Vegetarian day Talat Noi and Yaowarat
Every year in Bangkok and around the country the vegetarians feast for nine days and wherever you eat you will find a vegetarian (Jay in Thai) menu. A yellow and red flag is the signal of a restaurant or a stall selling that food. Yaowarat and Talat Noi are the areas to go to enjoy this event, where especially those who have Chinese ancestry, practice jeh for the purposes of spiritual cleansing and merit-making. This year it took place from the 8 of October to 17 and I couldn’t miss it, not because of the food but the unique experiences to be there at that time. Talat Noi is the place coming to my mind to go, first because of the Chinese opera and the traditional authenticity of the event happening in there. So I know very well how to get to this neighborhood that I appreciate in all circumstances.
Very Crowded Alley, Impressive Incenses and Fire
As I expected it was very busy but despite the crowd and the rush on the narrow alleys everyone is relaxed, and you feel easy. There Is a small temple where people come to pay respect to their deceased loved one and gods, some before sprinkling their heads with branches of pomegranate leaves arranged in an earthen pot filled with water blessed by Chinese monks. The pomegranate leave is believed by the Chinese that it can disperse devil and with the holy water, it can bring luck. Here is where people make a donation, their name is written on a received and after the prayer burns it to remind the spirits of the deceased that they do not forget them. Other symbols to make merit is to buy the impressive incenses and candles that are intentionally large enough to burn for as long as possible during the nine days of the festival. After the devotee has bought the incense or candles, prays while a team of sweaty guys sets them up.
Also, in the Chao Zhou Shi Kong Shrine which houses the statue of this respected Chinese monk who lived in Fujian, and where every worshiper present at the festival comes to pray and many ceremonies are celebrated during these nine days. Golden paper sheets, some representing money, Chinese lanterns, and others, all will be ceremoniously burned on the last day of the festival at around midnight. I wanted to understand the meaning of the fire along the Chao Phraya River and a gentleman from Chonburi province was very kind to answer me. He told me that he had been coming here for thirty years, I pointed out to him that there was a festival there, but he said that Talat Noi is more authentic and that he had good friends here. He explained to me that the gold paper leaves he threw into the fire, nine on each of two trays, were to pay tribute to the ancestors and the nine Taoist gods, hence the duration of the festival. One is small leaves (3 baht) the others are larger (4 baht). I bought some of them and asked the seller where they are made. She told me that in the past everything was done in Chinatown but not anymore because the new generation is not interested, so now everything is done in some places around Bangkok.
But the “show” is in front of the temple where there are two different stalls, one in yellow clothing and the other in white to make the “candy” Toup Tap. Made with peanuts, and sugar cane, so named because of the noise it makes when two men crush the peanut paste with a 3kg teak wood mallet. Both sell very well, and if you want to buy from one of them, you will have to join a long queue. I asked the seller what time they started selling and he told me that at 8:00 a. m. they had to be there at 6:00 a. m. to set everything up. I arrived around 15:00 at rush hour and they worked non-stop until their break at 17:00 around 1/2 hour, then another team until 21.00 closing time, the whites close later at 22.00, and this for nine days. Before back home I joined the queue and waited twenty minutes to be served, I bought five packs ((wrapped in paper, thirty baht/pack) and I was their last customer that day. This candy is available all year round and can be found in some shops, local markets, and supermarkets. Tasting recommended with hot tea.
You will certainly notice the beggars sitting on the sidewalk before reaching the Chao Zhou Shi Kong shrine. Taking a picture, one of them hastened to ask me ten baht, I intended to make my merit, but after giving to a lady who seemed more in need, they all got into it, eh! farang to me too! (farang is the term used to describe Caucasians) my good deed stopped at two people. Bangkok is a city where you don’t meet many beggars as such, but people with disabilities selling various items, blind people singing with amplifiers, some playing traditional instruments, a few students playing the Tha Kaen harmonica, a traditional instrument from the northeast, most of them to help pay for their studies or raising funds for a cause. It seemed to me that the twelve who were there were not really in need, and this despite the crowd small number were making merit.
To Wat Mangkon Kamalawat
After being around for a while, I had two hours to kill before the Chinese opera show, so I decided to walk to Yaowarat. Returning to Song Wat road and turned left, passed the temple and at the main crossroads went slightly to my right and straight to the little Soi Wanit 1 (Sampeng).
