One reason to make a special trip to Loei province is to attend the unique rainmaking festival of Phi Ta Kon, or Bun Phra Wet, held over three days either at the end of June or the beginning of July in the small town of Dan Sai, 80km to the southwest of the provincial capital. In order to encourage the heavens to open, townsfolk dress up as spirits in colourful patchwork rags and fierce, brightly painted masks (made from coconut palm fronds and the baskets used for steaming sticky rice), then rowdily parade the town’s most sacred Buddha image round the streets while making fun of as many onlookers as they can, waving wooden phalluses about and generally having themselves a whale of a time. Top folk and country musicians from around Isaan are attracted to perform in the evenings during Phi Ta Kon; the afternoon of the second day of the festival sees the firing off of dozens of bamboo rockets, while the third day is a much more solemn affair, with Buddhist sermons and a purification ceremony at Wat Phon Chai. The carnival can be visited in a day from Loei (ask at Loei’s TAT office for transport details), though rooms are hard to come by at this time. The town’s main permanent attraction is the Dan Sai Folk Museum on Thanon Kaew Asa, the town’s high street, which explains some of the traditions surrounding Phi Ta Kon and has an impressive collection of vivid costumes and masks.

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