Tesagan Gin Je – Vegetarian Festival in Thailand

Anyone who doesn’t like to eat meat will be pleased to hear about The Nine Emperor Gods Festival which is observed by cleansing the body via vegetarianism, and celebrated across the whole of Thailand, as well as in China, Hong Kong, Myanmar (Burma), Singapore and Malaysia, for a full nine days. The date in the Western calendar that the festival falls on changes yearly, but in the traditional Chinese calendar it starts on the evening of the ninth lunar month. In the Western calendar this means it is usually late September or early October with this year’s festival starting on the 5th of October and ending on the 11th of the month.

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is known in Chinese pinyin as Jiǔ huáng yé, in Cantonese as Kow Wong Yeh and in Thai as Tesagan Gin Je. Despite Thailand being predominantly of the Buddhist faith (over 96% of Thai people identify themselves as Buddhist), the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is actually a Taoist celebration. We’ll see why a celebration of a different faith to the main national one is celebrated here a little later.

First, let’s go back to ancient Chinese mythology to take a look at who these nine emperor Gods actually are.

The Nine Emperor Gods (jiǔ huáng xīng jūn or jiǔ huáng da di in Chinese pinyin) are the nine sons of the Emperor Zhou Yu Dou Fu Yuan Jun and of the mother of the Big Dipper, Dou Mu Yuan Jun, who is the keeper of the Registrar of Life and Death.

Unfortunately for Dou Fu Yuan Jun, he is hardly worshipped these days as the stricter version of the Taoist teachings has been diluted somewhat and Taoism is not so widely followed in modern China. In fact it seems rather unfair to Dou Fu Yuan Jun as the majority of Nine Emperor God temples no longer even bother to acknowledge his existence. Dou Fu Yuan Jun is, however, still invoked along with Dou Mu Yuan Jun in a ceremony known as Li Dou which honours the Big Dipper. Taoist followers at these ceremonies believe that worshipping the Northern Dipper stars creates longevity, helps to avoid disasters, absolves all sins and frees one of his or her spiritual debts.

Popular Chinese folk lore tells the story of the Nine Emperor Gods actually being Ming dynasty pirates who collaborated together in a plot to overthrow the Qing dynasty. Perhaps not altogether surprisingly, many Taoist priests state that this story is not true and consider it an affront to the true Taoist beliefs which dictate that the Nine Emperor Gods are in fact high-ranking Star Lords who govern the movement of the planets and take charge of issues concerning the lives and deaths of us mere mortals. The seven stars of the Big Dipper in the North Ursa Major constellation, which are visible to the human eye, and their two assistant stars, which are generally not visible, represent the Nine Emperors Gods.

So, that’s the background but how and why did these nine gods inspire a vegetarian festival and why is a Taoist tradition celebrated so fervently in Thailand?

Thailand is actually home to a large Chinese population, and many Thai people are in fact ethnically Chinese, with a large number of people in their 30’s and 40’s today being second generation Chinese or having a Chinese grandparent. It is not at all unusual to see Chinese temples in Thailand, Chinese characters on decorative archways and on shop fronts, particularly on jewellery shops and shops selling gold. Chinese New Year is also celebrated in Thailand and in the weeks running up to that celebration, many towns and cities will be strung with red Chinese lanterns and banners.

Although celebrated across the Kingdom, the Nine Emperor Gods festival, or Tesagan Gin Je to give it its Thai name, is most famously observed on the island of Phuket, which lies in the Andaman sea just off the Southwest coast of Thailand. Phuket is the largest of Thailand’s many islands and is actually connected to the mainland by way of two bridges, making it easy to get to. The reason that Phuket holds Thailand’s biggest celebrations of a Chinese vegetarian festival is partly due to the fact that at least 35% of the population on the island is Chinese, making it a natural location for the nine day event. The other reason is that although the actual origins of how the festival started are not completely known, it is thought by many that the festival began in Phuket in the 19th century when a wandering Chinese opera group who were performing on the island fell sick with malaria. To try and combat the disease the performers decided to follow a strict vegetarian diet whilst offering prayers to the Nine Emperor Gods to ask for their minds and bodies to be purified.

Much to the amazement of the Phuket locals, all the members of the opera group made a full recovery, and to celebrate their survival of this once fatal disease, a celebration was thrown to honour the gods and to thank them for their divine intervention. From these humble beginnings the Nine Emperor Gods festival has grown in to a huge annual gathering that is attended by thousands of people, with many participants coming from China, as well as other countries in Asia.

Clearly, from its origins being in the beating of malaria, the whole point of the Tesagan Gin Je festival is to purify, cleanse and heal one’s mind, body and spirit. For worshippers, a lot of the activity takes place in the island’s temples where ritual cleansing and prayers are the main focus. Anyone taking part in the ceremonies and observing the nine days of purification will dress only in white and they will refrain from eating not only meat and poultry but seafood and dairy produce too. If they are offering vegetarian or vegan snacks or dishes, restaurants and street food vendors will hang yellow flags or bunting with red Chinese characters or Thai lettering on them, which indicates that je – vegetarian – food is being cooked and sold there.

To sample the purest of the pure foods however, one will need to eat dishes prepared during a special ritual in one of the Chinese temple’s sacred kitchens. This is the food that will offer the greatest powers of healing and purification.

There are a number of rules for anyone who is seriously taking part in the cleansing ritual: they must keep themselves clean at all times during the festival, they should not share kitchen ware or utensils with those who are not participating in the cleanse and they should conduct themselves in an appropriate manner, both physically and mentally. As well as abstaining from meat and dairy, alcohol is also to be avoided, as is engaging in any kind of sexual act. Besides this, there are a number of people who are not allowed to attend the festival or the rituals, namely anyone undergoing a period of mourning, expecting mothers and females that are menstruating.

But Tesagan Gin Je is about more than just giving up meat for a week and a half and it is the sacred rituals and aesthetic displays that are performed at the Chinese shrines and temples, particularly in Phuket that have garnered the innocuous sounding ‘Phuket Vegetarian Festive’ worldwide fame and attention.

Devotees known as Mah Song will walk barefoot over hot coals, climb ladders that have blades instead of rungs and pierce their cheeks and tongues with swords, skewers and other household items. This really is not something for the faint of heart, or needless to say, for young children so do consider carefully whether you think you want to watch – or indeed participate! – in this somewhat gruesome aspect of the vegetarian festival.

The Mah Song believe that the Chinese gods will protect them from lasting harm, and they invite the spirits to possess their bodies to protect them. It is believed that due to this possession and protection, little blood is shed and no large scarring is left by these acts of self mutilation. In recent years, injuries have taken place however, with one death being reported in Phuket during the 2011 festival. Maybe somewhat surprisingly, most of these injuries were not caused by skewers through the tongues, but by firecrackers being carelessly let off among the busy crowds. Again this is something to take care of and avoid if possible.

This being Thailand, parades are a big part of the celebrations in Phuket and you’ll be able to watch the Mah Song as they walk the streets in a trance like state, displaying their elaborate costumes and their incredible piercings. It is not just the devoted who participate however, as hundreds of the locals will also join in with the activities such as running across the beds of hot coals and even climbing the bladed ladder.

So if none of this has put you off and you’re still tempted to head for Phuket next October for some good vegetarian food, where can you expect to see the bulk of the activity? There are over 40 Chinese shrines and six Chinese temples dotted around the island and ceremonies and rituals will take place in and around all of them. The main temple, however, is in Phuket Town, near the fresh vegetable and meat market, and is called the Jui Tui Shrine. Four of the other big shrines, which are also actually the oldest in Phuket, are the Put Jaw, Bang Niew, Cherng Talay and Kathu shrines. They are also in Phuket Town with the exception of Cherng Talay which is in the island’s Thalang district, and the Kathu shrine, which is in Kathu district.

The festival’s opening event is the raising of the Lantern Pole which signifies to the nine emperor gods that the festival is about to start. Once this approximately ten meter tall pole is raised the participants believe that the Hindu god Shiva will descend upon the event imbuing the proceedings with spiritual power.

Over the next couple of days the Chinese Thai locals will take their household gods to their temple along with offerings of food and drink. This is believed to ‘recharge’ the gods and give them an injection of the extra spiritual energy that is floating around the temples at this special time of year. As a tourist, you will be able to watch these rituals and nobody should mind if you join in by lighting the incense sticks or candles that are placed around the household gods.

Of course, this is Thailand – the land where people love to eat! – and this being predominantly a food festival, means that you would be very unlucky to go hungry during your visit. If you like your meals to contain some meat and can’t envisage having green Thai chicken curry without the chicken, don’t worry as you’ll still be able to find your meaty favourites, however vegetarians and vegans will be delighted at the range of foods suddenly available to them. It is not actually very easy to tell which dishes are vegetarian and which are not, especially on street food carts, as soybean and protein substitutes are used to replicate the meat found in normal Thai dishes and they both look and taste almost identical to their carnivorous counterparts. All you need to do is look for the yellow and red flags though and you can be assured that the food on that stall or in that restaurant will be vegetarian.

So, you’ve watched some stomach churning acts of self flagellation and mutilation, you’ve followed that up, perhaps unwisely, with a traditional Thai vegetarian feast, you’ve strayed from the path of righteousness by not being able to resist the cold (and incredibly strong) local Chang beer and you’re looking for something else to do in Phuket. Well as luck would have it, Phuket has a wealth of things to do and is a beautiful island to explore by both scooter and bicycle. Bustling Phuket Town will either delight you with its heady mix of beach, bars, tattoo shops, souvenir shops and pirate DVD sellers, or, on the other hand, it might well exhaust you and make you want to jump on the first plane home. But don’t beat a hasty retreat just yet for Phuket, although heavily commercialized in places, still has some patches of solitude and some of those famously deserted, white sandy beaches that Thailand is justifiably famous for.

