Dragons and blessings at lucky temple

Dragons and blessings at lucky temple

Leng Noei Yi, located at the heart of Bangkok's Yaowarat area, is also a significant cultural link for Thais of Chinese descent, write Supoj Wancharoen and Oraphin Phangyang

Devotees pay respect to Chinese deities at Wat Mangkon Kamalawat in Yaowarat to ward off bad luck and ask for blessings. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)
Devotees pay respect to Chinese deities at Wat Mangkon Kamalawat in Yaowarat to ward off bad luck and ask for blessings. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

The Year of the Dragon begins on Saturday, the start of the Lunar New Year, which is especially meaningful for Thais with Chinese ancestry.

Amid the festive celebrations, another bond that links the two cultures is their shared belief in dispelling any bad fortune that may be in line in the road ahead. This is often referred to as "fixing a cursed year". In Thai, "cursed year" is Pi Chong, while avoiding bad luck is Kae Chong.

Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, also known as Wat Leng Noei Yi, in the Yaowarat area of Pomprap Sattruphai district, is commonly known as Bangkok's Chinatown.

The holy site ranks as one of the most visited temples in the country, and it is a place where Thais of Chinese descent visit during the Lunar New Year to make merit and perform special rites to exorcise any portents of bad luck.

The temple's Cantonese name -- Leng Noei Yi, which means "dragon lotus temple", is expected to draw even larger crowds during this year's celebration.

"Every year, I come here at least once during the Chinese New Year festival," said visitor Kanyarat Heman.

"Since we don't really know what will happen to us or our loved ones, making merit and thinking about good things [at the start of the New Year] will at least make us feel more calm," she said.

Making merit makes her contemplate the mistakes she made in the past year and makes her promise she will not repeat them this year, she said.

Ms Kanyarat said she visits the temple every year because she believes that it is a sacred place -- a notion shared by others who come to make merit and wishes.

"This temple is best known as a holy place most suitable for performing the rite to ward off bad luck we're doomed to encounter at some point," said Somchai Charusomphon, a 63-year-old visitor.

"I come twice a year because I feel good whenever I'm here. It's just for the rite to exorcise my bad fortune," he said.

He said he has developed a strong bond with the temple as his father was a Chinese migrant who settled here years ago.

Built during the reign of King Rama V, the Chinese Mahayana Buddhist temple sits at the heart of Yaowarat.

"Thais and Chinese are more like neighbours, so our temples share certain similarities," said Mr Somchai.

This year, he brought a friend, Suraphong Sabaichit, who was visiting the temple for the first time.

Mr Suraphong said his first impression was that the temple had beautiful Chinese architecture, which he described as being akin to an interesting art exhibition.

"It's much easier to get here now thanks to the access provided by the MRT underground electric train system," he said.

"And as we no longer have to worry about where to park our car, we have more time to explore Yaowarat and enjoy some of the delicious street food."

Talking talismans

Apart from visiting temples, some Thai-Chinese buy talismans and other New Year gifts to ward off bad luck.

One man, who gave his name as Tony, 60, told the Bangkok Post he had recently purchased some dragon-shaped lanterns.

"I believe this Year of the Golden Dragon will bring me a big fortune, and I expect good things are in store for me this Lunar New Year," he said.

He was referring to one of the five elements -- earth, wood, metal (gold), fire and water -- that go alongside the 12 animal signs in the Chinese zodiac.

Sirikarn Ratanopap, 22, said she had snapped up an "auspicious" bracelet with a dragon pendant to bring her good luck.

"This Chinese New Year, I'm paying my respects to my ancestors who passed away while also enjoying some rest with my family," Ms Sirikarn said.

Siripha Jamrunkit, 22, who also bought a dragon-themed accessory for good fortune, said she believed this would be her lucky year.

At the temple, she wished for health and happiness for her family for the year ahead, Ms Siripha said.

Chinese ambassador's greetings

Han Zhiqiang, the Chinese ambassador to Thailand, sends his best wishes on the auspicious occasion of Chinese New Year.

"On the occasion of bidding farewell to the old year and welcoming this new year, I would like to send my sincere blessings and wishes to people in all career fields in Thailand."

In the past year, China has made strong progress in high-quality development and has achieved outstanding success in modern development as Gross Domestic Product expanded by 5.2% -- contributing more than 30% to global economic growth and remaining the most important mechanism driving the world economy.

