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Cambodia's Angkor Wat may be the largest and greatest of the monuments to the ancient Khmer, but Thailand, too, possesses a wealth of temple ruins that boat attest to the architectural genius of the Khmer and are also readily accessible.

With its capital at Angkor in Cambodia, the Khmer civilization flourished from AD 802 to 1431, when Angkor was abandoned after being defeated by the Thais. At the height of its power,

 

The Ancient Khmer Ruins - ISAN @ Thailand

from the 11th century to the early 13th century, the Khmer Empire extended well beyond the borders of present-day Cambodia and included large areas of what is now Thailand.

Although our knowledge of Khmer history beyond Angkor is still incomplete, there is sufficient evidence to suggest the considerable importance of the territory today encompassed by Thai borders. It is estimated, for example, that more than 300 stone temples were erected in the Moon River valley alone, where the main temple, Phimai, was linked to Angkor by a 225 Km. " Royal Way ", which was punctuated by ornately decorated rest stations.

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BOON BUNGFAI
Bun Bungfai Rocket Festival - Esan ( Isan )

Rocket Festival
Boon Bungfai Rocket Festival is an ancient local festival, which is associated with Thai traditional beliefs in the supernatural powers that help promote the production of rice crops for the coming planting season. During the event, the beautiful rockets in different styles are paraded to the launch site. The local people dress in colorful traditional costumes and dance to accompany the procession. The highlight of the festival is the fired rockets launched from their platforms one by one. Noisy folk music and cheers can be heard for each liftoff and the rocket that reaches the greatest height is declared the winner...

Rocket Festival or "Boon Bang Fai" in Thai is usually held in the second week of May of each year, at the beginning of the rainy season. The farmers are ready to cultivate their paddy fields. The festival is popularly celebrated in ISAN. The celebration is an entreaty to the rain god for plentiful rains during the coming rice planting season.

The festival itself owes its beginning to a legend that a rain god named Vassakan was known for his fascination of being worshipped with fire. To receive plentiful rains for rice cultivation, the farmers send the home-made rockets to the heaven where the god resided. The festival has been carried out till these days.

Under the guidance of Buddhist monks, it takes the villagers weeks to make the rockets, launching platforms and other decorations. An average rocket is some nine metres in length and carries 20-25 kilogrammes of gunpowder

In the afternoon of the festival day, rockets are carried in the procession to the launching site. Villagers dressed in colourful traditional costumes attract the eyes of the onlookers, who line up along the procession route.

  Before ignition of the rockets, there will be more singing and dancing to celebrate the festival. The climax of the festival is the ignition time. One by one the rockets are fired from the launching platforms. Each liftoff's greeted by cheers and noisy music. The rocket that reaches the greatest height is the winner and the owner of this rocket will dance and urge for rewards on their way home while the owners of the rockets, that exploded or failed to fly, will be thrown into the mud. The celebration is a communal affair of the villagers who come to share joy and happiness together before heading to the paddy fields where hard work is waiting for them... You Tube - Bun Bungfai Rocket Festival
Candle Festival - Ubon Ratchathani @ ThailandCANDLE  FESTIVAL
The Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival, the most elaborate of the traditional parading of candles to
Wats
(Temples), is held in Ubon Ratchathani, Isan @ Thailand, around the days of Asanha Bucha (which commemorates the Buddha's first sermon) and Wan Kao Pansa.
 

At the start of the Lenten period, it is traditional in preparation for the rainy season for the devout to donate to items for the personal use of monks, and of candles to dispel gloom in their quarters and elsewhere within the Wat. The latter is often the core event of many village celebrations, but is at its most elaborate in the Ubon Ratchathani version, which nowadays is a major event both for residents and for tourists: giant candles are paraded through the town, each representing a local temple, district or other institution. The more elaborate versions are accompanied by scenes of Hindu and Buddhist mythology sculpted in wood or plaster and coated with wax. Of course, these candles are never burned.

The candles are carved a couple of days before the procession.

On Asanha Bucha day, the candles are taken to Thung Si Mueang, a park in the middle of the city, where they are decorated and then exhibited in the evening. On the same evening, there are small processions with lighted candles at several temples.

