Tag Archives: celebration


The first of the South East Asian #NOTETOSELF letters!

Mari – Phi Ta Khon Festival – Thailand June 2015:
Mari is a travel journalist with bundles of energy and  an inspiring love for her job. Just over a year ago she started as an intern for a Norwegian travel magazine and now gets paid to see the wonders of the world!

Mari at Phi Ta Khon Festival - Dan Sai, Thailand - June 2015.

Amy – Phi Ta Khon Festival – Thailand June 2015:
The absolute joy I felt seeing my first Thai celebration (along with all the phallic objects flying around) made me think of the first stage of the Buddhist wheel of life:

“The extraordinary chance of your existence”

Amy at Phi Ta Khon Festival - Dan Sai, Thailand - June 2015

For more about the Phi Ta Khon Festival read ‘Undiscovered Thailand – Festivals of Issan’.

Click to read more about the #NOTETOSELF project and the full worldwide gallery!




In the Northeast of Thailand (on the Mekhong River and border of Laos) sits Issan – Thailand’s least visited province.

English is rarely spoken here and there are no golden beaches to attract hoards of western tourists. Visiting this “forgotten” province can be stressful; particularly for anyone new to Thailand (and especially for anyone coming from a cosy beach resort full of English speakers omelets on every menu!). Transport is confusing, the language barrier is more obvious than in the rest of Thailand and ordering food can be tricky – as a vegetarian I was often handed a pile of miscellaneous meat with the explanation:
“no meat, no meat, just pork”!

Children ready to perform at Phi Ta Khon Festival, Dan Sai, Issan, Thailand
Children ready to perform at Phi Ta Khon Festival

That being said, Issan can be a beautiful place to find a truly Thai experience with friendly locals. The people of Issan are proud of their culture with the unique dialect, ritual and famously spicy food that differs from the rest of Thailand. Issan lets you see the famous Mekhong River in a completely untouched environment and drive for hours through the mountains and endless views of forests, only broken by the occasional bamboo hut.

Young Thai dancer bows to an image of the king during Phi Ta Konfestival celebrations in Dan Sai, Thailand
Local Issan girl bows to image of the King at Phi Ta Khon procession

One reason to visit Issan is for the brilliant and bizarre annual festivals of rainy season, the most unique being Phi Ta Khon in Dan Sai – every year thousands of people descend on this sleepy village for 4 days of loud, colourful and sexually-charged celebration!

The festival combines a few different cultural and religious celebrations – and going in we thought we knew what to expect but we were proven wrong! The whole experience was perfectly summarised by a German journalist I shared some rice-cakes with:
“the longer I’m here the less I understand it”.

Spiritual disciples descend upon the temple to dance at the Phi Ta Khon Festival, Dan Sai, Issan, Thailand
Spiritual disciples descend upon the temple to dance at the Phi Ta Khon Festival

In a nutshell, from what I gathered from locals and other confused bloggers, the Phi Ta Khon festival (Festival of the Ghosts) is unique to Issan and centred around the story of the Buddha’s last great incarnation before attaining enlightenment – at that time local celebrations were so huge it woke the spirits of the village and nearby forest, so they joined the party. The festival creates a re-enactment of that great celebration, with local men wearing the Phi Ta Khon masks to represent and appease local spirits.

Phi Ta Khon masks at Phi Ta Khon festival, Dan Sai, Issan, Thailand. Made from
Phi Ta Khon masks are lovingly made with wood and coconut leaves. The headpiece is made from the woven cone used to make sticky rice (Issan’s specialty dish).

One element of the festival is based around fertility, and something we weren’t expecting was the countless number of phallic objects being waved around all weekend! Every Phi Ta Khon carried a huge wooden penis and we even got surprised by a few old ladies poking us from behind with penis canons! At the end of the second day giant penis-shaped bamboo rockets were fired into the sky to provoke rain-making spirits into doing their job of bringing a good rainy season.

Another thing we didn’t know was that the festival of Bun Luang is celebrated in parallel to Phi Ta Khon, and joins the party in Dan Sai for a weird and wonderful hybrid of sights and sounds. The two spiritual leaders of the town and their many disciples hold merit-making sermons all weekend, and their parades of orange and white beautifully clash with the madness of Phi Ta Khon.

After a peaceful sermon disciples carry spiritual leaders and monks through the town in a huge procession of singing and dancing.

