Category Archives: Festivals

Wai Khru Ceremony at Muay Thai Festival

Muay Thai is truly an international sport these days as people all around the world compete in this ancient form of boxing. However, the spiritual home is definitely here in Thailand with the home base being in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. Yesterday, 350 boxers from 35 different countries came together at Wat Mahathat to take part in the Wai Khru Ceremony. They came to pay respect to their teachers, and to pay homage to the legendary Muay Thai folk hero, Nai Khanom Tom.

Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport and Ayutthaya, the home of its legendary hero is the stronghold of Muay Thai. According to legend, Nai Khanom Tom was captured by the Burmese after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. Along with other prisoners, he was taken back to Burma. During a Buddhist festival he was selected to fight in a tournament that was put on to see which forms of boxing were the best; Thai or Burmese. Nai Khanom Tom fought ten Burmese boxers in a row without pause and defeated them all.

The Wai Khru Muay Thai Ceremony is the most important date on the calendar for Muay Thai boxers from around the world. They come together in the days leading up to National Muay Thai Day, which is on 17th March, to pay respect to their teachers, and to pay homage to the legendary Muay Thai folk hero, Nai Khanom Tom. This takes place during the annual three day Thai Martial Arts Festival in Ayutthaya which is now in its 7th year. The aim is to preserve the Thai martial arts.

The Wai Khru Ceremony took place at Wat Mahathat on Tuesday 15th March 2011. Highlights of the event included Muay Thai exhibitions as well as demonstrations of Thai handicraft and cuisine. Over the following two days, 16th-17th March 2011,  there is a Muay Thai tournament with international boxers contending for the Nai Khanom Tom belt with a cash prize for the weight divisions of 60, 65, 70, and 80 kilograms. There will also be a Wai Kru competition for Thai students. This takes place at the stadium in Ayutthaya.


You can see more of my photos on my Facebook page.


Tattoo Festival at Wat Bang Phra 2011

One of the most bizarre festivals that I have ever attended in Thailand is the Tattoo Festival. This takes place at Wat Bang Phra temple in Nakhon Chaisi, about 50 kms west of Bangkok. This year it is on Saturday 19th March 2011. Wat Bang Phra is famous for its magically charged tattoos and amulets which can protect its wearer against harm and even speeding bullets. The temple was made famous by the late Luang Phor Boon and his devoted followers visit this temple every March to take part in a special “wai khru” ceremony and also to have their tattoos recharged.

The ceremony is scheduled to start at the auspicious time of 9.39 a.m.  However, it is a good idea to come early. We were there just before 7 a.m. At that time it is easier to park and also to find a good place to sit or stand to watch the proceedings. Although we had arrived early, there was already close on a thousand people there. Many of them were sitting on the ground facing the shrine for Luang Poh Pern. Others were making offerings to this former revered abbot of the temple. He was famous for making magical tattoos that could protect their wearer. Now his monks continue this practice.

I have two reports on this festival:

I won’t be able to go this year as I have another trip heading north to Chiang Rai at that time. I have marked the temple on the map below. Near this temple you will find Lampaya Floating Market. You might like to visit afterwards. Please feel free to post any questions in the comments form below.

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Bun Bang Fai Festival near Roi Et

In July 2010 I went with my friends Aod and Chai to visit Aod’s family in Roi Et province. On the 10 and 11 July they celebrated the Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival in the village of Ban Kang Pla (Nong Phai) which is on the road no 2043 a few km outside of Roi Et.

On the first day they held a parade through the village with beautifully decorated floats, marching bands, and dancing groups. The parade started and ended at the village temple (Wat Charoenphol Ban Kang Pla). In the temple grounds a bouncy castle and a few trampolines were set up for the children to enjoy. All over the village were stalls with food and drinks and guys on motorbikes were selling ice cream from their side-car. Vendors would sell balloons and other souvenirs. From some little stall you could buy small rockets. We bought a couple for ourselves and in the evening we fired them into the sky in our village. These rockets don’t go “boom” nor do they burst into colourful displays. Their only purpose is to rise as high as possible into the sky to appease some goddess and ensure a good rainfall.