The procession takes place on the morning of Wan Kao Pansa. The candles are paraded through the city centre on floats, accompanied by representatives of the public and private sectors. These are normally dancers or musicians in traditional dress... You Tube - Candle Festival

 
LONG BOAT RACING
Long Boat Racing Festival @ Isan ( Esan ) - Thailand

Tha Toom @ Surin
Organized in October every year. Four types of racing for the royal trophy and the contest of boat beauty parade will be organized on Maenam Moon ( Moon River ) in front of Wat Pho, Amphoe Tha Toom (District), Surin @ Thailand...

  Satuek @ Buriram
It is organized annually on the first weekend of November when the MOON River is high. Oarsmen from Buriram and other nearby provinces would gather to join the boat racing which is held in front of Amphoe Satueks district office. Each year, there are about 40 to 50 boats in the competition. There is also a parade of fancy decorated boats during the event. Boat racing was once a traditional festival celebrated among friends and relatives to pay homage to Chaopho Wang Krut, a spirit named after a whirlpool in the Moon River. Since 1986, it has become a festival of Buriram province... You Tube - Long Boat Festival
 
MO LAMMo Lam   is a traditional of song in Isan (Esan). Mo Lam means expert song, or expert singer, referring to the music or artist respectively. In Isan (Esan), the music is known simply as Lam; Mo Lam refers to the singer.

The characteristic feature of Lam singing is the use of a flexible melody which is tailored to the tones of the words in the text. Traditionally, the tune was developed by the singer as an interpretation of glawn poems and accompanied primarily by the Khaen, a free reed mouth organ, but the modern form is most often composed and uses electrified instruments. Contemporary forms of the music are also characterised by quick tempi and rapid delivery, while tempi tend to be slower in traditional forms. Some consistent characteristics include strong rhythmic accompaniment, vocal leaps, and a conversational style of singing that can be compared to American rap.

Typically featuring a theme of unrequited love, mor lam also reflects the difficulties of life in rural Isan and Laos, leavened with wry humour. In its heartland, performances are an essential part of festivals and ceremonies, while the music has gained a profile outside its native regions thanks to the spread of migrant workers, for whom it remains an important cultural link with home... You Tube - Mo Lam

 
SART
DAY
The Thai Sart Day refers to merit-making activities in the middle of the traditiional Thai year, and if counted by the lunar calendar, falls on the fifteenth day of the waning moon of the tenth lunar month (usually some time during September)

The word "Sart" is derived from the Indian language, Pali, and means "season", while in English it means "autumn". In fact, the season of Sart or the autumn is the time at which food crops begin to ripen. However, autumn takes place only in countries which are situated above the tropical zone, such as the countries in Northern Europe, China and the northern part of India. Thus, due to Thailand's geographical location in the tropics, the Thai Sart Day has no connection with the autumn or the ripening season at all. At this time of the year our rice has not yet ripened and only some fruits are mature enough to be eaten. Meanwhile, the countries which have the season of autumn will take this time to joyfully celebrate the occasion as their crops bear their first yield and a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables are in bountiful supply.

Sart Day
In ancient times, people of all races believed that the first harvest of rice, fruit and all other forms of food, including the first catch of fish or any other animal, should be offered to the holy spirits which, they believed, were the creators of food crops and animals. As a result, by appeasing the spirits, in theory the people were protected from starvation. However, during years in which there were bad harvests or food shortages, they believed that this was caused by the indignation of the holy spirits who might have been angry with human actions. Therefore, the ancient people were very much afraid of these invisible beings and to please them, people made offerings and sacrifices in their honour.
Sart Day
Krayasat which means food for the Sart Rite is prepared from rice, bean, sesame and sugar cooked into a sticky paste and then wrapped with a banana leaf. After making Krayasart people would take it to the temple to be offered to the monks on Sart Day. At the temple, a raised-platform would be erected in a long line on the temple grounds and the monk's alms-bowls would be placed on it. People would then put Krayasart in the alms-bowls till they were full of Krayasart. Then the Krayasart would be transferred into a bamboobasket by the temple boys. At the same time, food and dessert would be separately offered to the monks at their lodging. At the end of the offering ceremony, people would perform a ceremony of pouring the water of dedication, in order to transfer merit to other beings, as people believed that if they did not offer Krayasart to monks, their dead relatives would have nothing to eat and thus they would be condemned as having no gratitude towards their benefactors. After finishing their meals, the monks would consume Krayasart as their dessert, since on that day people had noting to offer apart from ripe dainty bananas and Krayasart.

