Chak Phra Festival 2023

The Chak Phra Festival is celebrated in southern Thailand, a festival commemorating the return of Lord Buddha from heaven to Earth.
Southern Thailand
26 October 2023

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Chak Phra Festival is an annual Buddhist festival celebrated in southern Thailand. This year’s festival will be held from October 26th to November 3rd, 2023. This year’s Chak Phra Festival is the 99th edition of the festival.

Chak Phra Festival marks the end of the three-month Buddhist Rains Retreat (also, Phansa or Vassa) and it takes place on the first day of the waning moon of the 11th lunar month. Therefore, the date of the festival varies each year (usually falling in the month of October).

The largest celebration takes place in Surat Thani Province along the Tapi River and smaller celebrations also take place throughout the South of Thailand, including the provinces of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung, Pattani, and Surat Thani (especially Koh Samui).

The meaning of Chak Phra

Local people pulling and pushing the Chak Phra Float to the local temple during Chak Phra Festival
Source: aphichato / Shutterstock.com

In Thai, chak phra means “pulling Buddhist monks” or “pulling Buddha statues,” which is the heart of this festival. The festival is celebrated in two ways, depending on the location of the local temple: by parading Buddha statues on “land floats” or “river floats.”

The Buddha statues are placed on large ornate carriages or boats that feature nagas and snakes. Despite the craftsmanship involved, the carriages and boats are symbolic vehicles that lead people to one of the core teachings of the Buddha, which is to detach from superficial beauty and loving others regardless of their faith.

“Pulling Buddha statues”

The original ceremony of the Chak Phra Festival stems from a Buddhist legend that during Phansa, Lord Buddha went up to Trayastrimsa — one of the heavens in Buddhist cosmology — to deliver a sermon to his mother. After three months, he returned to Earth and was greeted by a crowd of disciples and followers.

The Chak Phra Festival commemorates the Lord Buddha’s return by carrying out processions of revered Buddha images over land and water. It is also an occasion for religious merit making and celebrations.The Chak Phra Festival commemorates the Lord Buddha’s return by carrying out processions of revered Buddha images over land and water. It is also an occasion for religious merit making and celebrations.

This event in Buddhist mythology is celebrated by several Thai festivals, including the lluminated Boat Procession, Tak Bat Devo, and Wax Castle Festival.

About the festival

Chak Phra floats at the Chak Phra Festival in Surat Thani province, a festival celebrating the return of Buddha from heaven to Earth and to be greeted by multitudes
Source: INFINITYSTUDIO889 / Shutterstock.com

Visitors can expect the following activities when attending the Chak Phra Festival: 

  • Donating “money trees”
  • Parades of ceremonial land or river floats to local temples 
  • Long-boat races
  • Colorful depictions of Lord Buddha’s life
  • Serving traditional boiled rice snack representing religious faith and generosity

Despite the festivities, the ceremony is not about the carriages or boats themselves but rather a chance to gather, work together, and form bonds within the communities and their local temples, and to reflect on the life and teachings of the Lord Buddha.