Throughout Thailand and other Theravada Buddhist countries, communities have long gathered to offer requisites, including candles, to monks as they embark on the rains retreat, or Khao Phansa.
Ubon turns this Asanha Bucha ceremony into a two-day Candle Festival, or Hae Thian, complete with a parade of floats featuring detailed wax sculptures. Drawing over 200,000 visitors, it’s one of the largest festivals in Thailand.
Most of the city’s major temples support large groups of artists -- international wax-carving champions down to humble villagers -- who work together to cover plaster molds in finely carved beeswax depictions of the Buddha, characters from Hindu/Buddhist legends and a wild array of dragons, gods, devas, nagas and more. With some of Ubon’s artists often grabbing the top prize in international contests, competition is stiff.
On the eve before the big parade, finished floats are parked along the streets around Thung Si Muang Park. On the following day, the floats highlight a huge procession accompanied by dancers and musicians dressed in their best traditional garb. Markets, carnival rides, games and crafts ensure that the fun keeps going into the night. At a certain point, everyone pauses to find out which temple’s float has taken home the top prize.
The actual festival runs for only two days over the full moon of the eighth lunar month (some time in July or August), but you can stop by local temples during the roughly six weeks prior to see the artists working on their floats. Some of the best venues include Wat Nong Bua, Wat Si Phradu, Wat Chaeng and Wat Burapharam. Countless pieces come together to compose a whole float; don’t be surprised if someone hands you a piece of wax and tells you to start carving!