There are hundreds of festivals that take place all over Thailand. Some are famous and are often promoted. However, there are quite a few that are only known to local people. Maybe this is for a good reason, but some of them are real gems which are really worth going to. Personally I find many of these small festivals worthwhile. Today I went to another one which you won’t find in any guidebook nor the websites of the Tourist Authority of Thailand. This was the “Luang Phor Pan Revering Ritual” in Bang Bo District in Samut Prakan. I had no idea what to expect but it turned out to be one of the best festivals I have been to in Thailand for a long time. I will definitely go again next year as I had a really enjoyable time. Everyone was so kind to me and made me feel at home. I love these festivals, that despite there being thousands of people, I am the only foreigner there.
Luang Phor Pan was a revered monk at Wat Mongkol Kothawas in Klong Dan Sub-District during the reign of King Rama V. He was famous for his meditation techniques. Although he died over 60 years ago, he is still worshipped by the local people. I drove over to Klong Dan early this morning. When I arrived, the monks were just finishing their chanting and there were hundreds of people in the main hall paying respect to the image of the monk. At exactly 7.09 a.m., the image was carefully lifted by a team of men and carried out to the nearby canal where it was then placed into a large boat. This reminded me of the “Rub Bua” festival in Bang Phli where a Buddha image is put on a boat so that the local people can line the banks to worship the image. However, this was slightly different. For a start, this was the real image. Secondly, there weren’t many people lining the banks. This is because everyone piled into dozens of different sized boats in order to take part in a water parade.
There were about seven boats that left the temple. Most of them were large open decked boats with no seating. I guess there were about 500 people on these boats. However, as we made progress down the canal, we were joined by dozens of more boats of various sizes. Along the way there were also people on the banks waving to us. We passed a fleet of fishing boats that were moored and off-loading their fish. A few of them also joined us for this merit-making water parade. By the time we reached the open sea twenty minutes later there was quite a large flotilla of boats. It was really an amazing sight and a wonderful atmosphere that is difficult to capture in still images. When I go next year I will shoot some video to share with you.
We went about three kilometres or so off-shore to a point where we started to do a large “wien-tien” around an imaginary point. Normally, these are candlelight processions around the main temple building three times in a clockwise direction. Here we went around in large circles three times following the boat carrying the image of Luang Phor Pan. Whilst this was going on, monks on that boat were chanting and consecrating sacred water which would be used later to bless the local people. We seemed to be going around in circles forever. I tried to count the boats taking part but I lost count after sixty. About forty minutes later we had finished going around in circles. At a temple it would have only taken 10 minutes. Then there was a mad scramble for each boat to get a small flag with an image of the monk and sacred writings. These were being handed out by the boat with the monk’s image. They used a long pole but still it was chaos as everyone wanted to get a flag for their boat. Luckily, even though we hit a few boats, there were no serious incidents and we soon headed back to shore.
We finally arrived back at the temple nearly two hours after the start of the festival. I thought that was the end of the festival. I took some pictures of them off-loading Luang Phor Pan from the boat. I thought that they would take it back to the temple. However, they next loaded the image onto a decorated truck. The monks climbed up with it and then it set off for the next parade. This time, on land around the city. However, the way ahead was blocked by literally hundreds of motorcycles. I walked back up towards the main road to see what was going on. There I discovered that there was a bottleneck where all the motorcyclists were waiting to receive little red or yellow flags much the same that was given to the boat captains. I guess this was a kind of reward for taking part in the parade as they were handing them out to all the drivers. Unlike other parades I had taken photos of in the past, this one didn’t have floats. The truck carrying Luang Phor Pan was being escorted by hundreds of motorcycles and cars.
I waited near Klong Dan Market as the parade approached. The monks on the back of the truck were chanting and two monks on either side were sprinkling the local people with the sacred water that they had prepared earlier. Hundreds of people were lining each side of the narrow road to receive the blessing from the monks. I noticed they also gave offerings by throwing up bags of food and sweetmeats. Everyone was in a joyful mood and several people kept offering me food which I thought strange at first. I just put it down to the local people being so friendly to strangers. However, I soon realized that this was a major part of the parade. The pickup trucks and cars following on behind were handing out food and drinks to everyone who had just been blessed by the monks. Some people reached out their hands while others had baskets. People were handing out food cartons, ice cream, Thai desserts and drinks. It was really amazing the scale of generosity of the local people taking part in the parade.
Once the parade reached the old Suikhumwit Road, which runs through Klong Dan, it turned left and headed towards the border with Chachoengsao Province. I wasn’t sure where it was going next, but I decided to walk back to my car near the temple so that I could try and follow it. As I walked back, I was given plenty of food and drinks which was really great as I was getting a bit hungry by this time. It took about fifteen minutes to walk back and I thought that when I got there I would reach the end of the parade. But, the cars and pickups stretched much further as far as the eye could see. This turned out to be the longest parade I had ever seen. It was also the first parade I had taken part in as I was now driving slowly behind all the other cars. I even received my small flag to show that I had taken part!
I drove eastwards out of town to the border with the neighbouring province. It took forever as there was such a traffic jam. Here the parade did a u-turn and started heading back to Klong Dan. Lining the road on both sides were people waiting with baskets ready to receive food and drinks from people taking part in the parade. It remided me a little of Songkran with people driving up and down in pickup trucks. However, instead of throwing water at the local people, here they were handing out goodies to them. This was such a great thing to witness and to take part in. However, as the progress was so slow, I decided to make a small detour to go and visit a tourist attraction which I will tell you about another day. I then drove back to Klong Dan where I soon realised that the parade was now going West out of the town. It turned out that they wanted to to give all the local people a chance to take part. What I didn’t realize was that they were going to go all the way to Samut Prakan city which was over 30 kms away! This last photo I took at 1.35 p.m. along Taiban Road. It then did a u-turn and headed back to Klong Dan. Closely followed by a posse of about 300 motorbikes.
That was such an awesome festival and very inspiring. I loved the boat ride out into the Gulf of Thailand. And I loved the concept of giving food and drinks out to the local people. I have never seen anything like that before.