March 30, 2015
One of two festivals in which the majestic elephant plays their part in the Northern Province of Sukhothai
When: Annually April 7th – 8th
Where: The procession is held around the village of Ban Hat Siao and the Si Satchanalai District Office. The ordination ceremony is held at Wat Hat Siao. Amphoe: Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai Province Northern Thailand
Sukhothai can be translated as “Dawn of Happiness” and is most famous for its historical city of Sukhothai, the first capital of Siam, now part of the Sukhothai Historical Park. With its numerous sites of historical interest it makes up one of the Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Thailand.
Just over one hour’s drive north brings you to the Sri Satchanalai National Park, which literally translates “City of good people”, founded in 1250 as the second center of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Though not on the scale of its Southern family member it is a wonderful place to visit and can be toured by foot or bicycle which you can rent once there.
From there it is a short 20 minutes’ drive further north to the village of Ban Hat Siao, it is here where the local Thai Phuan people, organize their colourful and annual ordination ceremony, known as the Si Satchanalai Elephant Back Ordination Procession or Buat Chang.
More about the Si Satchanalai Elephant Back Ordination Procession
The inspiration for the festival is thought to come from the legend of Vessandorn (an incarnation of Buddha, who is seen as a role model of generosity and religious merit – For Thai families having a family member ordained brings great merit on both the individual and their family).
The soon to be monks are carried on the backs of elephants that once used to work on the local land, these towering animals which can number between 20-30 beasts, are painted and decorated in their best finery, with their passengers attired in traditional Phuan clothing, this includes the mahout and at least one other person, there to carry a huge colourful parasol to keep the sun off the novice, while they parade around the town and across the river. (Others may well climb aboard during the parade as they try to join in the celebrations).
The parade on the 8th April, led by a mass of well-wishers, family and friends, along with musicians and huge mobile stereo systems, all joining in the cacophony of sound that surrounds the festivities.
While not Songkran the people will also make the effort to keep these majestic animals cool, by dousing them as often as possible with water, until they first reach the cool waters of the river and then after until they reach the Wat entrance, when the young men begin their journey into monk-hood.
The event also has its share of traditional folk dances, along with an array of music and cultural demonstrations, a selection of local handicrafts, and of course a rich boiling pot of Thai food and drinks, all of which adds to this rich mix of colour and sound.
While the modern world may have caught up with this age old tradition, where today’s novice monks can be seen wearing sunglasses, this does detract from what is a spiritual and glorious combination of pomp and ceremony. Filled with a back drop of noisy fun and where…….. as an outsider one gets to live for a short while in the life of the Phuan people.
See the parade on You Tube
For information on the second elephant parade in Si Satchanalai When 50 elephants take centre stage in this ancient festival – Hae Nam Khuen Hong Festival
How to get to Sukhothai Historical Park
Air-conditioned buses depart from Bangkok’s Mochit 2 Bus Terminal to Sukhothai daily between 9.45 a.m. and 10.20 p.m. The journey takes 7 hours. Visit www.transport.co.th for more information. Private bus companies which operate daily bus services to Sukhothai are such as Win Tour (Tel: 0 2936 3753 or 0 5561 1039), Phitsanulok Yan Yon (Tel: 0 2936 2924-5, 0 5525 8647) Sukhothai Bus Terminal (Tel: 0 5561 3296)
There are no trains going directly to Sukhothai. Travel by train to Phitsanulok and then take a local bus to Sukhothai, about 59 kilometres away. Visit www.railway.co.th for more information.
Bangkok Airways flies from Bangkok to Sukhothai daily for 1-hour journey. Sukhothai Airport is about 40 kilometres north of the town
For more on elephants in other festivals across the Kingdom see our posts
To read why boycotting Elephant camps and festivals in Thailand is self defeating click here
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