How about a day trip to Phang Nga Bay? This stunning, deep green bay with its sheer limestone cliffs that rise out of the water are a photographers dream. The bay was brought to prominence by a certain secret agent who shall only be referred to here as 007, but it is entirely possible you’ll experience a sense of de ja vu when your boat heads for the famous ‘James Bond Island’. Back on dry land, the 45 meter high, white Big Buddha, which is visible from most of the south of Phuket, sits on the top of the Nakkerd Hills looking benevolently down over the areas of Chalong, Kata and Rawai. The drive up takes you through leafy roads, past small wooden restaurant houses, groups of street dogs and even the odd elephant. It’s an interesting drive and you’ll no doubt end up stopping several times along the way to admire the coastal views from various points.

Finally, if you’ve spent your days lazing on the beach (and quite rightly so!) and feel the need for a spot of action, why not go and see a Muay Thai boxing match? Watching Muay Thai is an experience in itself and you’ll definitely feel the energy of both the crowd and the fighters. The traditions surrounding Muay Thai help make it an unforgettable night, with the boxers entering the ring to traditional Thai music, bowing to the corners and accepting garlands of flowers around their necks before the fight starts. You can watch a Thai boxing match at either Saphan Hin Stadium in Phuket Town, which holds regular matches, or at the camp at Patong Beach.

Whether you’re visiting Phuket specifically to participate in, or attend, the vegetarian festival or whether you just happen to find yourself on the island during the nine days that it runs for, it’s sure to make your trip to this varied, entertaining and very beautiful part of Thailand all the more memorable.

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Visually Mesmerizing Festival of Loi Krathong in Thailand

The festival of Loi Krathong (also sometimes spelt as Loy Krathong) is arguably the most beautiful festival in Thailand – and Thailand has a lot of festivals! Taking place once a year on the evening of the full moon in the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, or known to you and me as November in the Western calendar, Loi Krathong is a picturesque celebration that is celebrated across the whole of Thailand as well as in parts of the neighbouring countries of Burma (Myanmar) and Laos.

But what is Loi Krathong and what does it mean? Loi is the literal spelling in the Western alphabet of the Thai word ‘to float’ and a krathong is a word used only for the floating rafts or containers that are used for this festival; it is not used to refer to anything else in the Thai language. The main part of the Loi Krathong festival involves floating these rafts, or krathongs, down rivers and canals, on ponds and lakes and even in the ocean.

A krathong is normally around 20cm in diameter and was traditionally made from spider lily plants or from layers taken from the trunk of a banana tree. Nowadays, to make it easier to create a krathong, they are either made from bread, which of course is eco-friendly and will disintegrate in the water and be eaten by fish, or from Styrofoam, which is often banned as it takes years to decompose leaving the rivers and canals polluted and clogged. Coconut can also be used. The krathong will be beautifully decorated with folded banana leaves, a candle, flowers and sticks of incense. Some people also place a coin on their krathong as a monetary offering to the river spirits.

There are a number of reasons behind the festival and for launching a krathong. Letting go of the raft symbolizes letting go of negative thoughts, grudges and anger and some people also place nail clippings or a lock their hair on the float to further symbolize this feeling of ‘letting go’ of the past. When launching their krathong, people will also make a wish for good fortune, good luck or some other personal reason or aim. Loi krathong is also about paying respect and giving thanks to the goddess of water, Phra Mae Khongkha , who is the Thai version of Ganga the Hindu goddess of the holy River Ganges. The candle on the krathong is lit to offer respect to and honour the Buddha.So when did Loi Krathong originate and who is responsible for coming up with the idea of creating these beautiful floats ? Well, this is where it gets tricky because there are two different theories as to the whys and whens of how Loi Krathong came to be celebrated. One version believes that it is an ancient Brahmanic or Indic ceremony which was originally held for people to pay their respects to three gods: Phra I-Suan (Shiva), Phra Narai (Vishnu) and Phra Phrom (Brahma). Thai civilians would make paper lanterns which were lit by candles and then given to the royal family, high-ranking government officials and other wealthy people to display in their homes (or palaces!) Since Thailand is now a deeply Buddhist country, one hundred and fifty years ago the ruling king at the time, King Mongkut (Rama IV), urged the people of the Thai Kingdom to change Loi Krathong into a Buddhist ceremony and to pay their respects to the Buddha instead.In this later Buddhist version of the festival, paper lanterns were still created but this time they would be distributed to the local temples and given to the monks instead of to the rich and powerful.

In the second version of how Loi Krathong came to be it used to be claimed that the festival originated from the period of the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom, which lasted from 1238 to 1438. A lady of the court named Nang Nopphamat, who was a consort of King Loethai, was said to have created the very first Krathong from banana leaves which she made in the shape of a lotus flower and presented to the king. However in more recent times it has emerged that this was a novel written sometime during the first half of the 19th century, in around 1850, and Nang Nopphamat (sometimes also spelt Noppamas) was actually the main character and was created as a means of offering behavioural guidelines to women who wanted to become civil servants. To further discredit this version of events, in 1863 His Majesty King Rama IV wrote that Loi Krathong was a Brahmanical festival that had been subsequently adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the Buddha.

Nopphamat has leant her name to some of the festivities however, and these days, as with many Thai festivals and celebrations, beauty pageants are a big part of Loi Krathong day. Known as a ‘Nopphamat Queen Contest’, local beauties (or locals who think they’re beautiful!) will compete whilst wearing stunning traditional Thai dresses, to be crowned the most beautiful of that year’s festival.

In many cities the local government, large business corporations and other organizations or clubs construct much bigger krathongs that can actually hold people. These spectacularly sized krathongs can be admired floating down the mighty Chao Phraya River which runs through Bangkok. All over the Kingdom, town and cities and even villages will also set up stages where local performers will showcase traditional Thai dancing, as well as holding the beauty contests.

Harking back to the days when Loi Krathong first began as a paper lantern festival, these days it is also common practice to release paper sky lanterns. These lanterns, known as khoom fay, or khoom loi (floating lanterns), are made from thin paper with a bamboo frame and have a small candle or fuel cell inside. When the candle is lit the hot air trapped inside the paper casing creates lift which rises inside the lantern and lifts it into the air.

One reason why khoom fay lanterns are so widely synonymous with Loi Krathing now is because the Northern Thai people, the Lanna, light khoom fay lanterns all the year round when celebrating a festival or special event. In the North of the country a festival called Yi Peng is celebrated on the full moon of the second month in the traditional Lanna calendar. The Lanna calendar and the traditional Thai lunar calendar are different and Yi Peng actually falls on the same date as Loi Krathong, therefore in the North, particularly in the city of Chiang Mai, Yi Peng celebrations and Loi Krathong traditions have somewhat merged into one. Khoom fay lanterns have also grown in popularity in the rest of the country and are now an integral part of Loi Krathong.

Releasing a khoom fay sky lantern is a symbol of good luck – and again, just like setting your krathong afloat on a river or canal is to rid oneself of misfortune and past ills – releasing a khoom fay lantern into the night skies also means you’re letting go of your woes and anger. Of course, don’t forget to make a wish too!

So what exactly can you expect if you book a holiday to Thailand at this time of year? Firstly, the weather in late November is great for a vacation. The rainy season has finished and the hot months of March, April and May have yet to begin. In fact November through February is considered to be the ‘cool’ season, although for anyone visiting from Europe or anywhere that has a cold winter will still find the weather delightfully warm. In fact in general the best time to visit the Kingdom is during these four months. In Bangkok the temperature can be anything from 18ºC to 32ºC though it normally hovers around the late 20’s. If you’re heading to the North or Northeast you can expect a cooler climate with temperatures going as low as 8ºC to 12ºC first thing in the morning and the days sometimes being around the 20ºC mark. In this part of the country nights can be quite chilly and up in the mountains the temperature can even drop below freezing. In the Southwest, for examples on the islands of Koh Samui and Phuket temperatures will be warm – usually around 26ºC or 27ºC, although in some parts of the Southwest, November can be rather wet and rainy too. Further up the Gulf of Thailand, coastal towns such as Hua Hin and Cha-am will be both warm and dry with no rainfall and temperatures somewhere around the late 20’s or even 31ºC or 32ºC.

So, taking into account the weather in different parts of the country may have a bearing on where you want to go to experience Loi Krathong. Another thing to keep in mind is that it is celebrated slightly differently in different areas. In 2013 the festival officially falls on the 27th of November, the night of the full moon, but in some places, for example in the Northern city of Chiang Mai, the celebrations last for 3 full days and run from the 26th to the 28th of the month.

If you’re in Bangkok not only will the weather be warm and dry but If you want to experience a neighbourhood style Loi Krathong head to one of the local districts where the canals (called ‘Khlong in Thai’) meander through and watch the festivities there. Or if you want to join in with the crowds and see the most spectacular celebrations, head for a spot along the Chao Phraya River.

A good place to enjoy Loi Krathong in Bangkok is the river front in the Banglamphu (also spelt Banglampoo) district, not far from the backpacker area of Khao San Road. Head for the small, green Santichaiprakan Park which sits on the corner of Phra Sumen and Phra Athit and runs right down to the water’s edge. You can’t miss the park – look for the white 18th century Phra Sumen fort which is one of the last two stone watchtowers remaining in the city: there used to be 14 of the forts all placed at strategic points along the old city wall, acting as look out towers to guard against foreign invaders arriving by river.

