Category Archives: Festivals

Making an Ubon Ratchatani Candle

Imprinted Candles at Candle Parade

In remote Ubon, Thailand’s eastern most province, tourists are usually rarer than a vote for the Democrat Party and the laid back locals seems to like it this way. The wilderness province even boasts Thailand’s most spectacular natural site yet is happy not to tell anyone about it. However once a year this changes as the rains comes down.

Ubon’s main claim to fame is its traditional Candle Festival. Called Ubon Ratchatani Candle Festival the Tourist Authority of Thailand seems to be trying to rename it the Thai Candle Festival, as at first other cities in Isaan, Korat, Roi Et so on started to have one, and now they can be found from Supanburi to Chiang Mai. A Thai language forum has a post entitled, The Origin of the Thai Candle Festival, to which commenter’s quickly identify as “tourist money”.

Ubon’s tradition then may have been raped and pillaged for filthy luger, but at the moment the Ubon festival still is by far an utterly unmatched month long spectacle compared to the paltry one day phoney traditions in other cities.

The origin of the festival comes from the Buddhist Retreat, held for 90 days during the Wet Season. Traditionally rice planting was done in the wet season and the flooded paddy fields seeded. The crops were highly vulnerable and villagers asked Buddhist monks not to leave their temples each morning collecting alms, walking through the fields destroying the young crops. The monks duly agreed to stay in their temples for the period studying and meditating and in appreciation of this local farmers presented the monks with a sufficient supply of candles to light their monasteries for the 3 months.

Last year I covered the festival in Roi Et and it left me wondering how the amazing candles were made, so this year I ventured to Ubon, not just to see the festival but investigated the whole manufacture process.

The candles are made at workshops in several temples, which have been selected to be candle manifacturing centres, these are located all over Ubon province. There are two methods of making candles, by imprinting or by carving, each temple specialises in one method or the other. I visited one temple workshop specialising in each

Candle being Carved

Carving a candle
Candles usually represent a scene from Buddhist mythology, often with fanciful monsters and demons, and usually telling a story. The theme of a candle for the year is agreed upon by the village/temple/association ect and an initial plan drawn up. The manufacture process usually begins about a month before the main parade.

Initially the plan of the candle is sawn into shape out of plywood, onto this coconut husks are used to fill out the 2 dimensional shapes to 3 dimensions and this is covered in plaster of paris forming the rough shape. The secret ingredient is then added, a thin coating of a zinc based mixture, to make the wax grip the plaster of paris. Next the wax is added, it is formed into plates up to 6cm thick plates of varying size, the still warm and pliable wax plates are folded and shaped around the plaster. It is then ready for carving.

The carving is is done by a mixture of artisans and apprentices, it takes a decade or more to become a master candle carver. In lei of this some temples field two candles not one at the festival, the second smaller candle being an apprentice’s candle.

Carved candles at the festival

The Imprint Method.
One of the drawbacks of carving a candle is it’s an expert job, some villages, or organisations such as universities that participate either lack the money or expertise to commission a carved candle or wish people to participate in the manufacture itself, so it feels a local group effort.

The imprint method mirrors the carving method up to the point where the wax is added to the candle then it becomes a very different method. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of thin paper like pieces of about 5mm thick wax are made and each is imprinted with a patterned shape with a hot stamp. The pattern is carefully cut out and using drops of wax it is stuck to the zinc surface. These thin patterned leaves are built up in layers of scales to create the shape. This job requires dozens of people to work for weeks, making the wax sheeting, imprinting, cutting out and sticking the individual leaves

The finished candles methods then compete in separate categories in the festival. Competition is hot between the rival makers to outdo each other each year and novelties are common, such as fielding a uniquely coloured candles or spectacular monsters. The candles are paraded in Ubon several times over the 2 parade days, both day and light show night parades, and then left in the streets around Tong See Muang Park for week for public viewing. For the last few years the National Wax Sculpture Exibition has been held there too by top modern scultures from around the world, so the best of the ancient art and the modern art it spawned can be viewed side by side.

Imprint candle being made
top left: sheets of wax added to candle, top right: wax stuck to zinc exterior, mid left: imprinted wax cut out, mid right: plywood, coconut shell and plaster stages, bottom left: imprinted leaves ready to attach, bottom right: anyone can help

Bun Luang and the Phi Ta Khon Ghost Festival

One of the most unique and colourful festivals in Thailand is Phi Ta Khon that takes place every year in Dansai in Loei Province. It is sometimes translated into English as the Ghost Festival as many people wear ghost masks during the processions. Really the festival is called Bun Luang which is a combination of two different festivals. These are Bun Phra Wet and Bun Bang Fai. The first is the continuous listening of thirteen sermons. The other involves the firing of rockets to ask for sufficient rain.