The parade was opened by some official in the temple were they had some reserved seating for guests of honour. Hundreds of people lined the village roads and all had a jolly good time (and some too much to drink). Quite a few people were walking around with their umbrella opened, not because they were expecting a sudden downpour, but to protect themselves from the burning sun, which was rather strong on this day. Apart from myself there were only one or two more farang at the parade. This didn’t bother me at all. I don’t mind the odd foreigner.

Occasionally the parade would come to a halt. Usually the reason was that one of the big floats got itself entangled in the power cables, which were hanging fairly low across the streets throughout the village. When this happened men with long bamboo sticks would lift up the cables to allow the float to pass underneath. Sometimes they had to climb on top of the float and fold the decorations down so that the float could pass – a bit like the mast of a sailing vessel that is passing under a low bridge.

On the second day the big rockets were sent skywards. For this purpose a rocket launcher had been erected in a meadow opposite the village on the other side of the road No 2043. This contraption looked probably not dissimilar from what the Americans used for the early Apollo missions. As is customary in space exploration each rocket launch began with a countdown. Since there were not too many clouds in the sky it was easy to follow the path of each rocket with the naked eye. Some monks were also in attendance – I assume to give a blessing for each rocket.

Again there were a few stalls with food and drink, and also some souvenirs. People would just walk about, stand to watch the launch of a rocket or sit down in the grass to have a family picnic. On the opposite end of the meadow from the launch pad was a big stage with live music. Anybody who felt like they needed to shake the hokey cokey out of their legs was to be found here.

Hae Pha Khuen Festival

One of the most important places to celebrate Makha Bucha Day, a Buddhist holiday, is at Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan. This royal temple, in Nakhon Si Thammarat in Southern Thailand, houses a relic of the Lord Buddha. On the full moon day during February every year, local people take part in a parade called Hae Pha Khuen That. They believe that taking part will bring them good fortune and success in life. So, Buddhists come from far away to take part in the parade.

In the old days, Thai Buddhists would prepare a long piece of white cloth painted with the story of the Buddha’s life. This cloth is known as Phra Bot. They would then carry this in a parade to the temple where they would wrap it around the giant stupa which houses a relic of the Buddha. These days, people don’t always have time to prepare such a cloth, so instead, many of them would carry cloths that were either coloured white, yellow or red.

The tradition of making a Phra Bot as an offering is done by Buddhists all around the world. In order to make the festival more of an international event, last year for the first time, the local government invited participants from other Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Japan and China. This is rather apt as because the very first Phra Bot, which was used to wrap around the stupa, was originally made as an offering to the Buddha’s Footprint in Sri Lanka.

According to legend, the tradition of wrapping a Phra Bot around the stupa dated back to 1230 A.D. during the reign of King Si Thamma Sokkarat. He had just finished building a giant stupa called Phra Boromthat which housed a relic of the Lord Buddha. Before he had formerly dedicated the stupa, he heard that some people had been shipwrecked after a violent storm. With them they had a Phra Bot which they were taking to Sri Lanka as an offering. The King decided to bring this Phra Bot to the stupa where he wrapped it around the construction as an offering to the Buddha. This then became an annual tradition.

I was lucky yesterday to be able to take part in this parade for the first time. I had flown down to Nakhon Si Thammarat by Nok Air the day before. The flight only took 70 minutes compared to ten hours by bus. The parade started near the City Pillar on Ratchadamnoen Road. There were literally thousands of people taking part in the parade. These varied from local schools and organisations to individual Buddhists who had travelled from far and near to take part in this important pilgrimage. Most of them were holding onto a piece of the Phra Bot cloth.

After the opening ceremony by the provincial governor, the parade set off along Ratchadamnoen Road towards Wat Phramahathat Woramahawihan. Although we could see it in the far distance, I think it took us nearly an hour to walk there. It was a very hot day and even though people were obviously exhausted, I think they were happy to take part. Along the way local people had come out to watch and also to offer water to the people taking part in the parade. I arrived ahead of the parade only to find that there were already thousands of people at the temple wrapping cloths around the stupas, both big and small.

