. The curried spicy frog and the deep fried frog comes highly recommended. Eating deep fried frog marinated with Thai spices is a savory dish with sticky rice or steamed fragrant white jasmine rice.

Thai Food Frogs Yum Kob dishThai Food Frogs Yum Kob dish

You can also buy sizable frogs from a wet market but you will probably have to clean it yourself which can be rather messy. This was home cooked Thai/Mon style frog dish using 4 large frogs bought from the local wet market. The 4 frogs costing around THB120 making them about THB30 each. After discarding the heads and innards the frogs were cleaned and quartered. Lemongrass, kefir lime leaves, galangal, ginger, shallots, mint leaves, chili, prawn paste, pounded fresh chili paste, lime juice, chicken stock, fish sauce, fresh coconut milk, salt and pepper were prepared for the cooking.

Thai Food Frogs Condiments for Yum KobThai Food Frogs Condiments for Yum Kob

What turned out in the end was a wonderfully mouth-watering authentic home cooked Thai frog dish known as “Yum Kob” ยำกบ. The frog meat was tender and absorbed the flavors of the herbs and spices beautifully. Eaten with steamed white Jasmine Rice, it seemed 4 frogs were just not enough! If you are adventurous and would like to try a frog dish, you can get them in Chiang Mai or even in Bangkok. Ask a restaurant or street food stall that sells a variety of dishes if they have “Kob” on the menu!

Related Post

Pattaya beach seafood

Pattaya Beach Seafood on a Budget

Pattaya Beach Seafood on a Budget

Author:Pen Drageon

Discuss and Discover Thailand

Pattaya beach seafood
 Pattaya Beach Seafood

Pattaya is a seaside resort city just an hour out from Bangkok. Formerly a naval colony, it has developed into a bustling city notoriously known for the sleazy bars and go go dancers, making the phrase “a girl in every port” somewhat a reality. Fortunately, Pattaya has many other worthwhile attractions besides the darker and seedier side which has been developed into true tourists attractions worthy of exploration and a discovery of this city that never sleeps.

Pattaya beach seafood

Pattaya Beach Seafood

Over the years in the development of Pattaya, as more tourists throng the city and frequent the many outlets and hotels, the price of items, lodging, food and even fares have seen a significant hike. Some places are even more expensive than in the big city of Bangkok and the savvy tourists now seek cheaper and more budget friendly alternatives in their travel plans.

Seafood on a budget Pattaya beach seafood

Pattaya Beach Seafood

One basic necessity would be places to eat while travelling in Pattaya. No doubt there are many places offering buffets of good quality and at fair prices or high-end restaurants that offer a mix of local and international cuisine but how often can one eat out at such places without breaking the bank on a daily basis? The speciality of Pattaya and the province of Chonburi, where Pattaya is located is in the seafood. Popular places in Pattaya frequented by tourists would be the notorious Pattaya Walking Street on Beach Road where hotels, shopping, entertainment and watering holes in the form of strip dancer joints and gay bars are frequented by tourists every day and more so on weekend nights. There are many seafood restaurants in this area but as they cater to foreigners, you can expect prices to be fairly expensive. Maybe not by foreign standards but definitely by Thai standards.

Seafood on a budget in Pattaya

Pattaya Beach Seafood

So where would one go for cheaper alternatives for seafood in Pattaya that is of good quality, fresh and cooked to perfection without all the plus plus in the costs? A good place to get your hands on really affordable seafood and a blend of other grilled dishes would be at the Pattaya Park Tower night market near Pratumnak Hill. This is one of the newer night markets so there is at the moment less of a crowd and to get there one has to use a songteaw or jeepney taxi from Beach Road area or by motorbike taxi. It is fairly near the Pattaya Park Tower Hotel (The tallest building in Pattaya).

Seafood on a budget Seafood on a budget in Pattaya

Pattaya Beach Seafood

The courtyard of this night market has several open air stalls selling souvenirs and food. A few of the outstanding food stalls here are the ones selling grilled seafood and meats, live and fresh seafood as well as a stall selling the sticky rice and mango dessert. The stall which sells a good selection of grilled seafood and meats has all their products neatly displayed for your selection. When you order, they will grill it with an extra coating of sauce and served hot with a side of salad and herbs including dill herb which goes very well with the grilled meat. A typical serving of fresh grilled prawns retails for around THB100 a tray, similarly for sea crabs and their speciality here is actually grilled pork ribs with a garlic barbecue sauce. One full rack costs around THB150 to THB180 served piping hot and garnished with a hefty side salad.

