Tag - celebration

Festivals and Holidays in Thailand

Festivals and Holidays in Thailand
Festivals and Holidays in Thailand
Festivals and Holidays in Thailand
Festivals and Holidays in Thailand
Festivals and Holidays in Thailand
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Festivals and Holidays in Thailand

There are a wide variety of festivals in Thailand, all of them vibrant and colourful. Although the majority of festivals take place from November to February when the weather is cooler, practically every month is marked by some sort of celebration or public holiday.

Most festivals are full of traditional cultural practices, and although many celebrations seem light-hearted, most are also marked with a visit to the local temple to give gifts, say prayers and make wishes (known as making merit).

Although usually revolving around traditional Thai and religious practices, most Thai people are happy for westerners to join in the festivities and welcome the opportunity to show off their culture and as a way to make new friends.

Here is a list of the main festivals. Most festivals revolve around the phases of the moon, so these are only rough dates.

King’s Birthday

December 5th provides people with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate their love and devotion to His Majesty the King. The best place to experience this festival is Bangkok, which is lavishly decorated, especially along Thanon Ratchadamnoen Klang, near the Grand Palace.

That Phanom Festival

This festival is celebrated in January and involves 10-day homage to the northeast’s most sacred Buddhist stupa (Phra That Phanom) in Nakhon Phanom Province. The festival is attended by pilgrims from all over Thailand and Laos.

Bangkok International Film Festival

Also in January, this is a great way to enjoy some award winning films and get an introduction into Asian cinema. (www.bangkokfilm.org).

Chiang Mai Flower Festival

A must see if you are in Chiang Mai in January. The city explodes in colour as the streets are filled with floats and parades exhibit Chiang Mai’s diverse plant life.

Chinese New Year

Not to be missed, this vibrant festival usually takes place around the end of January and is known as trut jiin in Thai. Celebrated all over Thailand with a week of house-cleaning, lion dances and fireworks, a good place to witness the festivities is Bangkok’s China Town.

Magha Puja

Held around the full moon of the third lunar month, this festival commemorates Lord Buddha’s preaching to 1250 enlightened monks who came to hear him ‘without prior summons’. Naturally, alcohol is banned during this festival, which features a candle-lit walk around the (main chapel) at every wat.

Songkran

Also not to be missed, this celebration of the Thai New Year takes place between April 13 – 15. Perhaps the liveliest festival of the year, people celebrate by visiting the temple, exchanging gifts and throwing water at each other.

Khao Phansa

In mid-late July, this festival marks the start of Buddhist ‘Lent’. This is the time of year when many young men enter the monkhood, where they will stay for three months during the monsoon season. The festival is celebrated in most towns and especially schools by parades of huge carved candles on floats in the streets, culminating in a visit to the temple, where offerings are made to the monks.

Vegetarian Festival

Usually taking place in October, this is a great opportunity for visitors to try the delicious selection of Chinese and Thai vegetarian food which suddenly fills the streets during this nine-day festival. As well as visiting the temple, many people demonstrate their devotion with displays of self-mortification, especially in Phuket!


Loi Krathong

One of the most awaited festivals of the year, Loi Krathong takes place at the start of November, when people float small boats made from lotus leaves, candles and incense to apologise to the water spirits for polluting the water. This is a vibrant celebration filled with fireworks, dancing and drinking.

Surin Annual Elephant Roundup

Held on the third weekend of November, Thailand’s biggest elephant show is an unusual experience which is worth a look if you are around Surin at the time.

Isaan Life – Graduation

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Isaan Life Graduation
Isaan Life Graduation
Isaan Life Graduation
Isaan Life Graduation
Isaan Life Graduation
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Isaan Life Graduation

Graduation is a time when family and friends come together collectively to celebrate individual achievement and the passage from one phase of life to the next. Graduations are a time to reflect on the past, to smile, relax, enjoy the moment and feel optimistic about the future. A week ago a dear friend Jaruwan Supolrai received her diploma from Ubon Ratchathani University, a college with about 5,000 students some 15 kilometers south of the city. It was indeed a celebration but hardly a spontaneous or stress-free one!

This graduation was an explosion of color. Reds bled to crimson, baby blue and shimmering golden hues! Nervous, smiling students dressed in their most fancy uniforms, shirts and skirts for the young women and tight white suits for the boys. Each graduate wore a lacy, baby-blue gown. The graduates carried multi-colored flowers carefully cradled in the arms of teddy bears.

This colorful scene was hardly serene. The crowd was noisy and boisterous. Thai people love to take pictures and there was a constant whirring and clicking coming from every direction. Proud parents, happy students, smiling brothers and sisters, confused babies masked the underlying tension the graduates felt. Jaruwan explained that the preparation that went into the event was “exhausting and formal.” Rehearsals were rigorous, lasting for hours for two days before the actual ceremony. Also Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn was there to hand out the diplomas. This was nerve wracking; there is no room for error in the face of royalty. Jaruwan explained, everything had to be perfect. The princess is a scholar having earned a doctorate in Development Education from Srinakharinwirot University in Bangkok in 1987.

Next there was time pressure. Some 1,140 students had to collect their diplomas in around 1 minute meaning that 35 students had to march to the front and receive their diplomas each and every minute. The graduates worked on their timing in practice, even counting the number of steps they had to take every second!

