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Lapassarada Thanaphant poses with a bowl of food and her robot waiter at her Hajime restaurant during its opening ceremony in Bangkok April 1, 2010.

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The Hajime Restaurant in Bangkok is Thailand’s first Japanese robot restaurant, where all the serving waiters are robots.

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Customers order their food on a touchscreen display and their robotic waiter will whizz into action. The friendly robots will also dance to entertain as they work and go out to collect empty dishes at the customers’ table.

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The owner of the Hajime Japanese restaurant, Lapassarad Thanaphant, said she spent 30 million baht ($927,600) on the restaurant including the purchase of four robots from Japan.

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Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year water festival which starts on April 13 every year.

The word Songkran comes from the Pali language of the Therevada Buddhist scriptures (Sankhara) and the Sanskrit word (Sankranti) for movement or change.

In ancient times, it was celebrated as a moveable feast, and set to occur as the sun moved into the Aries portion of the zodiac. In modern times the date has been fixed as April 13.

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Although the Thai people officially changed the New Year to January 1 in 1940 to coincide with the Western business world, the traditional Songkran Festival is still celebrated as a national holiday in Thailand.

The festival lasts for 4 days. Maha Songkran Day is the first day of the celebrations which marks the end of the old year. April 14, Wan Nao is the day between the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new year when foods are prepared for the temples. The third day of Songkran, April 15, is Wan Thaloeng Sok – the day on which the New Year begins and on the last day, Wan Parg-bpee, the ancestors and elders are honored.

The Songkran Festival shares some similarities with the Holi festival in India celebrated around the same time. One custom that Songkran shares with Holi is the releasing of small fish back into the rivers and steams. In Thailand, small birds may also be released from cages as part of the festivities.

While in India the throwing of colored water marks Holi, the Thai Songkran Festival involves throwing clear water – and lots of it! – although many add colored powders and scents to the water in Thai New Year celebrations in playful “water wars.”

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The tradition traces back to the pre-Buddist rituals of spring festivals where the throwing of water was meant as a symbol of luck to bring good rain for the crops. It was later converted to the religious custom of cleansing the statues of Buddha once a year. In many places there are parades with the statues of Buddha and as the parades pass, crowds shower the Buddha with water.

Pouring small amounts of scented lustral water on the heads of the elders on Wan Parg-bpee as a sign of respect is also part of this custom. In many temples throughout Thailand people bring sand to symbolically replace the sand that they have carried away on their sandals throughout the year. The sand is formed into pagodas called phra chedis sai and decorated with colorful flags as part of the Songkran New Year festivities. It may be that this tradition began as part of the cleansing rituals where new, clean sand was added to the floor of the temple once a year.

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The foods that are served at traditional Songkran Festivals depend on the part of Thailand you visit. Pad Thai Noodles; Khao Chae, a delicious rice dish; Gaeng Kiew Wahn Gai, chicken with green curry; krayasad, a mixture made from puffed rice, oats, peanuts and Thai noodles that is sweetened with palm sugar and coconut syrup; Kanom Tom, sticky rice and mung bean balls piled high into a pyramid shaped dessert and Kanom Krok, coconut rice pancakes are some of the more universal Thai foods enjoyed during the Songkran festival.

thailand_king_birth_dayKing Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch who is regarded as a demi-god by many Thais, was pushed in a wheelchair through the hospital grounds, wearing the customary full white royal uniform.
Thailand’s revered king left a Bangkok hospital on Saturday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, to attend a ceremony at the royal palace to mark his 82nd birthday. The king, followed by his family, raised his hand to wave at a crowd of thousands of people who had gathered, wearing pink for good luck, to greet the revered monarch. They shouted: “Long live the king.”

The birthday of King Bhumibol, who is considered a unifying force in a politically turbulent nation, is marked by a public holiday and celebrated by Thais across the kingdom with fireworks and Buddhist rituals.

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej speaks during a ceremony at the Grand Palace in Bangkok December 5, 2009. Thailand’s aging monarch, King Bhumibol, appeared in public for the first time in more than a month on Saturday ahead of a royal ceremony to mark his 82nd birthday.

His son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is due to represent his father at Buddhist ceremonies on Saturday evening and Sunday, and will preside over a garden party for diplomats on December 8.

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King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been on the throne since 1946, quite a few more years than Britain’s Queen.

He is popular and respected. But there are concerns about what happens once he has gone. And with an Eton and Oxford-educated party leader who is battling against an older rival for political control of the country, it is a rather familiar scenario to readers in the UK.

It is not only King Bhumibol’s longevity and continuity that keeps Thais in awe but a widespread belief that this is the father of the country.

To the Western eye, Thailand is permeated with tangible and intangible levels of hierarchy based on age, status and wealth. Yet there is one very obvious and undisputed leader who has achieved almost quasi-deity status.

He is a constitutional king with no formal political role, but many regard the influental man as the only person who can unify the country, which has been divided by various political and other interest groups.

During his reign over the past six decades, he has introduced the self suffiency economy concept and initiated more than 3,000 royal projects to improve the livelihood of the mostly rural population.

He has also turned his residence at the Chitralada Palace into a R&D centre for agriculture, believed to be the only palace in the world that is surrounded by paddy fields, dairy farms, fruit and vegetable orchards as well as aquaculture ponds.

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Bangkok is the best place in the country to enjoy the celebrations. Do remember that streets around Sanam Luang and Ratchadamnoen are prohibited to traffic. One can reach the area, and just stroll on the streets, traffic-free but brimming with people, watching the glittering sky.
Millions of Thais wore pink today to symbolise their wish for his good health while hundreds of thousands thronged the roads to try to take a glimpse of the King when his motorcade travelled from the hospital to the Grand Palace.

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Meanwhile, thousands of well wishers turn up at Siriraj Hospital each day to pray for the king’s health. Doctors have insisted that the king has improved and he is not in anything approaching a serious condition. But his long stay at the hospital and continued absence from public view has fueled unease, speculation and rumors. Recently, the government arrested four people for allegedly spreading rumors about the king’s health on the internet, which, it claims, caused a stock market sell-off in October. Reporters Without Borders, an international media watchdog group, has said those arrested are scapegoats and the charges are baseless.

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Thais throughout the country start celebrating HM the King’s 82th anniversary

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