The Phi Ta Khon festival is the biggest attraction to the otherwise sleepy farming village of Dan Sai, nestled in the mountains of Loei province of northeastern Thailand. The event is peculiar to Dan Sai, but does combine elements of other Isaan festivals, such as the rocket festivals to bring rain. Although pinning down the dates of Phi Ta Khon was once an issue, with the village elders only naming the dates a few weeks beforehand, the festival is now fixed at the first weekend after the sixth full moon.
The main event takes place on Friday, when there is a grand procession of men and boys (and these days, girls) in their colorful masks and costumes. The masks consist of a large head piece made from the woven cone used to steam sticky rice. The face is carved from wood or banana trunks. The clothing was traditionally sewn from rags of old cloth, but nowadays is usually a kind of jumpsuit patched from several colorful fabrics. Some of the masked men will carry a carved wooden ax with a handle carved to look like a phallus, or sometimes just a big wooden phallic charm called a Bhalad Khik. The parade passes in front of reviewing stands on the main street, and ends at Wat Phon Chai.
On Saturday there is a smaller parade in the morning, while in the afternoon the elders bring out a small rocket, which is set off near the reviewing stands. It’s more puff than boom, and filled with little good luck tokens.
In addition to the main events, two of the town’s main temples are also hives of activity, especially Wat Phonchai, where there are several activities going on as well as a stage with traditional dancing. At Wat Prathat Song Rak, residents will come to leave offerings around the ancient pagoda. These will mainly be pyramidal bamboo frames with wax shells affixed to them.