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Exhibition extended at Singapore's ArtScience Museum

By Reinhard Hohler

According to the Singapore Tourism Board, visitors and residents who have yet to catch the exhibition - Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds - will now have more time to do so.Originally slated to end its run on 31 July 2011, this spectacular exhibition at the ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, has now been extended until 2 October 2011.

The Shipwrecked exhibition tells the remarkable story of a journey undertaken by a ninth-century Arab dhow transporting an astonishing cargo from Tang Dynasty China to parts unknown in the Middle East and Asia.

It offers the first-ever significant proof of the existence of a maritime silk route. As such, it has tremendous archaeological and historical significance to Singapore, resonating with the island’s long and distinguished maritime history and strategic role at the cross-roads of maritime trade routes. /

Lamyai Festival in Lamphun

Longan, known in Thai as Lamyai,is one of the prize fruits grown in northern Thailand, and the peak of the harvest season comes in August. The Lamyai Fair is held in the provincial capital of Lamphun and features a best fruit contest and, of course, this year's Miss Lamyai. Next year Lamphun will celebrate its 1,440th anniversary with several cultural and religious events to take place.

Longan are also known as “dragon eyes” as the husked fruit looks a bit like an eyeball! Native to South East Asia, the trees grow to about 6-7 m in height and produce fruit only once a year. So now is the time to go out and buy them!
Venue dates are August 5 - 14, 2011 and will be held at the Lamphun Main Square.

Plan to re-open temple ground again

By Reinhard Hohler

According to the Bangkok Post, the governor of Si Sa Ket province says he plans to approach his Cambodian counterpart for talks on re-opening the Preah Vihear temple site to tourists, a Thai news report said.

Governor Somsak Suwansucharit said he plans to discuss the matter with the governor of Cambodia's adjoining Preah Vihear province, which encompasses the ancient ruins, the report said.

The only normal tourist access is through Thailand.

Since July 23, Si Sa Ket provincial authorities have allowed tourists to visit the Pha Mor I Daeng cliff, close to the Preah Vihear temple, and Thai tourists are arriving at the cliff observation point to admire the carvings there as well as the twin pagodas on Khao Phra Viharn mountain, he said.

The attractions had been closed for over five months because of the border clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops.

Visitors can enter the cliff area, which is part of the Khao Phra Viharn National Park, free of charge for the time being. Their presence is under heavy protection by Thai soldiers.

Visitors must leave their ID cards at the gate of the national park. Motorists must park their vehicles, including motorcycles, at the entrance of the park.

Administrators of Kantharalak district, which directly connects with the disputed area, had talks with officials of the Khao Phra Viharn National Park on Monday afternoon about measures to supervise local operators and attract more visitors to the Pha Mor I Daeng cliff.

Bhumiphol Dam International Mountain Bike Race

For more than five years, this Thailand mountain biking event has attracted both locals and overseas visitors to test their biking skills and enjoy a healthy pastime.

Mountain bikers race at the Bhumibol Dam in Tak ever year. (Photo courtesy of the TAT)

Mountain bikers and their families gather at the starting line on the crest of the spectacular Bhumibol Dam in Tak Province. The scenic location provides a variety of race routes that will both challenge semi-pro mountain bike racers and please recreational riders.

It depends on the participants as to how far they wish to push their bikes and bodies. If they want the thrill of dropping down steep slopes through jungle terrain, or the steady pace of riding along a trail over rolling hills bordering the reservoir, the organisers have a choice of categories to deliver the right experience.

There are six categories to choose from: long distance 60 km; family 16 km; tour biking 10 km; cycling-across on the dam's crest 5 km; international race 39 km; and amateur 24 km. (TAT)

Organic farming a way out of poverty in India

Bismillah Geelani, Andhara Padesh, India

According to the Indian Government more than 200,000 farmers have committed suicide in the last twenty years due to money problems. With the high cost of pesticides forcing some farmers to head to the cities for work, a recently launched pesticide-free program has caught the imagination of farmers and agricultural experts alike.

A government run organic framing program in the Southern state of Andhara Pradesh is turning the lives of farmers around.

