One of the biggest and most beautiful festivals in Thailand is the Candle Procession which marks the start of the Buddhist Lent. In Thai this is called Khao Phansa which is the day after the full moon in July. Traditionally during this period, Thai Buddhists take part in parades to their local temples where they offer basic essentials and candles to the monks. This year, I attended the Candle Procession in Ubon Ratchathani, which is in the Northeast of Thailand.
For the three months of the Buddhist Lent the monks are not allowed to leave their temples and must spend their time studying the scriptures. This is also the height of the rainy season and so in the past it wasn’t easy for them to travel around anyway. The idea for the large candle is to give light to the monks during this period. Some Thai people believe that by donating candles, they will have wisdom, be resourceful and be bright like the candle.
In the beginning, they probably gave the monks plain candles, but over time, the more devout Buddhists would decorate the candle or carve it into intricate designs. We have now gone from normal candles to these 15 meter long floats that depict scenes from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The normal Candle Processions still take place all over Thailand at this time, but the big floats first started to appear in Ubon Ratchathani about 34 years ago. Ubon is still the most famous though a few other cities now copy them.
The Candle Festival takes place in Ubon for the entire month of July but the main activities only take place around the full moon. If you are planning on going next year, make sure that you book your accommodation in advance. This year there was an estimated 200,000 domestic and international tourists at the festival. Ubon’s 3,100 hotel rooms were fully booked for these three days. Flights were also fully booked.
This was my first time at the festival and I had a really enjoyable time taking pictures of the dancers and floats. Though it was very exhausting as it went on for about three hours. I am not sure how many floats there were in the end but it was certainly a lot. In the evening, the winning floats were displayed at Thung Si Mueang Park. I already posted pictures over at Thai Travel Blogs of the winners. I’m not sure how long they will stay there as they were suffering a bit in the heat. But the entrants in the International Wax Sculpture competition will be on display in the grounds of the National Museum until 31st July.
I don’t have the dates yet for the Candle Festival Procession in 2012, but it will be around the full moon in July 2012. I will post the dates and schedule as soon as they are confirmed on my Twitter account @RichardBarrow, Facebook Fanpage, Thai Festival Blogs and also Thai Travel Blogs. In addition to the Candle Procession in Ubon Ratchathani, there are also big ones in Nakhon Ratchasima and Suphan Buri at the same time. There are smaller candle processions elsewhere in Thailand including some on a boat. But, Ubon has the biggest.