During the Loi Krathong festival crowds of locals (and quite a few tourists) flock to this pleasant little park. Stalls selling krathongs will be set up along the pavements and the stall owners will be making more krathongs as fast as they can sell them! One nice thing is that even though this is an ancient Thai tradition and one that honours not only the Buddha but the Thai water goddess, the Thai people are friendly and don’t mind in the least if you purchase a krathong and join in.

Take your krathong through the park and down to the water’s edge and here you’ll find a small sectioned off area of the river where ancient trees are partially submerged in the water. Dropping your krathong directly over the edge into the Chao Phraya will most likely end in it sinking or being swept away by the current or in the wake of a boat, but placing it here gives it chance to float safely away, taking your bad memories of the year and any grudges you might be harbouring with it. Don’t forget to light your candle and incense first though.

Be careful when placing your krathong into the water here as it will be dark and can be muddy and slippery. If you don’t want to risk it find one of the entrepreneurial youngsters – local boys of around 10 years old – who’ll be standing knee deep in the water as they will be more than happy to float your krathong for you for a small fee of around 10 baht!

After you’ve made your wish and watched your krathong jostle for space among the hundreds of others, wander down to the main river edge to admire the passing giant krathongs and colourfully lit boats. Also in the immediate area will be a stage for traditional dance performances and perhaps a Nopphamat Queen Contest too if you’re lucky. The park itself is also nice to wander around on Loi Krathong evening as it’s decorated with lanterns and fairy lights, adding to the festive atmosphere. This is also a good opportunity to people watch and mingle with the Thai people on their special evening. After you’re finished soaking up the atmosphere here, leave the park and turn left onto Phra Athit Road. Walk along it for about 5 minutes untill you reach the end of the street and a cross roads. Turn left onto the bridge that crosses the river and you’ll be amongst more people lighting and releasing their khoom fay sky lanterns. As they lift off into the air the lanterns make a beautiful sight and a look up into the night sky will reveal hundreds of tiny points of light getting further and further away as people all across Banglamphu (and indeed the rest of the city) let their woes and their wishes fly away.

There are plenty of restaurants and quirky bars where the local cool Thais hang out along Phra Athit and Phra Sumen roads too and you’ll be spoiled for choice if you want to go and grab a bite to eat or a cold drink afterwards. And if you want to party, head towards Khao San Road where the music pumps until the small hours and tourists and locals alike will be spilling out of the bars and into the streets, drinks in hand.

If you choose to come to Thailand at this time of the year and get to witness Loi Krathong, you won’t be disappointed. Not only is it the prettiest of celebrations but it encompasses the best of Thai culture and the Thai people’s love of fun and enjoyment too. You’re sure to have an unforgettable time and some wonderful memories of your Thai Loi Krathong.

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Public Holidays in Philippines in 2014

Philippines is a place of dreams to many foreign visitors. A variety of festivals and celebrations will allow you to experience a different culture and way of life.

There are more than fifty public holidays and festivals celebrated in Philippines every year. If you are planning to visit this country of islands, a good idea will be to do it at the time of festivities.

The expected dates for public holidays and festivals in Philippines in 2014 are shown in the list below.

Sto. Niño Festival

Date 2014: Tuesday, 1 January (27 January in Bulacan)
Occasion: This festival is held on different days in different provinces of Philippines. In Bulacan this festival is help during the last Sunday of January. In some other provinces it’s held during the first Sunday of January. The festivities are somehow different in some regions but basically the local and foreign tourists have an opportunity to see very well-made Catholic images and statues of the Child Jesus, known locally as the Sto. Niño in various manifestations.
States applicable to: National

Pista ng Tatlong Hari (Feast of the Three Kings)

Date 2014: Sunday, 5 January
Occasion: During the feast of the Three Kings, also known as the Epiphany, in Philippines people usually pray and prepare gifts for Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. This feast usually marks the official end of the liturgical Christmas in Philippines.
States applicable to: National

Pista ng Mahal na Nazareno (Feast of the Black Nazarene)

Date 2014: Thursday, 9 January
Occasion: Catholics and devotees of the Black Nazarene come together in what has always been an all-day intense procession carrying the huge cart where the Black Nazarene lies. Every year thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to Philippines (Manila) to be a part of the procession of the Black Nazarene.
States applicable to: Quiapo, Manila only

Araw ng Koronadal “Hinugyaw Festival”

Date 2014: Thursday, 10 January
Occasion: During this feast, people of Koronadal City in Mindanao celebrate various cultural facades that have settled in the city over the years.
States applicable to: Mindanao only

Ati-Atihan Festival

Date 2014:  From Sunday to Sunday, 19-26 January
Occasion: One of the grandest street parties in the Philippines, this feast celebrates the Sto. Niño. It is held on every third week of January in Aklan, and is more popularly known around the world as Ati-Atihan. During this event, the locals of Aklan and tourists put marks on their faces similar to masks. They are supposed to resemble Negritos who are dancing to vibrant ethnic music produced mostly by drums and other local instruments.
States applicable to: Aklan only

Sinulog Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 19 January
Occasion: Locals of Kabankalan, Negros Occidental come together in unique mostly handmade costumes while their bodies are painted in black. They are celebrating the feast of El Señor Sto. Niño.
States applicable to: National

Zambulawan

Date 2014: Sunday, 19 January
Occasion: During this feast, people of Koronadal City in Mindanao celebrate various cultural facades that have settled in the city over the years.
States applicable to: Zamboanga del Sur only

Pasungay Festival in San Joaquin (Bull Fighting Festival)

Date 2014: Every 21st day of January
Occasion: Pasungay is an annual festival held in the town of San Joaquin, Iloilo. Local people say that the Pasungay begun when two furious bulls were set loose by the cow keepers and the fighting bulls in the hillside was witnessed by the resting farmers. During this festival, spectators cheer as they watch bulls from the town and nearby areas fight. There’s also another annual festival held in the town of San Joaquin on the same day. It’s called Pahibag – the annual horse fight festival.
States applicable to: Iloilo only

Dinagyang Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 26 January
Occasion: Dinagyang is a religious and cultural festival held in the city of Iloilo. Anyone attending the Dinagyang Festival must shout the words “Hala Bira” as they dance to the vivacious music along the populated streets. Just like most of the festivals in Philippines, this one is also very colorful and joyful.
States applicable to: Iloilo only

Chinese New Year

Date 2014: Friday, 31 January
Occasion: As far as I’m aware, Filipinos do respect the Chinese community. During the last few years, the Chinese New Year has been considered a national holiday. I think this fact speaks for itself. I bet you know the Dragon dance because it symbolizes the start of a Chinese new year not only in Chine but in Philippines as well.
States applicable to: National

Pista ng Mahal na Patron ng Kandila (Feast of Our Lady of Candles)

Date 2014: Saturday, 2 February
Occasion: Thousands of devotees gather at the Jaro Cathedral in Iloilo to celebrate the feast of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria. It is one of the most lavish religious spectacles in the country. The feast starts with the blessing of the candle and continues with a procession of Nuestra Senora de Candelaria, the patroness of the festivity.
States applicable to: Iloilo only

Kaamulan in Bukidnon (Ethnic Cultural Festival of Bukidnon)

Date 2014: Saturday, 22 February
Occasion: The Kaamulan Festival in Bukidnon is yet another proof of rich culture of Mindanao island. It’s held on the first week of March. The streets of Malaybalay become live and colorful, the locals and tourists are partying all week. Great music, ethnic food fest, and native dancing until the end of the week – this is what Kaamulan is all about.
States applicable to: Bukidnon only

Panagbenga (Flower Festival)

Date 2014: Sunday, 23 February
Occasion: As far as I’m aware, Filipinos do respect the Chinese community. During the last few years, the Chinese New Year has been considered a national holiday. I think this fact speaks for itself. I bet you know the Dragon dance because it symbolizes the start of a Chinese new year not only in Chine but in Philippines as well.
States applicable to: Baguio city only

Sibug-Sibug Festival

Date 2014: Tuesday, 26 February
Occasion: This festival is celebrated during the foundation day of the Sibugay province. Sibug-Sibug festival is another colorful parade of cultural treasures. Experience street dancing, ethnic rituals illustrating good harvest, wedding and healing rituals. It usually lasts for two weeks. Have you ever tasted the world-famous oysters of Sibugay? No, then this is your chance.
States applicable to: Sibugay only

Paraw Regatta

Date 2014: Sunday, 2 March
Occasion: This is an absolutely amazing event for all sailing enthusiasts. It’s one of the most exciting races of colorful sailboats called Paraws. The festival is held annually in the straits between Guimaras Island and the city of Iloilo. It’s also a perfect time to show off stunning Paraw design.
States applicable to: Iloilo only

Sandugo Festival (Blood Compact Commemoration)

Date 2014: Saturday, 15 March
Occasion: Sandugo means “one blood”. The Blood Compact happened between Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Sikatuna, chief of Bool (now Bohol), as a sign of friendship and end of hostility. Today, the city of Tagbilaran, Bohol commemorates this event through a feast and some series of interesting local events.
States applicable to: Bohol only

Mahal na Araw (Holy Week)