Thirty-five-year-old Mallesh is just one to vouch for its benefits. Happily irrigating his vegetable farm in the northern district of Nizamabad as his wife Parwatamma weeds nearby, he says things are looking good.

“The plants are growing well, they are healthy, have good color and everything looks perfect,” he says.

Mallesh’s family has been farming for generations, but five years ago he stopped after he became heavily indebted to a local money lender.

“I couldn’t afford to continue it because the yield was not enough to cover expenses and I had already taken many loans. I thought it was a waste of time,” he explains.

Mallesh returned to farming after his neighbor Yadayya introduced him to a new government program called the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture or CMSA.

 “A village activist told me about the low-cost farming program. I joined and was given free training in non-pesticide management (NPM). I practiced it and the results are really amazing. I told other villagers and today 50 farmers in the village are into it,” says Yadayya.

Conventional or chemical-intensified farming costs a farmer nearly 5000 rupees or $110 to cultivate one acre of land, but the NPM reduces the costs by more than half and also enables the farmers to have multiple crops simultaneously.

It strictly prohibits the use of chemical pesticides while using natural and locally available materials such as animal dung, urine, crop residue, leaves and earthworms for fertilizing soil and controlling pests.

B. Rajashekhar heads the government organization, the Society for the Elimination of Rural Poverty and says the program is 100 percent natural. 

 “It doesn’t depend on whether you have pesticides or fertilizers in the market, or even seed availability, everything is local and available in nature and basically for a farmer the input cost is zero,” he says.

More than a million farmers are currently working on 3 million acres of land across the southern province of Andhara Pradesh and Rajashekhar says the results have been excellent.

 “The first thing the farmers tell us is that their health is better because they are not using pesticides. Secondly, many now have a better diet because they have different types of food crops available on their own land and thirdly they are able to sell their produce for premium prices because their crops are really good,” he says.

Local farmer Parwatamma failed to break even from her crops a few years ago but now earns 20,000 rupees or $450 annually. She says the program has drastically changed her family’s life. 

“We are now relieved from the burden of debt. Now we can pay our children’s school fees, buy things for ourselves, and also save some money,” she says.

The Andhara Pradesh Government plans to bring 60 percent of the cultivable land in the state under the program over the next five years. The central government is so impressed that it has integrated it into a rural employment policy that will soon be launched nationwide.

India’s strong pro-pesticides lobby, however, is not impressed about the program.

S Ganes, a member of Indian Pesticides Manufacturers Association says India simply cannot do without chemical-intensified farming. 

“In the 1950’s India was completely organic but the average life span was 32 years old. Now it is 63. It is all very romantic to talk about organic produce but we now have greater food security thanks to the use of chemicals such as pesticides,” he says.

According to renowned environmentalist and food security expert Vandana Shiva, organic farming is the best way to lift farmers out of poverty.

“Across all ecosystems, across all levels of poverty and wealth, if you measure production in biological, nutritional and financial terms, organic farms provide the greatest returns. I think it’s time now we shed these false illusions of industrial chemical agriculture,” argues Vandana.

This article was first broadcast on Asia Calling, a regional current affairs radio program produced by Indonesia’s independent radio news agency KBR68H and broadcast in local languages in 10 countries across Asia. You can find more stories from Asia Calling at

Extra luggage to Yangon

Bangkok Airways will offer its passengers who travel between Bangkok – Yangon or vice versa an extra 10kg baggage allowance on top of the regular limit of 20kg. This offer starts 25 July onwards and will end on 31 October 2011.

The carrier currently operates two-daily services between Bangkok – Yangon. From Bangkok - Yangon; PG701 (09.15 – 10.05 hrs) and PG703 (15.00 – 15.50 hrs). From Yangon - Bangkok; PG702 (10.55 – 12.50 hrs) and PG704 (16.40 – 18.35 hrs).

