Cowgirls and a 400 year old Thai king….read on.

After a period of being very slack and not writing anything for the blog I decided to come out of retirement (briefly) and put together a mix of happenings for another of the “Isaan – the Small Stories” series. In selecting the photos to go with the words I realised that a recent festival we attended warranted a stand-alone post so here it is.

Every year on the 18th of January the city of Nong Bua Lamphu, our nearest larger town, celebrates a famous (in Thailand) King called Naresuan and puts on a week of activities. The 18th is significant because on that day in January 1591, King Naresuan the Great killed Prince Minchit Sra of Burma in a single elephant combat, marking the end of Burmese invasion. The battle is one of the epic moments in Thai military history and the day is now commemorated as Royal Thai Armed Forces Day.

I try to provide as much background information I can in these posts, although finding material can be a challenge. If you aren’t into the details then just skip through the first part and head to the photos of the festival itself in Nong Bua.

I first came across King Naresuan in Chiang Mai but never knew who he was or that I would be involved in an Isaan party sometime later to celebrate his influence. For Gaun’s birthday (my Thai wife) in May 2014 when we were living in Chiang Mai she asked me if we could visit a nice wat (temple) to mark the occasion. It was only after we started driving that I realised that I had misunderstood her and we were on a trip to visit nine wats, a lucky number in Thailand, and not just one nice wat 🙂 Fortunately in a city of hundreds of wats finding a mere nine presented no problems. You can read about our journey HERE. One of the temples we got to on Thapae Road was Wat Bupparam and inside you’ll find a whole section dedicated to King Naresuan, in that odd mix of Buddhism and Thai royalty you’ll find here.

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Paintings of King Naresuan and his brother and sister. A statue of him on the right.

My reading would indicate that maybe the guy on the far left is his younger brother Ekathotsarot who succeeded Naresuan as king after his death in 1605. I am thinking that because he is often depicted with that tropical sort of hat like here:

Sanpet III or Ekathotsarot was the King of Ayutthaya from 1605 to 1620 succeeding his brother Naresuan. His reign was mostly peaceful as Siam was then a powerful state through the conquests of Naresuan.

Sanpet III or Ekathotsarot was the King of Ayutthaya from 1605 to 1620 succeeding his brother Naresuan. His reign was mostly peaceful as Siam was then a powerful state through the conquests of Naresuan.

I am also guessing the lady in the centre is his sister. They are described as follows:

“The three royal children had very different personalities, however; Naret was nicknamed The Black Prince for his strict character and devotion to discipline, Ekathotsarot (the younger brother) was known as The White Prince for his kind and considerate character, while Suphankanlaya (their elder sister) is remembered as the Golden Princess for her fair character and adherence to chivalric honour.”

It's not just the royal link that's different here. Donald Duck eating noodles....really!

It’s not just the royal link that’s different at Wat Bupparam. Donald Duck eating noodles….really!

At the time I had no idea of who King Naresuan was and why he was so important as to have his own shrine in a Chiang Mai temple. It’s not just here that you’ll find references to Naresuan. If you travel Thailand you will come across monuments and shrines displaying lots of roosters. Another oddity that I have only just caught onto.

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Wherever you see a sight like this you will have found a monument to King Naresuan.

I will explain the roosters shortly but Naresuan is not just a statue but a living person on Thai media. If you Google him you will come up with far more reviews of the movie than the history.

The man in motion.

The man himself. Well preserved. The distinctive haircut gives him away.

And you can buy the movie.

And you can buy the movie.

There’s a bit of information online about this important Thai historical figure but in summary for time poor readers it can be quickly told as follows:

 Naresuan or Sanphet II was the King of the Ayutthaya Kingdom from 1590 until his death in 1605. Naresuan is one of Thailand’s most revered monarchs as he was known for his campaigns to free Thailand from the Bamars (Burmese) under the Taungoo Dynasty

A couple of very readable articles about KIng Naresuan can be found HERE and HERE. Some sites attribute the famous elephant battle to the 25th of January such as this one HERE, which is also a good read, but what’s a week’s difference when it was over 400 years ago!

And the Chickens…..