Date 2014: From Sunday, 23-31 March
Occasion: The Philippine Holy Week celebration is a period of wherein devotees reenact the significant moments of Jesus Christ’s life, from the time of his preaching, going through the time of his death, and until his resurrection.
States applicable to: National

Via Crusis (Way of the Cross)

Date 2014: From Monday to Sunday, 24-31 March
Occasion: Via Crusis or Via Dolorosa is a religious devotion that takes place in Cebu City and commemorates 14 key events on day of Christ’s crucifixion during the season of Lent. It’s attended mostly by Cebuano devotees and other devotees who voluntarily join the penitential procession to 12 Stations of the Cross found in 12 hectares of rolling hills.
States applicable to: Cebu City

Turumba (Our Lady of Sorrows of Turumba)

Date 2014: Friday, 28 March
Occasion: This procession is held during the Good Friday. Devotees usually carry the ancient image of the Virgin Mary on the streets of Pakil, Laguna. They dance and sing in the streets making religious procession even more enjoyable.
States applicable to: Pakil, Laguna

Ang Pagtaltal sa Guimaras

Date 2014: Friday, 28 March
Occasion: It’s held during the Good Friday in the city of Jordan. Locals come together to reenact the Crucifixion of Christ. Devotees start the penitential procession to the “Balaan Bukid” or the Holy Mountain where a cross stands towering at the chapel overlooking the Guimaras Straight and Iloilo City.
States applicable to: Jordan, Guimaras

Pak’kaat Kallo

Date 2014: From Monday to Sunday, 1-7 April
Occasion: During this festivity, the tribe of Manobo in Magpet, Cotabato celebrates their bountiful harvests through rituals, dances and songs during the holy week.
States applicable to: Magpet, Cotabato

Manaoag Pilgrimages

Date 2014: From Monday to Sunday, 7-14 April
Occasion: Our Lady of Manaoag is visited by both local and foreign devotees. Most Catholics believe that Our Lady of Manaoag has miraculous powers. Manaoag, becomes one of the Philippines’ pilgrimage centers because of the miraculous image. On Saturday, vehicles that transport pilgrims are blessed.
States applicable to: Pangasinan only

Cutud Lenten Rites

Date 2014: Wednesday, 16 April
Occasion: Cutud, Pampanga region is known all around the world for probably the most realistic reenactment of the Passion of the Christ including the actual nailing of three flagellants. They are nailed on a wooden cross in San Pedro.
States applicable to: San Pedro, Cutud, Pampanga

Moriones Festival

Date 2014: Monday, 14 April
Occasion: In Marinduque, locals take part in the traditional reenactment of the Crucifixion of Christ with the soldiers or “Moriones” wearing colorful masks and costumes. The Moriones refer to the heartless Roman soldiers. The festival’s highlight is the reenactment of the conversion of Longguinus, the one who stabbed Jesus and was eventually beheaded.
States applicable to: Boac, Magpoc, Marinduque

Lamilamihan Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 13 or 20 April
Occasion: This annual event showcases the rich culture of Yakan – indigenous tribes in Mindanao. Yakan music, dances and handmade crafts are absolutely amazing.
States applicable to: Lamitan, Basilan

Pista’y Dayat (Sea Festival)

Date 2014: Thursday, 1 May
Occasion: A day of Lingayen, Pangasinan thanksgiving for bountiful harvests and abundant fishing observed all over Pangasinan traditional with mass offering on beautiful beaches and fluvial parade.
States applicable to: Lingayen, Pangasinan

Viva Vigan Festival

Date 2014: From Thursday to Monday, 1-5 May
Occasion: Viva Vigan Festival is the main event in the city of Vigan that showcases the cultural richness of this northern tourist destination. Unique and amazing art of the Bigueños is definitely the highlight of this festival.
States applicable to: Vigan, Ilocos Sur

Flores de Mayo/Santacruzan (Flowers of May)

Date 2014: During May
Occasion: Santacruzan is a very popular event in Philippines. During this event people celebrate the finding of the True Cross by Santa Elena. Prior to Santacruzan, a nine-day novena is held honoring the Holy Cross. It is followed by a procession wherein Reina Elena is represented by a beautiful girl accompanied by a boy who shall represent King Constantine. Other girls and boys in the parade represent biblical characters. Well-decorated arches are the highlights of this event. It’s a month-long national festival.
States applicable to: National

Antipolo Pilgrimage

Date 2014: During May
Occasion: During the month of May, pilgrims walk from their homes to the Antipolo Church in Rizal province to visit the miraculous image of the Virgin of Antipolo.
States applicable to: Antipolo Rizal

Pahiyas Festival

Date 2014: Thursday, 15 May
Occasion: Houses are decorated in amazingly colorful fruits, vegetables and flowers. A noodle called “habhab” and the transparent rice tortilla called “kiping” are served during Pahiyas Festival.
States applicable to: Lucban, Quezon

Mudpack Festival

Date 2014: Saturday and Sunday, 14-14 June
Occasion: The Mudpack Festival in Negros Occidental is a symbolic celebration of “primitive people”, opposite to people of the so-called modern world. They respect nature and everything sorounding them. It celebrates the harmony of man and nature and encourages environmentalism among young people.
States applicable to: Mambkal Murcia, Negros Occidental

Parada ng Lechon

Date 2014: Tuesday, 24 June
Occasion: Parada ng Lechon means “roasted pork. During this annual event, several roasted porks are decorated and showcased in Balayan. People also pour water during this event. It’s highly recommended to bring some extra clothes when visiting the Parada ng Lechon in June 
States applicable to: Mambkal Murcia, Balayan, Batangas

Pintados/Kasadyaan Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 29 June
Occasion: Local people of Tacloban who had tattoos during the Spanish years were highly regarded as courageous. During the Pintados Festival, local and foreign tourists decorate themselves to imitate brave warriors while dancing to vibrant beats of drums.
States applicable to: Tacloban City

Bocaue River Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 6 July
Occasion: The Bocaue River Festival commemorates the discovery of the miraculous cross floating and landmark called “Wawa.” What is unique about festival however is the procession down the river with a huge ornately decorated pagoda float when people get soaked in the river water.
States applicable to: Bocaue

Kinabayo Festival

Date 2014: Thursday, 24 July
Occasion: The annual Kinabayo Festival features a re-enactment of the Spanish-Moors wars especially the Battle of Covadonga, the historic last stand of Spanish soldiers under General Pelagio versus Saracan.
States applicable to: Dapitan City

Paaway sa Kabayo (Horse Fighting Festival)

Date 2014: Friday, 25 July
Occasion: Male horses fight over female horses – this is what the Paaway sa Kabayo is all about. More than 100 horses have been trained solely for this twice a year event.
States applicable to: Tanjay, Negros Oriental

Rajah Baguinda Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 10 August
Occasion: Rajah Baguinda festival is highly respected for spreading Islam and establishing the power of the Sultanate Government in the archipelago of Sulu. The Rajah Baguinda Festival showcases a rich culture of Sulu. It’s a three-day festival.
States applicable to: Jolo, Sulu

Eid-El FITR Muslim Festival

Date 2014: Thursday, 7 August
Occasion: This Muslim festival that signifies the end of Ramadan, or the holy month of fasting, has been declared a national holiday to give further respect to the Islamic religion in the Philippines.
States applicable to: National

Kadayawan sa Dabaw

Date 2014: Saturday and Sunday, 23-24 August
Occasion: Kadayawan sa Dabaw – the king of all festivals in Philippines. Held at the third week of August, Kadayawan celebrates the bountiful harvest of Davao’s flowers, fruits and other produce as well as the wealth of the city’s culture.
States applicable to: Davao City

Sarakiki

Date 2014: All week, 1-8 September
Occasion: Sarakiki celebrates cockfighting as a hobby among many Filipinos. During this festival people dance in costumes that make them look like the brave fighting roosters.
States applicable to: National

Bonok-Bonok Maradjao Karadjao Festival

Date 2014: Tuesday, 9 September
Occasion: A colorful festival showcasing the Surigaonon’s Tribal Culture through street dancing celebrated every 9th of September.
States applicable to: Surigao City

Peñafrancia Viva La Virgen

Date 2014: Saturday, 20 September
Occasion: Peñafrancia Viva La Virgen is one of the most important religious celebrations in Naga city. It’s celebrated in honor of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the patroness of Bicol. The festival is characterized by a nine-day procession along the Bicol river, and ends with Our Lady of Peñafrancia crossing the river whilst surrounded by glowing candles.
States applicable to: Naga City, Camarines Sur

Lemlunay (T’Boli Tribal Festival)

Date 2014: From Tuesday to Thursday, 16-18 September
Occasion: Lemlunay is an annual festival held at the beautiful lake Sebu. It features original T’boli’s tribal rituals which commence with the sound of gongs and native music. The event is culminated at the Town Plaza where cultural street dancing and ethnic sports, like horse fighting, are held.
States applicable to: Lake Sebu, South Cotabato

Zamboanga La Hermosa Festival

Date 2014: From Wednesday to Sunday, 1-12 October
Occasion: The miraculous image of Our Lady of the Pilar at Fort Pila is celebrated during the Zamboanga La Hermosa festival.
States applicable to: National

Lanzones Festival

Date 2014: Saturday, 18 October
Occasion: The harvest of small round yellow fruit called lanzones is celebrated during the Lanzones Festival. Streets are filled with local dancers and tourists. Cultural shows, parties, parades and beauty pageant are also held. One of the aims of the festival is to show the rich cultural products of Camiguin.
States applicable to: Mambajao, Camiguin

Masskara Festival

Date 2014: Saturday and Sunday, 18-19 October
Occasion: Also known as the Mardi Gras of Philippines. Bacolod City air is filled with cheerful and outrageous spirits during the Masskara Festival. Young and old participants wear masks and magnificent costumes while dancing around the main streets of the city. The city of Bacolod is also called the City of Smiles.
States applicable to: Bacolod City, Negros Occidental

La Naval De Manila (Procession of the Blessed Virgin Mary of La Naval)

Date 2014: Sunday, 12 October
Occasion: The harvest of small round yellow fruit called lanzones is celebrated during the Lanzones Festival. Streets are filled with local dancers and tourists. Cultural shows, parties, parades and beauty pageant are also held. One of the aims of the festival is to show the rich cultural products of Camiguin.
States applicable to: Sto. Domingo, Q. C.

