Preparing for the Monks’ Retreat

 

Every year at the end of December, Don Chao Poo Forest, Amphur Phana, Amnat Charoen Province, is host to a 10-day retreat for several hundred monks and lay men and women. The monks come from all over Isan and they camp in the forest. The local monks join them every day but return to their monasteries each evening. The local abbots and the monks together with the headmen and headwomen of the 34 villages that make up Phana District make all the arrangements and together with villagers they spend a week or so preparing the forest and the facilities that will be needed. And every day, villagers come into the forest to provide lunch for those who are making the preparations.

In the run-up to the start of the retreat,  perhaps 30 or 40 people are eating in the forest at about 11 am each day. But once the retreat starts, villages will take it in turns to share the responsibility of feeding the monks and lay people who are taking part in the retreat; and when they have eaten, the villagers themselves will eat, breakfast and lunch. And that means that up to 600 people may be eating two meals in the forest every day.

Crockery has to be taken out of store and washed and this group of women seemed to enjoy doing that – or at least they enjoyed having their photo taken while doing it.

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The forest itself is tidied up: the monks practise walking meditation so paths are swept clear of fallen leaves and some of the undergrowth cut back.

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Toilet and washing facilities have to be cleaned and fresh water put into the tanks. There are several of these scattered around in the southern part of the forest, mostly out of sight and forgotten for the rest of the year.

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One building is given over to the senior monks, who do their teaching here:

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And the area where the monks sit for their breakfast and lunch and to listen to the teaching is made more comfortable by having straw laid out on the forest floor.

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Monks are summoned to the teaching sessions by this bell:

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Trees are festooned with electrical wiring and neon lights and here is the control centre:

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And the lay women who will be joining the retreat are afforded some privacy for their  camping area:

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The Phana Monkey Project has been helping with the preparations, too. We painted the toilets that are provided for the people who organize food and do the washing up during the retreat. And more importantly we have been putting out 15 dustbins in the camping and eating areas and we will be emptying them daily during the 10-day retreat. We are expecting to clear a lot of litter and waste in the coming days!

Posted in Amnat Charoen Province, Ceremonies and Celebrations, Community action, Litterbins, Dustbins, monkey forest, Phana Monkey Project | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

World Monkey Day

World Monkey Day

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Feeding the monkeys with chopped bananas

We always recommend chopping bananas before feeding them to the monkeys. But still many people hand out a branch with a huge bunch of bananas attached to it. The result is predictable: one large male monkey will grab the whole branch and prevent any others from feeding from it until he has had his fill. He always leaves about 10 – 15% of the bananas so that his family and allies can have some.

We prefer to chop the bananas so that a much greater number of monkeys benefit. As you will see here, they are keen to get their little hands on some, and there is a certain amount of scramble contest going on, but they know there is a good chance of getting some so they are really quite patient.

Hungry for chopped bananas
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Shooting Thai Monkeys

If you have a camera, no matter the type, and an eye for photography, then Phana, Thailand is calling you.  This small village of 2,000 is tucked away far from the tourism industry (about 650 KM from Bangkok) and hosts some of the most ideal landscapes that you could ever come across. Small creeks, floating huts, iconic temples, and the most beautiful people who call this village their home.  The only question that you need to ask yourself is which F stop will you use.  My name is Chris Love and I am an avid videographer/photographer and have been living in the village of Phana for four months now.  Within’ those four months, I’ve taken thousands of photos and have added numerous shots to my growing portfolio.

One of the biggest attractions found in Phana, is Don Chao Poo, a monkey forest boasting some 1,000 Long-Tailed Macaques.  Depending on the time of day as well as the season, monkeys offer an array of opportunities to work on your photography.  These creatures are so akin to humans that you will just want to sit amongst them for hours to capture every second of their interesting lives.  Whether they are sleeping, grooming, or jumping from tree to tree, you are sure to capture a moment in time that will keep you hypnotized for years to come.