The day of the ceremony was so stressful that Jaruwan said there was “no time for sleep.” Wake-up time on graduation day was promptly at 3 a.m. for a pre-dawn hair and make up call. The scene was hysterical. Imagine a queue of half-awake girls standing in the glow of a dimly lit convenience store dressed only in their nightgowns waiting to get into a nearby salon just outside the University gates. Soon there was a second line, the same girls parading out of the salon, still in their nightgowns, but with made-up faces aglow and freshly coifed hair carefully arranged into swirls atop their heads.

Jaruwan dressed for the day at 4 a.m., a quick and simple task; first slip into the neatly ironed shirt and dress, then the gown. Next a quick breakfast; there would be no time for more food until much later that afternoon. Exhausted and not yet dawn, Jaruwan headed out to meet her classmates. Soon she would parade formally into the gymnasium where the Princess waited.

The gymnasium was graduates and students only. The processional and the ceremony were worth the frenetic middle-of-the-night effort. The graduates, identified by their flowing blue gowns, marched in first. First and second year students stood on either side solemnly singing the school song. Jaruwan said she was, “nervous because everything was so formal.” Later she said that when the 52-year-old Princess entered the gymnasium and the Royal Song played she “got goose bumps all down” her arms.

An hour later the ceremony complete the students emerged clearly relieved the formalities were over. “I did it!” was a common exclamation. Now, the celebration, the graduation party could begin! First year students honored graduates from different faculties surrounding them singing or dancing to show respect. There were flowers everywhere. Thousands, every color of the rainbow, purchased from street vendors that morning were showered upon the graduates. I felt like a beast of burden carrying more bouquets than I could handle; so many had been given to Jaruwan.

The formal party began to wind down. Families that have traveled far distances get back in their cars or vans and headed go home. The graduates headed out for food and a moment of relaxation. Everyone was exhausted but there was one more celebration, one final party. The graduates headed out to the bars for a last college bash before taking that next step into the “real world.”

About the author:
Eli Sherman is a graduate of Montpelier High School in Montpelier, the capital of the state of Vermont, USA, and a “young blood writer” living in Ubon Ratchathani, Isaan – Northeastern Thailand. He’s been to Isaan four times in his short life. Once on a cross cultural exchange with Montpelier to Thailand Project; once coming for five months as an exchange student at Benchama Maharat school in Ubon; and again coming as a guide for Montpelier to Thailand Project. He now works as a volunteer at the Institute of Nutrition Research Field Station, Mahidol University in Ubon Ratchathani and is writing to present Isaan Life to the world, and especially KhaoSanRoad.com visitors.

Water Water Everywhere – the Songkran Festival Explained

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Songkran Festival Thailand
Songkran Festival Thailand

If you’re traveling in Thailand during April, brace yourself for one of Southeast Asia’s most raucous holidays. For one joyful week, Thai people take to the streets for the Songkran festival, a waterlogged celebration of the Thai new year.

In the midst of parades and street parties, people customarily douse each other with buckets of water and handfuls of baby powder. In Thailand, this is the festival that people spends months looking forward to, and it’s a celebration that visitors are lucky to witness. Social decorum is thrown to the wayside, public revelry/drunkenness becomes a norm, and those conspicuous sweat stains on your T-shirts will no longer be a cause for embarrassment once the water start flying.

Celebrants take no exception, whether you’re a businessman or backpacker, every person on the street is a target for buckets of water or high-tech waterguns wielded by children. In most of Thailand, this holiday lasts for three or four days, but Chiang Mai becomes the Bourbon Street of the country, with festivities lasting up to nine days.

The custom of throwing water originated as a sign of respect. Traditionally, communities would pay respect to elders and children to parents by sprinkling water on their hands as a cleansing of bad fortune and gesture of good luck. However, people may sometimes bypass the traditions of the ritual as they get caught up in the fun. After all, Songkran takes place during the peak of Thailand’s dry season; the hottest time of the year. Though Songkran has fast become a nonstop party of Animal House proportion, the origins of the festival are rooted in the home. Traditionally, the holiday was about honouring parents and elders, with children coming home to see their families and offer gifts to them.

People also go to temples on this holiday, often bringing handfuls of sand to compensate for the dirt they carried away on their feet throughout the year. Visitors pray, offer food to monks, and help clean Buddha images in the wats. If you’re in a city like Chiang Mai for Songktran, don’t be surprised to see Buddha statues paraded through the streets. This allows people to throw water on the statues as they pass by, cleaning them in the middle of the festivities.

Despite the debaucherous atmosphere, one should bear in mind that as a visitor to Thailand, enthusiasm for local festivals is widely appreciated. Friendly, festive Thai people will encourage you to take part in the revelry, but remember that despite the free-flowing water (and whiskey), Songkran is still a family event, and the street parties should remain PG, at least during the daytime. Among Thai people, it goes without saying that daily drenchings are to be expected.

Tourists, however, may need reminding, and should take care to protect cameras, ipods, important tickets, and other non-soakables.
 
While the whole country participates in Songkran, you might find that the most active celebrations take place inland, where Thai people endure the most heat. Cities like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Bangkok will all offer good parties day and night. Tourists should be extra-cautious on the roads at this time, as many whiskey-loving celebrants might be driving trucks or motorbikes.
 
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.