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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.