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National Geographic publishes around the world, so who better to point you to the most unusual, unique, and sometimes irreverent cultural traditions in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five favorites in this monthly series.
GG_Thailand

Global Getaways EditorWho runs the show: Arinee  Methasate, chief editor

Name of the game: National Geographic Thailand

When it all started: August 2001

Where it all happens: Bangkok, Thailand

Who makes it happen: Six editorial staff, one art director, three graphic designers

What goes out: Between 60,000 and 70,000 magazines a month

GeoHappenings: "It seems like only yesterday that we were preparing to launch our first issue of NGM Thailand, but August 2003 marks our two-year anniversary. We're planning a special surprise gift for our readers."

Business as usual: "Due to a lack of office space, the NGM Thailand team has been separated from the rest of the publishing firm and 'exiled' to the heart of a shopping complex, much to the envy of our colleagues. We are surrounded by hundreds of restaurants and countless retail stores, not to mention a cinema complex."

Best stress reliever: "Food plays a significant role in relieving the pressure of work. The food is great, so we take every opportunity to celebrate birthdays and other big events. Personally, I find spending time with my plants a real stress reliever. I don't talk to them though."

Best office perk: "Our publisher is one of Thailand's biggest. I enjoy meeting the editors and staff who produce our other publications. It really feels like a family."

What's great about the Thais: "The Thai people have the ability to smile and enjoy themselves in almost any situation. We are as proud and determined about our work as anybody; it's just that we don't always look so serious."

What's great about Thailand: "The geographic diversity. Thailand has big cities, beaches, even mountains, and they're all just a couple of hours drive from Bangkok. The Andaman Sea is the best, particularly around Krabi on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula."

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FlagFive Cultural Bests

Cultural Bests

Richly diverse folklore, a strong sense of heritage, and a spirit of pageantry make Thailand's festivals some of the most exotic in Southeast Asia. Here are the editor's five favorites:

1. Songkran
"Hundreds of years ago agrarian Thais celebrated Songkran, the traditional New Year, between the harvest and planting seasons. Modern Thailand now rings in the New Year with much of the rest of the world, but each April Songkran revives the spirit of ancestry to mark the beginning of the season of renewal. During celebrations throughout the country—the largest ones are in Bangkok, and in Chiang Mai in the north—revelers in full regalia and bright sarongs parade the streets to pay homage to the past and welcome the future. As an act of symbolic cleansing, celebrants sprinkle water on the hands of religious statues and Thai elders, though in recent times this part of the ritual has devolved into a widescale water fight." 

2. Loy Krathong
"Based on an ancient Hindu ritual honoring the goddess of water, Loy Krathong takes place on a night each November when the moon is at its fullest. All over the country millions of Thais launch small lotus-shaped bouquets into rivers, canals, and even swimming pools. Each arrangement is bathed by the glow of a candle and fragrant with incense and flowers. These offerings to the goddess carry good wishes and float away the dark threat of sin and evil spirits. Some regions host a pageant to crown the Noppamas Queen, in memory of a royal consort who—with her penchant for placing lighted lanterns into the river—may have started the tradition of Loy Krathong."

3. Phi Ta Khon
"Each June the Loei province in the northeastern part of the country plays host to the mystical Phi Ta Khon festival. Sharing elements of Chinese memorial festivals, Phi Ta Khon is a celebration of life rooted in Buddhist folklore. Acting as incarnations of the dead, tribal villagers don bizarre masks and ornate costumes and dance wildly through the streets of Dan Sai toward the temple of Wat Ponchai. The playful ghosts also compete in contests for the best costume, mask, and dance performance."

4. Surin Elephant Festival
"Chosen 30 years ago as the national symbol, the elephant is revered for its grace and agility. But during the Elephant Festival in the town of Surin, close to the border with Cambodia, people celebrate the more raucous and whimsical characteristics of elephants. Beginning on the third Saturday in November, all-elephant soccer matches, races, and elaborate battle reenactments delight and amaze the crowds. The two-day festival, designed to demonstrate the skill and strength of these great creatures, also emphasizes renewed efforts to protect Thai elephants and their natural habitats."

5. Tan Guay Salak
"Tan Guay Salak is a communal festival that takes place every October in the northern provinces. Men craft bamboo baskets into which women place fruits, candies, and other delicacies. The container is then topped with money and presented to the Buddhist monks in memory of the dead. It's given as an offering of thanks, remembrance, and to increase the chance for the living to merit a better reincarnation. In the province of Nan, the festival culminates in a colorful regatta as long boats race down the Nan River."

—Interview by Bronwyn L. Barnes

Photographs by Jodi Cobb

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