Phi ta khon, a 3 day must see Thai festival

Phi Ta Khon

There are many very good festivals in Thailand. If you want to see something special. Then you need to go and see the Phi Ta Khon festival in Dansai, Loei. Dansai is in the North East of Thailand.

In my article I talk about this special festival. It is a 3 day festival held only once a year in June or July. If you miss it you have to wait another full year before you get another chance. It very colorful and very entertaining. The town of Dan sai comes alive. Visitors can not help but get drawn into the spirit of the celebrations. If you want to know more about Phi Ta Khon, the famous ghost festival. Then read on.

Where is Phi Ta Khon?

Phi ta khon is the name of a festival in the small village of Dan sai in the province of Loei in Thailand. Loei is the name of a province and also the provincial city in the North East of Thailand. To find out how to get to Loei City, then please read my article entitled ‘how to get to Loei.’

Dan sai is about 90 kilometers from Loei City. The buses going to Phitsanulok pass through Dan sai. Buses from Loei to Phitsanulok leave three times a day. The first bus leaves at 10.00, then 12.00 and finally at 14.30. During the festival the buses are always full. Others options for visiting this festival are finding accommodation in Dansai, traveling by private taxi or booking a private tour.

To search for accommodation availability and prices in Dan sai you can use Booking.com or Agoda.com. They both have up to date information of accommodation in Dansai.

Google maps

Here is the small town of Dan sai on Google maps. The parade is on the main street in front of the Phi Ta Khon museum.

When is Phi Ta Khon?

Phi ta khon is a three day festival held once a year during the months of June or July. The dates of the Phi Ta Khon ghost festival in 2018 have been confirmed as being on the 16th, 17th and 18th of June.The dates are based on the lunar cycle, so the dates change each year.

Phi ta khon is a religious festival that is sometimes referred to as the ghost festival due to the fact that the villagers of Dansai dress up in costumes and wear face masks. The three days is actually a celebration of four festivals. The Prawet festival, Bung Fai festival, Sum Ha festival and Phi ta khon festival.

Phi ta khon

Phi Ta Khon festival, Dan sai. Photo by Richard Barrow.

Why only June or July?

The festival dates are chosen according to the lunar calendar. It falls on a lunar cycle that coincides with the months of June and July. It gets a bit difficult for tourists to plan to visit this festival because the dates are only confirmed a couple of months before the actual festival starts. Be careful when researching dates for this festival on the internet. Be sure that you have the confirmed dates not probable dates. Some websites try to guess the dates in advance.

Phi Ta Khon

Phi Ta Khon festival, Dan sai. Photo by Richard Barrow.

Preparation

Before the festival starts. The villagers of Dan sai will gather at the temple to decorate the temple with flags and flowers. They also have white rope that they tie around the temple pavilion. The villagers believe that tying the rope will help protect them.

First day

Here is a general summary of what happens during this festival. The organizers have the right to change anything at anytime so take this as a guide only.

On the first day of the festival the villagers will meet at the temple between 3 and 5 a.m. Some villagers will dress in white. From the temple the villagers then walk to the river to collect rocks from the river. They believe that there are spirits in these rocks. The rocks are then placed on a ceremonial plate and taken back to the temple to be placed in the pavilion. There is a lot of music and fireworks during this process.

At 10 a.m. there is an opening ceremony. Once this is completed Thai dancers and villagers dressed in Phi Ta Khon costumes will walk around the temple three times.

Phi Ta Khon

Phi Ta Khon festival, Dan sai. Photo by Richard Barrow.

Second day

The second day is the most popular day of the three for tourists, on this day there is a parade. At 10 a.m. there is another opening ceremony, once that is completed then the parade starts. The parade is very long and has a great mix of young and old all joining in to make it so much fun. The music is loud and the villagers dressed in Phi Ta Khon costumes will be dancing in and around the parade. They encourage visitors to dance and allow themselves to be in as many photos as you are willing to take. A word of warning, some of the costumes will have a number of phallic symbols.

Parade

The parade will walk through the village main street. Visitors will line up a long this street to get a good view point to take photos or shoot videos. This festival is very popular now so be prepared for a lot of people. I recommend you getting to Dan sai early to walk along the parade street to decide what spot you would like to take your photos from. I can talk from experience when I say once the parade starts there is no chance of moving to another spot. There are just too many people trying to take photos like you are. So be patient and take lots of photos. You can review the photos after the event to decide what to keep and what to delete.

They want you to take their photo

The people in the parade are very photogenic and will make many poses for you. They enjoy the day just as much as the visitors do. If you plan to use a drone, I would advise against that purely from a safety stand point. A few years ago a tourist did use a drone and it got damaged by someone throwing coins into the air. The drone came crashing down, thankfully no one got hurt but the organizers were not happy about the drone being used over the heads of so many people.

Phi Ta Khon

Phi Ta Khon festival, Dan sai. Photo by Richard Barrow.

At 3 p.m. a Buddhist statue, four monks and a village elder will be carried to the temple. Along the route the village elder will throw money onto the road. The Thai visitors in the crowd mostly the kids, will run around collecting the coins. They believe the coins will bring them luck.

Phi Ta Khon

Village elder throwing money onto the road. Photo by Richard Barrow.

Once this procession reaches the temple, they will walk around the pavilion three times. After that there is a concert to celebrate. All the villagers and villagers in Phi Ta Khon costumes will dance until late. Tradition states that those in Phi Ta Khon costumes must go to the river at the end of the second day to throw their costumes into the river. It is believed that all bad things will be washed away by the river. These days the costumes are not thrown away they are kept for the following year.

Third day

The third day is a day for sermons. Sermons start early morning. Once the sermons are finished then the villagers will tie white rope around the pavilion and hold hands. The belief is that this will bring them luck.

What is the festival about?

The whole celebration is about bring good luck to the village. The villagers have great fun preparing Dan sai and the costumes for the festival. The costumes are made from materials found in and around the home. The masks are all hand painted. The villagers want everyone who participates to have as much fun as possible. They believe that just by participating you will get some of the good luck.

Going international

Over the last couple of years the Phi Ta Khon festival has included an international mask exhibition, too. There have been masks on display from Indonesia, South Korea, India and Loas. This is an ongoing theme and should continue during this years festival.

What if I can’t make it to the festival?

If you can not make it to the Phi Ta Khon festival. Then there is the Phi Ta Khon museum in Dan sai. The museum is close to the main crossroads in Dan sai. This museum has many Phi Ta Khon costumes, there are also other displays relating to this festival.

Is there anything close to Dan sai worth seeing?

If you are looking for other things to do while you are in the area that are quite close. Then you could go to Phu Ruea National Park which is about 20 kilometers from Dan sai and Chateau De Loei which is about 10 kilometers from Dan Sai.

YouTube videos

To give you an idea of what to expect here are 2 videos.

The first video is a great little three minute video by Thai Silk Holidays. The video was published in July 2014.

The second video is by My Mate Nate. This video was published in July 2016.

Finally

If you do have a chance to go to this festival, then I highly recommend it. It is a lot of fun. The villagers really do a good job of making Phi Ta Khon very lively. I recommend going on the second day to catch the very good parade. Just be prepared for a lot of people. If you get there late you will find it hard to get a good spot. Go early so that you can have a good look around before it gets too busy. Once the parade starts you will be stuck on the sides without any possibility of moving places. Once the end of the parade comes everyone pours onto the road to follow the parade. You will just have to follow this flow of people there is no room to push through.

If you have ever been to this festival, please leave a comment about your experiences. Include any tips or pointers to help others enjoy their time at the Phi Ta Khon festival.

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