Naturally Krayasart is very sweet, thus it is recommended to be eaten with bananas, especially dainty bananas. After making merit, people would exchange the remaining Krayasart among themselves. In so doing, they could have the opportunity to test Krayasart cooked by others. As a result, anyone whose Krayasart had an excellent taste would have his good name spread from mouth-to-mouth... You Tube - Sart Day

In those days, people prefered to prepare Krayasart by themselves and it was not available in the market. Thus, when one made something to eat, he would give it to his neighbours free. Above all, if someone had work which required a huge amount of labour, his neighbours would come forward to help at once. This brought about unity and strengthened friendship among local residents. Meanwhile, the focal point of the community was the Buddhist temple, which symbolised the Buddhist religion and acted as a major unifying element, especially during festivals and merit-making ceremonies. The temple was used as a place of learning, where people came to perform various activities and at the same time took an opportunity to wear new clothes to show off to their friends, as in those days, people had hardly any other chance to do so. Evidently, people's lives have always been associated with the temple which has served as the core of village unity. People in the past observedthe Sart Rite with much enthusiasm and it is still one of the most valuable Buddhist festivals to be observed on ISAN land... You Tube - Sart Day

THE ELEPHANT

Round-up FESTIVAL

The most popular of Northeastern festivals with foreign tourists is the Surin Elephant Round-up which is held annually in November. The people of Surin have long been renowned for their skill in capturing and training wild elephants and the round-up. In the past wild elephants lived in the forest areas of nearby Cambodia. Unfortunately, these areas have been inaccessible due to civil war in Cambodia, and at the same time, the elephant population is markedly decreasing thus the elephant catchers must now make a living by taking their charges around the country giving shows.

The greatest event of the Surin round-up is a beautifully organised display of the talents and abilities of these superb beasts. The round-up first look place in 1960. It begins with a mass procession of all the elephants taking part, usually 120-150, ranging from calves only a few weeks old to the well-trained elephants with many decades of experience.   During the show, hundreds of the huge animals demonstrate their prowess at moving logs, playing soccer and winning a tug-of-war against human teams. Other demonstrations are designed to show not only the great strength of the elephants but also show they can be very intelligent, gentle and obedient. The show concludes with a mock battle illustrating what was formerly an important part of their duties.

The round-up in those days was an annual state ceremony presided over by the king himself. There were prayers and citations devised for the ceremony and for the taming of captured elephants afterwards. In recent times, the event has been revived and has become a major tourist attraction for the country, with the province of Surin as the main centre of activities. The event draws more and more visitors each year.

The event is the occasion for great fun in which the visitor is welcome to join. It also offers superb opportunities for learning about the distinct folk culture of the Northeast... You Tube - Surin elephant festival

 
Phi Ta Khon - Loei Province @ ThailandPHI TA KHON
is a type of masked procession celebrated on the first day of a three-day Buddhist merit-making holiday known in Thai as "Boon Pra Wate". The annual festival takes place in May - June or July at a small town of Dan Sai in the northeastern province of Loei.

Participants of the festival dress up like ghosts and monsters wearing huge masks made carved coconut-tree trunks, topped with a wicker-work sticky-rice steamer. The procession is marked by a lot of music and dancing.

The precise origin of the Phi Ta Khon is unclear. However, it can be traced back to a traditional Buddhist folklore. In the Buddha's next to last life, he was the beloved Prince Vessandorn. The prince was said to go on a long trip for such a long time that his subjects forgot him and even thought that he was already dead. When he suddenly returned, his people were overjoyed. They welcomed him back with a celebration so loud that it even awoke the dead who then joined in all the fun.

 

From that time onward the faithful came to commemorate the event with ceremonies, celebrations and the donning of ghostly spirit masks. The reasons behind all the events is probably due to the fact that it was held to evoke the annual rains from the heavens by farmers and to bless crops.

On the second day, the villagers dance their way to the temple and fire off the usual bamboo rockets to signal the end of the procession. The festival organisers also hold contests for the best masks, costumes and dancers, and brass plaques are awarded to the winners in each age group. The most popular is the dancing contest.

Then comes the last day of the event, the villagers then gather at the local temple, Wat Ponchai, to listen to the message of the thirteen sermons of the Lord Buddha recited by the local monks.

Then it is time for the revellers to put away their ghostly masks and costumes for another year. From now on, they must again return to the paddy fields to eke out their living through as their forefathers did.