There are two theories about where the name “Phi Ta Khon” comes from. One is that it evolved from the phrase “Phi Tam Kon” which in English means “Ghost follows a person”. A long time ago, the Dansai villagers believed that ghosts came out of the forest to follow the Lord Buddha. Another theory is that because of the similarity of Dansai’s ghost masks with that of the Khon masks of Central Thailand, that they came to be called “Phi Ta Khon”.

The Phi Ta Khons wear a mask and a unique costume made by each villager. Over the years, these masks have become very intricate in design and also colourful. In the old days, the masks were thrown into the river at the end of the festival. But these days, the people use the masks as decoration during the year and then re-use them during the next festival. Every Phi Ta Khon has a weapon such as a sword which has a tip that looks like a penis. They also wear cow bells which make a noise as they do a kind of a rain dance.

In addition to the Phi Ta Khons, there are also others taking part in the procession. These two are the Giant Phi Ta Khon. Unlike the regular sized ghosts, there are only two giants. They must be male and female giant Phi Ta Khons. The male giant has a large penis which he teases the crowds with. Models of buffaloes remind people the importance of farm animals.

This group of men represent villagers who lived long ago in the forest. They have darkened their skin and are carrying short bamboo poles which they bang on the ground to make a noise. There are others carrying bamboo trays with mulberries or leaves used for herbal medicines.

Quite a few people in the parade have symbolic sexual objects which they use playfully with the crowd. In particular with the young ladies. In an agricultural society, the sex organs are the symbol of fertility. Villagers believe that playing with the symbolic sexual organs causes sufficient rain to fall in the rainy season. Some people also believe that this also helps to expel bad spirits.

The Bun Luang Festival takes place over three days. It begins with the ceremony to invoke Phra Uppakut. It is believed that this is the spirit that will keep the festival free of trouble. The ceremony is led by men dressed in white who are attendants to the spirit leader called Jao Por Guan. They go from Phon Chai Temple to the Man River where they dive into the river looking for the stone that symbolises Phra Uppakut. This is then brought back to the temple.

A little while later, everyone will come together at Jao Por Guan’s house for the Bai Sri ceremony which is the tying of white sacred threads around the wrist of the two spiritual leaders, Jao Por Guan and Jao Mae Nang Tiam, to wish them happiness, good health and good luck. After this ceremony has finished, the spiritual leaders will lead the procession to Phon Chai Temple where they will walk around it three times. The Phi Ta Khons also take part in this.

At dawn on the second day, local people dress up as Phi Ta Khon and cheerfully dance around the town. In the afternoon there is the Phra Wet worship procession. The parade is lead by the leader of the Por Saen holding the Bai Sri tray. Next comes a sacred Buddha image which is followed by four monks. Jao Por Guan is also in the procession sitting on a bamboo rocket. Bringing up the rear of the procession are the villagers wearing white.

Late that day, bamboo rockets are launched into the sky with the hope of bringing sufficient rain for their crops. There is also a competition to see whose rocket goes the highest. The day finishes with the throwing of  the costume and masks of the two giants into the river. They believe this will rid the villagers of any bad luck. The third and final day is spent back at the temple where they listen to sermons about the 10 lives of the Lord Buddha.

Bun Luang and the Phi Ta Khon Ghost Festival takes place every year either at the end of June or early July. The actual date is worked out in advance during a ritual performed by Jao Por Guan, Jao Mae Nang Tiam, the Por Saen and the Nang Tang. I will post information on the dates and schedule over at as soon as we get it for Phi Ta Khon 2012. If you get a chance, it is really worth attending this festival. I am really happy that I was able to go this year.

Songkran 2011 is More than Just Water Fights

Songkran Water Fights at Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan

It is nearly time for the most popular Thai Festival, Songkran 2011, which takes place all over Thailand in mid April every year. This is the traditional Thai new year which is the most enjoyable of all festivals both for Thai people and foreign tourists. Songkran is widely known as the water festival as people have lots of fun splashing water over each other during the three day festival. However, Songkran is more than just waterfights. I took the following pictures in Samut Prakan Province of some more Songkran activities. Other provinces in Thailand will also have their own festivities similar to this for Songkran.

Merit Making during Songkran

Early on the morning of 13th April, I will be joining hundreds of local people in Samut Prakan to give alms to monks. Thai people do this to make merit which is a good way to start the new year [More Pictures].

Songkran Parades

Many cities around Thailand will have Songkran Parades to mark the start of the festival. I took the picture of this colourful float in a parade at Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan [More Pictures].

Miss Songkran Beauty Contest

During Songkran there are also beauty contests to find the most beautiful Thai woman and also the most handsome Thai man. The winners will take part in the parade.

