Thai Buddhist Temples

Theravada Buddhism is Thailand’s predominant religion which is woven intricately into Thai identity and culture. The census of 2000 reports 94.6% of the population identifying as Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. Muslims constitute the second largest religious group at 4.6%.

Thai Buddhism has evolved over time with beliefs originating from Hinduism, animism as well as ancestor worship. The official calendar is the Eastern version of the Buddhist Era which is 543 years ahead of the western Gregorian calendar.

There are many Buddhist temples, and despite trekking to many temples in the cultural week, no two were the same. Almost always elephants feature somewhere being, of course, Thailand’s national symbol. The population of elephants is alarmingly low at around 2,000.

So, in a week I had plenty of opportunities to see sleeping Buddhas, tallest Buddhas, smiling, reclining Buddhas and everything in between.  One of the temples even had an embalmed monk in a glass casket and of course the number one temple was allegedly the Buddha’s foot.  Almost every house, business and in temple grounds would have a Spirit House.  Usually in a corner or auspicious place of the property.  The Thai people believe that the elaborate little house is the home of, and for the spirits so that they can maintain surveillance and protection of the property.  On the drive to the volunteer placement, there were often spirit houses seemingly in the middle of nowhere or under trees.

GoEco certainly provided me with plenty to see and experience in that cultural week. However, the one place that I would have liked to have seen was the Royal Palace and Emerald Buddha, but this closed at the time due to the death of Thailands king, however, more on that in a later blog.

Each temple had much to admire, and if one was on their own, there were certainly many quiet places where one could meditate and drink in the beauty of the surrounds.


Of course if one committed errors in one’s judgment, one can expect to be punished and these too were graphically represented.

Monkey Mayhem

The purpose of my trip to Thailand was to volunteer myself for two weeks in a Gibbon and Primate Sanctuary. I also wanted to learn about the Thai culture and people. I did this by spending a week devoted to cultural activities including a lot of sightseeing of temples. I based in Sing Buri for this week. Sing Buri’s literal translation is “lion city.”

Located approximately 2 hours drive from Bangkok Sing Buri is one of the central provinces of Thailand. It is considered the land of heroes and courageous people due to important battles dating back to 1765. While the Thai people were defeated just north at Ayutthaya the Warriors never the less are highly venerated. The reclining Buddha is a feature of Sing Buri, as is its famous fish Mae La. Sing Buri is on the flat river plain of the Chao Phraya River.

Lopburi is about 150 kilometers northeast of Bangkok, and it was this town of 26, 500 people that I visited from my base Sing Buri. It too is a flat town surrounded by alluvial plains and on the Lopburi River.

Lopburi is probably best known for its hundreds of crab-eating macaques that live in the centre of the bustling town. They are fed by local people and do not tend to wander far from Prang Sam Yot and the Khmer shrine, Sarn Phra Karn. There is a monkey festival in November.

These delightful little bundles are totally unafraid of humans. They will attack people which is one of the reasons that keepers feed them on a regular basis in the three designated areas. As I did not see an attack, I can well imagine that if you have what they want, they will get it, whether that be food or another booty.

I was warned to take off all jewellery and to be extra careful with my camera. I chose to take my little point and shoot which I thought would be easier to manage. Within minutes of entering their area in Prang Sam Yot, monkeys were all over me. I seemed to attract a lot of very curious little ones. The monkeys were not at all afraid of humans, and I was very quickly relieved of my glasses without which I could not see.

We had a guide explaining facts, so I was lucky my glasses soon were retrieved. I wondered though for those people who did not take advantage of the guides did they get their belongings back because these monkeys are very agile and run like the wind especially if they have “contraband”. They are curious, and I found them to be very gentle. The older ones tend to sit back, and it is the younger ones that do all the investigating.

When I arrived at the Gibbon Sanctuary a few days later, our host told us that she had once parked near “the monkey temple” and a gentleman asked if she would like her car watched. She declined, “she was only popping into the bank”. By the time she arrived back at her car the monkeys had totaled it. Monkeys had torn off the mirrors, aerials, and anything else that took their fancy. They were even working as a team to pull the bumper bar off. So if you are in Lopburi, be prepared for great fun should you visit the monkey temple. Their antics are a sight to behold but be prepared to encounter mayhem if you do not take the advice of the locals.

Sadly though I did see them drinking energy drinks, soft drinks and other not so healthy things for us, let alone them. Of course, all taken from visitors who did not heed the warnings. So if you do ever get the chance to travel to Thailand, consider a visit to Lopburi and it’s macaques BUT forget the snacks. You will not win against them, and they do not need that type of food if we wish to have them healthy.



Dancing with spirit…

Well, what an exciting few weeks I have had. No doubt if you have children in the higher school years conversation may turn as it did for Emma and myself as to what or how is the gap year to be spent. You see Emma was a brilliant scholar and was top of her class more times than not and so it was a given by her and myself that University would figure in the plans. One plan though was firm. The Gap year. Sadly Emma never got to her “Gap Year” passing as she did at 15. But her mother did.

So what were our plans together for the Gap Year. I would be taking a year off work, and together we planned to volunteer at projects around the world. One of the attributes that made Emma different from her peers was her mind and heart. We had already travelled to India together, and we were constant travellers of our country. But to Emma, this was a way to give back before settling down to a 4-6 years study program and something she wanted to share with her mum.

Although I did not quite make the right year, grieving tends to take over one’s life and has a course of its own, but I have completed a project that I am sure she is mega pleased her her mum did it.

This year is the year of the monkey; I was born in the year of the monkey, so what could be more fitting than to volunteer in a monkey (primate) project. So that is what I did. With the help of an organisation called GoEco who arranged the volunteer placement for me, along with so many other details that accompany such a journey I set off to the far regions of Thailand to volunteer in a primate sanctuary that is primarily home to Gibbons but also has monkeys.

I spent the first week of the three as a cultural week where I learnt about Thailand, history, culture, food, beliefs and general life. I was even a special guest at a long boat/dragon boat races. This honour came with some serious responsibility. I was required to dress in traditional Thai garments and dance with a group of very experienced Thai dancers. I confess I stumbled my way through a nationally televised version of a Thai dance. What an experience! I would never have foreseen me, a shy 60-year-old woman step out and dance in front of so many people. But that is the beauty of travel one gets the chance to do things that are out of the norm and experience life through others eyes.

Deep down I know somewhere in spirit my Emma was also dancing.