11 July 2024

Nestled in the heart of Phayao Province, the picturesque Phayao Reservoir will serve as the backdrop for a celebration like no other – Magha Puja Day.

On February 24, this Buddhist festival, which is also transliterated as Makha Puja Day, unfolds amidst the tranquil waters, captivating thousands with its spectacular candlelight boat processions.

Magha Puja is a revered occasion, commemorating the historic gathering of 1,250 enlightened monks who assembled to hear a sermon by the Lord Buddha.

In Thailand, the “Wian Thian” ritual engages Buddhists in candlelit processions around Buddhist temples, fostering reflection and shared devotion.

The candlelight boat procession at Phayao Reservoir on Magha Puja Day blends tradition with the serenity of nature.//Photo: TAT’s Chiang Rai Office

However, what sets Phayao Reservoir apart is the unique twist to this tradition, as devotees board rowing boats to reach Wat Tilok Aram, an abandoned Buddhist monastery situated in the middle of the lake.

As the sun sinks below the horizon, Buddhists clad in traditional attire and casual visitors alike patiently await their turn on the long-tailed boats.

The flickering flames of numerous candles embellishing these vessels cast a warm glow upon the tranquil waters, forming a captivating spectacle that mirrors the sacredness of the occasion.

A gentle breeze carries the subtle scent of lotus flowers, heightening the mystique that envelops the reservoir. Together, these elements craft truly spectacular experience, etching a lasting memory for all who participate in this enchanting celebration.

Buddhist monks take a long-tailed boat to join the candlelight procession at Wat Tilok Aram.//Photo: TAT’s Chiang Rai Office

Phayao Reservoir, spanning an impressive 1,980 hectares, is not only a haven for spiritual celebrations but also home to a diverse array of freshwater fish species.

This has made it a popular destination for boat cruises, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the surroundings.

Wat Tilok Aram, founded in the 15th century, adds to the allure as a star attraction, housing the revered Luang Pho Sila Buddha.

The candlelight boat procession, intertwined with the reservoir’s history, gained significance with the construction of the reservoir in 1939.

Fireworks light up the sky above Phayao Reservoir, celebrating Magha Puja Day.//Photo: TAT’s Chiang Rai Office

However, it wasn’t until 1983 when the waters receded, that a remarkable discovery added a new layer of reverence to this tradition.

An ancient sandstone Buddha statue, believed to be over 500 years old, emerged from the depths. The local residents affectionately refer to this revered Buddha statue as Luang Pho Sila Buddha.

The year 2007 marked a pivotal moment in the celebration’s evolution.

After the completion of renovations at Wat Tilok Aram, the locals returned Luang Pho Sila Buddha to its original location within Phayao Reservoir.

Wat Tilok Aram is an abandoned Buddhist monastery sitting in the middle of the lake.//Photo: TAT’s Chiang Rai Office

Simultaneously, they organized the candlelight boat procession at Wat Tilok Aram for the first time on Asalha Buja ay under the full moon of the eighth lunar month. This tradition has been consistently observed on significant Buddhist days such as Magha Puja, Visakha Buja Bucha Day, and Asalha Buja Day, continuing to the present day.

The candlelight boat procession at Phayao Reservoir on Magha Puja Day blends tradition with the beauty of nature.

As the boats gracefully circle the temple, participants engage in silent prayer, their faces illuminated by the flickering flames.

It is a moment of profound connection – with each other, with the teachings of Buddhism, and with the sacred history encapsulated by Wat Tilok Aram.

The water beneath the boats seems to carry the weight of centuries, a silent witness to the devotion of those who sail upon it.

The soft glow of candlelight during the procession invites all, regardless of cultural or religious background, to reflect on the interconnectedness of humanity.

The enchanting scene, bathed in the soft glow of candlelight, lingers in the hearts of those who sail on the tranquil waters of Phayao Reservoir, creating memories that resonate for years to come.

This celebration goes beyond the Floating Candle Ritual.

Visitors can immerse themselves in the breathtaking sunrise and sunset views renowned at Phayao Reservoir.

Cultural performances and music in the evening add another layer to the experience. Additionally, savouring the delectable local food completes the sensory journey, making the celebration truly enchanting.

Cultural performances bring vibrant colours to the Magha Puja celebration at Phayao Reservoir.//Photo: TAT’s Chiang Rai Office

Planning for Candlelight Procession Experience Wian Thian (candlelight procession) is celebrated on the evening of February 24 – Magha Puja Day.

Located in northern Thailand, Phayao province is a two-and-a-half-hour drive northeast of Chiang Mai and a three-hour ride south of Chiang Rai.

Boasting temples, heritage sites, picturesque countryside, and warm-hearted locals, Phayao provides a perfect retreat for tranquility and escape.

By Thai PBS World Feature Desk