Pinta Flores Festival

Date 2014: From Monday to Wednesday 3-5 November
Occasion: It’s one of the most popular and definitely the most colorful street dancing festival/contest in San Carlos City. This festival is all about flowers and dances, amazing costumes, and the triumph of good against evil. PintaFlores Festival is attended by local and foreign tourists who join the locals in a city-wide celebration.
States applicable to: Negros Occidental, San Carlos City.

Higantes Festival (Feast of San Clemente)

Date 2014: Sunday, 23 November
Occasion: The image of San Clemente is carried by male devotees in a procession during this festival. The devotees wear fishermen clothes and carry fishermen equipment with themselves. The highlight of the festival are the dancing higantes which are paper mache puppets, usually 12 ft. high and about 5 ft. diameter. They are huge and very often shown in different forms and personalities. The procession ends at Laguna de Bay.
States applicable to: Angono, Rizal.

Grand Cordillera Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 23 November
Occasion: Tribes and ethnic groups of the Cordillera region come together every year to celebrate life and revive ancient traditions on the last Sunday in November. This region is rich in arts and culture. If you want to see unique street dances, ritual performances or listen to great songs, Grand Cordillera Festival is definitely for you. Besides, it’s a week-long event.
States applicable to: Baguio City, Cordillera region.

Pagdidiwata

Date 2014: Monday, 8 December
Occasion: Native people of Tagbanua or Palawan celebrate through ritual dances and food offerings to the souls of their departed kin and to their deities. The thanksgiving celebration is held in Puerto Princesa City, the capital of Palawan.
States applicable to: Puerto Princesa City, Palawan

Immaculate Conception

Date 2014: Monday, 8 December
Occasion: La Immaculada is the patroness of Intramuros, Manila. During this annual event, a procession is held with more than fifty images of the Virgin Mary from provinces and countries around the world being carried by devotees around the historic place of Intramuros.
States applicable to: Intramuros, Manila

Bikol Pastores

Date 2014: Thursday, 18 December
Occasion: This extraordinary Christmas tradition takes place in the Bicol City of Legazpi in Albay. During this event, young men and women dressed in their unique colorful shepherd costumes roam around the city, dancing and singing to the tune of “Pastores a Belen”.
States applicable to: Legazpi City, Albay

Giant Lantern Festival

Date 2014: Saturday, 20 December (held every third Saturday of December)
Occasion: San Fernando, Pampanga is known for producing the most colorful, magnificent, creative and attractive Christmas lanterns in Philippines. To celebrate the art of lantern-making, an annual festival and competition among lantern-makers is held on the Saturday before Christmas Eve. The contest features giant lanterns that are as big as forty feet in diameter and have many (usually more than thousand) light bulbs.
States applicable to: San Fernando, Pampanga

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The annual Monkey Buffet Festival in Thailand

For a fun festival with a difference, and one that is unique to Thailand, why not visit the ancient town of Lopburi in November when it holds the annual Monkey Buffet Festival? And yes, you’re quite right in what you’re thinking: a Monkey Buffet Festival is exactly what it sounds like!

Let’s start off with a little history about Lopburi before we get on to its most famous residents though. Lopburi is the capital of Lopburi province and is situated about 180 kilometers (approximately 111 miles) north east of the Thai capital, Bangkok. It is one of the oldest settlements in Thailand and it is said that the town was founded over 1000 years ago by King Kalavarnadish who came from a region in Northwest India – now modern day Pakistan. When the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was established in the fourteenth century Lopburi became a stronghold of Ayutthaya’s rulers and was designated the royal capital during the reign of King Narai the Great during the middle part of the 17th century. King Narai would thenceforth stay in Lopburi for around eight months of the year.

These days, however, Lopburi is not so much a royal capital but the home to hoards of monkeys – correctly known as Crab-Eating Macaques or Long Tailed Macaques. It probably comes as no great surprise to learn that this particular breed of monkey has both a long tail (typically longer than its body) and also likes crabs! A regular sized adult is 38 to 55cm long with comparatively short arms and legs however its tail is typically 40 to 65cm. The male macaques are a lot larger than the females, weighing in at around 5 to 9 kilograms whilst the females weigh approximately 3 to 6 kg.

Crab Eating Macaques are found across Southeast Asia where they live in groups of up to twenty female monkeys, their offspring, and any number of males, although each group normally contains less males than females: for these monkeys, the female is the boss! Despite the name, the monkeys do not live purely on a diet of crab, in fact it’s not even their main source of food and they exist by living on a range of different plants and animals. It seems that the Crab Eating Macaque is not a fussy eater as although 90% of their diet consists of seeds and fruit, they are also more than happy to eat virtually anything they can get their paws on including flowers, leaves, roots and even tree bark. They will also occasionally add some meat to their diet by feasting on baby birds, nesting female birds and their eggs plus lizards, frogs and fish.

Having said all that, the monkeys of Lopburi have co-existed alongside humans for so long now that they’re not afraid of, or averse to, snatching tuna sandwiches or a paw full of noodles from the plates of people dining al fresco either! The locals actually regard the monkeys as somewhat of a nuisance – there are over 3000 of them living downtown side by side with the town’s human residents – but they are undeniably a good source of income as they do bring in the tourist trade.

Although the Kingdom of Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist (around 95% of Thai people define themselves as Buddhists) the monkeys have a history which is rooted in Hinduism. In the 10th century the Khmer Dynasty built many Hindu temples, and if you have been to Cambodia and visited Angkor Wat you will recognize the style of architecture as being very similar. These temples are in the Old Town of Lopburi and make for some fascinating visits, as well as being excellent photo opportunities, particularly as this is where the Macaques have set up their headquarters, roaming the grounds and clambering over the ancient temples as is their want.

So why are the monkeys of Lopburi not driven out of town and tolerated by the locals? It all dates back to the Ramayana, the ancient Sanskrit tale which is attributed to the Hindu sage Valmiki. In this epic story, which is seen as one of the two great canons of India, a heroic monkey with human traits named Hanuman helped rescue a bride to be from a 10 headed demon and it is believed today that Hanuman founded Lopburi and that the monkey residents of the town are direct descendants of his bloodline. Whether it’s true or not or if it just makes for a quirky and interesting background to entice the tourists, we will never know. Having said that, even though the monks and practicing Buddhists of Lopburi are not, of course, followers of Hinduism, they do regard tending to and feeding the monkeys as a merit making activity and take care of them (or at least do their best not to be too angry with them when they have their mobile phones stolen by them!) accordingly.

So, this brings us to the Monkey Buffet Festival and it’s whys, what’s and wherefores. Despite the monkeys’ illustrious and ancient connections with the town, the Monkey Buffet is actually a pretty new tradition and one that was actually conjured up by a local business man with an eye on attracting tourists to the otherwise sleepy town. Lopburi’s convenient location in regards to Bangkok makes it ideal for a weekend or overnight stay either from the city, if passing through on the way to the Northeast region of Isan, or as a detour when heading to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai in the North.

So, who is the genius behind the annual Monkey Buffet Festival? For this we have a man by the name of Yongyuth Kitwattananusont to thank. Back in 1989 Kitwattananusont, a hotelier by trade, gained sponsorship and assistance from TAT – the Tourism Authority of Thailand – to launch his inaugural festival for the benefit of the monkeys’ stomachs, the town’s peoples’ wallets and the tourists’ holiday memories. Now the festival pulls in thousands of visitors every year bringing in much welcome income for Lopburi’s restaurants and hotels.

Khun Yongyuth also takes great enjoyment from the festival and he attempts to make each year a bigger and better spectacle from the previous one. One year saw him dressing up in a monkey costume and floating into the festival by parachute while in 2013, he aims to increase the already magnificent buffet by offering those cheeky monkeys over 4,000 kilograms worth of food!

And boy do those monkeys make the most of their buffet; they don’t care whether it’s good for the town’s collective bank balances or if it gives the tourists great photos to take home and share with their friends and family on Facebook or Twitter – they’re just happy to be able to gorge themselves and fill their furry stomachs to such excess one day a year. They’re probably also quite fond of the added opportunity to be able to grab some extra cameras or bags from unsuspecting tourists too! You have to wonder what these kleptomaniac monkeys do with all the things that they steal; do they store them all somewhere? Do they use them to trade with other monkeys? Have they secretly mastered how to take photos of their babies and upload them to Instagram?!

Regardless, the annual Monkey Buffet Festival is something that is surely looked forward to by Lopburi’s simian residents all year long. The buffet takes place in November and although dates can change from year to year, in 2013 it will be held on the 25th, which is a Monday. So what happens at the festival and where are the best spots for monkey picnic watching?