Bangkok Airways started the non-stop service on this route since May 2004. The airline currently operates this route with 162-seater A320. For more information and reservation, please contact Bangkok Airways’ Call Center - 1771 or 02-270-6699 or visit (PR)

Bhutan: where happiness is more important than money

By Reinhard Hohler

Bhutan is more than a sensation. With a population of just less than 700,000 people, the Himalayan Kingdom east of Nepal and Sikkim is some 38,394 square kilometers large and dominated by steep and high mountains in the north of the country south of Tibet, while a network of swift rivers form deep valleys in the central part and drain into the Indian plains of West Bengal and Assam in the south.

I gladly jumped on the invitation to attend the 4th South and Southeast Asian Association for the Study of Culture and Religion (SSEASR) Conference being held in the capital Thimphu from June 30 to July 3, 2011. Under the theme “Mountains in the Religions of South and Southeast Asia: Place, Culture, and Power” the international conference was co-sponsored by the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR), hosted and co-organized by the Institute of Language and Culture Studies (ILCS), Royal University of Bhutan, Thimphu, Bhutan.

With a return air ticket by Drukair Royal Bhutan Airlines (some 20,000Baht) and a limited visa approval form, I arrived on June 28 somehow at 4.00 o’clock early morning at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok to check in for flight KB127, which left at 6.50 o’clock on time. There was a short transit stop at Dhaka International Airport in Bangladesh before landing at Paro International Airport 10.40 local time. Upon arrival immigration officers endorse your visa approval form and stamp your passport for a fee of 20USD.

The Paro valley, some 2,280 meters high and located in the western part of Bhutan, is more than beautiful. It is visually stunning and an amazing introduction into a hidden Shangri-La. Dominated by a huge fortress called “dzong” an abundance of rice fields can be seen, while small hamlets and isolated fruit farms dot the forested landscape. Bhutan’s official language is called “Dzongkha” because it is the language spoken in such a fortress, while the Bhutanese proudly call their country “Druk Yul” or Land of the Thunder Dragon and themselves as Drukpas.

The distance from Paro International Airport, which is also served from Kolkata, Delhi, and Kathmandu, to Thimphu is some 50 kilometers. Passing Paro town, which was only built in 1985, and since 2005 has undergone unprecedented development, the road to Thimphu reaches the Chuzom intersection, where the Paro River meets the Thimphu River and the road splits south to Phuentsholing at the Bhutanese-Indian border.

From a flag-poled bridge, people can see three chortens (pagodas) with different styles of architecture commonly found in the country, such as Nepalese, Tibetan and Bhutanese. Seen geographically, Nepalese live in the sub-tropical south, while Tibetans and Bhutanese live further up north.

The narrow road to Thimphu is embedded in a rather arid and rocky landscape and ends at a gate of the new expressway, which cuts through the rice fields, leading to Thimphu town in 15 minutes, which is becoming more and more urbanized. The altitude is here 2,350-2,450 meters, while the town counts 100,000 inhabitants.

The best way to explore Thimphu is by foot. Along the main street Norzim Lam there are the clock tower square, antique shops, art galleries, a policed roundabout, the Plums Café, a myriad of small hotel-restaurants and shopping centers. I settled down in the Tandin Hotel, where nice rooms were available for up to 20USD. Nearby were an Internet place, a cinema, as well as “The Hub” as a typical entertainment place. Even modern discos are popping up in the basement of some hotels. There, you can see young Bhutanese in modern outfit, while during daytime both “Gho” for men and “Kira” for women are the national dress.

The people focus very much on responsible tourism to respect and preserve the culture and traditions within their natural environment. This attitude contributes to the valuable conservation of the natural and cultural heritage and improves the well-being of the citizens within the overall concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Actually, Bhutan is known as the place where happiness is more important than money.

The conference started on June 30 at 9 o’clock with an inauguration ceremony at the Royal Institute for Tourism and Hospitality (RITH), located in uphill Motithang, where all the sessions were conducted. Some 220 international delegates from more than 60 countries participated. The program listed four keynote addresses about mountains, which give inspirations and are the link to heaven. After that, some 31 panels followed within the next four days, just to mention a few outstanding presentations and speakers:

1. South Viet Nam: From That Son Mountain to Hoa Hao Budhism by Professor My Van Tran, University of South Australia.

2. Myths and Rites of Mount Kassak in Luang Prabang by Dr. Amphay Dore, Independent Researcher from France.

3. Arunacala, a sacred mountain in South India by Hidenari Nishio, Kinki University, Osaka, Japan.

4. Mountains and their Spirits in Traditional Lahu Cosmography, Belief and Ritual Practice by Professor Anthony Walker, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Brunei.

