Hello monsoon squelch. At this time in Thailand, summer holidays are at their peak, meaning locals are out and about, even though it’s the rainy season. This may not be the best time to vacation in Bangkok as the streets are wet and the humidity is through the roof. What is worth paying attention to is the Buddhist season of Lent, which makes an energy of reflection and meditation almost tangible in the air.
Let’s talk about Asahna Bucha, one of Buddhism’s holiest days, marked on the full moon of the 8th lunar month. This is the day on which the Buddha sermonized on the religion’s four noble truths.
Buddha sermonized on the four noble truths of the religion:
- There is suffering
- There is a cause of the suffering
- There is a way out of suffering
- It is the 8 fold path of Buddhism
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The day after Asahna Bucha marks the beginning of Buddhist Lent which is the customary time for young men to enter study in the monastery. The best place to be at this time is the Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival. Here, traditional candle offerings are carved into spectacular sculptures and paraded through the streets accompanied by music, dance and singing to celebrate the life-changing, culture affirming step these to-be-monks have taken.
This year, the dates are Tuesday, the 14th and Wednesday, the 15th though the days vary from year to year as per the lunar calendar. The first day is Wan Asanha Bucha which celebrates Buddha’s first sermon, and the second is Wan Kao Pansa, the day on which Buddhist lent begins. The main parade on the second day starts around 9 am and ends around noon.
Would a Thai festival be complete without a competition? Of course not. The top candle-sculpting talent from around the world descends on Isan to showcase their work in the competition. They are looked on by thousands of spectators as musicians and dancers keep step with the parade in traditional costume. There are also live music performances, open-air markets and food stalls. Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival is an unusual and highly memorable must visit for any art enthusiast.
If you’re not visiting the East, an alternative is Saraburi in Central Thailand which hosts a huge religious parade.
East (Pattaya, Koh Samet, Koh Lan)
Speaking of iconic structures, this is the perfect time to head to Pattaya, home of The Sanctuary of Truth. Carved entirely out of teak wood with mind-bogglingly delicate detail, the 105 meter tall structure is an architectural and spiritual triumph.
Situated to the north of Wongamat Beach, it was commissioned by a local business tycoon to act as a secular patron to philosophy, faith, culture and art without being tied to any one religion. It is therefore neither temple nor palace, despite looking like a bit of both. What it is is a testament to the richness of Thai craft, boasting Hindu and Buddhist designs, carvings of elephants, scenes and deities from mythology and everyday people.
The carvings reflect Eastern philosophy with it’s vision of Earth and are both on the inside and outside of the building. Intriguingly, none of the wood is treated for protection from the elements, so the monument needs constant repair, a metaphor for the ceaseless change and churn of human existence. The construction that began in 1981 will never end, and it will always change while remaining the same. Reminiscent of the Ship of Theseus.
The Sanctuary was born of the understanding that human civilization could not survive or thrive without religious, philosophical truth conveyed in art. It honours the seven creators without which there would be no human – “Heaven, Earth, Father, Mother, Moon, Sun and Stars.” It draws on ancient Hindu, Buddhist and spiritual elements without elevating any one to the only.
Even for agnostic or atheist folks, the structure elicits and emits a supernatural grace. You will feel a strong undercurrent of tranquility and find yourself speaking in hushed tones naturally, no signage needed. This is oddly and somewhat humorously in stark contrast to the small shooting range in the grounds of the sanctuary, along with regular dramatized sword-fighting shows. More congruently, you will find elephant and horse rides for the kids and souvenir stalls as handy memorabilia if you’re on a budget.
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Central region (Bangkok)
If you find yourself in Bangkok, you must make use of the opportunity to try some of the best street food in the world. A few must haves are:
- Pork Trotters / Khao Kha Moo – Braised pigs feet with rice
- Pad Thai – Stir-fried rice noodles, tofu, egg and peanuts. Both spicy and sour.
- Grilled pork sticks / Moo ping
- Fried insects – locusts, crickets, cockroaches and more.
Another thing to do is check out The Sathorn Unique Tower, also known as the “Ghost Tower.” This is an incomplete skyscraper 49 storey luxury apartment building, a rude reminder of the financial crisis that hit Thailand in 1997, bringing its construction to a screeching halt. Twenty one years later, the ruin is run over with graffiti artists, stray dogs and the homeless. However, and somewhat comfortingly, there are still no ghosts to be found. Despite its spooky appearance, it’s worth a visit for the unparalleled views from the top.
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This is the best time of year to get your diving and snorkelling done in Koh Tao, though there will be throngs of other tourists there as well. If you’re absolutely set on diving then do take visibility into account as instructors don’t take their dive boats out if there’s too much coral spawn around the full moon, or if the tides are too high. Also make sure to book your lessons well in advance as the island gets extremely busy between now and September.
The temperature at this time is still at a high of 34 degrees, with the water being at around 30 degrees. But with the brisk wind, it’s still pleasant to dive in. In July, August and September, visibility in the water hits 30 meters and more, so this is a great time to dive on this little island and enjoy mother nature’s marine gifts to Thailand.