Rod Nam Dam Hua - Pouring Water on Elders

During Songkran, it is traditional for Thai people to return to their ancestral homes and to pour water on the hands of their elders. They will also do this to anyone older than themselves that have been important in their lives like a teacher or other relative.

Song Nam Phra - Pouring Water on Monks

At the temples they also organize ceremonies where you can go and pour rose scented water onto Buddha images and onto the hands of monks. This monk is having some fun pouring cold water onto the backs of some novice monks [More Pictures].

Chedi Sai - Building Sand Pagodas

Another traditional activity for Songkran is making sand pagodas. This is a competition joined by local families to make the most beautiful pagoda made of sand. The original idea was for people to bring sand back to the temple which they may have inadvertently carried away on the sole of their shoes [More Pictures].

Releasing Fish and Birds

Another way of making merit during the Songkran Festival is by releasing fish and birds back into the wild. I took this picture at Wat Prodket in Phra Pradaeng which is probably the most beautiful place to see this [More Pictures].

Water Fights at Songkran

So, as you can see, there is plenty to see and do during Songkran Festival 2011. Although I took all of these pictures in my home province of Samut Prakan, similar events will be taking place all over Thailand. You can follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow if you want to learn more. I will also be posting live pictures and photo albums on my Facebook page Richard.Thailand. Feel free to add me as a friend.

Where and When to Celebrate Songkran 2011

In less than two weeks we will be celebrating the biggest Thai Festival called Songkran 2011. This takes place all over Thailand in mid-April. The date used to vary but it is now fixed and takes place on 13-15 April every year. Although these are the dates for the public holiday in Thailand, Sonkgran itself will be celebrated over a wider period in different places around Thailand. If you feel up to it, you can play water fights for up to 12 days at various locations. However, in one location, water fights don’t usually go on for more than three days. But, having said that, this year the public holiday is Wednesday to Friday and it is possible some kids will want to continue the water fights over the weekend as well.

You can celebrate Songkran anywhere in Thailand. You don’t have to visit one of the following major events to enjoy the experience of Songkran. I don’t usually travel far during Songkran as I prefer celebrating it locally. Tomorrow I will give you a preview of some of the activities that take place in my home province of Samut Prakan during Songkran each year.


9-17 April 2011: Bangkok Songkran Splendours Festival. This year’s Bangkok Songkran Thai New Year celebrations features a combination of colourful festivities and activities being hosted by the various communities of Khao San Road, the districts of Banglumphu-Wisutkasat and Phra Artit Road under the theme, “Love Songkran in Your Home Town” [MORE].

13 April 2011: Ayutthaya Songkran Festival. Songkran celebrations will be held at various sites around the island city of Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya; the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. Songkran festivities will feature ancient customs and traditions of Songkran that have been observed through the centuries [MORE].

12-14 April 2011: Suphanburi Songkran Festival. The main event is a Songkran procession of the golden Luang Phor Toh Buddha image and also a Miss Songkran Beauty Contest [MORE].

22-24 April 2011: Mon Songkran Festival at Phra Phradaeng. Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan Province is one of the few places in Thailand that celebrates the Songkran Festival in the Thai-Mon style, featuring a magnificent parade. Visitors can learn how to play saba, enjoy a Mon folk play, plus many other forms of entertainment, and see a procession of swan and centipede flags [MORE].


13-18 April 2011: Koh Si Chang Songkran Festival. Witness a rarely seen traditional courtship tradition on the island of Koh Kaam Yai, approximately 1 km from the island of Koh Si Chang. The men of the village invite eligible young ladies to join them for water-splashing in the sea. If consent is granted, the man carries the young lady down the beach to the sea and then carries her back to shore again, after which the couples take part in the traditional ram wong circle dance [MORE].

16-17 April 2011: Wan Lai Sand Pagoda Building Festival. With no shortage of sand to build sand-stupas, the stupa building contest on Bangsaen Beach is a predominant element of the Songkran festivities in Chon Buri. [MORE].

18-19 April 2011: Pattaya Na Kleua Songkran Festival. A procession of the Buddha image along the Pattaya beachfront road offering local residents and visitors an opportunity to participate in the ritual bathing of a revered Buddha image [MORE].

19-21 April 2011: Sri Maharaja Songkran Festival in Chonburi Province. The observance of the ‘kong khao’ religious ritual and other customs related to the celebration of the Thai New Year [MORE].

22-23 April 2011: Songkran on Koh Chang. The islanders celebrate Songkran a week later than the rest of the country with alms giving, parades and water splashing [MORE].


7-19 April 2011: Sukhothai Songkran Festival. At Wat Traphang Thong temple in front of the Sukhothai Historical Park, Sukhothai [MORE].

