Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Bangkok, Manila & Chiang Saen 2011 - No Escaping Christmas

A few weeks ago, there was an article in Yahoo! Travel entitled "8 Places to Escape Christmas" written by Miriam Weiner (December 7, 2011). This list-making included the following exotic places: Marrakech, Morocco; St. Petersburg, Russia; Istanbul, Turkey; The Bahamas; Kyoto, Japan; The Maldives; Agra, India; and of course, Bangkok, Thailand. The common denominator here would be, that most of these places have very few Christians.

But there's something hokey about the premise of such piece. It only comes once every 365 and 1/4 days in a year. If you've indeed spent lots of Christmases, why would you wanna escape it? Unless of course, you're the unrepentant Ebenezer Scrooge.

It is a season when people are generally nicer and more tolerant; the atmosphere, despite the growing capitalism within the season, is light. And places are decked in lovely lights and colorful decorations. It's a festive time. Why indeed would you? It's a ridiculous concept.

Moreover, if you've been to Bangkok lately - a city on the defensive, with sandbags awkwardly lodged in sidewalks - like a war zone waiting to happen, you would know that Christmas is alive in the Thai capital!

As proof, the grounds of Central World, one of my favorite malls in the Pratunam district, is back (it was a victim of the political wranglings; it eventually got arsoned and several areas had been burned by political activists)! At the "lawn" of the mall, you could find a giant Christmas Tree, some semblance of a snowman, and festive animated decorations, including several smaller Christmas Trees! And this is just in one mall. Imagine the hundreds scattered around the metropolis.

While it's true that majority of Thailand's population is Buddhist, it's a wrong assumption that the urban denizens here, both locals and expats, shun Christmas, mangers and mistletoes altogether. If they don't believe in the essence of Christmas, they believe in the beauty of such accoutrements - and there's proof of this everywhere! Even Malaysia's predominantly Muslim population in Kuala Lumpur has lavish Christmas decorations in their malls; I've seen this every December in the last three years. This would make the Yahoo Travel article running on spurious assumptions. It is a figment of Weiner's imagination, i.e. that "Bangkok" most especially is "an excellent holly-jolly escape".

Maybe if you go further away from the madding crowd? Like a very remote and lethargic northern town near the Myanmar and Laos border like "Chiang Saen"? Maybe then you can escape Christmas? Well, check out what I found beautifully decorated as center piece of a Mekong-fronting temple's facade: a Christmas Lantern! The temple - Wat Pha Khao Pan, constructed in 761 A.D.

Escaping Christmas indeed!

Meanwhile, in Manila, beautiful parols (Christmas Lanterns) and Belens (mangers) are once again on display everywhere you look. A colorful manger is on display at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3's Departure Hall (see photo below). In Ortigas Center, a giant Christmas Tree is born out of hundreds of little white lanterns, lit by white led lights! Though the spectacle isn't exactly duplicated in photographs, believe me, it's a marvel - live! There are two of them at the crossroads of Julia Vargas near San Miguel Building and Podium. Manila, the only predominantly Catholic nation in Asia, is obviously not a place to escape Christmas.

But why would you?


This is the Eye in the Sky!

Giant "snowman" at the Central World grounds.

At the elevated pedestrian ramp called "skywalk" (connecting Central World to the Siam Malls and MBK) are more Christmas decorations. No mistletoe?



Giant Tree, teddy bears in a leisure park called "World of Happiness" at the Central World.

Holly-jolly escape in Bangkok?

Open air concert with a large LCD screen at the Central World

Wat Pha Khao Pan's center piece decoration is a huge white Christmas Lantern! This Mekong-facing temple in the walled town of Chiang Saen negates the assumption that Christmas is ignored in Thailand!

Manger at the NAIA Terminal 3 Departure Hall

Hundreds of little white lanterns constitute a giant Christmas Tree at the Ortigas Center.


Ola said...

Russia to escape from Christmas? They do celebrate Christmas but due to the different calendar it is a week later than ours

eye in the sky said...

Hmmm. That's very informative. I didn't know that. Thanks, Ola.

Ramakrishnan said...

Yes Russia has several churches both in Moscow & St, Petersburg. Christmas spirit is everywhere and you cannot escape this. Nice pics from Manila. Trust you celebrated well & had a grand dinner party.

eye in the sky said...

@ R.Ramakrishnan:

Thanks. In the Philippines, it's a tradition called "Noche Buena", Christmas Eve's midnight dinner to usher into Christmas, and it's spent with the whole family. It's always a light, happy moment. Hope you had a great Christmas dinner as well.

Re: Russia. That Yahoo article is such a spurious drivel. LOL

nathalie said...

Lovely photos! one of my wish for 2012 is to spend Christmas outside the Phils. :)

eye in the sky said...

@ nathalie:

Then make a go for it. It's lonely though. I'm never the sentimental type, but when you're so far away and it's Christmas, something feels unhinged and incongruent.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you! :)

Twin said...

More happy travels & memorable journeys for you in 2012! All the best :)

eye in the sky said...

@ Twin:

And to you too! :)

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eye in the sky said...

I like the festive atmosphere of Christmas. :)