These roosters are part of a popular legend in which a young Prince Naresuan wagered a bet with a young Burmese prince that Ayutthaya (a kingdom in pre-modern Thailand held by Burma at this time) would be freed if Naresuan’s rooster emerged victorious in the cock fight. Prince Naresuan’s rooster naturally won the bet, and the Burmese prince was humiliated in the process. After the release of a popular movie about King Naresuan, these rooster statues began to appear mysterious at temples across Thailand. They are most highly concentrated at temples associated with this royal warrior in Ayutthaya (Wat Worachet HERE, Wat Worachetharam HERE, and Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon HERE).

If you are interested in SE Asian history then the ruins of Ayutthaya a UNESCO World Heritage site about 80 km North of Bangkok, should be on your to do list.

Lots of great information HERE.

Lots of great information from UNESCO HERE.

OK enough history….back to 2016. I only heard about the festival because my wonderful massage therapist, who works in Nong Bua Lamphu, was dancing in the opening ceremony at the formal shrine to Naresuan situated next to the lake (the “Nong” in the town’s name = lake in Thai). Because this was happening at 6 am, which is well before my active participation in a new day, we missed out on this display. Luckily a local friend of ours who is much more dedicated did attend and took this lovely photo featuring his wife Ann front centre.

Ann at Nong Bua

Thank you James. A great photo.

The photo below I took from my post “Tour de Thailand” HERE, is taken on the monument steps looking towards the main street of the town and the entrance to his large public park.

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A big turnout for “Bike for Dad” to mark the current king’s birthday.

We arrived at the festival at a very civilised 10 am and Yuan and Lud (my sister and brother-in-law) joined us on a very rare day off working the farm. The traditional Thai dancing had finished at the shrine and all the participants were having breakfast and getting their photos taken:

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Many Thai events have specific photo spots set up so that people can record the occasion.

The background photo is of the Red Lotus Sea, which is situated South of Udon Thani and maybe a 90 minute drive from here. You can read about it HERE. The “Bua” in Nong Bua Lamphu means “Lotus” but unfortunately the lake at the centre of the town looks nothing like this. A couple readers of the blog visited the Red Lotus Sea in January and were lucky enough to capture a wedding photo session in progress:

Thank you Pippa and Andrew.

Thank you Pippa and Andrew.

I believe the place is full of weddings on Valentine’s Day although I suspect the Lotus display would be past its best by then. If you are looking for a romantic place to exchange vows or anything else you might have in mind then the Red Lotus Sea plus many others are showcased HERE.

Although the Thai dancing was over for the moment a display of Chinese lions/dragons was just about to start.

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Not quite as restful as the Thai costumes.

There is a big population of Chinese and Thai/Chinese in this part of Thailand and maybe everywhere. Chinese New Year in Udon Thani is huge and worth a visit if in the area then (8 - 10 Feb in 2016)

There is a big population of Chinese and Thai/Chinese in this part of Thailand and maybe everywhere. Chinese New Year in Udon Thani is huge and worth a visit if in the area then (8 – 10 Feb in 2016)

I enjoy writing these posts (once I get going!) because I find myself heading down sidetracks to research various aspects of what I am writing about. The frustrating part is that I am doing it after the event so have missed the understanding while actually there. Oh well, there’s always next year. So I now know that in a Chinese display like this one there are both lions and dragons involved – who would have thought! Wikipedia helps out:

The Chinese lion dance is often mistakenly referred to as dragon dance. An easy way to tell the difference is that a lion is normally operated by two dancers, while a dragon needs many people. Also, in a lion dance, the performers’ faces are only seen occasionally, since they are inside the lion. In a dragon dance, the performers’ faces can be easily seen since the dragon is held on poles. Chinese lion dance fundamental movements can be found in most Chinese martial arts.

The dragons enter the King Naresuan monument.

The lions enter the King Naresuan monument.

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It was an enthusiastic display. Thankfully it was a mild day for everyone dancing around under those costumes.

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Cobras in action.

Cobras in action.

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A single figure and as a newly accredited authority I can tell you this must be a lion.

No festival in Thailand is complete without food and market stalls and this was no exception. The main procession wasn’t due to get going until mid-afternoon so we joined the crowds and checked out the offerings. I won’t bore you with a lot of photos as I have covered Thai markets in several posts such as this one HERE and HERE and basically once you have seen one you have pretty well seen 90% of what’s out there.

Very busy at the covered markets being the main festival day.

Very busy at the covered markets today being the main festival day.

However I will show you a few little glimpses that might be interesting:

Small (ish) elephants are sometimes seen being walked around. You will be asked to for 20 THB to buy it a snack and you can have your photo taken. They aren't keen on you getting a photo if you haven't paid, which is fair enough.