The Monkey Buffet takes place in the overgrown and ruined Khmer temple of Pra Prang Sam Yot where the majority of the monkeys live. But this is not just any old animal feeding time with fruit scattered on the ground; the monkeys are treated with reverence and respect and are even cordially invited to attend their feast with invitations that are attached to cashew nuts and distributed to the guests of honour. In fact this is a banquet worthy of a five star hotel as actual chefs lovingly spend hours preparing the food (which will be devoured in no time at all by the ungrateful diners!) The buffet is vegetarian: no baby bird or frogs here, thank you very much, and consists of fruit salads, sticky white rice and a traditional Thai desert called Thong yod, which means golden teardrop, and is made from egg yolk. Thong yod is reputedly difficult to make as it is hard to create the teardrop shape required, and it is also served at auspicious ceremonies, indicating that no time or expense is spared when it comes to honouring Lopburi’s most revered residents.

Endless oceans of bananas, mangos, dragon fruits, apples, pineapples, durians and all the other tropical fruits you can think of are spread out for the Macaques to feast upon. Some fruit will be encased in blocks of ice which the monkeys will lick in frustration, not being able to contain themselves and wait for the ice to melt. A perfect picture opportunity if you can catch one in action.

The buffet is served on long tables covered with crisp red table cloths – which don’t stay clean for long. Once the meal has been laid out it doesn’t take too long for the monkeys to make themselves completely at home and these distinctly badly behaved hairy individuals waste no time in stuffing themselves senseless then dancing on the tables, throwing leftover food and drink at each other and the watching tourists, and generally indulging in the type of behavior that would see them being swiftly thrown out of, and handed a lifetime ban, from the Hilton! It’s all for the tourists though and the bad behavior of the monkeys is delighted in by the camera wielding masses.

It is precisely this bad attitude and over familiarity with humans that drives the people of Lopburi somewhat crazy however and visitors to the town, whether during the festival or not, should be warned that these furry fiends are not backwards when it comes to being forwards and making a nuisance of themselves is practically their raison d’etre! Just wandering around town can be a hazardous occupation and you will need to keep an eye on your belongings pretty much all the time. Daylight robbery is a common occurrence and the monkeys are always on the lookout for an opportunity to add to their collection of stolen swag, so keep a firm hold of mobile phones, cameras, handbags and purses and anything else you value and don’t particularly want to donate to Lopburi’s hairy community.

It’s not just criminal acts that can be a problem however; some of the monkeys’ behavior can be downright anti-social too. They hang out along roof tops and telegraph wires, occasionally defecating on unsuspecting pedestrians, jumping on the backs of passersby and pulling their hair and indulging in, let’s just call it extreme displays of public affection, if you catch my meaning! As mentioned, providing you aren’t a victim of monkey robbery, this can all be very amusing and does make for some great photos and tales to tell back home, but the (human) locals are not quite so enamored of their neighbours’ exploits, despite the money they are responsible for bringing into the town. It’s somewhat of a simian swings and roundabouts situation.

Once the Monkey Buffet Festival is over, if you’re looking for a quiet, chilled out place to stay for a day or two, Lopburi makes a pleasant enough, low key place to relax and, Monkey Buffet aside, one that’s not really on the tourist trail. It’s a small town and is easy to walk around and is fairly interesting from the vantage point of seeing a typical Thai town go about its day to day business, albeit it a town with a historic past. Anyone interested in the ancient empires of the Kingdom might find Lopburi interesting. Of course there are the Khmer temple ruins – Prang Khaek (Shiva Shrine), San Phra Kan (Kala Shrine), Prang Sam Yot (Three Spired Shrine) and the tower at Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat to visit but the Dvaravati, Sukhothai and Ayuthaya empires all also established their administrative centres here at various points in the past.

If you’re tempted by the mixture of ancient ruins and appallingly behaved Macaques, Lopburi is quick and easy to get to from Bangkok and other points across the country. Here’s how:
Frequent buses leave Bangkok’s North and Northeastern (Mo Chit) bus station and take around three and a half hours to arrive at Lopburi’s bus station which is on Naresuan Road, approximately 2km outside of the Old Town.

It is also easy to take the train. Whether coming from the north and from the direction of Ayuthaya, or from the south and Bangkok, you’ll arrive at Lopburi’s train station on Na Phra Kan Road which is handily located within walking distance to the historic sites and to hotels and guest houses. If you only want to stop off for half a day or so, the station will let you store your baggage there.

In Thailand there are several choices of trains, ordinary, rapid and express, so make sure you know which one you’re getting if time is of the essence for you. Different trains cost different amounts, with the ordinary being the cheapest. If departing from Bangkok, take the train from the main Hualamphong station; there are a number of departures to Lopburi throughout the day and night. The rapid and express trains take approximately three hours and the ordinary trains about four and a half hours.

Whether you go to Lopburi to see the ancient ruins or especially for the Monkey Buffet Festival you’re sure to have unforgettable time in this laid back monkey paradise!

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Songkran Festival in Thailand

The start of the traditional Thai New Year – otherwise known as Songkran – is a riotous event enjoyed by young and old, rich and poor and Royalty and commoners alike all over the Kingdom of Thailand. Today if you mention ‘Thai New Year’ to someone who isn’t Thai, chances are they’ll say “Oh yes – the water throwing festival, right?” and whilst it’s true that Songkran these days is a lot of fun which involves buckets full of water and beauty queen parades, its origins lie way back in agricultural history.

So, before we get to the fun, splashy part, let’s take a look at where, why and how Songkran came to be the water festival that we know and love today.

The word Songkran comes from the Sanskrit word, Sankranti, which means movement or change, although in this situation it refers to the transmigration of the Sun from one Rāshi (a constellation of the zodiac in Indian astronomy) to the next. Therefore, there are 12 Sankrantis in a year and each Sankranti denotes the beginning of a month.

Back in ancient times the day that Songkran fell on was set on the day that the sun migrated into the sign of Aries which was seen as the beginning of the year, however these days, Songkran is always celebrated on the 13th of April – the official beginning of the Thai New Year. It is also celebrated in the other Theravada Buddhist countries of Cambodia, Lao and Burma/Myanmar and in the Thai homeland of Sipsong Panna in the South West Chinese province of Yunnan where the Dai minority live.

Another point to note is that in Thailand, the Buddhist calendar is used as opposed to the Western Gregorian one, so now, as I write this in 2013 here in Thailand it is actually 2556. Officially New Year in Thailand was changed to the 1st of January in 1940 to align with the West and to increase business and trade opportunities but Songkran is still the most beloved of Thai national holidays and is quite rightly still celebrated as Thai New Year.

Unlike Western New Year, Songkran lasts for 4 days, with each day given a name and defined by a meaning and actions. The first day is Maha Songkran which signifies the end of the old year. The following day, April the 14th, is Wan Nao and this is an in-between day stuck in a kind of calendar limbo between the old year and the new year which is yet to begin. This day is traditionally spent preparing offerings of food for the monks who reside in the local temples.

Day three is Wan Thaloeng Sok – the 15th of April and the actual start of the New Year whilst the final day of the celebrations, Wan Parg-bpee, is spent honouring one’s ancestors and elders.

Songkran falls at a similar time as Holi which is an ancient festival celebrated in India, and they do in fact share some similar customs, such as the releasing of small captured fish into streams and rivers. In Thailand birds may be released from their cages too. Similarly, Holi is celebrated by throwing coloured water, and as we already know, this is something that the Thai people enthusiastically embrace during their Songkran festivities too!

So where does all this water throwing come from, what’s it all about and has Songkran always been so wild?! Well, originally throwing water was a Spring Festival ritual that even pre-dates the Buddha. It was seen as a symbol of good luck and of hope for rain for the crops that had been planted that year. After Buddhism was introduced to the Thai Kingdom, its meaning morphed somewhat into a religious act and the water was instead used in an annual cleansing of statues of the Buddha.

The water is considered blessed after the statues have been washed and is then used to convey respect to ones elders by pouring a small amount of it over their shoulder and down their back, on the 4th day of Wan Parg-bpee. This water will be scented, often with Jasmine flowers, although these days, leaving the religious reasons aside, water will often be filled with talcum powder too so it leaves a sticky white paste all over the ‘victim’.

Whether the water is being sprinkled over a statue of the Buddha, gently poured over the shoulder of a respected elder or tipped over your head in a bucket filled with ice, it symbolizes purity and cleansing and the desire to rid oneself of any bad thoughts and deeds of the past year.

Water is the main thing that springs to mind when thinking about Thai New Year but there are other rituals attached to the holiday period too. In the past many Thais would take sand to their local temple to symbolically replace all the sand that they’ve ‘carried away’ on the soles of their shoes throughout the year. This sand would then be built into sand pagodas – known in Thai as Phrachedi Sai. Prachedi meaning pagoda and sai meaning sand.

These days Phrachedi Sai are still created in some places although the sand is more likely to be provided by the temple. Nowadays it is a family activity and it is mainly women and children who build the pagodas. Dressed in their best clothes they’ll gather at the temple, buy incense sticks, flowers, flags, banners and candles from the stalls set up and prepared by the monks and then, using silver bowls that they have brought with them, collect some sand from the piles also prepared by the monks.

A prachedi sai can be any size, big or small, and is created by mixing water with the sand. Inside, a coin and a fig leaf will be placed (the fig is a religious tree) and once finished the pagoda will be sprinkled with scented water. Then the decoration can begin, with flags and banners being placed in the pagoda’s ‘walls’. After that, the base will be covered with a small yellow or red cloth, candles and incense sticks are placed in the sand as offerings and a short prayer will be said. In many temples prachedi sai building has turned into a competition, with the builders of the most beautiful pagoda being awarded a prize.

