One of the unique aspects of a visit to Thailand is getting the opportunity to observe, and maybe even participate in, the country’s distinctive cultural and religious festivals and events.
Many of the fascinating and colourful festivals are related to Thailand’s Buddhist culture and mark significant events such as the beginning and end of the rainy season, Buddhist Lent and so on. Many festivals will be practised all over Thailand while some may be unique to a particular town or region.
So, if you’re planning a holiday in Thailand, you might be interested in learning a little about some of the festivals that happen throughout the year, and across Thailand, so that you can experience one.
One note of advice: given that many of these festivals are based on the lunar calendar, dates can vary from year to year. It’s always best to do your research with TAT websites or local organisers to find out exactly when and where the key events are taking place each year.
New Year, 31st December
Although Thailand has its own New Year celebrations called Songkran in April, the Thai people also count down the new year on 31st December. There are three main places the new year can be seen in:
Central World, Ratchaprasong Road, Bangkok
The biggest and most famous countdown festival in Bangkok happens at Central World. Spectacular light and sound shows, live on-stage performances by popular local artists in front of Central World Square, beer garden, lucky draws and worldwide countdown with other countries on big screens.
Countdown takes place at Bali Hai Pier with the longest New Years celebrations in Thailand which begin on Christmas day with Christmas tree decorating followed by fireworks over the bay. There is a week long fair with local merchants selling delicious foods from all regions of Thailand as well as souvenirs and crafts which is set up along beach road. There are also many concerts from famous Thai artists and celebrities.
The Phuket Countdown event will include mini-concerts from many famous artists as well as dance contests. A countdown for the last rays of sunshine will be celebrated at Phromthep Cape, where a New Year’s countdown clock will be set and at the strike of midnight there will be a fabulous fireworks show at Chai Field.
Bars and nightclubs across the country, especially Bangkok, will host special New Years Eve parties and on Koh Phangnan there is even a New Year Full Moon Party if you want to head to see in the new year with the sand between your toes.
Wherever you chose to celebrate just make sure your party responsibly. We want your memories of the new year in Thailand to only be happy ones!
Chinese New Year, Bangkok
Chinatown in Bangkok is centred on the Yaowarat Road and is the focus for exuberant and colourful Chinese New Year celebrations every February. It’s not a public holiday but many Chinese residents will take time off to join in the festivities, which includes dragon dances, parades, firecrackers – and, of course, lots of yummy food!
Flower Festival, Chiang Mai
The first weekend in February in Chiang Mai sees the Flower Festival bloom all over this northern city. As well as spectacular flower displays in public areas, the public garden of Suan Buak Haad becomes the focus for fabulous competitive displays as well as sellers of Thai flowers and garden decorations.
There is also a beautifully decorated (and fragrant!) parade through the town with floats covered in blooms of all colours and traditional Thai dancers and the event finishes with the choosing of the Chiang Mai Flower Festival Queen.
Songkran Festival – or Thai New Year, 13-15 April
Songkran marks the traditional Thai New Year and takes place in cities and villages across Thailand from the 13th – 15th April each year during the hottest time of the year and at the end of the dry season.
Not surprisngly, water is an important feature of the festivities, which include the bathing of Buddha images in temples and homes across the country. In addition, children sprinkle water on their elders to pay respect.
More modern celebrations have developed into large-scale water fights from gardens and parks to busy streets and even from tuk-tuks as you make your way about. Visitors to Thailand are encouraged, and very welcome, to join in the fun with locals so if you are travelling to Thailand in April be sure to get involved and be prepared to get soaked! You’ll find Songkran events in major cities like Bangkok & Chiang Mai as well as in smaller villages up and down the country.
You can learn more about Songkran events around Thailand on Richard Barrow’s Thai festivals & Events Blog here.
You can even get a taste for what Songkran is all about here in the UK. Check out Very Thai’s website for Songkran events around the UK here.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony, Bangkok
Timed to coincide with the sixth lunar month, and the rice-planting season, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is an ancient rain-making ceremony held at Sanam Luang just in front of the Grand Palace.
A Lord of the Festival is appointed by His Majesty The King, whose role includes scattering rice seed into freshly ploughed furrows of earth. The ploughing is carried out by two oxen who pull a ceremonial royal plough. People are then allowed to run in and pick up some of the seeds. You can read more about the ceremony in a previous post here.
Phi Ta Khon Festival, Loei, Isaan
This 3-day event is held in the Dan-Sai district of Loei Province in Isaan. Held at the start of the sixth or seventh lunar month, the Phi Ta Khon festival is unique in Thailand. It involves ghostly costumes and spirit masks, plus lots of noise and fun. It mainly celebrates the final incarnation of Buddha but there are also fertility aspects to the festival. You can read about the origins of this sort-of-Halloween here.