Small (ish) elephants are sometimes seen being walked around. You will be asked for 20 THB to buy it a snack and you can have your photo taken. They aren’t keen on you getting a photo if you haven’t paid, which is fair enough. As this is a rear end view you can assume that I didn’t pay 🙂

Pat a goat or sheep stall. Lud and Yuan.

Pat a goat or sheep stall. Lud, Yuan. and Gaun

But not just for show. Buy a bottle of milk to feed the animals.

But not just for show. Buy a bottle of milk to feed the animals for 20 THB.

Strawberry season. Often very hard and tasteless so try before you buy.

Strawberry season. Often very hard and tasteless so try before you buy. 140 – 160 THB a kilo (A$5.60 – $6.40)

These are incredibly sweet and add inches to the waistline just by looking at them.

These are incredibly sweet and add inches to the waistline just by looking at them. That’s a sort of pure sugar marshmallow cream.

A colourful display of all natural health products or maybe not.

A colourful display of all natural health products or maybe not. Thais have discovered sweet and often not in a good way.

Gaun and Yuan getting a bit to eat. You buy these sausages by the kilo. They are often more tasty than they look.

Gaun and Yuan getting a bite to eat. You buy these sausages by the kilo. They are often more tasty than they look so give them a try.

Sour mangos bought with a brown sugar and dried chilli dipping sauce.

Sour mangos with a brown sugar and dried chilli dipping sauce.

Fancy a hedgehog?

Fancy a hedgehog? A pet or for soup – it’s often hard to spot the purpose in Isaan.

Thai geography lesson.

A Thai geography lesson. Anyway at A$4.00 who cares.

Buy some chepa slip-ons like this for everyday use in Thailand. You are always taking footwear on and off and anything with laces becomes a pain. A$3.20 for these.

Buy some cheap slip-ons like this for everyday use in Thailand. You are always taking footwear on and off and anything with laces becomes a pain. A$3.20 for these.

One of those pieces of furniture you build a house around. A bit like a full size pool table.

One of those pieces of furniture you build a house around. A bit like a full size pool table. King Arthur would have snapped it up at A$2,800 but I reckon he could have negotiated it down to $2,500. Forklift extra.

The afternoon parade was based on the main street through Nong Bua and was one of the best I have seen in Thailand. A greater effort and money had gone into it because the groups involved were at amphur level rather than moo ban. By that I mean an amphur is the equivalent of a town council and under it will come a number of smaller villages or what we might call suburbs. For example there is an amphur of Si Bun Ruang, the town, while there are twelve separate moo bans that make up Si Bun Ruang. We live in one of those called Ban Chomphutong. There is also a moo ban called Si Bun Ruang, on the Southside of the town. Because Nong Bua Lamphu is a provincial capital the contributions to the festival were made by the next level down being amphurs. Amphur festivals such as the Si Bun Ruang Bun Bang Fai, which I covered HERE and HERE will only involve the moo bans.

While waiting for the parade to start I popped into the local Chinese temple, which sits on the main road as shown on the map below, as I hadn’t been inside previously.

Snap 2016-02-17 at 16.02.04

The relationship of the Naresuan monument to the Chinese temple and Nong (lake) can be seen here. Details of the dentist, Nan’s massage and other key Nong Bua services 🙂 can be found HERE.

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Looking from the Chinese temple to a Thai main street.

Looking from the Chinese temple to a Thai main street.

I prefer Buddhist but 1.3 billion Chinese might disagree.

Inside. I  prefer Buddhist but 1.3 billion Chinese might disagree.

Yuan and Gaun waiting for the start.

Yuan and Gaun waiting for the start.

There are several basic tests the Thai government could use for those farang wanting to apply for Thai citizenship. (1) the ability to squat endlessly like this. I can only do it for limited time because I can’t get my feet flat on the ground. If I do I fall over backwards. A Thai person does it effortlessly (2) the ease at which you can step out of your shoes while maintaining a forward motion when entering a house or shop. (3) Things involving the consumption of chillies and lao khao rice whisky might be included in the test.

The parade eventually got underway and lasted for about 3 hours under the watchful eye of the police:

He gave me a thumbs up for taking this photo.

He gave me a thumbs up for taking this photo. Police here provide their own guns and transport.

