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From one party to the next

Ritual Songkran
Tesagan Gin Je
Songkran Festival

If you thought that New Year's Eve in Times Square is quite the party, wait until you see how they celebrate the Buddhist New Year in Thailand.
You say "Happy New Year!" while pointing a water pistol at your loved ones and soaking them from head to toe. This is Bangkok and the celebration is for the Buddhist New Year, also known as the Songkran.

To begin with, you prepare your ammunition: a water pistol, balloons, buckets and everything that can be filled with water, because the water war is about to begin. And the battlefield? The whole city. You'll wind up soaking wet, but then it is the hottest month of the year and you will get dry straight away... to start all over again. The Songkran Festival is held between 13 and 15 April, although the festivities last for a week, and it is one of the most popular festivals in Bangkok. The reasons are more than evident: street festivals, having fun and water, lots of water. There is a symbolic reason, (apart from the fun of soaking anyone who crosses your path) and that is "washing the bad luck away" from the year that is ending to attract good luck in the new year. Not only do friends and acquaintances get wet, the Buddhas in the temples are also washed and houses are cleaned.

In fact, the festive atmosphere that fills the streets of Bangkok now is no more than the evolution of the traditional festive celebration, which consisted of pouring water from a small bowl on the heads of family members.
For us as travellers, we like the evolution of this festivity, which is celebrated more intensely in the Khao San Road, the backpacker district and Silom Road neighbourhoods, where the only way to avoid getting soaking wet is to use the BTS Skytrain, the train that crosses the skies of Bangkok and where there is no water battle (and from where you can get a view from above of thousands of people enjoying the festivity).

But new year is not the only curious festivity celebrated in Bangkok. Between September and October there is a feast, which is specially recommended for vegetarians: Tesagan Gin Je. For nine days vegan products, which are advertised in the shops with red and yellow posters, are sold throughout the city. Although where this fiesta really takes place is in Chinatown: Yaowarat dresses up in yellow with a special food market and this is where the best delicacies are found. It is a Taoist celebration, also known as the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods, which pays homage to the nine minor gods through the purification of the body and the soul. That is why no meat or animal products are eaten and doing any activity that increases the body temperature is forbidden (including arguing, alcohol and sexual relations). The tradition is to also dress in white, although that is usually only done in the temples.

Another typical festival is the Loi Kratong, the Festivity at the End of the Monsoon. Again, water has the main role, as the faithful flock to lakes, rivers and canals to set the 'krathongs' free. These are boats made from banana leaves, which are an imitation of the lotus flower. It is their way of paying respect and gratitude to the water spirits and the Thais invite you to join them in this colourful custom.

Tesagan Gin Je, beyond Chinatown

This festival is also celebrated in other south east Asian countries, among them Malaysia, Burma and Singapore. But in Thailand it is also celebrated in a different way, depending on the city. That which is best known is not in Bangkok but in Phuket, where a substantial part of its population is of Chinese-Thai origin. There, they make the emperor's nine gods "come down" to earth and that is why they pierce their cheeks with skewers, knives and even with parasols. The images are shocking, to say the least.

Religion in Thailand

Religion in Thailand has a strong influence on daily life, and also on the character of its citizens. That is why people in Thailand have a reputation for being pacific and smiling and this has to do with a Buddhist rule that prevents them from "speaking badly." 95% of the population is Buddhist, although there is also a Muslim (almost 5%) and Christian (under 1%) minority. Even so, its culture is greatly affected marked by Hinduism, the animism and other cultures such as China, and is can be seen on the streets, in temples and altars.

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