A Thai Folk Tale: The Clever Monkey

I’d like to present you a Thai folk tale called ‘The Clever Monkey’. I’ve come across this tale in the book ‘Folk Tales of Thailand’ (1976) by P.C. Roy Chaudhury. Thus, I’d like to retell this story with a moral for you.

A Thai Folk Tale

Once there was a clever monkey that enjoyed outwitting people and profiting from them. Thus, one day the monkey got a thorn in his tail and went to a barber asking him to remove that thorn. The barber took his razor, brought out the thorn but at the same time cut a bit of the monkey’s tail. Hence, the monkey was furious and asked the barber to give him his razor as compensation. The barber did as demanded and the monkey was happy he had made a score.

Hanuman langur, in the Thai Ramakian Hanuman is known as the clever monkey god (photo credit: XenonX3, wikipedia.org)

Hanuman langur, in the Thai Ramakian and folk tale, Hanuman is known as the clever and witty monkey god (photo credit: XenonX3, wikipedia.org)

On the monkey’s way home, he met an old woman who was cutting firewood. Thus, the witty monkey offered her to use his razor to cut the wood. The old woman gladly accepted the offer but soon the razor broke. Hence, the monkey was enraged and demanded that the woman should give him all her firewood in consideration of the broken razor.

Hanuman the monkey god

Hanuman the monkey god, illustration at Wat Phra Kaew (photo taken by myself)

Shortly afterwards, the monkey met another old woman who was preparing Thai fish cakes by the fire. Since her firewood was nearly exhausted, the monkey offered her his firewood. The old woman gladly accepted the offer but after a short while she used up all the firewood. Hence, the monkey became very vexed. Thus, he demanded all her fish cakes as the price for the used up firewood.

Delicious Thai fish cakes (photo credit: wilkipedia.net)

Delicious Thai fish cakes (photo credit: wilkipedia.net)

Happy and amused, the clever monkey run off with the fish cakes. However, the aromatic smell of the fish cakes attracted some dogs which eventually assaulted the monkey. This was when the scared monkey left all the cakes behind jumping on a tree to find shelter from the dogs.

Thus, in this Thai folk tale, the clever monkey finally got away empty-handed, whereas the dogs feasted on the delicious fish cakes.

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: P.C. Roy Chaudhury, Folk Tales of Thailand, SterlingPublishers, 1976)

Media Review: Top 10 Bangkok by Ron Emmons & Alex Robinson

Today’s media review is about Top 10 Bangkok by Ron Emmons (texts) & Alex Robinson (photographs) (ISBN: 978-3-7342-0510-1). This guidebook was published by Dorling Kindersley Verlag GmbH, Munich. My review copy is the 3rd and newest edition (2014/2015). This book is in German language, comprises 128 pages and costs 9,99 EUR.

Top 10 Bangkok

Top 10 Bangkok German Cover 2014

Top 10 Bangkok German Cover 2014

However, there is also a corresponding English edition of this guide called DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide: Bangkok written by the same author and published by Dorling Kindersley Ltd., London which is the partner company of Dorling Kindersley Verlag, Munich. The latest edition of the English version is from 2014. You may take a look inside the book here.

Top 10 Bangkok is a comprehensive travel guide with compact Top 10 lists, detailed maps and more than 250 colour photographs. Hence, the guide is structured in three sections: Bangkok’s Top 10, Around Town (in German: ‘Stadtteile’, meaning different areas of the city) and Streetsmart (in German: ‘Reise-Infos’, i.e. travel information).

The guide names ten highlights that the traveller should visit when going to Bangkok. These highlights are:

  • Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew
  • National museum
  • Wat Pho
  • the Klongs
  • Dusit park
  • floating market (Damnoen Saduak)
  • Chatuchak weekend market
  • Jim Thompson House
  • Wat Arun
  • Ayutthaya

In addition, this guide provides information about important historical events, museums & art galleries, shopping, markets, restaurants, bars & clubs but also about entertainment like theatre & cabaret. What is more, there is also information about special attractions for children, festivals, beaches nearby Bangkok, sports, spas and Buddhist temples.

The section Around Town (‘Stadtteile’) is divided into historic district (Old Town), Chinatown, Downtown, Greater Bangkok and the outskirts of the city (Beyond Bangkok).

As far as travel information (Streetsmart) is concerned, there is advice about travel preparation and planning your journey & arriving in Bangkok. Further there is info about Bangkok on a budget, money, banking & communication, safety & health. In addition, the guide lists things to avoid but also provides shopping, hotel and restaurant recommendations.

Furthermore, the guidebook also includes a phrase book with some basic Thai vocabulary and an extra-map (city map, skytrain map & additional tips for a perfect day off in BKK).

