What is Phi Ta Khon Ghost Festival?
Phi Ta Khon, otherwise known as the Dan Sai Ghost Festival in Loei, Thailand, is a series of festivals held over three days in Dan Sai, Loei province, Isan, Thailand. Sometimes called the Siamese “Day of the Dead”, the Ghost Festival is one of the most colorful sensations in all of Thailand.
Origins of the festival are a bit murky, but believed to be based upon a tale where — after an absence so long that his followers believe he was dead — the Buddha returned, and the celebrations were so animated that they woke the dead.
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During the Phi Ta Khon hordes of “ghosts” wearing brightly painted masks, constructed of sticky-rice husks, stream into town from the provinces. Many of the masked ghosts also carry giant wooden phalluses, that they seem to take great joy in swinging around like blunt swords.
No one I talked to could explain this to me, but the origins seem to come from more ancient animist beliefs. There are parades where the forces of good, symbolized by beautiful young dancing maidens dressed in traditional costumes, mix with “evil” symbolized by the mud-men who randomly terrorize the village.
It is all a very complicated series of performances, processions and Buddhist temple services, that to an outsider seems almost indecipherable. One common string holding everything together at the Phi Ta Khon seems to be good spirits and a liberal about of rice whiskey.
At the end of the ghost festival participants traditionally throw their masks and other implements into the river, but lately, more entrepreneurial penitents use the opportunity make money by selling their colorful creations and wooden phalluses to visitors as souvenirs.
When is Phi Ta Khon Ghost Festival?
The festival is very popular but finding out dates in advance can be tricky because exact scheduling is only done, with short notice, by the town’s Jao Paw Guan or seer, after consultations with the spirits of the dead. It usually takes place between June and July and dates are confirmed around two to three months in advance. When we went, even the Thai Tourist Board had been quoting the wrong dates. So how did we get the right dates?
We booked nights over every weekend in June in advance, well it’s free cancellation. Then closer to the time, we received an email from the hotel saying we needed advance payment as it was Festival time, woohoo we found the dates!!
So be careful, because many Thai websites post probable dates for the event rather than the real ones and don’t always update their sites when dates are confirmed.
Where is Dan Sai, Thailand?
Dan Sai is a small town in Loei province in northeastern Thailand. It is located about 90 kilometers from the provincial capital Loei.
How do I get to Dan Sai?
If you don’t have your own transport, the easiest way to get to the Phi Ta Khon Ghost Festival is by bus. Dan Sai is located on the Loei to Phitsanulok bus route. It’s possible to fly to Loei or Phitsanulok from Bangkok.
There is no train station or airport in Dan Sai.
What a colourful and unique festival! I never saw any sadly when I was in Thailand, but this one looks fun. I love the costumes, though they looks a bit scary too!
That’s such a colorful festival. Those mudmen though! Great information to time a visit to see it.
What an interesting festival! This is the first time I’ve heard of a Ghost festival being celebrated in Thailand. Good to hear that they are not throwing those masks into the river as they used to. It would have brought environmental implications. I like to try the rice whiskey, too. 🙂
Love the eco friendly vibe of this celebration, being on a bus route and making the masks out of natural materials. And you were very resourceful in finding out the exact dates of the fest! A unique event like this doesn’t come around every day, so it’s well worth travelling for.
Great read, Jonathan! I’ve never heard of this festival, but it looks super unique, so will definitely keep this post as a reference next time I make it to Thailand.
How was the bus ride – comfy?
Thanks Mick. Actually we drove to the Ghost Festival, but generally the busses are pretty good in Thailand.
This festival looks unique and very colorful. I never heard or read about this Ghost Festival. I am adding this to my list, whenever I am planning for Thailand.
That was a great way of finding the right dates :D. It looks like a very colourful event. They must find a way so that these masks – surely painted with lead-based paints- are not thrown into the river. Enjoyed reading it.
Ghost festival looks so colorful and bright! I just got back home from Thailand last week and wish I could attend this festival. Mud Men also looks interesting as well. Will try to remember this one and attend it next year!
It is ironic that they celebrated Phi Ta Khon in a colorful way, and this is fun! I love festivals and learning their culture. I’ll add this to my next Thailand trip!