The Meaning of Wan Awk Pansa
Wan Awk Pansa (วันออกพรรษา) means the day of leaving the rains retreat. It is a public holiday in Thailand, held on the fifteenth, or full moon day, of the eleventh lunar month.
- Wednesday, 08 October 2014.
- Tuesday, 27 October, 2015.
Wan Awk Pansa signals the end of the Buddhist Lent period, a period when many Thai Buddhists abstain from eating meat, drinking alcohol, and smoking. This is a day when many Thai people will visit a temple, often their local temple in their birthplace, to pray and to bring offerings. In the evenings, many people will take part in a tian wian or candlelit circumambulation of the main shrine of the temple. The devotees walk three times, in a clockwise direction, around the shrine, carrying a candle, three lit incense sticks and a lotus bud.
Celebrations of Wan Awk Pansa
The day is celebrated in many parts of Thailand by illuminated boat processions, or Lai Reua Fai (ไหลเรือไฟ), in the evening; and by boat races during the daytime. The boats used in the processions can be ten meters in length, and are covered with flowers, candles and lamps, often displaying some patriotic or religious theme. Reflected on the river, they create a colorful spectacle. These processions can be seen in Nakhon Phanom, and Nong Khai on the Mekong River, and in Ubon Ratchathani on the Mum River. Boat races take place all over the country.
The most famous event on this day is undoubtedly the Naga Fireballs, or Bang Fai Payanak (บั้งไฟพญานาค) observed at various points on the Mekong River around the town of Nong Khai. The reddish fireballs, from the size of an egg to the size of a basketball, appear to rise from the bottom of the river and then fly into the sky. No clear explanation for this phenomenon has been offered. Theories put forward include spontaneous ignition of gases on the riverbed, and even tracer fire from Laot soldiers on the opposite bank.
The locals firmly believe that the fireballs come from a mythical serpent living in the river, known as the Naga or Payanak. A photo of the serpent, purportedly captured by US soldiers in the 1970s, decorates the walls of many restaurants and guesthouses in Nong Khai. This is the same mythical serpent that decorates the sides of the stairs leading up to Thai temples. The phenomenon, and the controversy surrounding it, was made into a popular Thai film called Mekhong Full Moon Party, and is now actively promoted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. The best places to view the fireballs are at Phon Phisai, about thirty kilometers downstream from Nong Khai, and at Wat Tai Luang a little further on, although almost any temple along the river will have places to view the fireballs, along with the usual plentiful refreshment stalls. Accommodation in Nong Khai at this time can be in short supply, so it is best to book ahead.