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Khao Phansa celebrating the dawn of Buddhist Lent

Khao Phansa Day, marking the start of Buddhist Lent, which this year is being celebrated on 9 July, in unique Thai local ways nationwide.

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There are few things that enchant visitors to Thailand as much as the piety of the people. The rituals of Theravada Buddhism infuse every aspect of life in the kingdom – from the charming wai gesture that nearly all Thai people make when passing a temple, to life events such as weddings, funerals and ordinations.

This devout side of Thai life means that many tourists often time their visits to coincide with Buddhist festivals. One of the important of these is Khao Phansa, or Buddhist Lent Day, which is celebrated very differently across the nation.

What is Khao Phansa?

Khao Phansa, the first day of Buddhist Lent (vassavasa) takes place the day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month and marks the start of the rainy season, when monks retreat to their temples.

Here they spend three months in study and meditation. This retreat to the temples is based on an edict of Lord Buddha issued to ensure monks did no damage to crops or accidentally stood on insects, hidden in the floodwaters.

Many Thais observe Vassavasa with fasting, the avoidance of alcohol, meat, tobacco and gambling. This self-denial is why there are comparisons with Christian Lent. But Khao Phansa is a more colourful festival, with elaborately carved candles being the centre of the celebrations.

Traditionally, candles were donated to monasteries enabling monks to continue their studies into the evenings.

Nowadays, these offerings take the form of huge wax effigies which are shown off in local parades. These processions boast a uniquely Thai blend of artistry, fun and festival and are accompanied by folk dances, displays of local crafts and sound and light performances relating local stories.

Khao Phansa is also the day when traditionally monks would go to the temples and stay there for three months of meditation and study. Their need for candlelight – as there were no electricity in the old days – during this time led to a tradition of carving amazing wax effigies and sculptures, which now play a big role in the celebrations.

As well as the processions of exquisitely carved candles and wax displays, Khao Phansa Day is celebrated with parades, folk dancing in traditional costumes, music and storytelling.

As the three-month period of Buddhist Lent is observed as a time of abstinence from drinking and eating to excess, people often see Khao Phansa Day as the last chance to indulge in their favourite local snacks and dishes. So many celebrations will have food fairs and booths selling local specialties. This makes the festival a great time to explore the unique culinary offerings of each district.

In 2017, Khao Phansa takes place on 9 July:

What’s on and where?

The Central Region

Ayutthaya Aquatic Phansa Festival

The ancient capital of Ayutthaya hosts memorable Khao Phansa celebrations, as the candles are taken to the local temples in colourful boats that float down the city’s ancient Lad Chado canal. Visitors can also enjoy a taste of rural life, beauty pageants, and local games.

Suphanburi Khao Phansa Candles Procession

Here, local people and art colleges compete to stage impressive candle displays. Many of the larger-than-life wax tableaus depict figures from Thai mythology which are paraded around town. Visitors also enjoy exhibitions about the ways of life of the local tribal people and folk dancing.

Saraburi Khao Phansa Festival

To mark Khao Phansa in Saraburi, locals flock to the shrine of the Buddha’s Footprint where yellow and white flowers which bloom locally are handed to monks to make merit. This floral offering is known as Tak Bat Dok Mai and thousands of people now join to give alms to the monks as they ascend the stairs of the shrine.

The Northeastern Region

Nakhon Phanom Candle Festival

The Lao-influenced culture of Nakhon Phanom ensures a different twist on the Khao Phansa celebrations. The event centres on the iconic pagoda of Wat Phra That Phanom and there is always a procession of exquisitely carved candles to enjoy as well as the picturesque Miss Candle Beauty contest.

Surin Candle Festival

Home to one of the most impressive sets of celebrations for Khao Phansa, the 12 temples of Surin town display their own carved candle wax effigies which are paraded in the streets, accompanied by folk dances. Most impressive is the parade of elephants, decorated in finery, which transport local monks so people and visitors can give alms and make merit.