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As you venture into the heart of the town, you are quickly embraced by the local people who adorn their faces with the biggest grins that you’ve ever seen.  Hundreds gather in the early mornings to buy and sell food and supplies at the various markets throughout the week.  Exotic fruit, pancakes on a stick, and barbecued squid are all arranged beautifully, basking under the warm sunlit skies.  If landscapes are your forte, then you will be left breathless.  Rice paddies as far as the eye can see envelope the entire village in the most beautiful sea of emerald green.  During the planting and harvesting seasons, you will find farmers donning their paddy (wooden conical shape) hats with sickle in hand to work 12 hour days.  Beautiful streams and rivers flow through the town giving it life, nurturing the rice as well as the farmers.

Three beautiful temples are situated throughout the town, each with it’s own special allure.  If you’ve always dreamed of photographing monks in their natural environment, then this is the place.  Many monks call Phana home and walk the streets in the wee hours of the morning to collect food offered by the village people.  Having an opportunity to photograph such an event would be worth the visit alone.  There are also hundreds of ceremonies/festivals that take place throughout the year.  These are awesome opportunities to capture TRUE Thai culture away from the loud and crazy tourist areas.

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Plants and flowers of every kind are also found throughout this fantasy land.  If you’re into macro photography, you will have some magazine ready shots just waiting for your trigger happy finger.  Along with beautiful and exotic plants / flowers, are hundreds if not  thousands of species of insects, birds, and reptiles.  If you’ve ever dreamed of living in a tropical paradise deep in the heart of Thailand away from chaos of Bangkok and Chiang Mai then Phana, Thailand is for you.  I take roughly 200 photos per day and as stated before, have quite an extensive library of photos.  I’ve collected and added a few to this blog so that you can get an idea of what this blog is all about.

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If you have any questions for me about Phana or the wonderful photography opportunities that exist there, please feel free to drop me a line.  Happy shooting!

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Chris Love

Christopherlove00@gmail.com

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

Botswana, 2013-2014

Posted in Long-tailed Macaques, monkey forest, Monkeys, Phana Monkey Project, wildlife photography | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Day in Don Chao Poo Forest, Phana

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The Phana Monkey Project has been working with several people in Phana to carry out the forest survey that is part of a project initiated by Mahidol University at their Amnat Charoen campus.

One of the things that this involves for us as for the other 11 forests currently being surveyed, is to provide a monthly report and mini-exhibition that keeps all the forest surveyors aware of what the others are doing.

The next ‘exhibition’ will be held at the end of next week (Friday 21st November 2014) and Phana’s exhibit will be a short video we made recently. The video was shot and edited by Chris Love, the script by Pensri and Lawrence Whiting and the Thai voiceover is by Nan Wacahiraya Senpeng, a student at Phanasuksa School and a member of the survey team. Chris Love did the English voiceover.

First, the English-language version:

and now, the Thai-language version:

 

Posted in Amnat Charoen Province, Bio-diversity, Indochinese ground squirrels, Long-tailed Macaques, Monitor lizards, Monkeys, Phana Monkey Project, Research | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Activity in the Forest: Page update

Why do these five monkeys appear on the recently updated page ACTIVITY in the FOREST?

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Help in the forest

The forest has been surveyed for several months past by a local group organised by Mahidol University, Amnat Charoen campus. The work has relied heavily on a science teacher at Phana Suksa School who has brought some of her students with her and taken on the responsibility of collating the data collected and transmitting it back to the university.

A few days ago, the same teacher, Ajarn Bu (Boo?), brought some of her students to help out by doing some cleaning up in the forest. They started at 7 am and left 3 hours later, after putting down unhusked rice for the ever-grateful long-tailed macaque monkeys.

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So, good work by these girls and boy. THANK YOU ALL VERY MUCH. We hope that there will be more like you to come help maintain a clean and decent environment for the monkeys.

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