Like most countries, this being New Year, Thailand also has a whole host more of rituals and traditions. Most of them a lot more symbolic than the Western ideal of just getting as drunk as possible on New Year’s Eve – although that’s not to say that the Thai’s don’t like to party because they do! In fact Thai people have a word sanuk which means fun, and they believe that everything in life should be done with a sense of sanuk, even if you’re at work. This must be why Thailand is known as ‘The Land of Smiles’.

If you’re in Thailand for Songkran and somebody wants to tie a string around your wrist, you should be very honoured. You should hold out your arm with your palm facing upwards and let them tie the string. Whilst doing so they will be reciting a short prayer or blessing to wish you good fortune throughout the coming year. You may see very fortunate (or popular!) people with as many as 30 strings on their wrists. One word of warning though, you should not untie the string but wait until it falls apart and drops off of its own accord.

At New Year, as is traditional in many cultures, the home will be thoroughly spring cleaned – again signifying a desire to enter the coming year cleansed of all one’s ‘dirt’ or ills and it is also important to make offerings to your local temple or wat, as it is called in Thai, and the monks that live there. It is customary to offer preserved food stuffs and cooked meals as well as new saffron robes for the monks.

Parades are also a big part of Songkran and if you’re in The Kingdom at this time of year, you’ll see brightly coloured floats festooned with flowers and carrying statues of the Buddha. Don’t be shocked if you see people throwing water at the images – this is all part of the cleansing ritual – albeit one that is a little more rigorous than the sprinkling of water that takes place in the temples!

Beauty pageants are also popular, with girls in every town or district vying to be crowned the Miss Songkran of their area. But just because they’re beautifully made-up and wearing traditional dress, it doesn’t exclude these beauties from getting a soaking too and it’s not unusual to see floats of pretty girls cowering behind their parasols in an attempt to dodge the buckets of water that are being enthusiastically hurled at them!

Which brings us nicely to the really fun part: the crazy water fights and the slippery sidewalks. As we’ve seen, water plays a huge part in the Songkran celebrations and if you’re in Thailand, unless you want to shut yourself in your hotel room for four days, chances are, you’re going to get wet. Very wet. Early in the morning open backed trucks will start doing the rounds, with music blaring and huge vats of water (usually icy!) in the back. People will set up tables with their weapons of choice – be it super soaker water gun or your common or garden bucket – or even, if they’re lucky enough to have an outside tap, a garden hose pipe.

As the day progresses things get wilder and chances of seeing someone in dry clothing are very small indeed! As a farang – a foreigner – you may venture out of your house or hotel only to find you remain fairly dry for the first little while; perhaps someone will dab some scented water on your face as a mark of respect and you’ll think you’ve got away with it, but once somebody takes a shine to you or decides you’re too dry, your number is up!

From morning to night the streets are packed with people shouting “Suk san wan Songkran!” – “Happy New Year “or “Happy Songkran”, tipping water over each other or shooting each other with water pistols. People line the roadsides waiting for trucks to pass so that they can embark upon a frenzy of bucket throwing and water shooting, with the truck eventually moving off in search of a new set of victims and the roadside crowd eagerly awaiting their next open-backed vehicle or motorcycle!

You may also bump into someone – usually an older person – carrying a small silver bowl filled with white powder or paste. This is one of the oldest Songkran traditions and the paste is actually to ward off evil and offer protection. The person with the bowl will gently dab some of the paste onto the receiver’s face, neck or other part of the body. Tradition dictates that you should leave the paste on until it naturally washes off itself – which let’s face it probably won’t be before too long! Just like the tying of the strings, you should feel honoured if someone approaches you and wants to dab paste on your face; it is an act of kindness and don’t worry as the paste is water soluble and won’t damage your clothes or skin.

Of course, just as the water pouring has turned into water throwing, the traditional paste dabbing has taken on a new life in this fun loving country and some of those buckets will also contain talc, which passers-by will delight in throwing over you if you look even remotely damp. Sticky!

It can’t be denied that Songkran is great fun and typically embodies the Thai people’s love of laughter and fun, however one thing to take extreme care of is if you’re riding a motorbike or scooter. Traffic accidents go through the roof at Songkran due to all the water being flung around and drivers being temporarily blinded or skidding on wet roads, and the emergency services and hospitals are inundated with casualties – and worse – at this time of year. If at all possible stick to foot power during the festivities and be extra careful when crossing Thailand’s already busy roads.

Another thing to note is that although Songkran lasts for four days, the length of celebrations differ around the country. For example in Hua Hin, the coastal town three hours south of Bangkok where the King has his summer palace, the water throwing only lasts for one day – the 13th – however in the Northern city of Chiang Mai, celebrations last for the whole four day period. If you’re thinking of visiting Thailand for Songkran, therefore, work out where you want to be and how much of the action you can take! Another word of warning; some parts of Bangkok are reputed to get extremely crazy and the water fights can take on battles of epic proportions and may not be suitable for children, the elderly or the faint of heart!

If you do want to see some of the most manic Bangkok action, head for the backpacker haven of Khao San Road in Banglampoo district, which will be insanely crowded, or hit the downtown areas of Sukhumvit Soi 4, Soi Cowboy and Silom as they should also be good, i.e. crazy, places to head for.

Another tip is to make sure everything, and I mean EVERYTHING – is made waterproof before you leave the safety of indoors. Trust me, you WILL get wet and I’m talking about taking a shower with your clothes on proportions of wetness. It’s so tempting to take a camera out to capture the action but ask yourself if it’s really worth ending up with an expensive casualty on your hands. If you do want to take photos, get yourself onto a balcony just above street level to get some good shots, otherwise don’t risk it if you’re heading into the thick of things. And even if you’re not, you never know when you might get a soaking!

On a similar note, stock up on plastic bags or even zip lock bags and ensure wallets, purses and phones are safely wrapped up and stored away, either in a pocket, or better still a waterproof backpack or shoulder bag.

One other thing to point out is that most shops and services will be closed for the four day period (apart from good old Seven Eleven) and transport is very likely to be booked up way in advance as migrant workers and students in the big cities head home to the countryside for the holidays.

From its humble beginnings as a way for farmers to ask for rain, by way of a sedate religious ceremony and all the way to an wild celebration that sees most of the population covered in water and talcum powder or flour, Songkran has come a long way. Come, enjoy it, have lots of sanuk and take it in the spirit that it’s intended and is famous for. And if you don’t like the sound of being drenched in water by complete strangers, I’ll be willing to bet that you’ll actually be glad of that icy cold bucket of water being thrown over you – it’s certainly a respite from the scorching temperatures that bake Thailand and her inhabitants in steamy, sweaty, sultry April!

Suk san wan Songkran!

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Chinese New Year in Malaysia

It goes without saying that Chinese New Year (also known as the Spring Festival) is the most important date in the Chinese lunar calendar. During the celebrations, entire households spend a small fortune just on festivities alone. Businesses and other forms of work stop and everyone sets aside for at least 3 days to join in the celebrations.

Not only is Chinese New Year the most important festival, it is also the longest festival, lasting 15 days – the entire duration of a lunar phase. This is because the entire celebration itself adheres to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, and Chinese New Year is traditionally celebrated on the first day of the first month of the first year. Even with the diffusion of the Gregorian calendar into the Chinese culture, Chinese people still use the lunar calendar to determine other important festivals as well as auspicious dates (for marriage, childbirth and the like).

The Chinese lunar calendar itself is an extremely complicated creation, and it is based on lunar phases, equinoxes and solstices. There are 12 months in each lunar year, and each month alternates between 29 and 30 days. Because its system is totally different from the Gregorian system, Chinese New Year does not happen on the same day every year. Instead, it ranges from January 21st to February 20th. Most governments with a significant Chinese population usually use this as a basis to plan their holidays. Other than that, the lunar calendar is also famous for its zodiac signs. There are 12 signs altogether, one animal for each year and it moves in a cycle, repeating itself every 12 years. The 12 lucky animals to be included (in order) are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The story behind it:

Once upon a time the Emperor of Heaven, the Jade Emperor, decided that there should be a way of measuring time. He then initiated a race across a river – the first 12 animals to cross the river would then have the honor of being in the zodiac calendar. All the animals participated with gusto, especially the cat and the rat. The cat and the rat were good friends; however, they both could not swim. They decided to hop onto the ox’s back instead; he agreed. The cat and the rat immediately realized that the ox was a good choice when he took the lead with ease, navigating the waters without difficulty. The rat however, was cunning – he wanted to be the first. As they approached the bank, he rat pushed the cat into the water. Being unable to swim, all the cat could do was to struggle to keep afloat. After that, the rat jumped onto the bank and ran towards the Jade Emperor. He was the first to reach and therefore had the honor of being the first animal in the zodiac. The ox felt cheated, but he had no choice but to be content with second place.

The other animals also have their own stories of course, each about how they got to the finish line. These stories then contribute to the characteristics of people born in that year. For example, people born in the year of the rat will be quick-witted, enterprising and selfish; people born in the year of the ox will be friendly, genuine and apathetic. The year of 2013 happens to be the year of the snake, and its characteristics include being acute, cunning and proud. Some very traditional Chinese people go to the extent of planning to have their children in a certain year – boys born in the year of the dragon are highly favored.