During the days you’ll be caught in never-ending parades of Thai dancers, phallic-waving Phi Ta Khons, impressive floats and loud music. You’ll wander through town and join hundreds of disciples dancing around temples, experience Buddhist monks chanting and praying at the river, share beers and hear stories from local people, and as one of only a few other “farangs” in town you’ll probably take part in hundreds of selfies with excited locals!

Hundreds of children compete in traditional dance contests over the weekend of Phi Ta Khon, Issan, Thailand.
Hundreds of children compete in traditional dance contests over the weekend of Phi Ta Khon.

At night you’ll experience the hospitality of Issan and drink beer with locals while dancing to live music at the main-stage. Then when the inevitable evening rain comes you’ll join hundreds of people carrying on the party from within the fish market!

Locals are dressed in colours from head-to-toe, making this one of Thailand's most colourful festivals. Phi Ta Khon, Dan Sai, Issan, Thailand.
Locals are dressed in colours from head-to-toe, making this one of Thailand’s most colourful festivals.

Over the weekend we lived with a lovely local lady who made us part of the family and showed us off around town as “her farangs”. We spent the evenings eating, drinking and partying with her and her friends. Most of them didn’t speak English but they partied hard and we didn’t need spoken language – the beauty of any festival is that everyone is connected by the shared experience of their surroundings, the joy that comes from music in the sunshine and – in this case – the spiritual ceremony that is so important to the thousands who celebrate Phi Ta Khon.


There aren’t many places to stay in Dan Sai so book early at either Mountain Green Resort or the Ban Paja Resort (Pizza and Jaap will look after you at Ban Paja!).

If you are in the area visit Chiang Khan – a great riverside market village nearby which is trendy among Thais and tipped to become the next Pai.

Buddhist sermons and merit-making start from as early as 3am on the first day – so get some sleep!


If you are in Issan around July make sure you check out the Ubon Ratchathani Candle festival – the biggest and most elaborate candle festival in Thailand. In true SE Asian style the dates changed at the last minute this year and we couldn’t make it, so we will be celebrating on a smaller scale in Chiang Mai. But hang around in Issan and ask locals or a TAT office for the latest information.


On email xstaticworld@gmail.com
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Last weekend a good friend of mine, Stefano Dinami, took the #NOTETOSELF project to the Rainbow Serpent Festival in Victoria, Australia.

The Rainbow Serpent Festival is a boutique electronic music, arts and lifestyle festival in Lexton, Victoria. Organisers say “it’s a fresh discovery of opportunity and escapism, a chance to connect with like-minded individuals and to celebrate nature, community and harmony”.

Photo from sonicgravy.com
Photo from sonicgravy.com

Inspired by Burning Man theme camps Stefano and his team set out to create a glitter-fuelled paradise of their own – and so the ‘Glam and Cheese Toasties’ camp was born. They offered festival-goers three unique tents for relaxing, doing yoga, drinking and most importantly;
applying glitter.

Glam and Cheese Toasties at the Rainbow Serpent Festival, Australia #NOTETOSELF
Glam and Cheese Toasties

After an important Glam and Cheese initiation ceremony on the first night (Lick glitter. Sip tequila. Eat a lemon Starburst.) the team hit the festival and got to work approaching strangers with a piece of paper and a Sharpie. The results were phenomenal. Stefano said:

“Everyone we approached was really excited about writing their future selves a letter. I also got a lot of joy out of doing it so don’t imagine it was ever a chore for me!”

According to Stefano the camps, art, music and lifestyle at Rainbow Serpent was enough to make you feel like you were in a little slice of Black Rock City – from the major EDM stages to the Bean-Bag-Babylon Camp, the roller disco, the donated-alcohol free bars and the lifestyle village hosting guided meditation, yoga and hula-hooping. Although, Rainbow Serpent did have its own unique charm with a beautiful market village as well as world music, electro-swing, cabaret, burlesque, vaudeville, circus performers and much more.

Sylvie - Rainbow Serpent Festival - Australia 2015 #NOTETOSELF

 “Our world’s population was 16,500 – big enough for a great party but small enough to see the same friendly faces day-to-day. Everyone I met was no doubt having a special time and we all wished it didn’t have to come to an end so soon – this party should last 7 days!”

Chelsea - Rainbow Serpent Festival - Australia 2015 #NOTETOSELF

See all eleven #NOTETOSELF letters from the Rainbow Serpent Festival 2015 and their wonderful owners below. See the full #NOTETOSELF gallery here.

