Phi Ta Khon (Ghost Mask) Festival – 2017
When: July (TBD)
Where: Dan Sai, Loei, Isan
Bun Luang? What’s a Bun Luang?
Most outsiders call this festival Phi Ta Khon but Bun Luang is the official name of this very old, colorful and somewhat bawdy, check that, extremely bawdy three-day event. Held mostly in June but sometimes in either May or July (only the mediums who pick the dates know for sure), Bun Luang is largely known for its day one event called Phi Ta Khon or Ghost Mask Festival. On this day the locals of Dan Sai, Loei wear and parade colorful ghost masks made from coconut leaves and rice husks, patchwork rag costumes and cow bells. They dance around ringing the bells and often times waving phallic objects which look a lot penises, poking them here, poking them there, so don’t be alarmed if one of these objects wind up in your side, or someplace else for that matter, use your imagination. It’s all in good fun, so just be prepared and don’t be offended. That said, it’s still a bit shocking the first time around, just catch your breath, move forward and have fun.
Day One – Phi Ta Khon
Phi Ta Khon celebrates the return of the Buddha-to-be, Prince Vessandorn. During a prolonged absence he was thought to be dead and upon his return, the people of the village got so loud that it is said that they woke the dead and the dead stayed and joined party.
Look for a big parade, it starts on Thanon HWY 2013. The followers congregate outside the dwelling of a holy priest type person who leads them around the corner onto Thanon HWY 2114 and down the street to a big stage (approx 2 kilometers) outside Ban Na Thum School. Along the way look for Wat Pon Chai, it is central to everything that goes on for all three days. It’ll be on the right side of the street, near the start of the parade on Thanon HWY 2114. Ask the clerk at your hotel for a program, hopefully they’ll have a one in English.
Day Two – Bamboo Rockets and Phi Ta Khon Costume Contest
This is another parade day, dance and costume contest and near the end of the day there will be a rocket display. The parade will run along the same route as the day before. The costume and dance contest will take place at the stage by Ban Na Thum School and the rockets will be launched behind Wat Pon Chai at dusk.
Ok, so I missed the costume competition but I caught the bamboo rocket show. I didn’t expect to be as impressed with this display as I was and it was really a lot of fun. It take forever to get started, as it all seemed so ad hoc and disorganized and somewhat dangerous, which it really was, but I guess that’s what made it so intriguing. Just take a close look at the photo to the left. The show must go on and it really did and it didn’t disappoint. Lots of “oohs and aahs” and “oh my gods” and “holy s*&t’s” could be heard as each of the bigger rockets took off. And many smaller but not SO small rockets took off right out of the hands of the racketeers. It was a nice way to end the second day of the festival.
Day Three – 13 Consecutive Sermons
The final day consists of sermons delivered by Buddhist monks in various locations around town. Again, look for a program at the event. They are not easily found on the internet, if at all, until NOW!
Getting to Dan Sai, Loei, Isan, Thailand
By Air: There are no direct flights to Dan Sai. The closest Airport is in Mueang Loei approximately 55 miles west of Dan Sai. There are two domestic economy airlines that fly into Loei; Thai AirAsia and Nok Air. I’ve flow with both and would fly again without giving it a second thought.
By Train, Bus or Mini Van: From Loei to Dan Sai; I’m not aware of shuttles from the airport in Loei to Dan Sai. You may get lucky to arrange a pickup through your hotel or resort, otherwise you’ll have to one of the local bus station in Loei and make your arrangements from there. There are three bus stations that I know of, so before leaving the airport, go to the information desk and let them know you’re heading to Dan Sai, tell them you want either a mini van or bus and they’ll point you to the correct station. Don’t trust fully trust some of the travel information you read here or anywhere else for that matter as all this information is subject to change. Double check before heading anywhere!
Train: If taking The State Railway of Thailand from Bangkok, you should head for Udon Thani and check with the local bus stations for timetable information. It’s approximately 130 mile from Udon Thani or 250 miles from Chiang Mai. For Chiang Mai, check with Chiang Mai Provincial Arcadia Bus Station (map).
By Private Car: Don’t know anything about private cars, sorry about that.
Where to stay?
Use an online booking agent and book early! I didn’t and got lucky with one of the only remaining spaces available at Mountain Green Resort. They have a variety of traditional rooms, teepees and an open green space for camping. That’s right, I wound up in a tent but it was rather comfortable. They treated it just like a regular room, with soap, towels and bottled water. As well as blankets, pillows and padding to sleep on. Only down side is that it’s during the hot season and there’s no shade to be found, so it can get uncomfortably hot during the day. Book early! Otherwise, not to worry, you won’t be in the tent most of day anyway.
*Note: Early each morning during this three-day event, there are special ceremonies conducted in different locations. I unfortunately missed all of them due to the early hour, but was told they were beautiful and well worth the effort. Expect to get up as early as 4am to make these ceremonies.
For more images of Phi Ta Khon click here.