Phi Ta Khon, also known as Ghost Festival, is a vibrant festival that brings thousands to the otherwise sleepy village of Dan Sai in Loei Province. Visitors to the festival are swept into a netherworld roamed by goblins, demons, and other dark creatures. But don’t worry! There’s also plenty of delicious food, fun carnival games, live music, and free activities for those of all ages.
The celebration takes place over 3 days and includes parades, musical performances, dancing, create-your-own-mask booths, and much more. The first day is the most famous and features parades with the iconic masks. Subsequent days bring in everything from homemade rockets to Buddhist rituals.
Every year, Dan Sai’s mediums determine auspicious dates for the celebration of the iconic Phi Ta Khon (also known as “Ghost Festival”), which is a part of the larger Buddhist Merit-making event, known as Bun Luang (or Bun Phawet). For this reason, the date changes each year, but will always fall within the March-July timeframe.
Visitors will be delighted by the festival’s fun spirit and Thailand’s splendor and friendliness. They note, however, that lack of public transportation and limited accommodations in town mean visitors should plan their visit well to avoid logistical challenges.
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• There are very few hotels in Dan Sai, so we strongly suggest you book early
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- There is no public transport or taxi service in the village, so you should rent a car from the airport.
- If you are unable to drive, you should take a taxi from the airport and stay in the town center, where distances are walkable.
Those who are bold and adventurous enough to venture off the beaten path and make their way to Dan Sai are handsomely rewarded with a rich and entertaining celebration that combines ancient Buddhist traditions with local lore and plenty of fun. Also known as Ghost Festival, Phi Ta Khon is part of the local celebration of a Buddhist merit-making festival (known as Bun Phawet).
On the first day, monks and villagers wake up during the wee hours (around 3-4am) to observe the chosen one dive into the local river to retrieve the Phra Upakhut amulet. According to the local legend, Phra Upakhut is the son of Buddha, conceived when a fish swallowed some of Buddha’s seed when Buddha washed in the river. Once retrieved from the river, the Phra Upakhut amulet is blessed and brought into the town, representing Phra Upakhut’s spirit bringing protection to the village.
Once the sun rises, the major festivities begin as intricate masks (made of coconut husks) are paraded around town, along with large phallic amulets representing fertility. Throughout the town, one can find music, dancing, games, parades, and plenty of food.
The second day is the local rocket festival, where fireworks and other projectiles are launched into the sky as part of the retelling of the Buddhist story of Vessantara Jataka, where the celebrations are meant to be loud enough to wake the dead.
The third and final day takes a more pious turn, as villagers and attendees listen to sermons and stories from Buddhist monks.
Phi Ta Khon was a challenge to plan. We found it difficult to get detailed and accurate information about the festivities online. Luckily, we happened to meet one of the organisers for 2018’s Phi Ta Khon, through a combination of luck and an overheard conversation. We realised belatedly that there was even more to the festival than we anticipated — including the launching of homemade rockets.
Due to the crowds and heat (and a sick crew-member), we joined the festivities for a few hours in the morning to see the main attractions. We achieved more than we’d planned. I painted a mask that a local tried to buy from me because she liked it so much, and I managed to convince a troupe of masked men to chase me down the street (to add to the thrill and provide a great video opportunity). Phi Ta Khon epitomised for us the Thais’ famous friendliness – behind all those masks, we knew there were many smiles. Thailand is known as the ‘Land of Smiles’ and the smiles of Thais shine especially bright in the countryside during the days of Phi Ta Kon.
Despite being sick for the big day, I still forced myself out of the door of the hotel to ensure I didn’t miss the awesome spectacle that is Phi Ta Khon!
My favorite thing about Phi Ta Khon festival is that there is something for everyone: music, dancing, crazy masks, wacky parades, performances, live bands, great food, carnival games, free mask painting, and the list goes on and on and on! For that reason, you can make Phi Ta Khon whatever you want it to be, and can tailor it to any desires, limitations, or personal preferences.
If you’ve never been to Thailand, the Thai people are notorious for their kindness and welcoming attitude! Not to mention their amazing food!
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