Stefano was with me all the way while collecting these letters at Burning Man and he even received his own letter all the way from England recently. Now he’s paid it forward and at some point this year he’ll provide a bunch of strangers and friends with a fantastic gift. I can’t thank Stefano enough for his tremendous support as we spread the #NOTETOSELF project as far and wide as possible.

Get involved!

Leave your comments below or get in touch!


I simply remember - Burning Man USA 2014 - the #NOTETOSELF project with XSTATICWORLD

Last year at Burning Man, USA I asked 25 strangers to write a letter to themselves in the real world or “default world” as it’s known in Black Rock City. This could be anything – whether it be a memory, a feeling, good advice for the future or just something they wanted to express to the “default world” version of themselves.

The messages were heart-warming, most following a theme of embracing one’s self and remembering to love. Fascinatingly nobody held back on sharing their hopes, dreams, fears and insecurities with themselves and someone they’d never met.

Bryce - Burning Man USA 2014 - Burning Man USA 2014 - the #NOTETOSELF project with XSTATICWORLD

I took each person’s address and brought the letters back to England. Now five months later (when hopefully these people have completely forgotten they ever took part) I have returned the messages to their rightful owners with letters going out all over America, Australia and Europe.

Jarred - Burning Man USA 2014 - Burning Man USA 2014 - the #NOTETOSELF project with XSTATICWORLD

I have always expressed my belief that we are closest to the true versions of ourselves at festivals (aside from the drinking and drugs associated with most) – we are free; free from our jobs, our commitments, the days of the week, the time of day and the problems of the world.

In these letters most people, in one way or another, told themselves to remember a feeling. We are thrust back into the real world so suddenly after an experience that we quickly forget how free we were and how easily we found happiness – so what better than our own words to remind us?

Stefano - Burning Man USA 2014 - Burning Man USA 2014 - the #NOTETOSELF project with XSTATICWORLD

Everybody I asked to write a letter was delighted, excited and grateful for the project and it made me feel wonderful to be able to give such a gift. That’s why I’ve decided to continue gifting around the world and launch the #NOTETOSELF project.

I invite you all to join me and spread the #NOTETOSELF project as far and wide as possible! Whether you’re at a festival or event, travelling, on holiday or even celebrating in your home ask yourself if somebody around you would want to remember the feeling of right now.

1. Find anything to write on and ask someone to write a letter to themselves in the “real world”,
2. take a photo of that person with their letter at that place and time,
3. ask them to write their address on the back then post it when you feel the time is right,
4. ask that person to do the same for someone else next time they have the chance.
5. Lastly write one to yourself while you’re there!

Please Tweet or Instagram your photos using #NOTETOSELF or email xstaticworld@gmail.com so we can build an ever-growing online gallery that we can all look to when we need to remember a bit of happiness.

This is a free gift you can give to a complete stranger and yourself. Enjoy it!

Check out the full up-to-date gallery here.

Thank you.



Whether you’re spending tonight taking candy from strangers, going out in your underwear and some form of animal ears or staying home to watch The Exorcist, spare a thought for the dead folk who make it all possible.

Across the world no matter what race or religion – we as people share a common desire to celebrate key periods of our existence from life to death. When our loved ones are gone we keep celebrating them, sometimes more than we do the living!

My Halloween treat is 5 of the world’s most interesting festivals of the dead:

1st – 2nd November 

Dia De Muertos - Day of the Dead Mexico - World Of The Dead, Happy Halloween on XSTATICWORLD

Mexico’s Day of the Dead comes from the Aztec belief that the dead are always lurking in Mitclan (a sort of waiting room for spirits) and they can return home any time they like. So on 1st – 2nd November each year (coinciding with All Saints Day and All Souls Day) people all over Mexico help the dead find their way home through offerings and colourful celebrations. Families build yellow arches for spirits to enter from the underworld, clean and decorate graves before all-night graveside vigils and erect altars piled high with offerings of flowers, ribbons, candles, fruit, sweets and of course water (as the spirits will be thirsty after the journey).

The first day, Dia de Angelitos – Day of Little Angels, is dedicated to children who have passed and the second day is dedicated to adults. Traditionally on children’s day toys and sweets are left at the altars and on adults day cigarettes and Mizcal shots.

The Sugar Skull –
In the 17th Century Mexico was abundant in sugar production and too poor for the expensive church decorations seen around Europe, and so they took to sugar art for their religious festivals. The sugar skull represents a departed soul, traditionally placed on a gravestone as an offering with the departed’s name written across the forehead.

