Photo Of The Day: A Golden Thai Temple

Buddhist temples in Thailand are unlike any other in the world. They are intricate, colorful and laden with gold. Mark Fischer took this amazing shot of Wat Pho in Bangkok, putting the golden chedi spires in stark contrast with the night sky. There are dozens of major temples throughout Bangkok, not to mention the spectacular temples throughout the rest of Thailand, such as the amazingly pure white Wat Rong Khun.

If you have taken a great travel photo, submit it to us and it could be featured as our Photo of the Day. There are two ways to do so, either by submitting it to our Gadling Flickr Pool, like Mark did; or via Instagram, by mentioning @GadlingTravel and tagging your photo with #Gadling.

[Photo Credit: Flickr User Mark Fischer]

Better Know A Holiday: Songkran

AKA: Thai New Year, Water Festival, Pi Mai (Laos), Chaul Chnam Thmey (Cambodia), Thingyan (Myanmar), Water-Splashing Festival (Chinese Dai minority)

When? April 13 to 15 officially, though celebrations may last longer

Public holiday in: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar

Who died? Nobody.

Reason for celebration, then? The sun has begun its northward journey into the constellation of Aries. Otherwise known as the solar new year.

Origins: Songkran was originally a pious event. Thai Buddhists would go to temple early in the morning and offer alms to the monks. Then they would sprinkle lustral water on Buddha statues. Young people would collect that water, which was now blessed, and symbolically wash the hands of their elders. The water was intended to wash away bad omens. This still happens today, but the spiritual aspect has largely given way to a party atmosphere, much to the chagrin of certain Thais (see below).

How is it celebrated now? A massive, nation-wide water fight that lasts several days, generally with lots of drinking involved. Everyone in the street is fair game for a soaking.

Other ways to celebrate: Releasing fish back into streams, freeing caged birds, bringing sand to temples to symbolically replace dirt that has been removed throughout the year.

Craziest venue: The northern city of Chiang Mai, where the celebration continues long after the holiday is officially over, is considered to be the best place to carouse.

Watch out for: Elephants and pick-up trucks. Both have a very large carrying capacity and high-pressure discharge.Associated commercialism: Songkran today means big bucks for the tourism industry. The government actively promotes the festival on its party merits, much to the consternation of traditional Thais who think the celebrations have gotten out of hand. What was originally a respectful celebration of family and elders has turned into an excuse to get drunk with friends rather than spend time with family. The hand-wringers will have a difficult time convincing the tourist board to change its tune, though: tourists will spend over $1 billion this year during the Songkran festivities.

Associated food: Khanon tom – sticky rice and mung bean balls; khanon krok – miniature coconut rice pancakes; and of course, the ubiquitous pad thai

Best side effect of the holiday: With the mercury bumping up against 100 degrees in much of Thailand at this time of year, a dousing can be a welcome relief.

New rules this year: During Songkran festivities last year, over 300 people died, and there were over 3,000 road accidents. Drunk driving is a major problem. Police have stepped in to curb the chaos this year. Traditionally, pick-ups roamed the streets with massive barrels of water and a team of bucketeers and gunmen in the back, dousing anyone they came across. No longer. They have been banned, along with overloading vehicles, drinking in certain areas and putting ice in the throwing water. The Bangkok Post has published a helpful “10 Commandments of Songkran” for those who need a media edict from within Songkran jurisdiction.

Likelihood of these rules being followed: Slim.

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Check out more holidays around the world here

[Photo Credit: Flick user Wyndham]

Photo Of The Day: Venice Of The East

Photo of the day - Thailand floating market
In travel media, we hear a lot of city comparisons: Ljubljana is the new Prague. Shanghai aims to be the Paris of the East. Looking at today’s Photo of the Day, you’ll think, “Wow, that looks like Venice. But in the East!” Taken by Flickr user Ver Argulla in western Thailand, the photo shows the floating market of Damnoen Saduak. Its proximity to Bangkok has made it a big tourist attraction, and while it may have lost its authenticity as a market for locals to grow and sell food, it still makes for a stunning photo.

Show us the next Rome of the North, and add your travel photos to the Gadling Flickr pool for the next Photo of the Day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Ver Argulla Jr]

Photo Of The Day: Sunrise, Hua Hin Beach

photo of the day

This Photo of the Day is for anyone already tired of winter and looking forward to spring. Titled “Sunrise, Hua Hin Beach” the photo comes from Gadling Flickr pool member Nancie (Ladyexpat) and is part of a set of 27 images captured earlier this month.

Hua Hin is a popular Thailand seaside beach resort about 200 km south of Bangkok.

Upload your best shots to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. Several times a week we choose our favorite images from the pool as a Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit- Flickr user Nancie (Ladyexpat)]

Illegal Ivory Trade Surged To Highest Level Ever In 2011

The Illegal Ivory Trade grew to record levels in 2011A new report from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) indicates that the illegal ivory trade has risen to its highest point in two decades following a sharp upturn in seizure of large shipments of the elephant tusks in recent years. The same report says that 2011 was the worst year on record with a “major surge” in the illegal trafficking of ivory.

The full report will be presented at a CITES conference held in Bangkok in March, but the preliminary numbers are sobering to say the least. Through data collected by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) maintained by TRAFFIC, it was determined that 2009-2011 were three of the four worst years for ivory seizures on record. Even more troublesome was that news that in 2011 there were 17 large-scale ivory seizures conducted worldwide, easily surpassing the eight that took place in 2009, the year with the next highest total. Those 2011 seizures are estimated to represent roughly 26.4 tons of ivory that was mostly harvested from elephants slaughtered in Africa.

The CITES report says that the illegal ivory trade was relatively stable and small from 1998 to 2008. After that, each successive year has seen a sharp rise in activity. It is believed that those increases coincide with organized crime units becoming more involved with the trade, following a rise in demand across Asia. Thailand and China are named as the two major consumers of ivory in the study.

Because demand has been on the rise in certain parts of the world, a number of African countries have seen their elephant populations decimated by poachers. It is estimated that tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year just to harvest their tusks for sale on the black market. Most of the ivory is then smuggled out to Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam before being sent on to its eventual end location.

The statistics for the ivory trade in 2012 have not been compiled as of yet, but considering some of the events that took place last year, it seems unlikely that this upward trend was reversed.

[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]