5. Mountainous rivers, forests, and a thousand shivalingas: defining sacred space in India and Cambodia by Dr. Ratna Lahiri, Independent Scholar, New Delhi, India.

6. The Hintang Archeological Park, Hua Phan, Lao PDR by Dr. Alan Potkin, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, USA.

Social events included the Welcome Dinner Buffet hosted by Vice Chancellor of the Royal University of Bhutan, Dasho Dr. Pema Thinley, on June 30, Dinner and Cultural Show at the Fine Arts Department on July 1, Local Tour in Thimphu in the afternoon of July 2 including dinner, and last not least, the Farewell Dance Show and Dinner Buffet around a bonfire at RITH on July 3.

After the successful ending of the conference – the 5th SSEASR Conference will be at Manila in the Philippines on 28-31, 2013 – there still was enough time to stay in Thimphu and during sightseeing, the following places should not to be missed:

1. National Memorial Chorten: The white-washed pagoda was built in 1974 by Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuk in the memory of her son, Bhutan’s late 3rd King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is regarded as the father of modern Bhutan. The painting and statues inside the monument provide deep insight into the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism (Vajrayana).

2. Semtokha Dzong: Built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who united Bhutan as a national state, the impressive fortress is a treasure house of “mandala” and “thangka” paintings about seven kilometers away from Thimphu.

3. Vegetable Market: Every weekend, many farmers and small business vendors gather on the bank of the Thimphu River to sell their products and souvenir articles.

4. Tashicho Dzong: Known as “fortress of the glorious religion” the dzong was rebuilt and redesigned in 1955 after moving the capital to Thimphu from Punakha further east. It houses the main secretariat building and the central monk body in the summer months. The dzong is also open to visitors with a special permit or during the annual Thimphu Tshechu Festival, where a series of traditional dances are performed by trained dancers and monks.

Time to leave Thimphu came quickly. I took the short time to inspect the luxury Amankora Resort, a 16-suite lodge close to the capital’s sights, while remaining a quiet retreat. I met with its American GM Mr. John E. Reed, who revealed that Amankora offers guided treks and excursions by car throughout the pristine valleys of Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey Phobjikha, and Bumthang. Reasons to come back as quick as possible!

On July 5, there was a post-conference tour to Paro, which I could join to spend the last night in Bhutan there to explore the place more intimately. The buses left early in the morning on 8.00 o’clock from Thimphu and we reached Drukgyel Dzong, some two and half hours later. This dzong was originally built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Nmagyal to commemorate his victory over a Tibetan invasion. The dzong caught fire in 1951 and now only ruins remain, but the dzong is located at a strategic point, where the trade route from Tibet enters Paro valley. On a clear day, one can see the beautiful view towards the majestic mountain Jomolhari, which is more than 7,300 meters high.

The highlight of every visit in Paro is the sightseeing place of the famous Taktsang Monastery, also called Tiger’s Nest. Built amazingly on a cliff, it is said that Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava arrived here on the back of a tigress in the 8th century to spread Buddhism. The monastery built later in 1692 caught fire in April 1998 that damaged the main structure of the building and some religious objects, but the monastery has been restored to its former glory and can be reached on a well maintained path some 800 meters above the valley floor. Padmasambhava had died in Nepal but his body was brought back to Taktsang and is now sealed inside a chorten.

We also made a stop at Kyichu Lhakhang, which is one of the 108 temples built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gyampo in the 7th century to subdue the ogress that lay across the whole of the Himalaya. In the main twemple hall, one could marvel at a statue of the goddess Tara and Mahakala, the god of time and death.
Due to a nearby cremation ceremony, we were eager to leave the place very early to reach Paro town and have a last lunch buffet with cheese and green chilies at the Holiday Home Hotel. The whole afternoon was then reserved to visit the National Museum, which was located on a ridge, overlooking the huge Paro Dzong in the valley.

