Shaped exactly like an elephant’s head, Thailand is a vast, sweltering hot tropical kingdom whose landscape ranges from powder white beaches with turquoise water to ultra-green, lush jungles and mountains full of traditional hill tribes. Insanely ornate, gold-splashed Buddhist temples dot the villages and cities, where ramshackle shantytowns nestle up to glitzy shopping malls. Ladyboys, tuk-tuks and picturesque floating markets also await the foreign visitor’s dollars. Welcome to Thailand, one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
Tropical Storm Tour: Thailand Video 3 takes us way up into the rural Northeast of Thailand to Dan Sai in the province of Isan, which, for 362 days of the year, is a small, sleepy town. Every June, however, Dan Sai plays unlikely host to an explosively colorful, one-of-a-kind, three-day festival and parade called Phi Ta Khon, part of a Buddhist festival called Bun Luang. (Phi Ta Khon is derived from an ancient Buddhist story in which the Buddha, who had embarked on a long trip and never came back, was thought by his devotees to be deceased. Upon his unexpected return, the party was so raucous and loud, it woke the dead.)
Commencing at 4:00 am, the first ceremony of Phi Ta Khon, the Phra Uppakut invocation, gets underway at Wat Pon Chai. There, on the banks of the Mon river, a man reads from pages of Buddhist texts to summon the spirit of a monk with supernatural powers named Phra Uppakut, who resides underwater as a white pebble. (The locals believe he is the only entity who can protect the village from evil spirits.) Called Bo Si or Summoning of the Spirits, the second ceremony, which celebrates the arrival of Uppakut and takes place at Chao Pho Kuan’s house, consists of another man reading from pages of Buddhist texts to a room packed with devotees.
Following that, a non-stop dance party powered by deafening, pre-recorded, repetitive Thai molam music, gets underway, which inspires the old folks to shimmy around for an hour. At 10:00 am, everyone heads back over to Wat Phon Chai to listen to a speech from some dignitaries. Around 11:00 am, an awards show of some sort goes down, followed by a series of “modernized traditional” Thai dance and music performances on a huge stage.
The next day, as the sky alternates between overcast and sunny, the main Phi Ta Khon parade gets underway as a myriad of brightly decorated floats carrying everyone from beauty queens to dignitaries slowly ambles by. Also in evidence are trucks with tricked out sound systems blaring extremely loud music–some carrying live molam bands jamming away into the infinite groove. Other highlights include float after flower-filled float, traditional Thai dance ensembles and, of course, teams of Phi Ta Khon ghost characters jangling and tinkling away as they walk, dance, thrust their wooden phallus sticks as a symbol of fertility, and pose for photos with the crowd.