Festivals are a great way to experience a country’s culture. The big ones celebrated all over Thailand are Loi Kratong and Songkron. However, there are also many area specific festivals in Thailand that can be just as fun, or funner than the major ones. Here is a summary of my cultural experiences with festivals:
1) Bantak’s Northern Thai Festival, June 22.
Everyone in my town was quite a buzz about the festival, especially the parade (“ka-buan”). I was excited because I was going to get all dressed up, Thai princess style. When I asked what time I needed to show up for the parade my Thai counterparts replied 1 am. “What?! There must be some miscommunication,” I thought, “they probably meant 7 am.” [The Thai way of telling time is much more confusing than the English way. Thai time consists of groups of 6 hours and 3 hours, instead of 12 hours. Therefore, 7am could be hour 1 in the morning time section and 1 am is hour 1 in the way early morning time section] Besides, the parade didn’t even start until 8:30…or 9…or 9:30…I couldn’t get a definite answer beforehand.
It turned out my coworkers really did want me there at 1 am. Thankfully last minute they changed it to 1:30 am. I had not realized beforehand how much time goes into getting dressed up in Thailand. There were three people dedicated to beautifying all the female parade participants, one for hair, hair accessories and makeup. You did not do anything. First, the hair person put your hair up into a bun which he wrapped fake hair around. Then, the hair accessories person stuck fake flowers and metal accessories into the fake bun. Finally, the makeup was applied, lips, eyes, checks, everything. (I opted out of the fake eyelashes) Since there are only three people the beautifying process works as an assembly line and the people to be beautified show up in shifts–I just happened to be in the first shift.
For the parade, it seemed there was more people walking in it than watching. Every school and government office in the county was represented. It was a very spectacular sight. Everyone looked beautiful, and there were many colors flags, pictures of the royal family and drums.
The whole thing was finished by 10 am. After which, I took a much appreciated nap.
Here is the equivalent of a thousand more words to describe the experience:
2) Dan Sai Ghost Festival (Phi Ta Kon), July 17-19
Someone once described this festival as a combination of Day of the Dead, Halloween and Mardi Gras…that is the best description I have heard. In short, it was craziness. Dan Sai is a small town, about 7,000 people, located in the mountains of the province Loei. For 3 days during June or July, “spirits” rise from the dead for Pii Ta Khon. The festival celebrates the return of Buddha after he was thought to have died. Everyone dresses in masks, colorful costumes and bells. Noise and color is everywhere. Thais are usually shy, but put a mask and some bells on them, and they become crazy.
All of the costumes were amazing. The masks are made from coconut tree trunks and the top part is made out of a sticky rice steamer.
During the festival, my friends and I stayed at a home-stay not far from the celebrations. It was gorgeous to wake up and see the mist on the mountains through the window. Events included a parades, dancing around the temple, local products exhibition and traditional dances. Both nights, there was a live band, accompanied by outrageously fun dancing on my part. (The band even played Lady Gaga and Maroon 5–huge for Thailand). Half the fun though, was just walking around and interacting with the locals.
In summary, I had a blast. It was one of the most fun and culturally enriching things I have done so far in Thailand. Definite highlight.