Ubon Ratchathani International Wax Candle Festival and Wax Candle Procession

One of the biggest of the Khao Phansa events is the International Wax Candle Festival and Wax Candle Procession which takes place in Thung Si Mueang Park, Ubon Ratchathani. The sheer size of the wax artworks is staggering, making the event popular with photographers. It’s a great place to explore unique local cultures as the locals wear traditional dress and show off their folk dances.

Korat Candle Procession Festival

Korat is the gateway to the Northeast and its Candle Procession Festival is the city’s annual highlight. People gather to enjoy food and drink in front of the city hall and to find a place near the famous Thao Suranaree monument to watch the impressive procession of wax sculptures.

Khao Phansa Festival Khao Phansa Festival
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Can border reopening revive tourism in South-East Asia?

In Thailand, where pre-pandemic tourism accounted for 11-12% of GDP, the country lost an estimated $50bn last year as Covid-19 restrictions led to an 82% fall in arrival numbers.

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Ko Samed deserted pier

After 18 months of travel restrictions, a number of countries in South-east Asia have begun opening their borders to foreign visitors to stoke recovery in their respective tourism industries.

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Thailand to lift quarantine for vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries from November

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Thailand to lift quarantine for vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries from November

Bangkok, 12 October, 2021

Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha in a nationally televised broadcast last night announced that Thailand planned to allow fully vaccinated foreign visitors to enter Thailand by air with no quarantine requirements from 1 November.

In the initial phase, Thailand will allow fully vaccinated travellers from at least 10 low-risk countries, including China, Germany, Singapore, the UK and USA. The list will be expanded from 1 December, and further enhanced to a very extensive list from 1 January.

Under the plan, fully vaccinated foreign visitors from the approved countries will need to show that they are COVID-free at their time of travel with an RT-PCR test undertaken before they leave their home country, and do a test in Thailand, after which they will be free to move around Thailand in the same way that any Thai citizen can do, the Prime Minister said.

Visitors from countries not on the list, will, of course, still be much welcomed, but with quarantine and other requirements.

In addition, the Prime Minister said consumption of alcoholic beverages in restaurants as well as the operation of entertainment venues under appropriate health precautions would be allowed from 1 December.

Below is the full speech by the Prime Minister.

National Address of the Prime Minister of Thailand

“THAILAND WILL WELCOME QUARANTINE-FREE VISITORS”

Monday 11 October, 2021

My fellow citizens, brothers and sisters:

In the last one-and-half years, we have lived with some of the greatest peacetime challenges our country has ever faced in its history, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and one that has left nobody untouched and no country in the world undamaged.

It has been one of the most painful experiences in my life, too: to make decisions that balance the saving of lives with the saving of livelihoods – a choice that is not always clearly separate, and where we may save lives, but commit those lives to the unbearable pain of trying to survive with little or no income; or where we may save livelihoods but commit one’s family, friends and neighbours to loss of life and the loss of their breadwinner.

In facing this terrible choice, it was my decision that we could not allow a slow, wait-and-see approach to confronting the pandemic and let it claim the lives of so many of our countrymen and women, as we, ultimately, saw happen in so many other countries.

As a result, I acted decisively on the advice of many of our outstanding public health experts to make our country one of the first in the world to move quickly with lockdowns and tight regulations.

With the collaboration of all sectors of society, and with everyone joining hands to face this crisis together, we have been among the most successful countries in the world in saving lives. 

But it has come at very great sacrifices of lost livelihoods, lost savings, and destroyed businesses – what we have all given up so that our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, friends and neighbours may live for today.

The threat of a large scale, lethal spread of the virus in Thailand is now diminishing, even though the risk of resurgence is always there, and even though there are still serious constraints on our hospital and medical staff capacities. 

The time has come for us to ready ourselves to face the coronavirus and live with it as with other endemic infections and diseases, much as we have learnt to live with other diseases with treatments and vaccinations.

Today, I would like to announce the first small but important step in decisively beginning the process of trying to restore our livelihoods.

