The Ghost Festival. Loei, Northern Thailand.

One of the best festivals I have attended. Great music, friendly people, lots of fun, good coffee & cold beer.

Phi Ta Khon Festival 2014

The Phi Ta Khon festival includes a mixture of both Animist and Buddhist beliefs. It is based on the Jataka tales which are stories of the previous lives of Siddhattha Gotama before he became the Buddha. In his penultimate lifetime before becoming awakened he was a prince known as Vessandara. Phi Ta Khon marks the time when this prince returned to welcoming parade in his home city – prior to this he had been banished for giving away a Royal elephant. The homecoming was so joyous and important that even the spirits of the dead decided to attend. It is this coming together of the dead and living that is commemorated by Phi Ta Khon – the aim is to recreate that colorful day when Prince Vessandara was welcomed back to his home city.

Lots of cloud and great costumes..
Troupes of villagers in brightly colored costumes and matching wooden masks parade through the town of Dan Sai. Some carry large phallus, some carry larger-than-life-sized puppets, some cover themselves completely in mud. Everyone is in a light and festive mood. The origins and significance of the festival are difficult to pin down although the most frequently heard explanation is that Pi Ta Khon is meant to commemorate an event in Buddhist lore -- the Buddha, in one of his past lives, had been presumed dead and when he returned to his home the party was so big as to wake the dead. That doesn't explain the phallus or even the masks themselves but it's likely the festival changed over time and taken on additional significance. Whatever the reason for the celebration, it’s a lot of fun and worth a trip to the north.

What happens during the Festival.

The first main day of Bun Luang is called Wan Ruam (the day of the gathering). This is when the locals dress up in flamboyant costumes and scary masks so they look like ghoulish ghosts. The costumes are all handmade using strips of colorful cloth and they tend to be quite inventive – each person is trying to outdo the others. The masks are made from dried stick rice husks that are then painted to look like the faces of demons – they usually have a long pointed nose. There is a parade through Dan Sai which is great fun to watch – it gets quite boisterous. The local children love this event, and they like to get involved in the action.

The second day is Bun Bang Fai (บุญบั้งไฟ). There is another parade after which rockets are blasted into the sky. This is another fun occasion with plenty of dancing and merriment. The rocket festival is not unique to Dan Sai – it occurs elsewhere in Northeast Thailand as well. The purpose of firing these rockets into the sky is to encourage the rain to come. June is just before the planting season so lack of rain would be a disaster. As part of the celebrations there are also different competitions – including the best dressed ghost.

The last day of Bun Luang is a more spiritual affair. It is common for people to attend Wat Ponchai where they listen to 13 sermons about the Lord Buddha.

The Phi Ta Khon masks are created out of the base of coconut trees, huad, and wood. The huad along with the reed wind instrument, the khene, the pakama, and the long skirt for women are the ubiquitous symbols of Lao Loum, lowland Lao culture. The huad is a quasi conical shaped woven bamboo basket that is used to steam kao kniouw (sticky rice) that is the staple of the Lao Loum diet. After soaking in water overnight the sticky rice is placed in the huad which in turn is placed over an urn of boiling water over an open flame and steamed until cooked. The Phi Ta Khon of Dansai have hats made out of huad.
There were people of all ages dressed up, whole families, couples, groups. It was so much fun.

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