Tag Archives: dance

UN-DISCOVERED THAILAND – THE FESTIVALS OF ISSAN

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.

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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.

TIPS

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!

THE CANDLE FESTIVAL 

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.

GET IN TOUCH 

On email xstaticworld@gmail.com
On twitter @xstaticworld
On Instagram @Xstaticgibbo

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WELCOME HOME – STORIES OF BURNING MAN (USA)

This week I returned from the Burning Man festival, and I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure out how to sum it up into words. No amount of survival guides, photos, videos or articles can prepare you for the moment you step out onto the playa and witness the Black Rock City skyline, or the first time you come face to face with The Man, or ride your first art car, or survive your first sandstorm, or rave your way through your first desert sunrise.

Pulse and Boom - Photo by Jim Urquhart. Burning Man. Art.
Pulse and Boom – Photo by Jim Urquhart.

I’ve heard a lot of negativity surrounding Burning Man recently, like “it’s just a bunch of hippies taking acid in the desert” or “it’s been taken over by the rich and privileged” or “it’s full of anti-establishment hypocrites.” Yep there are drugs, yep there are rich people with the luxury of WiFi and an unnecessarily large RV, and yep we’re all trying to say “fuck you” to “the man” in our own way. But whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever your reason is for being there, it’s your burn. You can and will make it exactly what you want it to be. Nobody cares what you do or what you have in the default world. Money is nothing – you’re there in that moment and making whatever you want to out of the environment around you.

Insanity. Burning Man 2014. Art. Black Rock Desert. XSTATICWORLD.
Insanity – photo by XstaticWorld

You’re part of the environment, you’re creating every moment. From the second you receive your ticket that states ‘NO SPECTATORS’, it’s up to you to participate in the burn you want to have. Whether you want to take acid and rave until noon, do yoga as the sun rises over the temple, have an orgy, be naked all week, join the circus, make art, spin fire or just chill out with new people… you can. It’s your burn. It really is a city (I was told that on Saturday we were the 5th largest city in Nevada), and like any city there is something for everyone. We were all living our own burns alongside one another, and loving everyone along the way.

Love at Burning Man, Black Rock Desert. XSTATICWORLD.
Love – photo by XstaticWorld

What I found was a family, an appreciation for people and their stories, a love of the outdoors, a desire to create, a realisation of the things I’m capable of, 8 nights of raving and 8 days of adventure!

Burning Man 2014. Night. Rave. Fire.
The Castle – Photo by Jim Urquhart

My highlights:

Platybus and The Band
After just a couple of weeks’ preparation, leaving my job and buggering off alone, I finally touched down in Reno ready to start my journey. But the second I left the airport, saw the surrounding mountains, felt the blistering heat and spoke to the hoards of veteran burners who knew exactly what they were doing, this insane fear came over me. I’d never been more terrified in my life, and for the first time I thought “Amy, what the fuck are you doing here?” I went into a shell, and lost my ability to strike up a conversation with a stranger (generally unlike me!) But I was saved; I met Frog who told me I belonged at his camp, and so a couple of days later I arrived at Platybus and The Band. I told this new group of strangers my story, and the first thing they said was “Welcome home! Take or use whatever you want and DO NOT say thank you, because we are your family now.” And we were a family, all 120 of us from all over the world and all walks of life. We cooked and cleaned together, we got smashed together, we raved together, we jammed together, we laughed, we cried, we had a wedding (the best wedding I’ve ever been to, congratulations Felipe and Matita!). I can’t thank my Platybus family enough for their unbelievable generosity and for being the most amazing people I could have possibly found out in the desert!

Deep Playa Adventures
During the week I found a loyal adventure buddy! Stef and I set out daily on our bikes with no agenda whatsoever, just to explore. One day we ventured out to the deep playa, away from the city far out in the desert. The sand was thick in the air and we couldn’t see anything around us, until we noticed some movement off in the distance. We rode over to find an art car hosting a cheese and wine party for a small handful of burners, and after hours of riding this was the best possible thing in the world! A few minutes after we arrived, another art car showed up blasting Disney songs, and so we danced with silk to the sound of Pocahontas’s Colours of The Wind, swung on giant swings and drank wine with beautiful strangers. Riding home we saw the sun setting over the mountains, we felt the harsh winds ripping through our bikes and we smelt the dust as it covered us and everything around us. It was an unforgettable afternoon.