Han Zhiqiang, the Chinese ambassador to Thailand

In past years, Chinese diplomacy has played an important role and led the world towards promoting the building of a community with a shared future for humanity. Also in the past years, friendly cooperation between China and Thailand has developed in all areas. A shared future between China and Thailand has become the consensus of the people following President Xi Jinping's historic visit to Thailand in 2022 and after HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn paid her 50th visit to China last year.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin officially visited China just after taking office and worked with China's leaders to draft a new blueprint for developing relations between the two countries. The trade value between the two countries remains at an all-time high. Thai agricultural exports to China continue to grow. The export value of fresh durian alone is worth US$4.6 billion.

Chinese companies' investments in Thailand have developed strongly, contributing to the recovery of the economy after the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The exchange of people between the two countries has reached nearly 4 million people. At the beginning of 2024, the two countries signed a visa exemption agreement, leading to the "Visa Free Era".

"We are full of confidence in the bright future of relations between our countries. China and Thailand are not far apart. We are like brothers and sisters. I wish good luck to the Chinese and Thai people. Be happy and healthy," he said.

10 unmissable places for Chinese tourists celebrating Lunar New Year

1. Chinatown at Yaowarat Road, Bangkok

With a history going as far back as a century ago, Yaowarat Road is a perfect area to experience many aspects of local examples of Chinese culture and customs all in one place, including great food and the arts. Full of character and charm, the area has been the home of generations of Chinese Thais.

In collaboration with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the Cultural Division of the Chinese embassy in Thailand, and the Chinese Cultural Centre, the annual Chinese New Year event will be held at Yaowarat Road over the weekend. Among the many activities will be Fujian traditional arts, lion dance performances, and Chinese lamp decoration activities.

2. Wat Phra Kaeo and the Grand Palace, Bangkok

The two royal locations that share the same wall are a perfect antidote to the busyness of the city. Chinese visitors should consider visiting both places in Bangkok as they are rich in Thai traditional art, be it religious architecture or a wall painting based on the Ramayana from Indian literature, which is a huge part of the lives and beliefs of Southeast Asian countries.

Awareness of what proper apparel should be worn at both places and about the foreigner-rate entrance fee should be considered by those interested in visiting.

3. A cruise trip along the Chao Phraya River

Chinese visitors can enjoy a cruise trip along the broad river that slowly weaves through the city's heart. Most routes start from the Rama III Bridge and go on to the Rama VII Bridge. If on a night cruise, passengers will see the light displays along Wat Phra Kaeo and the Grand Palace riverfronts. Many cruise agencies offer great deals for tourists, including buffets and musical performances.

4. Khao San Road, Bangkok

Not far from Sanam Luang, visitors can take a tour of the "International Road" after finishing a cruise trip on the river. Khao San Road is famous among international visitors for its backpacker accommodation and vibrant nightlife where tourists can meet and mingle.

5. Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok

For shopaholics, this market, known locally as JJ Market, is famous for having everything that can be sold in one place, with the most popular being souvenirs, antiques, local goods, and clothing.

As the market covers 88.5 rai of area, divided into 27 zones, we suggest visitors decide before the trip whether to shop or just chill out. Price comparisons are also suggested for the shopping experience here, as is price bargaining, in which visitors can expect to see the item price drop by up to 60%.

6. Train Night Market, Ratchada, Bangkok

The Train Night Market is a great location to buy local products and try some of the Thai street foods that the city is famous for. Easy to reach by the MRT, bus or taxi, the market is divided into zones for visitors to enjoy their shopping experience.

7. Bangkok's department stores

The city is well known for its department stores (all with great air-conditioning!), such as Siam Paragon, CentralWorld, Iconsiam, and Asiatique the Riverfront. They also offer great eating options, including food courts with street food fare.

8. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Ratchaburi

If you are interested in a one-day trip outside the city, then this floating market, located west of Bangkok, is an immersive experience with vendors on their boats. Among it all, visitors can enjoy food, including fruits, from the vendors in this riverside community.

9. Maeklong Railway Market, Samut Songkhram

This famous market is also known as Talad Rom Hoop (Flicked Umbrellas Market) because all vendors close their umbrellas when trains pass through. Despite some public concerns over the market's location, it also displays Thai people's independent nature.

10. The Ancient City, Samut Prakan

This spacious recreational park is a great way to experience recreated examples of the country's most famous historic architecture all in one location. Options for getting around the park include using a golf cart, bicycles, a motorised tram or your car. We also suggest visiting the nearby Erawan Museum to complete your trip.

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