Dansai hosts Phi Ta Khon festival
LOEI, 29 May 2012: The annual Bun Luang and Phi Ta Khon Festival in Dansai district, Loei province will attract thousands of visitors, 22 to 24 June, who are interested in experiencing colourful and cultural aspects that are special to this far western province of Thailand’s Northeast region.
The Bun Luang and Phi Ta Kon Festival is one of the biggest cultural festivals in Isan and special to Dansai district representing a mix of a grand merit making and a ceremony to ask for plentiful rain during the rice planting season linked to local superstitions .
Thousands of visitors, both Thai and foreigners, travel to Dansai to see this vibrant and cheerful festival. This year, Tourism Authority of Thailand’s office in Loei province expects around 50,000 to 60,000 people will participate in the festival.
TAT Loei office director, Achaphan Buncharoen, told TTR Weekly that hotels in Dansai district are already full with many visitors booking rooms as far away as Phu Ruea and Loei town itself a good 80 km from the festival site.
There are still rooms available at resorts further afield from Dansai, but TAT recommends travellers book early.
“This year the festival falls on a weekend, which should encourage more visitors, but it is a pretty focused event and usually attracts only those who are really interested in the cultural aspects of the masks used in the performances, ” said Ms Achaphan.
The almost unique character of the festival and its history attracts visitors from Japan, United States and Germany. Japan is the main market for visitors to the Phi Ta Khon festival over the last 10 years.
“Japanese travellers love culture and tradition especially the pure and primitive examples such as Phi Ta Khon, which is steeped in folk lore and mystery.
Though the Bun Luang and Phi Ta Khon Festival is an annual festival, the dates don’t always fall on the days because they have to be determined by a ritual performance by the highly respected mediums, Jao Por Guan and Jao Mae Nang Tiam. The couple is not easily swayed by commercial aspects of the festival so having fixed dates, or giving adequate warning so more visitors can attend does not figure in their spiritual considerations.
The festival is very genuine and reflects the local Northeast or Isan beliefs in ghosts (Phi) or animism.
The Phi Ta Kon is part of Bun Luang festival and in Dansai district they have been combined into two festivals namely Bun Phra Wet – the festival of the fourth lunar month and Bun Bang Fai – the festival of the sixth lunar month commonly known as the bamboo rocket festival.
Bun Phra Wet is a religious ceremony where locals congregate to listen to 13 Buddhist sermons. It’s believed that being part of the congregation at the sermon sessions guarantees great merit.
Bun Bang Fai festival is held to worship spirits, the protectors of the village and to ask for sufficient rain for the rice planting season.
Features of the three-day festival
The ceremony usually starts as early as 0300 or 0400 with a parade of the men folk from Phon Chai Temple in Dansai district to the Man River. Before sunrise, they will perform a rite to invite Phra Up Pa Khut, which is considered to be a white marble representation of a holy monk having supernatural powers that can change his form to be whatever he likes to be, such as a slab of marble.
The procession will then bring Phra Up Pa Khut back to the temple where the sacred worship will begin.
The colourful activities begin on the second day at dawn with local people dressed as Phi Ta Khon. They cheerfully perform and dance around the village in the afternoon. Beautifully decorated cars make up the street parade adorned by colourful flowers and candles. The Phi Ta Khon costumes come in all size from a little Phi Ta Khon to groups of serious looking giant Phi Ta Khon.
Phi Ta Khon is a charming and distinctive festival and visitors can join in with local residents to enjoy this community celebration.
The two mediums, Jao Por Guan and Jao Mai Nang Tiam, will travel in decorated vehicles and people along the procession route will pay respect to them. Late on the second day, the bamboo rockets will be launched into the sky to encourage rain clouds to soak the fields ready for rice planting.
On the third day, villagers will return to the temple to listen to Buddhist sermons for one last time to close the festival.
Phi Ta Khon
Phi Ta Khon costume are made up from rags and bamboo sticky rice streamers as well as scratches of cloth. On the neck or hips, there will be tin cans or bells.
In the past the costumes would be thrown away into Man River after each ceremony to get rid of bad luck and misfortune. Nowadays, participants keep their costumes and add more decorations with time to keep them looking fresh.
Nok Air flies daily from Don Mueang Airport to Loei Airport, about 30 km out of town and around 80 km from Dansai. There are no train services. There are frequent bus services. Day services are safer than the late night services.
According to TAT Loei office, there are 350 rooms 15 hotels and resorts, in Dansai while Phu Ruea has 697 rooms in 43 hotels and resorts. Loei town has 1,177 rooms in 53 hotels, resorts or apartments.
For further information, visit http://www.phitakhon.com/index.html.