The biggest festival in Surat Thani City is Chak Phra. It is held in October at the end of the rainy season. It offers a great tourist spectacle as the whole city is transformed and many people participate in the events. The culmination of the festival is a large street and river procession and a boat race.
Surat Thani for a day turns from being an ugly modern city full of concrete grey into a colourful place festooned in religious art and flowers.
The festival is to celebrate the return of Buddha from heaven to earth. During the monsoon months the lord Buddha retreats to heaven to preach to his mother in heaven. It is on the eleventh lunar month according to the Buddhist calendar. The phrase ‘Chak Phra’ means ‘pulling the Buddha’.
The pulling of the Buddha is at the heart of the festival. On land images of the Buddha are pulled on large decorated floats. On the River Tapee the main Buddha statue of the city is put on a boat. The boat also features huge nagas or snakes.
Lots of people join the street processions. Prior to the event the city is covered in billboards showing the life of the Buddha. The city is decorated in colourful flags and parasols.
The festival also marks the end of the Buddhist lent. Monks until this point have been largely confined to their monasteries. Now they are allowed to ask for alms. At Chak Phra the monks appear to receive special offerings called Thot Pha Pa. This is a very reverent time. Thailand has a very traditional class system that places monks second only to the King.
The culmination of Chak Phra is the boat race. Teams from all over southern Thailand come to compete.
It is worth spending a couple of days in Surat Thani City to see Chak Phra. It is a lesser known festival compared to Songkran in Bangkok for example but just as culturally important. Moreover, the religious content of the festival is still clearly evident whereas the religious context of Songkran has largely been lost in the mayhem of a large water fight. For those interested in learning more about Thai culture attending Chak Phra is a great chance.
The video above has been nicely compiled and gives you a flavour of what happens during the festival in the city.