We’ve settled in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, for a couple of months over Christmas and New Year (that’ll be 2556 to 2557..) and as we can cook for ourselves on a more regular basis, we needed to go shopping.
We try to get as much as we can from local markets and the rest from the supermarket, and there’s a familiar name to us Brits here in Thailand – Tesco Lotus.
As we were working down our short shopping list, walking up and down the wide, air-conditioned aisles, it was very easy to forget we were in another country – we could be in a Tesco anywhere in the U.K. – until we looked a little more closely at the items on the shelves..
.. then we saw the sign for aisle 13: “Fabric Softener, Monk Baskets”
After a double-take, we furled our brows and with our best quizzical faces on, we turned to each other and said in complete unison: “What the hell is a Monk Basket?!” This had to be investigated.
If you are out and about shopping in Thailand you may notice some shops selling orange baskets or buckets which contain a number of everyday items like soap, detergent and toothpaste. These buckets are bought by lay-people who then donate them to monks or to the temple. By doing this, the person making the donation makes merit (‘tham boon’). The buckets are normally orange or saffron coloured and are often wrapped in cellophane.
The monk baskets are another example of how Thailand has combined ancient ritual with modern practicality. You will still see Thai people donating food and money to monks as the monks make their morning alms round, but the orange baskets may be donated for special occasions. For example, if somebody buys a new car or a new house in Thailand, it’s common practice for monks to be invited to perform a blessing ceremony. At the end of the ceremony a donation is made to the monks. This may be money which is placed on a pedestal tray or it may be the practical offering of the orange bucket which contains useful everyday items. The buckets or baskets vary in size and price and can be found at stores near temples or even in supermarkets like Tesco Lotus and Big C.
Given that the Monk Baskets are opaque so we couldn’t see what they contained (and the contents list is in Thai), and that they’re cheaper than the empty, boring grey buckets, and we needed a bucket, we bought one and rushed home like two excited little children on Christmas morning clutching Santa’s stockings – eager to find out the treasures within..
We can happily report that the entertainment value of Monk Baskets is equalled by the utility and sensible-ness of their contents. Here’s what we got in ours for the equivalent of £5.50..
- A sachet of instant ginger drink
- 2 sachets of instant green tea
- A packet of instant noodles – ‘oriental’ flavour
- A small plastic bowl
- One bottle of water
- A bottle of washing up liquid
- A dishwashing sponge
- 5 sticks of incense
- 2 small candles
- A large box of matches
- A sachet of electrolyte beverage
- 10 Paracetamol 500mg tablets
- A toothbrush
- A very small tube of toothpaste
- A single, individually wrapped toilet roll
- What we think might be an orange apron for dressing a Buddha statue
- And a bright orange bucket
We’ve used, or can make use of everything except the Buddha Apron. We’re using the Monk Basket itself as a makeshift kitchen bin, although I think that might put us in negative ‘tham boon’.