In my opinion, this book is a comprehensive, elaborate and well structured guide. In particular, I welcome that Bangkok’s Top 10 highlights are again each divided into Top 10. For instance, the Dusit park is subdivided into 10 impressions and experiences: 1. Vimanmek Palace, 2. Royal Plaza, 3. Ananta Samakhom throne hall, 4. Abhisek Dusit throne hall, 5. Photography Museum, 6. Royal Elephant Museum, 7, Clock Museum, 8. Textile Museum, 9, Sea Pavilion and 10. Dusit Zoo. Hence, you cannot really miss or overlook an attraction.

In addition, I also find the extra map very useful because it lists some of the important attractions, malls, markets and restaurants and tells you how to get there by public transport (i.e. Skytrain, Metro, bus, ferry).

Finally, I can highly recommend Top 10 Bangkok, in particular to everyone who goes to BKK for the first time. On the whole, this is a very practical and compact guide. Since the book is lightweight and small, it fits in every pocket and bag 🙂

Yours, Sirinya

(P.S. if you’re looking for a compact Thailand travel guide, check out Vis-à-vis Thailand)

The Thai Ramakien-Thailand’s Folklore

The Thai Ramakien

The Thai Ramakien is the National Epic of Thailand. Literally translated it means “the Glory of Rama”. Thus, the Ramakien (in Thai: รามเกียรติ์, it may also be written as ‘Ramakian’) may be considered as depicting Thailand’s folklore. In addition, we can claim that the Ramakien is the most influential piece of Thai literature.

Scene from the Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Scene from the Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

In point of fact, the Ramakien is based on the Ramayana which is a Sanskrit epic poem said to be written by the Hindu sage Valmiki. The characters and the storyline of the Thai Ramakien are also based on the Ramayana. Hence, the Ramakien can be considered a mythical story in which both realistic and mystical events coincide. Summing up, we may say that the Ramakien is about Rama who fights against a demon that has abducted his wife.

Scenes from the Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew, Hanuman on the right side (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Scenes from the Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew, Hanuman on the right side (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Most likely, the Ramayana was brought from India to the Khmer kingdoms which in turn spread the Ramayana tales to the Siamese Kingdom of Sukhothai. In the course of time, the Ramayana stories were written down in Siam for the first time. Nevertheless, most of the early editions of the Ramakien were lost when the Burmese conquered the former capital city Ayutthaya.

A scene from the Thai Ramakien, illustration at Wat Phra Kaew (photo taken by myself)

A scene from the Thai Ramakien, illustration at Wat Phra Kaew (photo: Sirinya’s Thailand Blog)

The version of the Ramakien tale that endures today was edited and partially written by Rama I, the first King of the Chakri. In fact, in the Siamese Ramakien there are some changes to the original Sanskrit version of the Ramayana concerning the characters. In addition, the style and presentation became more specifically Thai. For instance, Hanuman, the monkey god, has an expanded role in the Ramakien in which he is depicted as a wanton and lascivious character. Rama I ordered and oversaw the building of he Grand Palace in Bangkok and thus also the construction of Wat Phra Kaew which has murals illustrating the Ramakien tale elaborately.

Another scene from the Ramakien with demon

Another scene from the Ramakien with demon, illustration at Wat Phra Kaew (photo: Sirinya’s Thailand Blog)

As a matter of fact, the Ramakien is depicted in many Thai temples (Wats), additionally to the Buddha’s life stories. As mentioned, the monkey god Hanuman, who is also the commander of Rama’s Army, plays an important role in the Ramakien and its depictions. Thus, you will often come across a white monkey dancing around on the murals of the temples you visit in Thailand 🙂

Hanuman the monkey god

Hanuman the monkey god, illustration at Wat Phra Kaew (photo: Sirinya’s Thailand Blog)

The Ramakien also extends to and influences Thai art forms like theater and the visual arts. For example, Thai National Artist Chakrabhand Posayakrit painted pictures with scenes from the Ramakien.

Ramakien, Khon

Scene from the Ramakien, Khon, painting by Chakrabhand Posayakrit (photo credit: chakrabhand.org)

Thus, Rama I’s son, Rama II, adapted his father’s epic to be a play which is known as the Khon. This Thai dance drama was originally only performed at the royal court. Khon was played by men wearing masks and by narrators who told the Ramakien story. In addition, traditional Thai puppet theatre is also similar to Khon performances since it is also based on the Ramakien. It is also important to note that in particular Siam sterling nielloware and also traditional Yantra tattooing often depicts scenes from the Ramakien.

Khon dance drama*

A scene from the Khon dance drama (photo credit: Amazing Thailand, FB page)

However, today there are modern forms of Khon performances. For instance, in 2006 there was also a rock opera adaption of the Ramakien in Bangkok, called ‘Ramakien: A Rak Opera’. It was performed at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts. The band ‘Pru’ and singer Noi (Krissada Sukosol) as well as rapper and producer Joey Boy were also among the Thai pop music artists participating in this rock opera. Here are some impressions of this show.

Do you know the Thai Ramakien and have you seen its depictions on temple murals in Thailand? Do you also like Khon performances?

I’m deeply impressed by Thailand’s folklore and I really would like to see a Khon performance 🙂

Yours, Sirinya