Throngs of ghosts return to the sleepy Loei town
Shortly after the monsoon returns to the northeast, the “ghosts” will awake and once again go a-roaming round the small, sleepy small town of Dan Sai in Loei province. The phantoms have had their shrouds dry-cleaned and are probably even now rehearsing their shock tactics for the 2012 version of the Phi Ta Khon Festival.
But there’s s no reason to be scared, as this annual festival regularly draws thousands of visitors to Dan Sai. This year, the Phi Ta Khon festival is scheduled to take place on June 22 and 23.
The locals in Loei aim to please, and the tens of thousands of visitors will be pleased by the ghostly parades whose origin is more enigmatic.
The perennial excuse is that the Lord Buddha, in his incarnation as King Vessandorn, decided to spend some meditative retreat at a forest monastery. When he’d had enough of that, it’s said, the joyful spirits of the woods helped his human subjects parade him back into town.
To this day, and aided by a successful tourism campaign, Dan Sai district hosts a Boon Luang merit-making ceremony as part of the festival, which features the country’s most spectacular and ghostly-dressed parade.
The colourful masks are made from dried and vividly painted rice husks, complete with long pointed noses. These are worn in the procession, along with clanging cowbells at the waist.
On June 22, the spirits assemble before dawn at Wat Phon Chai and drift in a parade to the Meun River, where white pebbles are collected from the riverbed as tokens for Phra Upakud, a local Buddha statue that’s used in rainmaking rituals. The pebbles are consecrated and taken back to the temple for more rites honouring Phra Upakud while firecrackers clatter and home-made rockets are launched with a whoosh.
The spectres reassemble in the afternoon for the Bai Sri Su Khwan ritual, which pays respects to Chao Por Kuan, the community’s guardian spirit.
The highlight of the Ghost Festival comes on the second day, when King Vessandorn’s return from the forest is re-enacted.
The marching spirits go out of their way to ensure audience participation, and no spectator is left un-haunted. If you feel a little spooked, you’ll have plenty of company.
Fortunately, on the final day, the village spirits will be appeased by the reciting of the Buddha’s 13 sermons by local monks. It’s a calm end to a hair-raising weekend.
If you go
<< Buses to Loei leave Bangkok’s Morchit terminal every day. Hotels around Dan Sai, about 85 kilometres from the capital, are booked up well in advance, so you might need a sleeping bag to bunk down at the temple or in Phu Ruea National Park.
<< Find out more from the Loei Tourism Coordination Centre at (042) 812 812 or (042) 811 405.