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Phi Ta Khon Festival: The Ghosts & Ghouls of Thailand

phi ta khon haute culture

Did you know that Thailand has a history steeped in scary superstitions about ghosts and ghouls? Spirit houses in every yard, incognito nicknames from birth and the parading phantoms of the Phi Ta Khon ‘Festival of Ghosts’ ผีตาโขน, are just some of the great lengths Thai people go to avoid ethereal encounters.

Phi Ta Khon “Festival of Ghosts”
Buddhist legend tells the tale that centuries ago Prince Vessandorn (believed to be the penultimate incarnation of Buddha) returned to the village in which he was previously banished. The community were so overwhelmed and happy by his return they rushed into the streets to celebrate. In all the commotion and the excitement the noise from the crowds was so grandiose it woke the dead spirits from the forest nearby. Today the parade entices the masses every year after year with a spectacular surge of dancing spirits throughout the streets and is seemingly the Asian equivalent to Halloween.

Phi Ta Khon is held over 3 days involving music, dance, games, fireworks and religious sermons. Every June it is held in the otherwise sleeply town of Dan Sai, North East Thailand, details are listed below.

Phi Ta Khon Bangkok Ghosts Haute Culture

Me coming face to face with a Phi Ta Khon Ghost in Bangkok at Tbex Asia


Creepy Costumes
Originally a children’s festival, Phi Ta Khon has gradually grown over the generations into an elaborate example of artistic ensembles. The primary focus of any costume in the festivities is the magnificent monstrous mask. Made from coconut husks and wood, the masks are deliberately hand decorated with huge protruding noses, peering evil eyes and terrifying teeth. Traditionally it was noted as bad luck to keep a mask after the festival was over and locals would instead cast them into the town’s river, but now resident artisans sell their masks to tourists for 1000s of Thai Baht each year. The costume designs themselves are often simple silhouettes focused on making the most of movement during the dances. Long strips of fabric from a vibrant concoction of multi coloured materials are either patch worked together or used for fringing decoration.

Phi Ta Khon festival mask Thailand Image: Pinterest

phi ta khon ghost festival paradeImage: BBC
Pi-Ta-Khon-Festival-group-thailandImage: Asian Back Packers

Incognito Nicknames
Thai people believe that there are at least 33 nocturnal ghosts literally out to get them on a daily basis. Each Thai person receives a nickname at birth purely to confuse the evil spirits from attacking the child thus preventing ill fate.

Appeasing the Spirits
Everywhere you go in Thailand you will see miniature houses and temples in the corners of carparks, shopping malls, villages and houses. These San Phra Phum ศาลพระภูมิ are provided as an appealing residence for the spirits in order to prevent them from entering your premises and causing problems. Thai people pray, light candles, present flowers and offer gifts to the spirit houses to show their respect and acknowledge the spirits existence in society.

san phra phum spirit house bangkok

One of two spirit houses in a hotel carpark in Bangkok


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How to get there
Map

  1. There are 4 flights per day leaving Bangkok DMK – LOE with Nok Air and Thai Air Asia
  2. You can book at bus here, it takes 8 1/2 hours costing between 130-550 baht
  3. Take a Train to Udon Thani and catch a local bus

When to go
The festival changes dates in June each year so it’s best to check in advance with the Thai tourist board closer to the time. See a List of Thai Festivals dates here.

What else to see
Phi Ta Khon Museum http://www.tourismthailand.org/See-and-Do/Sights-and-Attractions-Detail/Phi-Ta-Khon-Museum–3561

Useful references

  1. http://www.mickshippen.com/2013/07/phi-ta-kon-ghost-festival/
  2. http://www.guidetothailand.com/thailand-travel-information/phitakhon.php
  3. http://event-carnival.com/thailand/phi-ta-khon-festival
  4. http://chiangmaibest.com/phi-ta-khon-ghost-festival/
  5. http://thailandforvisitors.com/isan/loei/dan-sai/phi-ta-khon.php
  6. https://www.intoasia.com/thai_language/reference/nicknames.php
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghosts_in_Thai_culture
  8. http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20100729-colourful-festivals-of-asia
  9. http://www.chiangmai-chiangrai.com/spirit_house.html

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