Seafood on a budget pattaya beach seafoodSeafood on a budget pattaya beach seafood

Seafood on a budget pattaya beach seafood

Pattaya Beach Seafood

Next stop down the row serves fresh cooked seafood. Rows of trays contained fresh seafood is put on display in iced trays for your selection. You can choose anything from fresh scallops, stone crabs, geoduck, conch, sea prawns and the lists goes on up to your choice of edible quantity! Once your choice is made, the items are weighed and then cooked according to your fancy or just plain grilled over a charcoal fire and served with a dipping sauce. Prices here average from THB100 per dish upwards depending on seafood type and quantity.

Seafood on a budget pattaya beach seafood

Seafood on a budget pattaya beach seafood

Seafood on a budget pattaya beach seafood

Pattaya Beach Seafood

If night markets are not your choice of a budget seafood eat, then make your way to Jomtein Beach about a half hour drive from Beach Road. Here there are several seafood restaurants serving mostly to the locals and tourists alike. Prices here are more reasonable plus you get to sit almost at the sea edge for your meal. One could order such items as oyster omelettes for around THB100 a dish, a whole fried fish with mango sauce dressing for around THB120 or a variety of prawn dishes, crabs, mantis prawns and clams. Some of the menu is in Thai but you can always finger point to the pictures for your choice and prices are clearly indicated before you order.

Seafood on a budget pattaya beach seafood

Seafood on a budget pattaya beach seafood

Seafood on a budget pattaya beach seafood

Pattaya Beach Seafood

The choice of eating out in Pattaya is as varied as the people who visit this city and by no means limited to fancy and high-end eateries found in touristy places. There are many more night markets or street markets where good and budget friendly food can be found. On certain times of the year, the Tourism Authority of Pattaya organizes street fairs along the beach on Beach Road where plenty of good and cheap eats can be found for those who would like to try something authentically Thai. Otherwise, head out to the night markets nearby or to Jomtein for some really good eats at these off track areas in Pattaya.

Seafood on a budget pattaya beach seafood

Seafood on a budget pattaya beach seafood

Pattaya Beach Seafood

To view more on eating at a budget in Pattaya, take a look at my album here on Flickr

Seafood on a budget in Pattaya

Related Post

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

Discover Thailand with Thailand Discovery

Author: Pen Drageon

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

 Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking. Thailand is full of natural food resources that has found its way into many of the Thai cuisine. What may seem inedible to the more conventional taste buds would be a delicacy or staple in the Thai menu. While we may consider flowers to be a decorative item, in Thailand they are part of the ingredients in a daily serving for a meal. One would find such delectable items at one of the many street markets in Bangkok and around the country selling food or even in a fancy restaurant. Flowers and flower buds are served a multitude of ways. Some are just plain boiled and eaten with spicy chilli paste called ‘nam prik’ or cooked into fancy curried dishes, plain stir fried, battered and crisped or made into an omelette.

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

Flowers were incorporated into the Thai diet since the olden days when food was scarce and especially for the poverty stricken. Flowers, like other wild plants and creepers soon became a standard item in the Thai diet. It was a fibre source that offered a variety of taste and medicinal properties. The humble flowers soon found its way into the kitchen and hands of fancy restaurants who now serve them up as exotic Thai dishes. Combined with other herbs, spices and variety of meats and condiments, they are now a sought after product. Plantations specializing in growing these flowers have now become one of the staple agricultural crops in Thailand.