During Dia De Muertos parades and parties fill the streets, markets fill with sugar skulls and edible miniature coffins, families gather and feasts are had –
all to honour, celebrate and welcome home those who have passed.

Fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month 

Hungry Ghost Festival, China - World Of The Dead, Happy Halloween on XSTATICWORLD

The Chinese believe that during the seventh lunar month the doors to the afterworld are thrown open for restless spirits to roam the earth – settling old scores, haunting the living and searching for food. This is a time of fear more than celebration – some people won’t leave the house after dark in fear of what ghosts might be lurking, won’t go near water in fear of being dragged under by the hungry dead, won’t whistle or tell ghost stories in fear of attracting passing spirits, and won’t hang washing out at night in case passing ghosts get tangled in their sheets.

Hungry Ghost Festival - World Of The Dead, Happy Halloween on XSTATICWORLD

On the fifteenth day opera performances, banquets, parties and parades are thrown to appease the spirits (don’t sit in an empty chair at a party, it’s probably reserved for a ghost). Hungry spirits are fed through offerings of food and drink, new shoes and money to be used in the underworld –
many take to the streets to burn clothing and bank notes (or “hell money”) as presents are believed to reach the underworld through fire.

Hungry Ghost Festival - World Of The Dead, Happy Halloween on XSTATICWORLD

Water lanterns and paper ships are floated on rivers to help the hungry spirits find their way back home until next time.

Hungry Ghost Festival - World Of The Dead, Happy Halloween on XSTATICWORLD

Every seven years from June to September

Turning of the Bones, Madagascar - World Of The Dead, Happy Halloween on XSTATICWORLD

During the ‘Turning of The Bones’ celebration families gather at their clan’s tomb to pay respect to deceased ancestors. They prise through stone and mud to greet the straw-wrapped bodies which are then passed above the heads of the dancing family before being sprayed with perfume and lovingly re-wrapped in special lambas (scarves).

Turning of the Bones - World Of The Dead, Happy Halloween on XSTATICWORLD

Before the bodies are laid to rest once again families take the chance to spend time with their deceased ancestors – lining up for family photos, sitting in contemplation and dancing together around the tombstone. The bodies are then returned to their resting place with offerings of money, alcohol and photographs. Unless there’s a family crisis the ritual won’t take place for another seven years.

29th July

This festival of the nearly-dead combines Christianity and Pagonism to celebrate the survival of those who have seen their lives flash before their eyes. Those who have had a recent near-death experience climb into coffins which are carried in procession through a cemetary and to Santa Marta de Ribarteme – the Church of Saint Martha. Saint Martha is said to have brought many men back from from the brink of death and those who have recently come close pay gratitude for their survival with a mass below her statue.

Family members carry the coffins of their loved ones and chant:
“Virgin Santa Marta, star of the North, we bring you those who saw death”.

Festival of the Near Death Experience - World Of The Dead, Happy Halloween on XSTATICWORLD

The ritual culminates in an outdoor festival throughout the entire village of Las Nieves – fireworks, brass bands, stories of brushes with death and traditional feasts of octopus cooked in copper cauldrons.

31st October

Halloween as we know it today is a time for celebrating the dead and the terrifying with costumes, parties, carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, eating sweets and egging houses.

In Celtic Ireland around 2,000 years ago the end of harvest festival know as the Samhain marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter – the division between the two seasons. It was believed that at this time the division of the living world and the underworld was at its thinnest and so spirits could pass through easily.

Deceased ancestors were welcomed with celebration and the sacrifice of livestock – their bones cast into communal fires and food offerings made. The living wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves as evil spirits so they wouldn’t be bothered by the real ones – this ritual survived the test of time as we still wear Halloween costumes every 31st October
(although I doubt the “slutty cat” was a top choice back then).

Christianity incorporated the honouring of dead into the Christian calendar with All Saints Day and All Souls Day on November 1st and 2nd. The ‘Halloween’ that we know today comes from a combination of All Hallow’s Eve (the eve before All Saints and All Souls Day) and the Samhain (pronounced Sow-een).

When the Irish emigrated to America they took their Halloween traditions with them. It then became the huge holiday it is today and celebrated widely across most western countries. it’s also where pumpkin carving (originally an American harvest tradition) became one of Halloween’s most popular rituals.

Happy Halloween!

Do you have any traditions or rituals from your local area?
Get in touch in the comments below or on Twitter @XstaticWorld

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Email me at xstaticworld@gmail.com

Photos in this post are not my own. 
Descriptions based on various sources – may not always be completely accurate but as close as possible!