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Phi Ta Khon: Thai Ghost Masks & Phallic Symbols

Phi Ta Khon (ผีตาโขน), also known as the Thai ghost mask parade, is a merit-making festival like no other in Thailand. It is held usually in June or July in the Dan Sai district of Loei province. While Thais typically are quite scared of ghosts, and do all they can to avoid them, this lively festival honors the ghosts of the forest and the spirits of the community’s ancestors, inviting them to descend on the town and bless their endeavors.

This year (2023) the Phi Ta Khon festival will be held from June 23rd – June 25th.

Phi Ta Khon ghost masks worn during the festival are made from carved coconut tree trunks. They are decorated with bright colors and intricate designs. The masks often display a demonic fierceness that is tempered with playfulness, while other times they look like a salacious pirate. Hats are decorated with religious imagery, such as the Hindi figure Phra Rahu eating the sun or moon.

One common attribute that Phi Ta Khon masks share is a long, phallic like, nose. While phallic products are seen more often in the neighboring country of Cambodia, phallic symbols have been present in Thai culture for centuries, and are often associated with fertility, prosperity, and good fortune. One of the most well-known examples of phallic symbols in Thailand is the “palad khik” (ปลัดขิก), which is a carved wooden or ivory phallus that is sometimes worn as an amulet or talisman.

 

Thai Phallic Symbols
Thai phallic symbols have a long tradition in Thailand, as seen here at the Phi Ta Khon festival.

 

In Thai folk religion, the “palad khik” is believed to possess magical powers that can bring good luck, protect the wearer from harm, and even help to cure illness. The phallus is also a symbol of fertility, and is often used in fertility rites and ceremonies. Another example of phallic symbolism in Thai culture is the “lingam“, which is a Hindu symbol that represents the God Shiva and male creative energy. The lingam is occasionally found at Thai temples, and is considered a symbol of fertility and abundance.

At the Phi Ta Khon festival in Loei, it is not just the nose of the mask that evokes a phallus, there are more explicit representations on display. Parade participants will sometimes carry wooden penises or swords with a handle that has been fashioned into a penis. During the parade and dance celebrations, there are also two huge Phi Ta Khon Yai puppets (both male and female) with decorated genital areas that clearly identify the sexes. At the end of the festival, the Phi Ta Khon Yai figures, which have been built from a bamboo frame, are thrown into the river to cast away all the year’s past sorrows.

If you have an opportunity to go to the Phi Ta Khon festival, we highly recommend it! Not only will you be attending one of the most fun festivals in Thailand, you’ll also get to enjoy the gorgeous mountain views of Loei. In addition to the Phi Ta Khon Festival goers in the Dan Sai district, you’ll also see people wearing Phi Ta Khon masks in other areas of Loei, such as the popular walking street in Chiang Khan. Traveling by car from Sakon Nakhon, it takes about 4.5 hours to reach Loei.