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking
Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

Here are two popular flower buds used in Thai cooking. The elongated buds are from the Tiger Lily flower. These buds are plucked fresh, cleaned and used in a variety of cooking methods. The most common way to cook Tiger Lily buds are either made into a soup with minced meat or fried into a delicious omelette in a combination of oyster or fish sauce and pepper. The Tiger Lily buds have a distinct and unique creamy flavour that blends well with the fried egg. It is served with hot steamed rice and a sweet chilli dipping sauce.

tiger lily buds Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

tiger lily bud Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

This other flower bud is from the Cowslip creeper. The buds are eaten either as green unopened buds or as open buds with a yellow flower. Sometimes you would find street stall vendors that sell a variety of home cooked Thai dishes which is called ‘economy rice’, selling boiled versions of this ‘flower among a selection of other boiled vegetables. Thai housewives would sometimes cook it stir fried with some garlic but a more fancy way would be to stir fry the Cowslip creeper flowers with dried shrimp, garlic and a dose of oyster sauce.

cowslip creeper Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking
Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

Orchid flowers grown organically are made into a delicious snack. This particular snack is found mostly on a weekend market at Koh Kred Island along the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. Fried in a seasoned batter until crisp, it is eaten as a local snack with chilli dipping sauce.

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

The Pea flower produces a nice indigo colour and the dye from the flower is used to produce a nice colouring for local Thai desserts or “khanom” such as the ones made from sticky rice and mango desserts called “khao niao mamuang” or combined with rice flour to produce a sweet pudding.

Mango Sticky rice Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking
Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking Mango Sticky rice

It has been found that many of these flowers and buds contain properties beneficial for the overall health. Some have even been used in traditional herbal remedies for an assortment of ailments and even serious diseases and afflictions. However, to the Thai people, it was a readily available food source and grew in abundance around the country.

Thai Food Flowers in Thai Cooking

The next time you visit Thailand, take a walk at the local street food stalls and look out for these tasty delicacies. Alternatively, you could go to a Thai restaurant and order a dish or two to try!

Drinks of Isaan

Drinks of Isaan

Drinks of Isaan – Where Alcohol can improve a mans vitality or lead to the loss of your mind, fingers and toes

Another great guest blog by Josh Peatfield of Asia Backpackers – hit this link to read more of Josh’s blogs

 

Scorpion Whiskey

If you have been fortunate enough to visit the north east of Thailand you will not be surprised to know the region has more than 160,000 square kms of land, is nearly half the size of Germany and holds one third of the land mass of Thailand. Further-more Isaan is considered by many to be the cradle of human settlement in Thailand, what is strange is that it is the least visited region for tourism.

One of the pleasant surprises you’ll find once there is the bizarre and wonderful assortment of traditional and new beverages on offer. From the newish and surprisingly refreshing Dr. Pepper Shandy (yep you got it, that would be half DP with half Singha beer) and the popular tipple kaw nam lac a combination of orange juice with chillies and rum.

 

Lao Hai – Thai Rice Wine

To the roadside stalls you see everywhere, full of urn-like earthenware jugs brimming with what appears to be toasted sticky rice, but is in fact Lao hai (เหล้าไห) or lao u (เหล้าอุ) a version of SATO which is a traditional Isaan beer style commonly called Thai rice wine.

Sato is brewed using a traditional starter culture known as luk paeng (ลูกแป้ง, a small ball of starch, yeast, and mold) which is used to assist in fermentation. The steamed sticky rice is mixed with luk paeng and kept in a fermentation tank for three days, as the starch in the rice changes to sugar. Water is then added to the fermentation tank and the mixture is allowed to ferment for a further week. Following that, the fresh rice wine is pressed from the dregs, and filtered.

 

Owing to the simplicity of the process, the resulting beverage is often of variable quality and alcohol content; it also suffers from a short shelf life.

 

Sato is typically served at both room temperature and served in a large bowl, into which drinkers dip their glasses or cups, while Lao hai is sold with a pair of drinking straws, and labels recommend serving to couples.

Isaan Drinks

The picture shows Lao-Khamu men drinking lao-hai from an earthenware jar. Water is added to the jar to maintain the liquid level as the alcohol is sipped.

