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Tourism and the transformation of ritual practice with sand pagodas in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

Ploysri Porananond (Centre for Tourism Studies and Academic Services, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Tourism Review

ISSN: 1660-5373

Article publication date: 17 August 2015




This study aims to examine the transformation process in traditional beliefs and practices in the use of sand in the Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.


This study uses historical and ethnographic methods to understand the transformation of the sand rituals in the Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai. The historical approach is used to investigate the past ritual practices of the sand pagoda, while the ethnographic approach is used to gather evidence about the recent practices surrounding the construction and deployment of the sand pagoda; the historical and archival research for this study has also accessed material from newspapers and photographs. Because observation and interviews are major methods of ethnographic research, participant observation at the sand pagoda rituals in the Songkran Festival was conducted, as well as interviews with the relevant interest groups to collect data on the rituals and the recent changes in these practices.


The transformation process in the traditional beliefs and practices surrounding the construction of sand pagodas in the Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, is a result of the influence of tourism, the development of a market economy and the accompanying commoditisation process and secularisation and the decline of Buddhism in the local communities in Chiang Mai.

Research limitations/implications

This study has implications for other religious practices which have become increasingly staged and reinvented in the process of tourism development. It only examines one among many other elements in the increasingly touristic secularisation of formerly religious beliefs and practices.

Practical implications

The paper contributes to an expanding literature on the transformation of traditional rituals as a consequence of external factors, especially tourism promotion and the ways in which formerly sacred spaces and activities become commoditised.


This is the first study which focuses on the transformation of practices surrounding sand pagodas in the Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai, in relation to the promotion of tourism, processes of commoditisation and the declining importance of Buddhism.



Porananond, P. (2015), "Tourism and the transformation of ritual practice with sand pagodas in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand", Tourism Review, Vol. 70 No. 3, pp. 165-178.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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