Ranong, Thailand; July, 2018
It had been raining a lot, we manage to escape the house for a few hours a day for a ride around town when the rain has subsided. However, this morning we wake up to a beautiful sun shining day and we decided to take advantage of it. Sunday’s are quiet in Ranong, most of the shops are closed and the market is desolate, only a few vendors are open round the town. Sunday is truly a day of rest and time spent with friends and family. We rode the bikes the long way around town and toward a Wat that we have past several time the last two months. Each time we have past it, on a Sunday, you can hear music playing from the street. Normally, we are in tank tops, which is inappropriate garb to where inside, so we just keep on riding wondering what is happening inside.
However, today it was our mission to go and see what all the commotion was about. As we began to turn the bend, toward the hill top temple, I was feeling a bit discouraged. The street was empty, normally there are cars parked along the road, and I could not hear the music playing inside. We pulled into the parking lot across the street and as we were deciding what to do now, music filled the air. Yes! we were in luck, the party was happening.
We rode up the hill and were greeted by a large group of children that were running around the property, they all were mesmerized by Francesca. We parked and I took her off the bike setting her down next to me, half expecting her to run over to all the kids but instead she played the shy card, overwhelmed with all the looks, she needed one of us to hold her. As we approached the event area we were greeted with many smiling faces waving at us, well mostly at Francesca. There were a few hundred people scattered throughout the grounds, some seated in hot pink chairs around tables under a large awning, some mingled together on the outskirts situated in the shade provided by ancient trees that towered high above, while others allowed the music to move their bodies as they danced around the musicians. As we stood soaking up the energy and enjoying the live music, Francesca started to warm up to the people. Two young girls had followed us and were standing near in hopes the cute little blondie girl would play. Just their luck, Francesca turned to them shyly grabbed one girls hand took a few steps leading her in some direction, then stopped turn around and reached for the other girl’s hand, she had not want to leave her out, hand-in-hand the three wondered off under a tree.
Once Francesca felt comfortable with the two girls she was ready to take on the crowd of children that were playing around the temple. Holding hands the girls began to climb the stairs towards the small temple, before they reached the gate Francesca turn around and walked back down. I thought she might have changed her mind but she sat upon the ground in front of me motioning for her shoes to be removed. I was impressed that she remembered without having to be prompted that you remove your shoes before entering a temple area. Making her way back to the girls, that were patiently waiting on the stairs, she looked down at the eldest girls feet and insisted that she remove her sandals before they proceeded. The young girl looked at me quite surprised with a huge smile on her face and we giggled as she slid off her shoes. Off they went exploring, running circles around the building, dancing, laughing, and chasing each other around. I stood to the side, allowing her to have time with the other children, taking photographs and listening to the music.
Daniel walked about the grounds capturing the moments through his Canon, and he joined us on the temple patio to take some shots from higher ground. We were captivated by the children as they battled for Francesca’s attentions, longing to hold her hands and dance about with her, her entourage would follow behind her where even she went from one end to the other. They would stop when she did to gaze over the rail and watch the musicians play. Dance and gallop about to the music. The Thai children would take turns lifting her, one was able to placed her on his shoulders and ran around the building, she smiled from ear to ear. It was heaven for her to have a group of older children around to play with and run amok. Soon the children’s laughter became louder than the music and we notice the performers moving about and the crowd had began to mobilize. What was happening? we wondered.