The First Sandstorm
We were out at Robot Heart, a sunrise rave that changed location every day and the only way to find it was to cycle the desert in search of a giant metal heart. Around 9am I was low on water so jumped on a mobile bar for a quick drink. Suddenly the bar started moving with me propped up against it. “Shit” I thought “my friends and my bike are over there.” Before I had a chance to get off the first sandstorm of the week hit – complete white-out. My only option was to ride it out on this Indian style moving bar that continued around the desert for at least an hour. I couldn’t see a few feet in front of me, all I could see was the faint outline of anonymous heads wearing dust masks and goggles opposite. One of the heads turned and handed me a bottle of JD, not a word spoken, just a silent nod and we carried on through the desert passing abandoned bikes and art sculptures not visible until we were nose to nose with them. It was an incredibly surreal experience, silently surviving the elements with faceless strangers.

The Temple –
I ventured alone to The Temple, an incredibly intricate structure built for burners to express problems or remember lost loved ones. The energy hits you as soon as you walk through the arches – I don’t think I’ve ever physically felt the emotions of other people like I did that day. Reading the messages written all over the walls and seeing the hundreds of people sitting and remembering in silence, I was completely overcome with emotion and overwhelming gratitude for my life and the people around me. On Sunday we burnt The Temple, and unlike the chaotic and animalistic party atmosphere of burning The Man on Saturday, 60 to 70 thousand people sat and were silent. Completely un-prompted nobody spoke a word, there was no music, just the sound of the temple and everything in it turning to ash. In its final moments it swiftly and silently twisted into itself and was gone, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust. Along with the thousands around me I gasped. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Gifting –
There is a common misconception that because no money is exchanged you need to bring something to trade. This isn’t the case – people genuinely want to make you happy, which in turn makes them happy, and the happiness just rolls on and on. I was given some really beautiful gifts by people who are now extremely special to me. I was also given things by people I’d never seen before and may never see again, but they were still so exceptional, and just knowing that someone genuinely wants you to have their handmade bracelet, their amazing green socks or their deep fried Oreo, is a beautiful feeling.

Likewise, the feeling of giving someone a gift with no expectation of getting something back is like watching your best friend open a Christmas present you’ve put all your effort into. Every bar, every food stall, every party, every workshop, every rave, every thing is a gift from someone else, and not once do you find yourself thinking “Oh score, free stuff.” Instead it’s “Wow, thank you for this gift”. And it’s not just things, sometimes your gift is just a great conversation, a hug, a smile or even your nudity. It may sound like a bunch of hippy nonsense to some – and yes, you do have to spend quite a lot of money to get there and enjoy it – but once you’re in it it makes so much sense.

A long-time Platybus camp mate called Bruce told me: “The best gift you can give is to carry this principle with you in the real world. Never stop gifting.”

Gifting at Burning Man - Photo by Xstatic World
Burning Man (Photo by Xstatic World)

Every minute of every day was a highlight – from the topless mimosa breakfast party to the naked foam party, the 300-person hug, dancing on a giant fire-breathing octopus, singing Bohemian Rhapsody a cappella at church while taking holy communion of whiskey and condoms, discussing my entire life with a complete stranger on board a giant shark for 3 hours before parting ways never to speak again, the Platybus Techno Tutu Tuesday rave, the 3D maze party, dancing in the thunderstorm, climbing on some of the best artwork in the world, watching The Man burn, the roller disco, climbing a mechanical beating heart, having a snowball fight in the middle of the desert, getting high and exploring, and every moment in between.

I love you burners, See you on the playa 2015.

With love, Teapot.

Burning Man

My love goes out to Alicia Cipicchio and her family following the tragic accident at this year’s event. You will be in our thoughts.

I want to hear about your burn, please tell me your stories in the comments below or on Twitter @XstaticWorld. For more photos follow me on Instagram @XstaticGibbo.

Get in touch at xstaticworld@gmail.com

A VIRGIN BURNER – PREPARING FOR BURNING MAN

This time next week I’ll be in the Black Rock Desert (Nevada, USA) ready for a week of community, art, self-reliance and radical self expression. It’s The Burning Man Festival!

I was lucky enough to acquire a ticket at the last minute and so I thought: “Bugger it, rinse out the penny pot and book that flight. I’ve got all the things I need for a festival.” How wrong I was! This is no ordinary festival, it’s a “utopian society” built on radical self-reliance, radical self expression, communal effort and participation. A 50,000 strong city built by artists and like-minded people that pops up annually in the middle of the desert, for many Burning Man is a lifestyle.