As usual, on a Sunday and in addition a long weekend, for the memorial day of the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, it was deserted. At the first crossing, I take a right and that’s it, it took ten minutes and I was there. As always at this time of day, many stalls of food as well as tourists. After taking few photos I crossed the road to reach the old market soi 6, which leads to the avenue Charoen Krung where is located Mangkon Kamalawat, one of my favorite temple and where I knew there had traditional Buddhist ceremonies. I stayed around forty minutes, not many people and then back to Talat Noi the same way I came. This was the first time I was in Sampeng just after sunset, I usually come here during the day when it’s crowded, and it made me felt weird to be alone there. I also noticed two bars that I had never paid attention before, one is a nice tea room called Double Dogs on Yaowarat road and the other is Amor A 7 U a little
cafe bar Soi Wanit 1. I had planned to have a drink on the terrace along the Chao Phraya River at the cozy and intimate Samsara, but unfortunately, it was full.
Address Samsara 1612 Song Wat Rd. Not so easy to find and If you wish to go there just turn left at the corner of the Pathum Khongkha temple (you will see a bunch of cars rims) which is opposite Soi Trimit and Klongthom Pathum Khongka alley, Very close is the small but lovely Loy La Long hotel which is on the temple grounds.
Chinese Opera Called Ngiew in Thailand
This festival is one of the few opportunities to see this colorful show with magnificent costumes and make-up. There are about thirty of them in this troupe, some Thai, most of them from Isaan or northeast Thailand, and others of Chinese origin, many of them do not speak Chinese (Teochew or Hainese languages) but simply memorize the words of their roles. They are mainly solicited during the Chinese New Year and the vegetarian festival, but not only, they also perform all around the country and sometimes in Malaysia. The troupe is paid by the patrons of the temple, which for them it’s their way to make merit. I met a musician and asked him about the salary, he told me that it varies according to the job, he himself gets 6,000/baht month and 20,000+ for the main actors. Actors are getting older and so is the public, many fears that the tradition will be extinguished. One said, we perform for the gods and believe as long as there are Chinese shrine and people pray, Chinese opera will survive.
At the beginning of the show, at 19.00, which end around midnight, many people were waiting for this moment but after an hour many empty chairs and the crowd were scattered. Not only do the noises cover the voices of the actors, but it must be admitted that only connoisseurs understand and that after a while we get bored, and I admit it, after 1h1/2, I too. After buying my Toup Tap, I had a Kuay Teow Lot- noodles with mushrooms and tofu, 45 baht, and I went back home through the MRT. A hot day at this end of this rainy season, but I enjoyed it as usual when I am going to this part of the city.
Something I Didn’t Know
This has aroused my curiosity as well and wanted to know more about the vegetarian and I learned that is a difference between:
– Jeh which comes from “Jain”. They don’t consume meat, poultry, seafood, or any animal products (eggs, milk, yogurt, etc) and 4 kinds of pungent vegetables, garlic, onion, Chinese single-bulbed garlic, and Chinese chive.
– The Vegetarians don’t eat meat but may consume other animal products such as milk, eggs, and cheese. Thai people call this “Mung sa-wi-rat” without meat
– Vegan impose stricter rules and refrain from eating animal products like milk, butter, and eggs and will avoid any other use of animal products.
Good to Know
If you are in Bangkok during this period, this is a Must place to Go. I advise you to wear white, because in some temples it may be that they will not let you in. Very busy but interesting and colorful, and do not forget to visit So Heng Mansion.
To get there
MRT Hualampong station exit 1, cross the bridge and the road and take left, pass in front of the Traimit Temple to the Chinese Gate, then left on Charoen Krung road, and at first crossroad turn right to soi Phanurangsi around 500 meters on the left.
Express Boat. Marine Department pier “Krom Gang Tale”
The 2019 vegetarian festival will take place from September 28 to October 7 and I plan to go to Phuket where the festival is “special”.
Pukhet is where celebration and amazing (scary for some) activities are taking place. It was the first time some 170 years ago vegan was observed when an opera troupe was working in Phuket to entertain Chinese miners who were working in Katha, a town in Phuket, but after few months the troupe was hit by an epidemic, many died and the theater shut down. A lot of people who thought that all this was due to the fact that they did not perform religious rites during their stay in Thailand. They then decided to abstain from eating meat and animal oil for nine days and nine nights. History says that many of those Chinese workers who had become ill their health after abstaining from eating meat has improved and the Thais have begun to take an interest in this special regime.
If you have any questions, I will be more than happy to help you out