The small bandstand was portable! The three wheeled cart had been constructed for the drummer and his kit to be perched in the middle, a shelf for the keyboards hung off the back, amplifiers were stacked in the front, speakers hung off both sides of the awning, the soundboard was nestled in a cubby in the center of the cart. The performers where tethered to the contraption by their instruments’ cords, restricted in the distances they could wonder. After a short brake and bandstand had been moved to the driveway the people circled about. They music started again and a parade began; I love a parade where there are few spectators because everyone is participating in the parade itself! The procession took more then a hour to circle the temple, not because it was a large area but because the took their time moving only a few paces every so often. It was beautiful to see the people dancing about enjoying the joyful sounds, smiling and carrying on. Daniel positioned himself to get some photos of the band as they walked by, as he was taking some shots he noticed that the bass player was sporting a Grateful Dead hat. Daniel was impressed by the young musician wearing the symbol of family. When he showed me the photo of the hat I told him he should go speak to him, after the event should we be able to find him, especially since Daniel was rocking his Jerry Garcia shirt.
While the procession was making its way around the temple, Francesca was getting into mischief. She had convinced the little girls to help her climb atop the stupa, a structure found around the temples that normally house a scared relic, that was behind the temple building. As I called for her to come down she replied, “I’m fine mommy, I’m fine.” She refused to listen or make the decent so a band of children seized the opportunity to climb up to get her. Several of the young boys scaled the monument to coax her down but it was not working, finial one of the boys had to pick her up and handed her down to Daniel. She was upset to be removed from her perch and didn’t understand why she could not climb on the structure, I tried to explain to her why we did not climb on the stupa but she didn’t want to hear it. I had to keep a watchful eye on her as she was drawn back time and time again to climb the great peak. Finally she was distracted by a mop that soon was confiscated by one child, then she spent some time chasing him around trying to reclaim her beloved cleaning tool.
While the children were playing I noticed Daniel conversing with a lady not to far away so I strolled over to say hello. The Thai women lived in Albany, New York where she owned a restaurant. She had returned to Ranong to attended her father’s burial ceremony and honor his life with family and friends. Her father had been sick for nearly twenty years so she had been preparing for his passing for some time. It is part of the Thai culture for the family of the departed to invite everyone, who wants to come, to partake in meal and pay respects to the loved one. She told us: “it is our custom, Thai custom, to open your doors and let everyone come, we feed who ever wants to eat. You want to eat? You must, we will feed you. My daughter will show you where.” Once we were able to gather Francesca we were escorted down the stairs to a large dinning area that had been parted in half. One side was to honor a man that had lived his life, who would be survived by his family; his amazing daughters, that invited us to experience their culture, and his grandchildren and their children, in time. The other side appeared to be for a young girl who perished before her prime, her pictures were posted all around and she didn’t look much older then ten. Both families of the of the dearly departed offered lunch and refreshments to all those that came.
The young girl that escorted us over presented us to the sister who offered us a table to sit at and enjoy a meal. Around the room, along the walls were areas where one could go to pray; in the middle of the first bay there was a large memorial decorated in marigolds and carnations, candles, and incense that displayed photographs of the elderly man. In the center bay, where we were seated, were six tables set for visitors to an enjoy a meal. Each table had a couple plates of smoked fish, a bowl of bamboo and pork soup, spicy thai sweet and sour shrimp soup, a vegetable and coconut milk soup, bowl of finely chopped spicy peppers with shrimp paste and vinegar severed with a variety of steamed vegetables, a couple bags of rice, plates and utensils, as well as bottles of water, soda and ice. We tried everything on the table and all of it was delicious, our favorite dish was the vegetables and coconut milk soup, my mouth waters thinking about it. A bit later we each were brought a dessert, perfectly wrapped banana leaves that contained a scrumptious steamed coconut cake, a traditional Thai favorite. Francesca absolutely loved the tasty cake and her favorite dish was the bamboo and pork soup. Once we were finished we thanked the family for inviting us over and I hugged the sister goodbye before we returned to the event at the Wat.
The afternoon at the Wat was one of the most enjoyable outings we had while in Ranong. Cheerful music, amazing people and the community was outstanding. When traveling its events like these that make everlasting memories. Its the mingling with the local customs that adds extra value to the experience. If your ever in Ranong on a Sunday stopping by Wat Uppanantharan should be high on the list of things to do, you will not regret it I assure you!