Unlike the rectangular shape of the Bhutanese dzongs, the museum’s collection is housed in the conical Ta Dzong built in the 17th century as a watch tower. Since 1968, Ta Dzong was established as the National Museum of Bhutan and holds a fascinating exhibition of cultural and artistic artifacts of Bhutanese civilization, heritage and traditions, such as handcrafted copper teapots, bronze urns, arms, jewelry, textiles, thankas and Buddhist sculpture, iron chains and even a gallery of Natural History.

Furthermore, there is a permanent mask exhibition in a building nearby. There is great merit in viewing the sacred mask dances and even merely watching such dances is considered a spiritual experience in itself. Another special exhibition on some royal photographs highlights the past centenary celebration in 2008, which marks a century of peace and prosperity for the people of Bhutan under the rule of their “Five Monarchs” and also ensures a bright and prosperous future.

The current monarch, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk ascended to the Golden Throne at a very historic moment, when the country had just adopted a kind of democracy. In October 2011, the King will marry accordingly and is ready to maintain the precarious balance of social prosperity among the people of Bhutan in spite of the advancements in the field of economic development.

The last night in the country I was lucky to spend in the prestigious “Hotel Olathang Paro” which was established in 1974 for the guests invited to the coronation of the 4th King of Bhutan His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk, who critically acclaimed the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which places happiness of the people above all other development achievements and is now well received globally.

The architectural heritage design of the hotel within a pine forest on top of a small hill presents a purely Bhutanese style difficult to forget. At the same time, the modern “dewa” Spa & Wellness touches on the traditional Bhutanese art of healing and ensures guests a very comfortable stay. When I left the Paro valley next morning with Drukair flight KB140 at around 11.00 o’clock via Gauhati in Assam, India to Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok, I really left an unbelievable paradise behind.

For further information on Bhutan, please contact Mr. Thinley W. Dorji, Managing Director of Bhutan Tourism Corporation Ltd. in Thimphu by e-mail: [email protected] or go to:

Chiang Mai Best Deal

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has launched a “Best Deal” campaign to attract short-break visitors from regional source markets to Chiang Mai and the northern Thai provinces.At a press conference here today, Mr Sansern Ngaorungsi, TAT's Deputy Governor for International Marketing (Asia and South Pacific), said:

“This project is being organised by the TAT in cooperation with the Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association and over 180 local tourism partners; such as, hotels, golf courses, spas, department stores, and food shops. Visitors can book online through various websites (listed below) and gain access to special benefits and offers with discounts of up to 50%.”

One highlight of the campaign is a set of special three-day two-night tour packages discounted 15-20% off the normal price. These are being offered in three variations to suit different budgets: a) 5,000 Baht package (accommodation, Thai massage and ticket for playhouse complex), b) 9,000 Baht package (accommodation, food, spa and car rental) and c) 15,000 Baht package (accommodation, private dinner, spa, and 1 day programme tour).

For independent travellers seeking to design their own tours, the website also introduces a range of new products and routes like nature guide, adventure guide, and shopping guide. It also includes a list of events and festivals, tourist map, currency exchange information and airline timetable.

Mr Sansern added, “TAT is expecting at least 50,000 visitors from Asia and the South Pacific region to take advantage of this campaign. It is designed to be easily bookable by the growing number of online-savvy young people, especially those seeking to get away for short weekend-breaks from cities in the Asia-Pacific region.”

One key objective of the project is to generate business for the Northern provinces in the “Green Season”, the monsoon period, when arrivals from the European and North American markets decline.

“This will help both the airlines get a better return on investment on their flights but also more importantly, bolster the incomes of the thousands of small- and medium-sized enterprises and grass root workers who are employed in the travel and tourism industry.”

He added, “It is also in line with the national development plans to reduce economic imbalances among different regions of Thailand.”

For further details, please log into or web link, and participating partner’s websites, or contact the TAT Call Centre 1672. (TAT)

Amazing Offers for Stopover Bangkok Campaign

Over 180 Bangkok-based service providers have offered enthusiastic support for the “Stopover Bangkok” campaign, a unique effort to attract airline transit passengers to enjoy a break for a night or two in Thailand’s exciting capital city.