I climbed the steps to the base of the giant stupa. This is an up-turned bell-shaped chedi in the Sri-Lankan style. Although the parade hadn’t arrived yet, many pieces of cloth had already been wrapped around the base which has a circumference of 36 meters. The stupa itself is 53 meters high. The last eight meters at the very top is made from solid gold. This is the part that houses a tooth, which is a relic of the Lord Buddha. People were either stapling or pinning their pieces of cloth to the ones that were already there. They were also writing prayers on the cloth.

I had a really enjoyable time taking part in this festival. The whole event took place between 12th and 18th February 2011. They had many other activities during the past week which led up to the parade on the last day. This included a light and sound show that I watched on Thursday night. If you get a chance, it is definitely worth visiting Nakhon Si Thammarat next year during the week leading up to the full moon in February. There is a lot to see and do in this province which I will tell you about another day. In fact, I am still here and tomorrow I will be going on a boat tour where I will be doing some kayaking. Hopefully we will get a chance to see some pink dolphins. More about that later.

– Posted from my iPad

Chinese Festival Parade in Nakhon Sawan

The most important date on the festival calendar for Nakhon Sawan is the annual Paknam Pho Chinese New Year Festival which lasts for 12 days and 12 nights. The highlights are definitely the two “Chao Por-Chao Mae” Processions which take place in the evening and then the following morning. I recently attended both of these parades through the city and I must say that it was the most impressive Chinese parade that I have seen for a long time.

Chinese migrants have been settling down all over Thailand for hundreds of years. Many of them came to Nakhon Sawan where they built numerous shrines around the city. The two most famous are Chao Pho Thepharak Shrine and Chao Mae Taptim Shrine. Their popularity started nearly a hundred years ago during a cholera outbreak when hundreds of people died. Devotees of these two shrines burnt sheets of paper with Yantra on them and drank the ashes believing that it would both prevent and cure them of cholera. Amazingly it worked.

Since 1914, the people of Nakhon Sawan have organized the Chao Pho Chao Mae Pak Nam Pho Fair and Procession during the Chinese New Year to bring good fortune, prosperity and luck. The pictures on this page are of the night procession through the town. It features various processions such as lion parade, dragon parade, angel procession and the goddess Guan Yin procession. Thousands of local people and tourists lined the route.

If you have time it is worth going to both the night and day versions of the parade. You won’t be disappointed as they both have a great atmosphere and are distinctly different. The highlight for me was the illuminated dragon dance. It was certainly very energetic and I felt exhausted watching it. The dragon weaved in and out and round and round at a breakneck speed. The carriers of the dragon seemed to have unlimited energy. It wasn’t that easy taking a picture as they were moving so fast. But, it didn’t matter as I kept finding myself just standing and staring, mesmerized by the movement of the dragon.

As well as lions and dragons there were also marching bands, dancers in colourful costumes, acrobats standing on each other’s shoulders and literally hundreds and hundreds of other people. The parade was so long that it took them easily four hours to complete the parade route. I decided it was probably best to stand at the start of the parade as I knew from past experiences that there wouldn’t be many smiles at the finishing end. Just tired faces.

The colours, the sights and the sounds of the parade should prove to be a feast for all of your senses. I think I managed to get some good photos during the night parade but the parade the following morning is certainly easier to photograph. The evening parade started at 7 p.m. and the morning one at 7 a.m. It is best to arrive early as roads will be closed. It will also allow you time to get photos before the parade starts. Of the two parades the evening one had more people watching but I was still able to walk up and down the parade route taking pictures.

The next Chinese New Year is on 23rd January 2012. The Paknam Pho Chinese New Year Festival will take place on each side of that date. I will be posting a full schedule on our Thai Festival Blogs as soon as it is released. I would suggest that you go for at least two nights and three days as there are plenty of other activities going on during the 12 day parade. There are also a number of tourist attractions in the area which I will tell you about another day. In the meantime, check out our free online Thailand Guidebook for Nakhon Sawan.

UPDATE: I have posted more pictures in my Facebook Photo Album