Let there be light

Thailand July 02, 2014 00:00


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The small riverside community of Ladchado marks the Buddhist rains retreat with a magnificent procession on the water

Most of the year the riverside community of Ladchado in Ayutthaya province welcomes weekenders hungry to escape the modern city for a dose of nostalgia and sup noodles in an old-fashioned market that conjures up memories of the good old days. Every July since 2004, though, festival-goers have been heading here to enjoy nostalgia of a different kind.

The back-water district of Ladchado will be marking the arrival of Vassa – the Buddhist Lent – on July 11 with a spectacular and unique candle festival along the canal network. The festival, in which hundreds of sampan and small boats take part, might not be as extravaganza as those held in Ubon Ratchathani or Suphan Buri, but the small riverside community promises visitors a simple and deeply satisfying experience.
Ladchado folk celebrate the rains retreat with hundred of sampans collecting the candles from riverside households then ferrying them to the local temples. 
Like many things in Ladchado, as an official from Ladchado Administration Office puts it, the candle festival is celebrated on the water. “Boats and canals play a major role in our lives. Imagine hundreds of small sampans and all types of boat, decorated with flowers and colourful parasols bobbing in the water as they emerge from the far side of canal,” he says.
Tucked away in Phak Hai district, Ladchado is about 40 kilometres west of downtown Ayutthaya. Named after the canal that bridges Ayutthaya and Suphan Buri provinces, the old community dates back to the 16th century, when the Ayutthaya Kingdom ruled over the Chao Phraya Basin and the Central Plain. Ladchado had to wait until the 21st Century before it drew attention from outsiders, although it did get a look in at fame when two early episodes of the popular “Boonchu” movies were shot in the area.
The peaceful lifestyle, remote setting has gradually become known to urbanites and many escape to the community on weekends to take advantage of the home-stay facilities offered by the villagers.
With amateur lensmen uploading spectacular photos to the Internet, Ladchado has also become known as one of the best places to see the candle festival.
On the morning of July 11, the villagers and their boats laden with candles will start at one side of the village. The procession will move along the canal for a few kilometres before arriving at the local temple.
The best place to view the boat procession is from the banks.
After the procession, visitors can take part in or simply watch a range of water sports and fun activities including the “blind and mute” paddle. There’s also a photo exhibition showcasing life in Ladchado and a cultural light and sound show after darkness falls, featuring the legend of Ladchado.
Ladchado Canal was actually an important waterway, but its story is rarely heard outside the village. During the war, soldiers from Ayutthaya and Burma marched in and out of the village. When peace returned, the riverside community was bustling with merchant boats.
Messing around by the river
If you want to hang around in Ladchado for the evening light and sound show, here are some places worth seeing.
Peung Thao Kong Ma Shrine
The old Chinese shrine perches over the bank of Ladchado Canal for good reason. Fires were frequent in this riverside neighbourhood more than 200 years ago and the villagers had yet to come up with a way of solving the problem. A Chinese fortune-teller suggested that the locals build the Peung Thao Kong Ma Shrine on the bank of the newly constructed canal to serve as a spiritual guardian to ward off fire. Whether or not you believe the legend, the old shrine is worth a visit for its charming, time-worn wooden structure and decoration.
Wat Ladchado School
Built in 1960 in the form of the letter “E”, this is Thailand’s longest wooden school. Take a stroll along the corridors, from one arm of the “E” to other two. There are many great places for photos.
Ladchado Marketplace
This riverside marketplace, with many wooden structures and oozing architectural charm, is enjoying a new lease of life thanks to regular visits by weekenders. You'll find old-fashioned coffee and have fun bargaining with the vendors.
Fisherman Museum
There was a time when Ladchado was rich with fish before modern farming killed them. The museum exhibits all the tools and equipment used for catching fish and is a great place to take the kids.
If you go
_  Ladchado is about 110 kilometres north of Bangkok. From Bangkok, follow the expressway out of the city and take Highway 32 to Ayutthaya province. Turn left on to Highway 329 and continue for about 30 kilometres. 
_ Mini vans (Bt100/person) depart daily from Suan Santiphap Park, a short walk from Bangkok’s Victory Monument, to Phak Hai district in Ayutthaya. Ladchado is about five kilometres from Phak Hai from where a tuk-tuk (Bt50) will take visitors to the marketplace.