Organised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) in cooperation with MasterCard and numerous Thai private travel industry companies, the campaign is to run until 31 October 2011. It is targetted at the more than 1.5 million passengers who transit through Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport every year.

The 58 service providers have offered a range of mouth-watering incentives to the transit passengers. They include up to 50% discounts, 5,000-9,000 Baht cash off, buy 1 get 1 free and several other deals in 11 categories of products and services: Adventure and Excursion, Art and Culture, Beauty and Spa, Ethnic and Local Tour, Fine Dining, Golf Day and Night, Health and Medical, Shopping, Show and Entertainment, Thai Cooking Class, and Transportation.

In addition, TAT has received support from 122 renowned Bangkok-based service providers in 7 thematic tour categories: Amazing Bangkok, Art and Senses Route, BKK Nightcrawlers, Floating and Exotic Market, Gourmet Route, Shop, Drop and Spa, and Shopping Route.

MasterCard holders will enjoy special top-up privileges and discounts starting from 5 up to 20%.

How to get the "Stopover Bangkok" offer?

Browse for offers from the “Stopover Bangkok” website by selecting from the Suggested Routes and Offers based on the type of interest.

Click your preferred offer and register your details along with a special code given to you by your travel agent or airline. After registration, you will receive a user ID for your next visit.

Once you have submitted your details, the coupon will be sent to your email or may be printed directly from the website. Present the printed coupon to the service provider representative/counter with all terms and conditions met.

For years, Bangkok has been a major transit stop for air travellers connecting from the Middle East, Europe and Africa to onward flights in Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia and Australia/New Zealand. This creates an opportunity to give them a sneak preview of the capital and its surrounding areas, so that they may return for extended visits in the future.

According to the Airports of Thailand Public Company Limited, the number of international transit passengers at Suvarnabhumi International Airport totalled 1.52 million (+5.43%) in 2010 and 612,755 passengers during January-May 2011, up 11.27% over the same period of 2010.

TAT is hoping that the Stopover Bangkok will be one of our effective marketing tools that urges tourists to make a decision to come visit Bangkok before or after their planned destination. (TAT).

International arrivals to SE Asia on the rise

By Reinhard Hohler

International foreign inbound arrivals to eight Southeast Asia destinations have (collectively) increased by 17.5% during the months leading up to the half-year mark. All of them, except Indonesia, reported double-digit performances (see chart). With more than 26-million arrivals year-to-date, this rate of growth has added almost four million additional foreign arrivals to the inbound count for the region. Notes:1. Data sourced from respective NTOs/NSOs. 2. Figures in brackets refer to the number of moths for which data is available. Myanmar (5) therefore refers to data for Myanmar for the first five months of 2011 (i.e. Jan-May). 3. Brunei, Malaysia and Timor-Leste are not included in this count because of a lack of data. Source: PATA Bangkok

Inaugural flight of new Taiwan airline to Chiang Mai

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) welcomed the inaugural Trans Asia Airways flight from Taiwan on July 6, 2011. The Trans Asia Airways Boeing 737 carried 158 people on its inaugural flight and plants to for charter flights for a total of 14 flights during July 6 - August 26, 2011. Trans Asia Airways Co is an alliance between four tour package company charters and will offer flights to Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai (5 days 4 nights) for Taiwanese tourists.

Unique Khao Phansa Festival

Tak Bat Dok Mai Festival

The Tak Bat Dok Mai floral offering merit-making ritual is unique to Saraburi province. This ritual stands out from the merit-making activities conducted in the other parts of Thailand because in addition to the offerings of cooked rice, food, incense, candles and other conventional sacred items, the Tak Bat Dok Mai ritual includes offerings of Dok Khao Phansa flowers that only come into bloom during the Buddhist Lent, hence the origin of its name. Some villagers call the flower Dok Yung Thong (golden peacock) or Dok Hong Thong (golden swan flower).

