Bun Luang (Phi Ta Khon)
Bun Luang (Phi Ta Khon) always takes place at some point between March and July, but the dates are different each year, as they are worked out through a ritual conducted by mediums.
In 2016, Bun Luang took place from July 6th – 8th. In 2017, it’s scheduled in for June 24th – 26th. In 2018… who knows?!
Bun Luang is perhaps better known to foreigners as Phi Ta Khon, but it should be clarified that the name for the whole festival is Bun Luang, and Phi Ta Khon is just a part of it.
Bun Luang lasts for three days, and there are a number of different events taking place. By far the most famous event, however, is Phi Ta Khon, or the ‘Ghost Mask Festival’.
The purpose of Bun Luang, as a whole, is for the locals to appease the spirits, and call on them for rain. Phi Ta Khon consists mainly of an enormous parade on the first day – certainly one of the most colorful in Thailand – where locals dress up in extremely inventive costumes, wearing long robes and big masks, with the intention being to resemble demons.
The second day sees another parade, which isn’t quite as boisterous as the first, but does feature a costume competition and some quite spectacular rockets being fired! On the third day things get a bit more serious, as villagers listen to 13 consecutive sermons from the local monks.
With its mixture of traditional Buddhist and more animist rituals, you’d be forgiven for finding Bun Luang a little confusing. Its origin is certainly Buddhist, however. It’s intended to celebrate the past lives of the Buddha (as told in the Jakata tales), specifically his penultimate life as Prince Vessandorn.
Having originally been banished for giving away a royal elephant, the prince had been away so long that he was presumed dead by the locals. When he finally did return, the celebrations were so incredibly loud that they woke the spirits of the dead. This is why the spirits are still invoked in Bun Luang to this day.
Bun Luang is held in Dan Sai, which is in Loei province; one of the most sparsely populated in Thailand. Loei province is located in Isaan – or east Thailand – and borders Laos to the north. Aside from the three days in which Bun Luang takes place, there isn’t much going on in Dan Sai. Accordingly, it doesn’t have a huge number of transport links.
Unless you rent a car and go there directly, your best bet is to take a local bus there from the city of Loei. You can reach Loei by bus from most major destinations, including Chiang Mai and Bangkok. It’s a lengthy journey, but it’s more than worth it to witness one of Thailand’s most vibrant and unique festivals.