Being a generally superstitious culture, the Chinese believe that if the first day of the New Year did not start out on the right foot, things would go disastrously wrong for the rest of the year. This is why many Chinese households adhere to strict traditions, to dispel bad luck and bring in prosperity instead. However, not all is grim and dreary – Chinese New Year is actually more of a joyous occasion than anything else. It is the time where the entire extended family gets together, the time for everyone to buy new clothes, the time to eat good food, and also the time to improve relationships with family and friends.

In all cultures across the world, every festivity has its own story. The story of Chinese New Year is an interesting one, and it explains many of the rituals and symbols used today.

A long time ago, monsters dominated the world. They were terrifying creatures, one especially, by the name of ‘Nian (年)’. At the end of every year, Nian would satisfy his hunger by eating humans – he had a special appetite for children. People feared this beast the most because every time he came out, whole villages would be destroyed at a time. Many brave warriors tried to slay the beast, but no one could come close to succeeding. In the end, villagers had no choice but to huddle up in their homes and tried not to be eaten. During one of those years, Nian was in an especially bad temper. One little boy however was not aware of the danger. He ran right out of the house and straight into Nian’s path. To everyone’s surprise, Nian did not eat the boy. Instead, he fled to the brink of the village, circling the perimeter but not daring to come in. The boy’s parents lit up a torch so that they could find their son and bring him back to the safety of their hut. In the process however, the torch lit up a firecracker. The loud explosion caused a horrific reaction in Nian. He howled with horror and ran away. The next morning, all the villagers were grateful to be alive. They thought about what it was exactly that spared them and in the end, concluded that Nian was afraid of the color red (the little boy wore striking red color clothes) and loud explosions. From then on, every village decorated their houses and wore clothes that were red. They also set off firecrackers with sounds as loud as possible. Nian was never seen again.

Nian (if he ever existed before), has probably died of old age now, but the traditions from long ago are still incorporated till today. Rituals and taboos are so abundant during this period that from now on let’s proceed according to the chronology. We will start a few weeks before Chinese New Year, because the preparations are just as important as the event itself. Preparations for Chinese New Year start way before the actual date as this is the time where families start buying items that contain good fortune and prosperity to decorate the house. Most items are red (remember the story of Nian); red banners with the words ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’ (more on that later) are extremely common. Other than that, red packets are also bought in bulk so that there will be enough red packets (again, more on that later) to distribute during the whole 15 days of Chinese New Year. Finally, Chinese New Year Clothes are purchased. ‘A new change for the New Year’ is the general concept behind the brand new clothes.

Besides that, food too, plays a key role during this major celebration. Lucky foods include oranges, and they are purchased by the crates as they are considered to attract wealth. Pineapples are another fruit that is well received during Chinese New Year because its Chinese name literally translates to mean ‘Come, good luck’. Other than that, ‘Nian Gao’ (a sticky sweetish substance) is popular because it can also mean ‘Nian Nian Zhang Gao’, translated to mean ‘to grow bigger and taller every year’. Lastly, fish is eaten during family reunions. Fish is read as ‘Yu’ in Chinese, and ‘Yu’ can also mean abundance. ‘Nian Nian You Yu’ is a common phrase that means ‘to be in abundance every year’.

A very thorough spring cleaning is also carried out in anticipation of this day. The whole house from top to bottom will be cleaned thoroughly, from the windows and walls to the roof. This is because families aren’t allowed to sweep the house for the whole period of Chinese New Year. The reasoning behind this is to prevent any luck from being swept away. Chinese New Year decorations are set up too. Paintings of fish and oranges are highly favored, and they are hung up as decorations on all the walls. Paper pineapples are hung at the front doors too to enhance the chances of prosperity. Red banners and lanterns will be put up as well, again for the same reasons.

Now we move on to the actual celebrations, which start on Chinese New Year’s Eve itself. On this day, extended families (from the father’s side) will gather for a family reunion dinner. This dinner usually takes place in the grandparent’s house or the house of the most senior person in the family. Dinner includes all the ‘lucky foods’ mentioned above and will usually comprise of all the favorite dishes of the family. It is during this time that relatives bond with each other. It is also the ideal time for them to catch up on each other’s lives if they live far away. Firecrackers are set off at midnight, and the goal is to make as much noise as possible to scare away evil spirits (but more to usher in the New Year than anything these days). ‘Hong Pao’ is the largest and loudest of all the firecrackers. Adults and children alike participate whole heartedly in the celebrations. Some friendly gambling is also common during this period. Blackjack or poker is especially popular.

The first day of Chinese New Year is the liveliest one. Early in the morning, everybody wears new clothes. The clothes are always bright colored – black or other dark colors are frowned upon. This, in part, is attributed to the story of ‘Nian’ again. Children, teenagers or unmarried young adults will go up to all senior relatives to wish them ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’, which is translated to mean ‘May you be blessed with good fortune and prosperity’. This term will be heard very commonly throughout the whole 15 days of Chinese New Year as everyone wishes each other with this phrase. In fact, it is equivalent to the term ‘Merry Christmas’ on the 25th of December. After the children wish the elders ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’, elders will distribute the ‘angpows’ (red packets) to them. Money can be found in these ‘angpows’, and the money is thought to bring prosperity to the receiver of the red packet. The distributions of angpows are reciprocal (meaning that children in every family will receive a red packet from other families), so that both parties will receive good fortune. Married couples are the ones who distribute the red packets. However, if any bad luck has befallen the family (like the death of a relative), families refrain from handing out the red packets for three years.

Other than that, some families may hire a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Chinese New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises. According to folklore, the art of lion dancing had started thousand years ago in China. In ancient days, the people found it difficult to meet the lion. So, the impression of the lion was ambiguous. Members of a trope hide under a lion costume topped off with a giant lion’s head. The head of the lion can be fully controlled – in some dances, the lion even blinks in time to the beat of the drums. The lion’s mouth can also open and close, and with very good reason to do so. While performing, people may place red packets in hard to reach places, and it is the job of the lion to get it while maintaining the movements of a lion. Professional lion dance troupes are extremely impressive; they consist of many people in the costume, and can perform extreme balancing feats. The drummers of the troupe are also highly skilled; some can play the beats to such a climax that people just start cheering. Overall, the best troupes bring the most entertainment factor to crowds of people.

Since Chinese New Year’s eve and the whole first day of Chinese New Year was spent visiting the father’s side of the family, the second day has been rightfully dedicated to the mother’s side. Traditionally, it was the only time where brides could visit their birth parents, relatives and friends. Again, relatives exchange ‘angpows’ to bring in good luck. Families also pray to all their gods and ancestors during this day. The second day is also known as the birthday of all dogs, so people are especially kind to their furry friends and feed them with extra food. The third day and the fourth day are basically saved for visiting houses of friends, but some conservative Chinese believe that visiting during these days will bring both parties bad luck. They believe that during these 2 days, evil spirits roam the earth, so going outdoors at all will be bad luck.

The 5th day is supposed to be the birthday of ‘Cai Shen Ye’, the God of Wealth. Therefore it is unwise to leave your house for too long in case ‘Cai Shen Ye’ decides to pay a visit. Business and shops normally reopen on that day and it is no longer considered bad luck to sweep the house. Governments also usually have school reopened by this time. Hence, even though there are traditionally 10 days left in Chinese New Year, the major festivities will have come to an end. The occasional business dinner or last minute visitings will still be conducted here and there, but nothing will be as grand as the first 3 days.

The last day of Chinese New Year is known as ‘Chap Goh Meh’, when translated means: ‘Fifteenth Night’. It is also known as the lantern festival, where everyone lights candles to guide the wayward sprits home. Crowds of people, families, and children will also walk the street with lanterns…it really is a sight when watched from a bird’s eye view. In Malaysia and Indonesia, this night is also dedicated to young ladies searching for a suitable love partner. Young ladies who believe in this will write their contact number on a mandarin orange, and throw it into a lake or river. Young men would then pick up the oranges and eat them. If the orange is sweet, that means that the relationship would go well; if sour, that means the man should probably steer clear from that woman. Due to pollution however, this particular idea is slowly dying out. Firecrackers will again be set off, and this marks the end of the year’s Chinese New Year.

If this is the first time you are hearing about Chinese New Year, then you definitely need to come check it out for yourself. The highly charged atmosphere of the whole celebration cannot be justified in writing alone – nothing can compare to receiving your first red packet (with real money!), cheering on the Lion Dance Troupe, or even being playfully nudged by the lion himself. In Malaysia, the best place for experiencing Chinese New Year will undoubtedly be in Georgetown, Penang. Thanks to its sizable population, celebrations here are especially boisterous. Penang City Hall or the Esplanade is where you want to be for the annual countdown gala. Local celebrities and dance troupes will be there to entertain the crowds, and the whole performance will be aired live on National TV.

Kek Lok Si temple in Penang will also hold its own celebration, lasting for 33 days starting a few days before Chinese New Year to a few days after. A total of 200,000 lightbulbs and 10,000 lanterns will be lit up to shed light on this century-old temple.

Around the same area, just a little way down from Esplanade or Penang City Hall, there will be a government held celebration as well on a few of the more famous streets like Armenien street, Chulia Stree and Ah Quee Street. For people who like cultural or heritage sites, this is the place to go for you to make the best of both worlds because Georgetown has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage City. This is also the opportunity for you to photograph some of the famous street arts by renown street artist, Ernest Zacharevic. Also, if you enjoying driving hard bargains and deals, this is the time for you to scout around as items are all on sales and promotions at almost any shops. Walk around at your own leisurely pace and just take in the sights.

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