On the last day of the Phi Ta Khon festival, bamboo rockets are let off – a tradition that is characteristic of this region in the run up to the rainy season.
Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival, Yasothon
You will find rocket festivals throughout Isaan, in north-east Thailand, at this time of year as communities pay homage to the rain gods and anticipate a good rice harvest. However, the most famous and most spectacular rocket festival is held in Yasothon every year.
In the weeks leading up to the festival, Bamboo rockets are built – some as long as 9 metres and capable of carrying 20- 25 lb of gunpowder! The rockets are highly decorated and paraded on floats and then let off one by one. The 3-day event includes traditional costumes, a beauty pageant and lots of fun.
We wrote about the background to the festivals that take place in Thailand’s rainy or “Green” season in a previous blog post: Rice, Rain & Rockets.
Candle Festival, Ubon Ratchathani
The Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival is the most well-known of the traditional religious festivals held in Isan, in the north-east of Thailand.
It takes place at the start of the Buddhist Lent and represents a traditional preparation for the coming rainy season, when Buddhist monks enter into a retreat. Huge and elaborately carved candles are prepared months in advance at temples across the region and then paraded through the city on floats. The procession moves from in front of Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram along the road to Thung Si Muang. There are also traditional Thai dancers and musicians in traditional dress to add to the spectacle.
This great photo story on the Crazy Ivory blog is a photo by photo record of the 2013 Candle festival and really brings the whole experience to life.
Illuminated Boat Procession, Nakhon Phranom
The city of Nakhon Phranom lies on the Mekong River and is the capital of Nakhon Phranom province in north-eastern Thailand. The Illuminated Boat Procession marks the end of the Buddhist Lent and takes place every year in the city from the day of the full moon to the first day of the waning moon of the eleventh lunar month (October).
This dazzling procession symbolically welcomes the Lord Buddha back to Earth after preaching to his mother in heaven during the three-month period of Buddhist Lent.
Vegetarian Festival, Phuket
Every year around the time of the ninth lunar month of the Taoist or Chinese calendar (which can fall in October or November) 9-day vegetarian festivals take place around Thailand. It coincides with the Taoist Lent period so participants abstain from eating meat and will try to purify their minds and bodies.
The biggest and most famous of these is the Phuket Vegetarian Festival which includes colourful parades around the town, with plenty of firecrackers and, of course, vegetarian food. However, it is the mah song who attract most attention. These devotees enter a trance-like state and undergo body and facial piercings in a bid to ward off evil spirits and bad luck for the entire community – certainly not for the faint-hearted!
You can read an interesting account of the history of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival on the Thaizer website here.
Loi Krathong is an important celebration in the Thai Buddhist calendar, falling in November, on the evening of the full moon of the twelfth month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar.
Lotus-shaped floats filled with candles, incense and offerings are floated on rivers as a way of venerating Buddha. The floats symbolise getting rid of one’s anger and other negative traits. Many Thai people also make and float their krathongs as a way of thanking the Goddess of Water.
If you’d like to have a go at making your own, DIY krathong, here’s a blog post that provides a step-by-step guide.
Yi Peng, Chiang Mai/Release of Sky Lanterns at Mae Jo
Loi Krathong coincides with another festival that is found in northern Thailand – Yi Peng, held on a full moon of the second month of the old Lanna calendar. This is a time to make merit and involves the display of colourful lanterns and parades around the old city of Chiang Mai. Lanterns are also lit and donated at temples.
There is also a mass release of sky lanterns just outside Chiang Mai at Mae Jo. Hundreds of paper lanterns are launched into the night sky and float upwards like luminous jellyfish.
The most spectacular Yi Peng celebrations can be seen across northern Thailand but Chiang Mai – the former capital of the old Lanna kingdom – is the best spot. As both Yi Peng and Loi Krathong are celebrated at the same time in Chiang Mai – November is a great time to visit this wonderful city.
The King’s Birthday Celebrations
The King of Thailand, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is the world’s longest-serving current monarch, having reigned since 9 June 1946.
His birthday – 5 December – is celebrated all over Thailand with a public holiday. People wave flags, wear yellow (which represents Monday, the day of The King’s birth in 1927) and there are ceremonial events, such as the Trooping of The Colour, musical performances and firework displays. Father’s Day is also celebrated throughout Thailand on this day, in honour of the much-loved and revered King who is considered to be the ‘Father’ of the nation.
In 2012, around 200,000 people crowded into Bangkok the streets and packed the Royal Plaza in front of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall to mark the King’s 85th birthday. The King made a rare public appearance and spoke briefly from the ceremonial balcony of the palace.
If you’ve ever experienced a festival in Thailand we would love for you to share your story at Thailand Reunited for others fans of Thailand to enjoy too.