 
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Road
There are 15,000 km of highway, centred on the Thanon Mitraphap ("Friendship Highway") built by the United States to supply its military bases in the 1960s and 1970s. A road bridge (the Saphan Mitraphap or Friendship Bridge) jointly built by the Australian, Laos and Thai governments forms the border crossing over the Mae Nam Khong River on the outskirts of Nong Khai to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, about 25 km away.

Most roads in Isan are paved. All major roads interconnecting the province capitals are in excellent condition for driving, and most are centrally divided four or six-lane highways. Many roads connecting province capitals to larger district towns are also currently (2008) being widened to four lane highways with median strips. The paving on some very minor roads in the poorer districts may be navigable with difficulty, due to large, deep potholes. Unpaved, graded roads link some of the smaller, more remote villages, but they are comfortably navigable at normal driving speeds for wheeled vehicles. Most of the stretches of paved roads through villages are lit at night, many with powerful sodium lighting, some of which are on independently solar-powered masts. Reflecting 'cats-eyes' marking the central line of two-lane roads are a common feature. Crash barriers are installed along the sides of dangerous bends and precipitous verges. Signposting is excellent and follows international style. Since 2002 (with the exception of some poorer sub-districts), all signs are bilingual in Thai and Roman script, although the spellings in Roman script may defy the logic of English pronunciation, and vary significantly.

The main highways have frequent, Western-style rest and refuelling stations which accept payment by major credit/debit cards. In 2006, all fuel stations sell 91 and 95 octane gasoline/petrol and diesel fuel, but LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) and NGV (Natural Gas for Vehicles) is very rare outside the cities of Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen and Udon Thani. Since 2009, bio-diesel fuel is becoming increasingly available.

 

Rail
The State Railway of Thailand has two main lines in Isan, both connecting the region to Bangkok. One runs east from Korat, through Surin to Ubon; the other runs north through Khon Kaen and Udon to Nong Khai. In early 2009, a newly completed rail link from Nong Khai came into operation. It crosses the Friendship road bridge into Laos territory to a terminus a few kilometres north of the land border crossing. It remains unclear whether this line will be extended the remaining 20 kilometres to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

Bus
Buses provide the mass transport throughout the region. All province cities are connected to Bangkok by daily and nightly, direct, air-conditioned bus routes. All district amphoe towns operate at least one similar nightly route to and from Bangkok ( Mor Chid ). All towns and villages are interconnected with frequent services of Songthaew a covered truck-style bus or covered pick-up trucks with bench seats in the cargo bed.

A songthaew for public transport in Udon Thani, one of the major cities in Isan.Taxi transport is not well developed, even in the very large cities, where Samlor, three-wheeled motorcycle taxis similar to the Bangkok tuk-tuk, provide the mainstay of urban transport. The large cities do have some pick-up trucks operating on regular inner-city and suburban routes. Airports are served by collective vans, which tend to be expensive for the local population, and samlors for private hire.

 
 
 

Air
There are airports at Korat (no scheduled services due to its proximity to Bangkok), Khon Kaen (domestic), Ubon Ratchathani (domestic), Udon Thani (international), Nakhon Phanom (domestic, scheduled services), Sakon Nakhon (domestic, scheduled services), Roi Et (domestic, scheduled services), Buriram (domestic, scheduled services) and Loei (domestic, scheduled services). Domestic air travel between the capital and the region is well developed, particularly since 2002, and has become a viable alternative to rail, long-distance bus and self-driving. Fares are cheap and Udon and Khon Kaen which both opened brand new airport terminals in 2005 and 2006 respectively, are served by many daily flights and also have routes connecting other major destinations in Thailand with some companies operating wide-bodied aircraft. Most domestic flights to and from Bangkok operate to and from Don Muang, the original Bangkok international airport, while Thai Airways and Air Asia flights serve Bangkok International Airport at Suvarnabhumi.

Waterways
In this region, rapids and variable flow make navigation difficult on the Mae Nam Khong River, so large boat traffic is limited in connection with downriver areas. Bridges are rare because of the high cost of spanning the wide river; numerous passenger and vehicle ferries link its two sides. The Second ThaiLao Friendship Bridge, spanning the Mae Nam Khong between the cities of Mukdahan (Thailand) and Savannakhet (Laos), was completed and officially opened for traffic on 20 December 2006. Some new bridges, not included on the 2005 maps, have been built over smaller rivers and dams. Passenger and vehicle ferries also operate across some large reservoirs.

 
 
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