October 5, 2015
A brilliant and colourful festival where you are not hemmed in by hordes of tourists
When: 16th October 2016
Where: Tapi River Surat Thani Province Southern Thailand
Thailand celebrates one of its most important festivals around this time of the year when on the full moon of the eleventh Thai lunar month, the people of the Kingdom, take to their streets, water ways and seaboard, in joyful celebration, to commemorate the festival of Wan Ok Phansa, which in turn marks the end of the three months ‘Buddhist Lent’ known as Wan Khao Phansa. (Buddhism in Thailand is largely of the Theravada school, and is followed by 93.6% of the population)
Celebrations at this time of the year are conducted through-out Thailand, with a vast array of different, vibrant festivals to mark the occasion; each has its own uniqueness and is known by many names. Here in Thailand’s south the people celebrate this most auspicious occasion with their very own festival of Chak Phra Phum Pha Pa, (literally meaning ‘pulling of the Buddhist Monks,’).
The ceremony of “Phum Pha Pa”
As is the custom after Lent, Buddhist monks who have been confined to their monasteries for three months, are given offerings (alms) by the local people of essential personal items such as candles, soap, shaving goods etc. along with food and new robes (during the kathin ceremony).
Surat Thani has its own unique version of this ceremony, called “Phum Pha Pa” which sees the local people hanging their offerings on tree branches in front of houses, schools and offices the night before Won Ok Phansa. The hanging of offerings is a celebration all of its own, with locals attentively decorating the whole town with beautifully-packed alms as well as lights and paintings depicting the life story of Buddha.
Hanging the alms in this manner for the monks to find, is a reflection on Thailand’s distant past when Buddhist monks were not allowed to receive robes directly from lay people and would use discarded pieces of cloth to make their robes, (they are still not permitted to receive goods directly from lay females).
In the past to over-come this restriction, the Thai people would deliberately leave bundles of cloth close to where the Monks would find them, this ‘indirectly’ given donation would be recycled by the monks to provide them with their much needed robes. This restriction is no longer enforced in modern-day Thailand, where it is now common for robes to be given to the monks at funerals, weddings and the blessing of a new home or commercial building.
While the Grand Celebration is on the 16th October 2016, the festivities start on the 15th and go on for a further 8 days and nights. The event also includes teams from all over the south, fiercely competing in Longboat races, which can contain up to 50 male and female rowers per boat. The winning team receives the royal cup of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
Other highlights include the decorated float contests, the Phum Pha Pa contest, along with light and sound presentations on both land and the Tapi River. There are a host of cultural performances of traditional Thai music, costume and dance (including Manora dancing which is indigenous to Southern Thailand), plus many other fun-filled displays and contests featuring the ethnic culture of the region.
The city of Surat Thani has no real tourist attractions to speak of and is known to most tourists as simply the transfer port to the nearby islands of Ko Samui and Ko Phangan, in my opinion the absence of hordes of tourists makes this another festival that visitors should make a bee line for.
It is here unlike the islands most people head to, where you get the chance to immerse yourself in true ‘Thai Culture’. The people of this city spend a month preparing for this delightfully and memorable annual festival. All this hard work makes for a superb event which really grabs hold of all of your senses. From witnessing the spiritual and solemn Buddhist ceremonies, to taking in the glorious colours of the floats and city decorations, (during both the day and the early evening), to the sight and sounds of Thai music and dance, to the deafening noise the crowds make, screaming for their long boat team to win.
Finally to the sight, smell, touch and taste of the massive choice of local food on offer……….. All this without having to rub shoulders with coach loads of tourists……..Priceless
Celebrations across Thailand
Celebrations at this time of the year are conducted through-out Thailand, with a vast array of different, vibrant festivals that sit hand in hand, with the religious rites, to mark the occasion of the end of the Buddhist Lent; each has its own uniqueness and is known by many names. In Thailand’s south the people celebrate this most auspicious occasion with their very own festival of Chak Phra (Phum Pha Pa), while also in the south the people of Phatthalung Province, go mad with drums in the Phon Lak Phra Festival.
The north has its spiritual Tak Bat Devo Festival, featuring hundreds of Buddhist monks, there are another two festivals similar to this event; Lak Phra and Tak Bat Thewo which is actually two events spread over two days and held in Songkhla Province, Southern Thailand, plus the far smaller ‘Tak Bat Thewo Rohana Fair‘ Wat Phutthawat in Kalasin Northeast Thailand.
The province of Sakon Nakhon features the amazing Wax Castle possession, while in the north east province of Nakhon Phanom you will find the dazzling Fire Boat Possession. Central Thailand offers you the chance to be part of the Lotus Flower Festival and in the Mae Hong Son Province, of North West Thailand you can be part of the uniquely Tai-Yai peoples event, that of the Chong Para Festival. Not forgetting throughout the Kingdom you can witness a whole host of Longboat races and Festivals.
The following day across the Kingdom, the 30 day Ritual of Krathin will begin, when monks will be offered new robes
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