Tourism operators and provincial officials took the opportunity yesterday to promote their locales as sightseeing destinations for the Asalaha Bucha national holiday.
Buddhists in Bang Kruai district of Nonthaburi join the Asalaha Bucha Day boat parade of candles from Wat Chalor to Wat Bot. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERDMany provinces around Thailand staged special activities and events to mark the celebration, which is followed today by the start of Buddhist Lent.
Asalaha Bucha was the day Lord Buddha addressed his first five disciples more than 2,000 years ago, establishing the cornerstones of Buddhism _ the Triple Gems (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha).
Many Bangkok residents travelled upcountry to make merit or otherwise put their day off work to good use.
Some provinces capitalised on this by offering Asalaha Bucha activities, from tak bat bon lang chang (offering food to monks on elephant-back) in Surin province to wian thian klang nam (candle-lit processions in the water) in Phayao province.
Traffic congestion was reported in Bangkok yesterday morning on the outbound lanes of Phahon Yothin Road and the expressways as city dwellers headed out.
Later, there was a lively atmosphere in many places where the religious day was celebrated.
Business operators said more visiting merit-makers turned up this year than on last year's Asalaha Bucha Day, which they speculated may have been a spiritual effort to help the country stay peaceful in the wake of the July 3 election.
A girl on a rubber float joins the boat parade in Bang Kruai district of Nonthaburi. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERDSakol Sangmalee, a board member with Bangkok's Sangkapan department store in Bang Kae district, which sells religious items, said Asalaha Bucha Day sales hit a five-year high this year.
In Surin, which stages an annual elephant festival, monks collected morning alms on elephant back.
In Phayao province, 50 boats were arranged for Buddhists for a candlelight procession around Wat Tilok-aram in Kwan Phayao swamp.
The temple was submerged due to construction of a reservoir years ago and later emerged when the water level receded.
In Ubon Ratchathani, celebrations took on a more political hue. Candles were sculptured in the figures of outgoing PM Abhisit Vejjajiva shaking hands with his probable successor, Yingluck Shinawatra.
Nonthaburi staged a traditional procession of Buddhist Lent candles on the Chao Phraya River.
Tourists in Nakhon Ratchasima queue at the Monument of Thao Suranareeto give fluorescent tubes tomonks. PRASITTANGPRASERTGiant, intricately carved candles were carried by 50 boats to Wat Bot Bon in Bang Kruai district.
The temple will share them out with 48 other temples in the province.
In Bangkok, the centre of Asalaha Bucha celebrations was Wat Sa Ket, where believers flocked to pay homage to an ancient Buddhist inscription dating back over 2,000 years.
The Norwegian government recently handed over the inscription to the Thai government to celebrate His Majesty the King's 84th birthday.
However, celebrations were low key in the far South, where the threat of insurgent troubles routinely keeps people off the streets.
Three provinces _ Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat _ earlier this week had the emergency decrees imposed on them extended by two months.
Buddhists perform a candlelight procession aroundWat Sa Ket in Bangkokyesterday. PATIPATJANTHONGBuddhists in Yala province were advised not to wait until night time for the traditional wian thian candlelight ceremony, so they performed it in daylight hours instead.
An after-dark celebration was thought to be dangerous for monks and Buddhists in the Muslim-dominated province, where separatist attacks are an almost daily event.
At Wat Lak Ha in Yala's Muang district, wian thian quickly followed merit-making, which started at 10.45am.
As monks led Buddhists in a procession around the Buddha image, soldiers stood on guard.
In other provinces, however, hundreds of people celebrated the day in a festive spirit, despite the threat of rain in some isolated areas.
Buddhists inSuphan Buri join the merit-making ceremony atWat Pa Lelai. SATIANTHUAMJAN