7-19 April 2011: Si Satchanalai Songkran Festival. Journey back in time as local residents of the historic town of Sukhothai turn back the clock and revisit their glorious past as they celebrate the Songkran Thai New Year the traditional Thai way. Most will be dressed in traditional Thai costumes [MORE].

12-15 April 2011: Chiang Mai Songkran Festival. One of the best places to experience Songkran is in Chiang Mai, where it is celebrated on a grand scale with a flavour uniquely and entirely its own, attracting visitors from far and wide [MORE].


12-15 April 2011: Nong Khai I-San Songkran Festival. With the neighbouring country of Lao PDR on the opposite bank of the Mekong River, Songkran celebrations in the northeastern province of Nong Khai is a combined Thai-Lao Songkran festival, with rituals, cultural performances, folk games and cuisine, reflecting a shared heritage [MORE].

8-15 April 2011: Dok Khun Siang Khaen Festival. As part of the traditional Songkran Thai New Year merit-making ceremonies in Khon Kaen province, the locals perform bathing rituals to pay homage to revered Buddha images and shrines, present merit-making offerings to monks and pay respect to elders by making ritual offerings [MORE].

12-15 April 2011: Nakhon Phanom Lao Songkran Festival. Buddhist bathing rituals are performed in accordance with ancient customs and traditions. Scented lustral water is sprinkled over sacred sites such as the 2,000-year old Phra That Phanom stupa — the most sacred and ancient monument of the Northeast and the landmark of Nakhon Phanom, holy footprints of Lord Buddha, temples, Buddha images as well as monks [MORE].


9-15 April 2011: Hat Yai Midnight Songkran Festival. Miss Songkran pageant and Miss Songkran procession and the Midnight Songkran celebrations in Hat Yai [MORE].

10-13 April 2011: The Water Festival on the Beach in Phuket. Visitors to Phuket are invited to join local residents in Thai New Year merit-making activities and experience up close and personal the colourful local culture highlighting traditional Thai ways as well as contemporary pop culture. [MORE]

11-15 April 2011: Songkran Festival in Nakhon Si Thammarat. For hundreds of years, it has been the tradition to pour lustral water onto Phra Buddha Singh image during the fifth month of the Thai calendar. The present day Songkran Festival has evolved from this practice. A procession escorting the Phra Buddha Sihing Buddha image from the Provincial Hall to Tung Tha Lat where it is bathed with lustral waters [MORE].



Pictures of Pattaya Music Festival 2011

This weekend, Thailand is hosting one of Asia’s biggest beach music festivals. The Pattaya International Music Festival, 18-20 March 2011,  is now in its tenth year and is bigger and better than ever. The opening night was on Friday which I attended. It continues over the weekend with both Thai and international singers.

Over 400,000 people are expected for this three day concert at various stages along  Beach Road. This stretch of road is three kilometres long which is why they are now calling it “The Longest Beach Music Festival in Asia”. The four main stages are Galaxy Stage located on Laem Bali Hai, Moon Stage on Pattaya Soi 4, Universal Stage at Central Pattaya and Reggae Stage at South Pattaya.

Over one hundred famous Thai and foreign artists are scheduled to perform during the  three day event. They represent different styles of music such as Pop, Hip-Hop, R&B and Rock. Some of the big Thai stars include Golf-Mike (see picture below), Da Endorphine, Potato, Paradox, Slot Machine (see picture above), Chin Chinawut, Ice Sarunyu, Namcha, Aof Pongsak, Punch, Sweet Mullet,  Blackhead, Bie The Star, Tai Oratai,  The Richman Toy and Modern Dog.

Last night I started at the Galaxy Stage which is at Laem Bali Hai, the southern end of Pattaya Beach Road. The opening ceremony took place at 7 p.m. and was attended by the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand as well as the Pattaya City Mayor. The opening song, by Golf-Mike and Vietrio, was an arrangement of H.M. The King’s song “Klai Roong”.

I stayed at the Galaxy Stage for an hour or so then decided to walk north up Beach Road. From Walking Street up as far as about Soi 4 the road had been closed and many vendors had set up shop selling everything from delicious food to handicraft and clothing. Also along the way were a couple of other smaller stages with bands performing. I found the biggest crowd at Universal stage which is just north of the Hard Rock Hotel. This one has the popular Thai pop singers.

More information about Pattaya Music Festival can be found on our festival blogs. We have the full schedule there for each of the main stages. All of the concerts are free to attend. Below are some more of the pictures that I took on Friday night. I also posted pictures on my Facebook last night. Feel free to add me as a friend if you use Facebook already.

[album: Music Festival 2011/]