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The Burning Man principles include: 

Radical self-reliance:
Burning Man encourages you to “discover, exercise and rely on your inner resources.”
Be completely prepared to take care of yourself physically and mentally.

Radical inclusion:
Anyone can be part of Burning Man – whoever you are, you’ll be welcomed and respected.

Participation:
“Transformative change can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation.” Everyone at Burning Man makes Burning Man. It’s not something to observe, it’s something to be part of – say “yes!”

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Gifting:
“The principle of Gifting is unconditional and doesn’t constitute a return or exchange for something of equal value.” Burners give gifts because they want to, and it can be in any shape or form, from giving out food and beer to lending a hand at a camp or simply offering someone a hug.

Leave No Trace:
Burners respect their environment – they come and go with no trace of ever being there.
Everything that enters Black Rock City leaves Black Rock City.

The other principles include Decommodification, Communal Effort, Immediacy and
Civic Responsibility. These are principals to carry not only for the week but in life.

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“The Black Rock Desert is trying its best to kill you” 

As a total Burning Man virgin I am in no way any kind of expert on preparing for the journey, but I’d like to list some of the survival essentials I’ve learned so far from veteran burners who’ve kindly shared their wisdom.

In the interest of radical self-reliance everyone must enter fully prepared to survive 7 days in the desert. Nothing can be bought at Burning Man (with the exception of ice and coffee) and so everything needs to come with you. You must come prepared to battle the elements: dry hot days at 4,000 feet above sea level, freezing cold nights and unpredictable weather.

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Packing list essentials

Water:
1.5 gallons of water per day is the recommended amount. As I’m flying solo to Reno from the UK and catching the ‘Burner Express’ into Black Rock City, I’ll be buying 11-12 gallons of water in the city and transporting it all to the desert in a wheelie bin! I’ve also bought a Camelback backpack that holds 1.5 litres, so I won’t go thirsty miles away from camp.

Food:
Again, I’ll buy this in Reno: lots of dried fruit, nuts and energy bars as well as tinned food and salty snacks. The salty snacks help replace electrolytes that you lose sweating in the heat.

Goggles and Dust Masks:
Sandstorms or ‘white-outs’ are regular; the best thing to do is stick your goggles and dust mask on, sit down and wait for it all to blow over.

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Home:
I’ve pre-ordered a tent for pick up in Reno as well as rebar stakes. Regular tent pegs have absolutely no use on the hardpan ground of the desert, and even if you could get them in the ground the high wind would just go ahead and blow your tent away.

Clothing (Cool/Warm) and Self Expression:
Temperatures are up to around 40 degrees (c) in the day, and plummet to under 5 degrees (c) at night. Sun hats and thermal underwear are both essential! This is a chance not for costume but for radical self-expression. The outfits I’ve bought and made for the festival are a reflection of me.

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Lights Lights Lights:
It’s important to light up at night; you can easily get hit by a bike, art car or mutant vehicle if you don’t. I’ve bought hi-vis tape to cover my coat with (as well as my tent, so nobody falls into it), UV face paint, light-up finger beams, flashing EL wire to stitch into my clothes, a head torch, a hand torch, glow in the dark nail varnish and glowing eye lashes.

First Aid:
They have emergency services in Black Rock City but in the interest of radical self-reliance you should be able to look after yourself. I’ve got all the basics and have been for a spree at the pharmacy for every pill and potion I could possibly need.

Moisture:
The alkaline desert is drying you up and the harsh sun is burning you all day, so it’s really important to keep restoring your body’s moisture. I’ve got plenty of sunscreen, high-acid lotions, lip balm and eye drops.

For the full official Survival Guide and Personal Survival Checklist visit the
Burning Man website.

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From what I’ve read this is a week of embracing life and opportunity, loving those around you and letting yourself go. I’m going alone and I plan to throw myself into anything and everything possible, not being afraid to be the best possible version of myself.

Click here for a sneaky peek at this year’s artwork or watch one of the videos below and, like me, get inspired to go!

The Fertile Desert

Oh The Places You’ll Go

Dear Virgin

Are you a virgin burner this year? Are you a veteran with some pearls of wisdom? Are you planning a burn next year? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter: @XstaticWorld

Burning Man 2013: State of the Art

My burn experience coming soon!