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.