Makha Bucha Day

Posted on 04. Mar, 2015 by in Culture, Travel

Did you know that today is a public holiday in Thailand? It’s Makha Bucha Day (วันมาฆบูชา – wan maa-ká-boo-chaaa), an important Buddhist festival held on the full moon of the third month according to the Thai calendar. In Thai, “makha” is the name given to the third month, and “bucha” means “to honor/venerate.” Thus, Makha Bucha is a day to honor Buddha and his teachings.

Go to the temple today.

Go to the temple today.

Reason for the Holiday

Buddha is the reason.

Buddha is the reason.

It is meant to commemorate a special day when 1,250 monks spontaneously gathered to hear Buddha preach only a few months after he began his teachings. Another name is the Fourfold Assembly because of four auspicious elements to this gathering of monks:

  1. All 1,250 were arhats (enlightened saints).
  2. All of them were ordained by Buddha himself.
  3. They assembled by themselves as if by chance. No call had been made for them to do so.
  4. It was the full moon day of the Makha month.

During this sermon, Buddha instructed the arhats to do only good, not commit any sins, and to purify their minds. The monks took the message of Buddha and helped to spread it, an important step in the development of Buddhism as a religion.

How Thais Celebrate

Outside of a Chiang Mai temple on Makha Bucha.

Outside of a Chiang Mai temple on Makha Bucha.

As it’s a Buddhist holiday, it should come as no surprise that the celebrations revolve around religious activities. On this day especially, Thais are supposed to follow the teachings of the Buddha and the Five Precepts – that means no Sangsom or visits to go-go bars. In addition to abstaining from worldly evils, there are a few other things that are to be done on Makha Bucha. Making merit (ทำบุญ – tam bun) is an important part of this day, and many people do it by giving alms to monks in the morning.

Many will gather in the temple.

Many will gather in the temple.

In the evening, temples will hold a special procession for the holiday. Called wian thian (การเวียนเทียน – gaan wian tian), the monks and congregation will hold candles, incense, and/or flowers and make three circles around the ordination hall in a clockwise manner. This represents the Three Jewels of Buddhism (พระรัตนตรัย – prá rát-dtà-ná-dtrai). the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. While the Sangha usually refers to the entire community of Buddhists it is the monks who are celebrated on Makha Bucha.

Lots of candles and incense.

Lots of candles and incense.

All pictures in this post were taken on Makha Bucha day last year at Wat Chedi Luang (วัดเจดีย์หลวง) in Chiang Mai. Upon returning from our day out at the elephant camp, we were surprised to find out it was a Buddhist holiday. The news finally reached us when we were trying to go get a drink and realized every shop had its coolers locked and all bars were closed. While we were looking to party that night, I always relish random cultural opportunities. And so to the temple we went! Sorry to admit it, Buddha, but we ended up finding a hotel bar that served beer afterwards…

For more information and a closer look at the Makha Bucha day, check out this YouTube video:

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Learn more about this important Buddhist holiday in Thailand.

 

How to Choose an Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai

Posted on 26. Feb, 2015 by in Culture, Travel

Elephants (ช้าง – cháang) are an important part of Thai culture, and they’re also a huge part of the tourism industry. Take a walk in Chiang Mai, and you’re sure to pass countless travel agencies offering a variety of elephant-related experiences. From a simple ride on Dumbo to week-long mahout training camps, to long-term volunteer opportunities, it’s all there in Thailand’s northern capital. Not all elephant camps are created equal, so it’s important that you do some research before choosing a place to go. Here are some things to think about when planning your Thai elephant adventure:

ช้าง

ช้าง

To ride or not to ride?

We did it, but maybe you shouldn't...