Unfortunately the main street of Nong Bua Lamphu, as for any Thai town that I have seen, is not exactly the best backdrop for some of these magnificent costumes. You will have to imagine the gentle hills rising out of freshly planted rice paddies and ignore the shops and telecom wires. A huge effort had gone into this day and full marks to everyone who joined in.

The reality:

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Ah….in my dreams:

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Firstly some of the outfits. Each amphur had its own theme.

Each amphur was "announced" by these signs.

Each amphur was “announced” by these signs. Striking costumes.

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Not quite so traditional but no complains for the male readers I am sure.

Not quite so traditional but I’m not expecting any complaints from the male readers. Yes a cheerleader group was part of the procession complete with a colour coordinated marching band.

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Another marching band had the smallest cymbals player in the country:

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At times the cymbals almost overwhelmed him.

Next is the dancing. No festival is complete without Thai dancing accompanied by very loud music and this one was no exception.

A speaker system larger than the transportation.

A speaker system larger than the transportation towing its own diesel generator to power it.

Overloaded?

Note the driver is wearing headphones. I wonder why.

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Once again each amphur provided a dance group of varying sizes.

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You can just see this group’s sound system jutting up in the far distance. The whole street is dancing in coordination with the song being pumped out by that system.

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Some dancers seemed to be enjoying themselves and others were told they had to be there! These are happy photos:

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Not just the 100% ladies having a good time.

Not just the 100% ladies having a good time.

While others just turned out in force.

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Four groups put on a set performance in front of the VIP area depicting some aspect of King Naresuan’s life? although from an outsider’s point of view the connections were a bit vague:

The VIPs being introduced.

The VIPs being introduced.

Nice makeup.

Nice makeup.

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I did pick up on the elephant fight between the king and the Burmese prince, which was all done with lots of good humour and enthusiasm between the two sides, something probably missing in the original action. No elephants were harmed in this production number as the budget hadn’t run to including them.

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Siam and Burma battle it out with budget elephants.

The opposing sides are shown in the next two photos from another theatrical group.

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The military were on display being Royal Thai Armed Forces Day although only in a symbolic way as far as I could tell. We didn’t have soldiers and tanks rolling down the main street but perhaps cadets instead representing the armed forces. Well one almost tank:

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Blue is the colour of the queen.

The king's colour.

The king’s colour.

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And not just the guys in uniform.

If you want to learn more about the Thai royal flags and their colours (and you’ll see them EVERYWHERE here) then have a look at this Wikipedia article HERE.

A number of floats made it into the parade apart from the “tank” representing various aspects of Thai culture from local temples and monks to the products available from various parts of the province some of which were available for tasting:

A streetful of floats.

A streetful of floats.

Cooking on the move.

Cooking on the move.

Yuan scores a freebie.

Yuan happy to score a freebie.

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Covered in flowers.

Covered in flowers. You now recognise King Naresuan by his flattop haircut at the back. Way ahead of his time fashion-wise.

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Real flowers not plastic.

The man of the moment.

The man of the moment.

Elephant gives offering to a monk.

This elephant gives an offering to a monk. This will be a respected deceased monk in the area. Thai Buddhism seems to allow for the imagery of Buddha, individual monks and royalty. I have a collection of books, bookmarks and charms promoting individual monks without any visible sign of Buddha himself.

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ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is often represented in official events, even at school sport’s days that I have written about previously HERE. Here each nation was on show in their national dress.

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ASEAN – Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam

For me one of the highlights of the day was the entry from our very own Si Bun Ruang in the form of a few hundred cowboys and girls who ended the festival procession.

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A couple of hundred cowgirls get ready to dance. The line went an equal distance the other direction.

A couple of hundred cowgirls get ready to dance. The line went an equal distance the other direction.

So as the light faded to night the main street of a small Isaan town was filled with cowgirls and one sheriff, who was somewhat uncoordinated in the true male style, dancing for King Naresuan to the music of that ancient traditional Thai group “Boney M” and their disco hit of the 70’s “Gotta Go Home”. If you didn’t love the quirkiness of Thailand by this stage you would at the end of this performance.

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I am still having problems with YouTube videos playing on an iPad. The “play” button doesn’t work. If this happens to you tap to the far right of the video picture frame and that will get it going.

Another great day and well worth attending. If you are in the area next year make sure you put Nong Bua Lamphu and the 18th of January in your diary.

Thanks for reading.