September 30, 2014
Chak Phra Festival
There are so many colourful and enchanting festivals in the Kingdom of Thailand, many are as yet still pretty much unknown to backpackers and thankfully the majority of tourists. In this post and others on the same subject of ‘Thailand’s Hidden Festivals’ I would like to give you a feeling of what you are missing.
How to get there: By Rail; Surat Thani is connected with Bangkok by the Southern Line of the State Railway of Thailand. Surat Thani Railway Station is the main station of the province, located in Phunphin, about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from the actual city itself. By Air; Surat Thani International Airport is about 30 kilometres (19 mi) from the city by road
The Chak Phra Festival (literally means “pulling of the Buddhist monks”) is celebrated through-out much of Southern Thailand, to symbolize the Buddha’s return to earth after a period of preaching to his mother in heaven. (There is a Buddhist belief that during one, Rains Retreat or “Khao Phansa” Lord Buddha went to heaven to deliver a sermon to his mother who had died after giving birth to Lord Buddha and was born again in heaven. The sermon is said to have lasted for the entire 3 months period of the Rains Retreat). The festival is to celebrate the return of Buddha to Earth.
Celebrations at this time are conducted through-out Thailand and known by many names e.g. it is known as the Tak Bat Devo Festival (which literally means “offering of food to Buddhist monks “) in some of the Northern and Central regions of the Kingdom, the Wax Castle possession in Sakon Nakhon Province. and the Fire Boat Possession in Nakhon Phanom. Isan
The proceedings are fairly similar to those of Isan with the image of Buddha being pulled through the streets by the local people onboard highly intricately decorated sleigh-like floats bearing colourful flags, parasols and huge sculptures of Nagas, at night the same floats are illuminated by their own lights. In amongst the floats are traditionally dressed Thai dancers and musicians. The parade also takes concurrently to the Tapi River, where the town’s principle Buddha image is towed on a lavishly decorated raft bearing the same huge Nagas and is surrounded by smaller decorated craft.
As is the custom during Khao Phansa the Buddhist monks will have been confined to their monasteries for three months, at the end of this period is the time of the kathin ceremony where the monks are given offerings (alms)of both food and new robes. Surat Thani has its own unique version of this ceremony, called “Phum Pha Pa” (not to be confused with Thot Pha Pa Klang Nam ‘Waterborne Robe Offering Ceremony’ (งานทอดผ้าป่ากลางน้ำ) which is held during the Loi Krathong Festival held in November of each year), which see’s the local people hanging their offerings on tree branches in front of houses, schools and office buildings the night before. The hanging of offerings is a celebration of its own with locals attentively decorating the town with beautifully-packed alms as well as lights and paintings depicting the life story of Buddha
While the Grand Celebration is on the 9th October the festival does go on for a period of 9 days and nights with Longboat races, between teams of up to 50 rowers per boat, including both male and female contestants from all over the south. 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, light and sound presentations on both land and the Tapi River. Cultural performances of traditional Thai music, costume and dance (including the Manora dancing which is indigenous to southern Thailand) along with 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 popular popular Ko Samui and Ko Phangan islands, in my opinion it makes this another festival that backpackers should make a bee line for.
It is here unlike the islands you may be headed 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 of you and the crowds screaming your 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