Bangkok’s Chinatown on Yaowarat Road is a well-known tourist destination in Thailand. What many tourists don’t realize is there are also Chinese communities in Northeastern Thailand (Isan). For example, Sakon Nakhon has its own Chinatown, which is centered around two Chinese temples: the Chao Pu-Chao Ya Shrine (ศาลเจ้าปู่-เจ้าย่า) and the neighboring Dtai Hong Kong Shrine (ศาลเจ้าไต่ฮงกง), which are located in the downtown area of the city.
In December, the Sakon Nakhon Thai/Chinese community threw its annual “Chinatown” (ไชน่าทาวน์) festival. The Chinatown Fair ran from Dec. 11-15, thus not interfering with Sakon Nakhon’s famous yuletide celebrations, culminating in the Christmas Star Parade. The Chinatown activities coincided with the 61st anniversary of the Pueng Tao Kong Pueng Tao Ma (ปึงเถ่ากง-ปึงเถ่าม่า) parade, which includes large, red dragon puppets and participants wearing dazzling, traditional Chinese attire.
Pueng Tao Kong (also spelled Pun Tao Kong) is a deity that is worshiped by many Chinese immigrants in Thailand and Southeast Asia, but rarely on the China Mainland. He is a guardian figure who also blesses followers with good commerce (i.e. prosperity), and is believed to be related to the Tudigong deity (Lord of the Soil and Ground) who is especially popular in Taiwan. Pueng Tao Ma is a similar deity but a goddess. She takes care of the overall welfare of villagers. The two Chinese deities thus often appear together in sacred statues at shrines.
The Thailand Chinatown Festival featured cultural attractions, such as the Golden Lion Show, Flower Pole Jumping, gorgeous Chinese lanterns, dozens of food vendors selling Chinese/Thai food, and sacred objects connected with Chinese Buddhism. There was also a Chinese opera performance that combined singing and dialogue with narrative gestures that highlighted the traditional and religious beliefs of the Chinese. The organizers hope that the fair attracts tourists to Sakon Nakhon, and the event did appear to be well attended.
If you are wondering a little about the Chinese community in Thailand, it is interesting to note that Thailand has the largest ethnic Chinese community outside of the China Mainland, with a population of approximately 10 million people or over 10% of the population. Chinese communities have played an important role in Thailand for more than 200 years, with King Rama I being part Chinese. Prior to the 1950s, all Chinese immigrants had to adopt a Thai surname to be become a citizen. These days it is quite difficult for a Chinese immigrant to become a Thai citizen, but they can do so without adopting a Thai surname.