During the last weeks some of Thailand’s most important tourist source countries have begun to ease their travel restrictions on their citizens – countries like the UK, that now allow convenient travel to our country, as well as countries like Singapore and Australia that have started to ease travel restrictions on their citizens visiting other countries.

With these developments, we must act quickly but still cautiously, and not miss the opportunity to entice some of the year-end and New Year holiday season travellers during the next few months to support the many millions of people who earn a living from our tourism, travel and entertainment sectors as well as the many other related sectors.

I have, therefore, instructed the CCSA and the Ministry of Public Health to urgently consider within this week to allow, as of 1 November, international visitors to enter Thailand without any requirement for quarantine if they are fully vaccinated and arrive by air from low-risk countries.

All that visitors will need do is to show that they are COVID-free at their time of travel with an RT-PCR test undertaken before they leave their home country, and do a test in Thailand, after which they will be free to move around Thailand in the same way that any Thai citizen can do.

Initially, we will begin with at least 10 countries on our low-risk, no-quarantine list, including the United Kingdom, Singapore, Germany, China, and the United States of America, and enlarge that list by 1 December, and, by 1 January move to a very extensive list.

Visitors from countries not on the list, will, of course, still be much welcomed, but with quarantine and other requirements.

By 1 December, we will also consider allowing the consumption of alcoholic beverages in restaurants as well as the operation of entertainment venues under appropriate health precautions to support the revitalisation of the tourism and leisure sectors, especially as we approach the New Year period.

I know this decision comes with some risk.  It is almost certain that we will see a temporary rise in serious cases as we relax these restrictions.  We will have to track the situation very carefully, and see how to contain and live with that situation because I do not think that the many millions who depend on the income generated by the travel, leisure, and entertainment sector can possibly afford the devastating blow of a second lost new year holiday period. 

But if, in the months ahead, we see an unexpected emergence of a highly dangerous new variant of the virus, then, of course, we must also act accordingly and proportionately when we see the threat.  We know that this virus has surprised the world several times, and we must be ready for it to do so again. 

In mid-June of this year, I had set a 120-day goal for quarantine-free entry into Thailand and to accelerate our vaccinations.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the extraordinary achievements of our public health workers, other officials and all citizens for their response to my appeal in June.

After we adopted the 120-day goal, extraordinary efforts were made to increase our supply of vaccines and compete with many other countries to get deliveries.  And they were very successful.  Our vaccine deliveries jumped threefold, from around 4 million doses in May to almost 12 million in July… then to almost 14 million in August, and will now run at over 20 million a month until the end of the year, totalling over 170 million doses, far ahead of the goals I had set.

Similarly, our public health staff worked tirelessly to accelerate vaccinations to support our 120-day goal, and the public gave great cooperation to register for vaccinations despite the inconveniences that may have been caused in scheduling.  As a result, our daily vaccinations, which were running at around 80,000 doses a day in May, shot up immediately.  One month after our goal-setting, our public health team tripled the number of shots being administering a day, and they kept increasing that number until Thailand rose to be among the fastest ten countries in the world for administering shots!  Currently, they have frequently been administering more than 700,000 shots a day, and sometimes even exceeding one million shots a day.

Shortly after my address to the nation in mid-June setting our goal for quarantine-free entry into Thailand in 120 days, the world was struck by the highly infectious Delta variant.  Worldwide cases spiked up and peaked in August, just as they did in Thailand, and few thought that it would be possible to achieve any quarantine-free entry into Thailand this year.

The fact that we can begin quarantine-free entry in November, and despite many countries still trying to contain Delta variant infections with restrictions on the travel of their citizens is a great tribute to the unity of purpose and determined response to my appeal by the public health services, by many other government departments, by the private sector, and by the cooperation given by citizens in all matters.

Our nation has performed an extraordinary feat in the last months that we can all be very proud about everyone’s enormous contributions to those achievements.  These achievements, coupled with the gradual relaxation of other countries’ travel restrictions, now enables us to begin the process of quarantine-free entry into Thailand.

Thank you.

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