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Mid-May sees an additional public holiday in Bangkok, though it is one that is only taken by government officials, and not by private businesses or banks. The holiday is on the occasion of the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, which takes place at the royal ceremonial ground of Sanam Luang – in the Banglamphu area of Bangkok and close to the Khaosan Road backpacker enclave – to mark the arrival of the harvest season.
During the morning event, officials in ceremonial dress lead royal oxen around Sanam Luang to pull a plough. The ground is ploughed and rice seed is scattered – to mark the arrival of the rice-growing season, which represents a major part of the Thai economy – and the oxen are then invited to eat from troughs containing various foods. Royal astrologers observe the foods that the oxen eat, and use this to predict the strength of the upcoming rice harvest. In addition, a spectacle involving picking a cloth from several of various lengths is used to predict the level of rainfall to come.
The Royal Ploughing Ceremony dates back over seven centuries but has been revived in recent years after a period of time when it was observed less closely. At the end of the ceremony, individuals gather the rice seed that has been scattered on the ground – which is grown in the grounds of the king’s Bangkok residence – since it is believed that it will bring them good fortune in their own rice harvest and other endeavours. They either keep the seed as a lucky charm or mix it into the seed they will later sow themselves. More of the royal rice seed is distributed to farmers in various provinces around the country at a later date.
Parts of the Grand Palace complex close to the public on the day of the Royal Ploughing Ceremony – though the entire complex is never closed, no matter what unscrupulous touts might tell you. In 2016, when the holiday falls on 09 May, the structure housing the Emerald Buddha will be closed, but the rest of the complex – including the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew temple itself – will remain open as normal. Immigration offices and other government departments also close for the holiday.