Candle festival reaches 111 years
UBON RATCHATHANI, 4 July 2012: It is one of Thailand’s oldest festivals dating back more than 100 years and attracting thousands of tourists annually to this northeast town.
Originally, just a one-day event, the annual Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival grows in size and attractions. This year the celebrations continue from 20 July to 5 August as various cultural and entertainment attractions vie for attention.
This year marks the 111th anniversary of the Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival and the Tourism Authority of Thailand has partnered with Ubon Ratchathani province to celebrate in style.
Based on the government’s Miracle Year theme, the candle festival is part of what promoters call “Miracle Isan” that highlights iconic festivals and attractions such as the Phi Ta Khon Festival in Dansai District, Loei province and Siam Tulip field festival in Chaiyaphum province.
Miracle Isan is part of the celebrations to mark royal birthdays that started with His Majesty the King’s 84th’s birthday last December and will conclude with HM the Queen’s 80th birthday this August.
The 111th Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival features several components but three signature events are of particular interest to tourists. They are a demonstration of wax carving by artists from nine countries, tours to candle making communities and the actual grand procession of carved wax candles that are paraded through the centre of town on elaborately decorated floats.
The Ubon Wax Festival, will feature artists from Korea, Japan, Nepal, Taiwan, Romania, Turkey, Germany, Argentina and Thailand. Artists will give carving demonstrations 20 July. The finished candles will be on display at Ubon Ratchathani National Museum.
An interesting addition to the festival this year is the opportunity to visit local communities and watch villagers carve the candle wax to be used on the elaborate floats. All the communities are linked to famous temples so they take their name from the temple they represent. There is a competitive edge too as temple communities vie for recognition as the best float in the parade.
Tours to communities to watch villagers sculpture the wax are scheduled 23 July to 31 July right up to the eve of the parade.
The actual parade will feature as many as 70 elaborated grand candles that are slowly paraded along the town’s Uparat Road, past stands packed with spectators and the province’s officials who will judge which temple wins the top ranking. In between the grand candles there are hundreds of smaller candles and wax sculptures that are carried in the parade and surrounded by dancing troupes and bands. The entire parade extends for around 1.5 km and takes hours to pass the main grand stand at the centre of town near the museum. The grand parade takes place 3 August.
Buddhist religious functions and candle wax light and sound performance are held on the street in front of Sri Ubon Rattanaram Temple 1 to 3 August at 1900.
It is difficult to estimate how many tourists visit the festival, but for sure the hotels are packed and while provincial visitors and those from the capital are in the majority, tourists probably make up 15% of the crowd. They are mainly bused in by tour companies that make the festival a signature feature of their “Around Isan tours”.
TAT Ubon Ratchathani office said the 2011 festival attracted 188,487 visitors during the three-day event and generated around Bt194.98 million.
Usually a seat in the grand stand costs Bt200 but as it is “Miracle Year” the entrance fee has been waived.
Three airlines provide air service from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani, they are – Nok Air (three flights daily), Thai Airways (two flights daily) and AirAsia (two flights daily).
The train service that takes around 10 hours is a better option. Book the upper and lower berths in the second class air-conditioned car. There is an efficient food and beverage service and after dinner, the attendants turn the seats into sleeping berths and tuck you in for a reasonable sleep. Watch your shoes and personal items. Stack them close by in easy reach. There are fewer accidents and less crime on the trains, but always be cautious and buy food and drinks only from railway catering staff.
There are 25 hotels with 120 to 150 rooms and 28 apartments with around 10 to 15 rooms. Try to book a hotel as near as possible to museum and the TAT office, which are both close to the parade area. It saves on transport costs as the town does not have a very user-friendly bus service.
The best option is to hire a car at the airport and explore the attractions of the town and province including national parks located next to the Mekong River.
Tips based on TTR Weekly visits to the town. For official information contact TAT Call Centre 1672.