We did it, but maybe you shouldn’t…

That is the question. If you disagree with riding the elephants, a lot of choices will immediately be eliminated. For those who aren’t sure why this might be a bad thing, just punch “elephant riding” into Google and start browsing through the multitude of articles online about why many consider this a horrible practice. It’s not so much the riding of the elephants, but rather the way that they need to be trained in order to allow people to do it. There is definitely a dark side to the elephant tourism industry, and it starts when they are very young. If you do decide to ride an elephant, definitely be wary of places that use wooden chairs for riders and hooks to keep them in line. On our visit to an elephant camp, we went for a ride on the elephants. No hooks or chairs were used, though. In hindsight – after doing much more research – I would choose a place that does not offer riding. Sure, it is a great experience, but not for the elephants. For more, check out this post from the Expert Vagabond about why you shouldn’t ride elephants.

Which place to choose?

Ask about how they train the elephants.

Ask about how they train the elephants.

As mentioned above, there are tons of options for visiting the majestic animals, ranging from a single ride to extended stays as a volunteer. Since this is such big business, there are more elephant camps than you can count scattered around northern Thailand. Making a decision is not exactly easy, unless you’re the kind of traveler who just dives right in to the first thing they see. Some things to consider are:

  • Reputation
  • Cost
  • Duration
  • Ethics/Practices

What kind of experience do you want?

Make sure you get to bathe the elephants!

Make sure you get to bathe the elephants!

Are you just looking for a cool selfie to post on Instagram with you and the big Chang? Do you want to be entertained? Are you on a tight schedule? Do you really want to learn about the elephants and saving these endangered, majestic creatures? Answering these questions will help you choose the type of elephant camp that is best for you.

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Do you want to see a painting elephant?

A first-hand elephant experience

I'm not cut out to be a mahout...

I’m not cut out to be a mahout…

When we were in Chiang Mai, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to sit around and sift through the dozens of camps. The owner of our hostel was a great source of information, and he recommended a place that many former guests had been to and were all satisfied with -the Chiang Mai Elephant Training Camp. We really enjoyed our day-long mahout training there. In the morning, we made friends with the elephants by offering bundles of bananas and then learned some of the basic commands from the real mahouts. We then practiced executing the basic commands so we could get on and off the elephants. After lunch, we went on a nice ride down to the river, where the elephants got to cool off with a nice bath. They were even dishing out showers and kisses to the group.

Big elephant kisses.

Big elephant kisses.

The animals seemed to be happy and it was clear they were taken care of. Plus, if you ask me, carrying around a few tourists sure beats the alternatives for many elephants – hauling materials for construction or being hunted for their ivory. While the day tour was fun, I still have an interest in going back and doing a longer stint as a volunteer at one of the more highly acclaimed camps. The problem for us – and I’m sure for many other visitors to Thailand – is that there’s so much to see and most likely not enough time to do it all.

A friend of mine also recommends the Ran-Tong Save & Rescue Center, where the elephants are treated well and there are no hooks or chains. Further research has shown that both the Elephant Nature Park and Patara parks are also both excellent choices. It’s not in Chiang Mai, but the Boon Lott Sanctuary in Sukhothai also looks like a great place. See for yourself:

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Common Thai Greetings

Posted on 17. Feb, 2015 by in Uncategorized

A common way to greet people in Thailand.

A common way to greet people in Thailand.

Make your trip to Thailand much better by learning some common greetings in this short and easy to follow video. Thai people appreciate a good smile, but they appreciate you speaking their language even more!

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สวัสดี – sà-wàt dee

hello/goodbye

สวัสดีครับ – sà-wàt dee kráp

hello (male)

สวัสดีค่ะ – sà-wàt dee kâ

hello (female)

คุณสบายดีไหม – kun sà-baai dee măi

How are you?

เป็นยังไงบ้าง – bpen yang ngai bâang

How’s it going?

มีอะไรใหม่บ้าง – mee a-rai mài bâang

What’s new?

ยินดีที่ได้รู้จัก – yin dee têe dâai róo jàk

Nice to meet you.

อรุณสวัสดิ์ – a-run sà-wàt

good morning

ยินดีต้อนรับยิน – yin dee dtôn ráp

welcome!

ลาก่อนลา – laa gòn

Goodbye

พบกันใหม่ – póp gan mài

See you.

แล้วพบกันใหม่ – láew póp gan mài

See you later.

เที่ยวให้สนุก – tîeow hâi sà-nùk

Have a good trip.