Set in the Wat Phon Chai compound, the Phi Ta Khon Museum displays the best of the area’s signature freaky costumes while explaining the traditions and beliefs that drive the Phi Ta Khon and Bun Luang festivities. When combined with two tranquil hilltop temples, the museum makes a stop in Dan Sai worthwhile at any time.
A substantial collection of Phi Ta Khon masks and costume are set up to look just like they would when strolling around the festival, making it easy to snap a selfie next to the ghoulishly grinning goblins. One display highlights the steps involved in crafting the masks, which consist of hollowed out coconut tree trunks topped by baskets normally used for steaming sticky rice. All of the above is decorated beyond the point of recognition.
The local people’s imaginative artistry is on full display here. Each mask is different from the next, relying on a broad range of bright colours and intricate details in the wide and toothy grins, elaborate headdresses and demonic eyes. If you’re in need of some ideas for a homemade Halloween costume that will actually freak out the trick-or-treaters, this is the place to be.
In addition to the typical tall-and-narrow masks and bright-flowing costumes, the museum houses examples of the giant male and female Phi Ta Khon that are special stars of the show. Many of these round-headed, angry-looking images are thrown into the Man River on the last day of the festival to symbolise a cleansing of bad luck, but a few end up here.
The museum also features photos taken during recent times and in the past, showing how little the festival seems to have changed. Thoughtfully translated into English, information boards provide historical and religious background on the complex array of influences that come together for the combined Phi Ta Khon and Bun Luang festival. There’s also an itinerary highlighting the sequence of events.
After a stroll through the museum, pop into Wat Phon Chai to glimpse an unusually sinister-looking Buddha that befits the home of the “Ghost Festival.” Along with psychedelic swirls pulsing under the different Buddha postures representing each day of the week, you’ll find detailed murals of the Jataka tales that are central to the festival.
Wat Phon Chai is located towards the south end of Kaeo Asa Road, a five minute walk from the bus stop, and the museum is spread over two buildings off to the right of the main temple hall. The door to one of them was closed during our visit, but we had no problem opening it and switching on the lights ourselves (track down a monk if the doors are locked).
Address: South end of Kaeo Asa Rd, Dan Sai
Coordinates (for GPS): 101º8'56.37" E, 17º16'28.22" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: Free with a donation box at the front door
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.