With the beginning of July the temperature has started to rise in Thailand and the rains have begun moving in heralding the beginning of Buddhist Lent (Khao Phansa), which will begin in early august this year ( Aug.3). Buddhist Lent also known as Khao Phansa and the Rains Retreat is when the monks make their pilgrimage back to their home temples where they will remain for a period of three lunar months. Khao Phansa literally means remain in one place.
Right now it is definitely low season in Thailand and it’s particularly noticeable here in Pattaya. The streets, bars and entertainment venues are very quiet for the most part and many Thai’s generally take this opportunity to go home and spend time with family and friends into Buddhist Lent. Hotels and eateries are running specials to lure people in with discounts on rooms and food and some very good deals are to be had in town right now. For me this is the perfect time of the year to really explore and relax, and if you can stand the heat and the occasional storm that lasts for an hour or so you might find it quite enjoyable yourself.
One of my favorite activities this time of year is visiting the various Wats (temples) and watching as they make all the grand preparations for the beginning of Buddhist Lent, and it’s an excellent time for photographers to get that perfect shot. It’s also a good time to talk with the monks and have a chat with Buddha. Buddhist lent is a time of merit making and reflection on the past year as well as a time to give up the bad things in your life as to cleanse yourself for the new year. While I can certainly not be called a religious person I’ve always loved religious temples and places, especially Buddhist Wats. I can’t put a finger on it directly but whenever I visit a Wat I always leave feeling very relaxed with an inner calm that wasn’t there before.
The day before Khao Phunsa Day is Asalha Puja Day. The day falls on the full moon of the eighth lunar month (July 13th,2003). This day is also very important in Buddhism. It was on this day that the Lord Buddha preached His sermon to followers after attaining enlightenment. The day is usually celebrated by merit making, listening to a monk’s sermon, and joining a candle lit procession during the night.
Celebrations will be taking place all over Thailand from July through the beginning of August. Here in Pattaya there will be a grand parade and candle contest on July 31 to usher in Buddhist lent. The parade will take place on Beach road from 1pm – 3pm. The entirety of Beach road will be shut down but they will still leave one lane open for traffic which is usually a nightmare. With Beach road being the main focus for the event you can be sure that there will be all manner of food and trinkets on sale as well. August 2cnd and 3rd will be the main days for Buddhist lent and the local Wats will be the place to be, with thousands making merit, lighting candles and listening to the monks sermons. The Wat grounds are usually full of food and fun for all as well.
Even if you aren’t religious Buddhist lent is a great time of the year to sit back and take stock of the past year and think about what you can do to better yourself in the coming year. For me it’s a time to be grateful for all the good people and experiences I have had in life and to try and let go of the things that just aren’t important. If you happen to be in Thailand during Buddhist Lent make sure to spend the time Thai’s, especially those you are close with…it makes it all the sweeter.