The Dok Khao Phansa is a native species of forested hill-slopes, and is most commonly found in Saraburi province. A member of the Globba family, the flower is similar to galingale or turmeric and is just over 25 centimetres in height. The plant somewhat resembles the "krachai" or aromatic ginger with flowers in large white, yellow, yellowish-violet, or violet and blue sprays. The yellow flowers have smaller violet petals that give it a striking appearance. As the Dok Khao Phansa becomes an increasingly rare find these days, lotus, jasmine and rose have become acceptable alternatives for these floral offerings.

The residents of Amphoe Phra Phutthabat have observed this tradition of making floral offerings since ancient times and it has now become a significant provincial event.

The "Tak Bat Dok Mai" floral merit-making ceremony is performed at the Wat Phra Buddhabat Woramahaviharn - Shrine of the Holy Footprint, a highly revered ancestral place of worship and a national landmark, in the Phra Buddhabat District of Saraburi province.

In the morning of the first day of the Buddhist Lent, residents of the community engage in merit-making activities by presenting offerings to the resident monks at the Wat Phra Buddhabat temple. Later in the morning, young couples venture out into the forested foothills to gather the Dok Khao Phansa flowers. Meanwhile in the district area, the candle procession and the "Tak Bat Dok Mai" procession head towards the temple courtyard.

As a prelude to the floral merit-making ritual which takes place in the afternoon, a variety of traditional folk games and cultural performances are featured. Contests such as the long-drum dance, candle and Thai costume contests keep the audience entertained. In preparation for the "Tak Bat Dok Mai" merit-making ritual, Buddhist devotees line up along both sides of the street forming a long line that extends from the "mondop" or seven-tiered temple spire and trails back along the streets. This forms a passage along which hundreds of monks and novices file past to accept sacred offerings.

The monks then ascend to the Shrine of the Holy Footprint where the offerings received are in turn presented as a tribute to the Lord Buddha. Once the ritual has been completed, the Buddhist devotees pour water over the feet of the monks and novices in the belief that in doing so, the sins of the worshippers are washed away.

Wat Phra Phutthabat Ratchaworamahawihan, Amphoe Phra Phutthabat, Saraburi. July 14 - 16, 2010. For more info: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Lop Buri Office. (0) 3642 2768-9. [email protected]

Angkor's Baphuon temple re-openend

By Reinhard Hohler

An ancient Angkor temple in northwestern Cambodia was re-opened to the public on Sunday following the completion of a decades-long renovation project described as the world's largest puzzle.

The restoration of the 11th-century Baphuon monument, one of the country's largest after Angkor Wat, was celebrated with a high-profile ceremony attended by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

The finished project is the result of half a century of painstaking efforts by restorers to take apart the crumbling tower's 300,000 sandstone blocks and then piece them back together.
"The work at Baphuon has been exceptional," Fillon said at the inauguration event in the northwestern tourist hub of Siem Reap, which drew thousands of Cambodians waving French, Cambodian and European Union flags.

King Sihamoni expressed his people's "profound gratitude to France" for completing the 10-million-euro ($14m), French-funded undertaking.

A French-led team of archaeologists dismantled Baphuon in the 1960s because it was falling apart and laid out its many stone blocks in the surrounding jungle.
Efforts to rebuild the pyramidal structure were interrupted by the civil war in 1970, and the records needed to re-assemble it were destroyed by the hardline communist Khmer Rouge which took power in 1975.

In 1995, when the area was again safe to work in, the project - by then known as the world's biggest three-dimensional puzzle - was restarted.

Fillon said French archaeologists would next turn their attention to the 2.7-million-euro restoration of the Western Mebon temple in Angkor, which was the seat of the medieval Khmer empire.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Exhibition extended at Singapore's ArtScience Museum

Lamyai Festival in Lamphun

Plan to re-open temple ground again

Bhumiphol Dam International Mountain Bike Race

Organic farming a way out of poverty in India

Extra luggage to Yangon

Bhutan: where happiness is more important than money

Chiang Mai Best Deal

Amazing Offers for Stopover Bangkok Campaign

International arrivals to SE Asia on the rise

Inaugural flight of new Taiwan airline to Chiang Mai

Unique Khao Phansa Festival

Angkor's Baphuon temple re-openend