 

 

 

Moon Shine Thai Style

Lao-Khao

Lao-Khao

Lao Khao or Thai fermented rice whiskey is mainly produced in Isaan and accounts for over two thirds of all alcohol consumed in the Kingdom. It is also known as being the “real” Thai whiskey as opposed to the more commercially popular Sang Som or Hong Thong. At normally 40% proof the legally produced mind blowing Lao Khao is a white spirit made from distilled sahtoh (rice beer). The distillation process like Sato uses sticky rice (khao niew) and small pieces of yeast balls. The result a clear and potent liquor, while not the most pleasent of bouquets and tasting a little like old bread, is very cheap to buy and found almost everywhere.

Here in the vast plains of Isaan and while illegal many people still brew their own version at home, known as lao tho or sa tho.

 

 

 

Yaa Dong – Pick & Mix

Yaa dongThis brings us onto the traditional medicinal liqueur that is yaa dong. Yaa means medicine and dong means to leave something in liquid until it ferments. Herbs, wood, bark, vines, seeds, plants and even insects, sharks and snakes are thought to have curative properties. These once dried or powdered items are then soaked for up to 30 days, to extract the ‘medicine’ before being mixed with alcohol, usually lao khao. There are thought to be in excess of 200 different herbs used in its various concoctions, with many secret recipes being passed down through the generations. The names that the different mixtures have are colourful to say the least and include such titles as dragons breath, horse kicks the coffin, 11 tigers, sharks tooth and my particular favorite ‘doesn’t know how to fall down’.

Keep your eyes open and you may see Yaa dong ‘bars’ appearing as roadside stalls, with others found at temple fairs (Yaa Dong is the only alcoholic beverage that Thai monks are permitted to drink). You’ll know yaa dong when you see it as it’s normally sold in large glass jars, which can hold up to 2 litres of different coloured hooch, labeled with claims such as a shot will instill energy, strength and male virility. Although common in more northerly regions, this wonderfully intoxicating example of Thai rural culture is slowly dying out, so grab it while you can – it’s one ‘spirit’ that demands respect!

 

Health Warning

 

Sato

Sato

I know the world now seems full of health warnings but this may explain a few things to some people. A word of warning some molds and yeasts can produce mycotoxins, which ingested over a long period may cause ergotism. The symptoms of which can be roughly divided into convulsive symptoms and gangrenous symptoms.

Convulsive symptoms include painful seizures and spasmsdiarrheaparesthesias, itching, mental effects including mania or psychosis, headaches, nausea and vomiting. While dry gangrene can affect fingers and toes.

 

 

After all that alcoholic grog you’ll be wanting some tasty Thai Mulberry tea to appease your liver. Free Worldwide delivery via our online shop on this link

Mulberry Tea

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Mushroom farming in Thailand

Mushroom farming in Thailand

Mushroom farming in Thailand

My wife has started to grow her own mushrooms for home consumption and i was surprised at how easily and quickly they grow. I have taken some photographs to show you the equipment an methods that are used to do this. there is also a tutorial below if you want to have a go at doing this.

Farming small mushrooms

Mushroom farming in Thailand. Because mushrooms will not grow into squares where the light level is greater than 12 , the farmer must consider carefully with the placement of light sources. Mushrooms are placeable everywhere but well lit areas or non solid / transparent blocks, and do not require water, sand, or extra space like crops, cacti or saplings. However, even at night, they can only be planted on blocks where the daytime illumination would be less than 12. The exceptions to this are Mycelium and Podzol, on which they can be planted and remain in full sunlight. They can then spread slowly to other opaque blocks, including types where they could not be planted. Mushrooms will only spread if there are fewer than 5 mushrooms in an area of 9x9x3 (L, W, H) around the original mushroom.

The main danger in basic mushroom farming is that they must be low-lit indoor rooms, often allowing monsters to spawn in the same area (except in peaceful mode). This can be countered in several ways. An easy way is placing torches two blocks above from where you want your mushrooms to grow (sometimes in tiny holes cut into the ceiling overhead). Another way involves making the farming area just one block high and paving any walkways with slabs. This removes some danger, since mobs cannot spawn on half-blocks. You can also use a water system to channel mushrooms out of the room and into a collection point. The Nether is a safe place to start a mushroom farm, since mobs there will not spawn in small spaces.

Changes in recent versions have made farming ordinary mushrooms more difficult; another option is to prepare a large underground room and use bonemeal to grow Huge Mushrooms which can then be mined for multiple mushrooms.