The start of the rainy season is marked each year by one of the most beautiful celebrations in Thailand as Ubon Ratchathani prepares for Buddhist Lent and artists set about moulding and sculpting Lenten candles. These impressive works of art are presented to Temples as Buddhist merit-making offerings and serve as fine examples of Buddhist art and sculpture.
The candle festival is unique to Ubon Ratchathani province and the customs and traditions have been preserved by local communities for generations.
The origin of the Candle Festival can be traced to the days before the arrival of electricity when Thai Buddhists donated candles to their local temples to ensure the monks had light to study during the three month long Buddhist Lent. Originally a tradition performed to accumulate merit, the donation of candles turned symbolic after the arrival of electricity, and the candles ever more decorative and elaborate.
The festival takes place during Asahna Bucha and Khao Phansa days, two important Buddhist events that celebrate Buddha’s first sermon at Benares in India, and the beginning of the three month Khao Pansa or Buddhist Lent.
This year Asahna Bucha falls on 16 July and Khao Pansa on 17 July.
One of the festival’s highlights is the candle and float procession through town on the morning of Khao Phansa day, with large groups of Thai girls and boys in traditional dress performing Thai dance and music. The streets are crowded with onlookers and the ambience resembles that of a carnival. The elaborately decorated floats are bright and colourful, with prizes for the most impressive ones, as well as the most beautiful candle sculptures.
The giant candles that are paraded through the town represent local temples, districts or institutions. The more elaborate versions are accompanied by scenes of Hindu and Buddhist mythology sculpted in wood or plaster and coated with wax. Of course, these are never burned.
Don’t miss the international sculpting competition on Asahna Buchna day, which is held in Thung Si Muang Park in the town’s centre. Both local and international teams make large wax candle sculptures which can reach up to 20 metres in height and are decorated with Thai patterns and scenes from the Ramayana. They are exhibited throughout the evening and there are usually small processions with burning candles at different temples around town.
There are nationwide restrictions on the sale of alcohol for the two day period covering Asahna Bucha Day and Khao Phansa Day. This means that most bars and clubs in Ubon Ratchathani close for a 48-hour period, but this doesn’t dampen the fun with all the music, delicious food, theatre, muay Thai boxing contests and dance to be enjoyed.
NOTE: It is recommended to confirm the times of the parades with your hotel or the local TAT tourist office upon arrival. There is an information counter at the Ubon Ratchathani airport.
The Candle Festival is celebrated in several places in Thailand, but the most famous and popular spot remains Ubon Ratchathani, a major city in the Isaan region of Thailand about 500km northeast of the Thai capital Bangkok.
The Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival is very popular and attracts visitors from all over Thailand. Flights from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani are often booked out and accommodation is at a premium, so you’d do well to make arrangements well in advance. It’s best to stay within walking distance of the Thung Si Mueang Park festivities. Arrive a day in advance to allow time to visit the artists in the local temples finishing the decoration of their candle floats.