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It seems Thailand cannot go long without celebrating one thing or another, making it a top destination for travelers who want to join in the festival fun. In order to follow in these savvy travelers’ footsteps, check out this month-by-month guide of Thailand’s most popular festivals.
For one of the first major celebrations of the year, tourists can make their way up to the sleepy city of Chiang Rai where the King Meng Rai Festival is held. The festival commemorates the founder of the city with parades, cultural celebrations and more.
A large group of Chinese immigrants first arrived in Thailand in 1782. Since then, the Chinese population here continues to grow, thus the Chinese New Year being one of the biggest celebrations held around the country. The best places to be for this new year is Chinatown in Bangkok, where the celebration consists of a plethora of delicious eats, Chinese-inspired decor, and a good time overall. The Chinese New Year is not an official holiday in Thailand so many businesses around the country stay open as usual.
The northern capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai, is a popular destination for many of the festivals celebrated in the country. There is one event that only takes place in this particular city, otherwise known as the Chiang Mai Flower Festival. As the name suggests, it is one of the most colorful celebrations in the Land of Smiles. One of the biggest highlights is a parade which sees floats decorated with bright and neatly arranged foliage.
Maka Bucha Day, also known as the Four Miracles Assembly, commemorates the day in which the Buddha gave his last substantial sermon. Afterwards, it is believed he passed into nirvana. Buddhist Thais flock to temples to walk around the ubosot (ordination hall) clockwise and a total of three times. They will also light candles and make wishes. It is one of the most important Buddhist holidays on the calendar, and it usually takes place in late February or early March on the full moon of the third lunar month.
March is spotted with a few festivals, including the Wat Phra Buddhaphat Fair, Singing Dove Festival, and the Thao Suranari Fair. While these are all certainly noteworthy, none are equipped with the celebrations that come along with some of the other festivals on our guide.
Festivals do not get much more fun than Songkran. It is normally celebrated from April 13-15, but some cities are known for carrying on the festivities for an entire week. Songkran Day is also known as Wan Thaloeng Sok, or the first day of the year. Many visitors recognize or have even celebrated this festival because of the giant water fight that takes place around the country.
The usage of water during this festival actually originates from a tradition where Thai families gather to pour water on the hands of their elders and receive blessings when they do so. This escalated into the all out fight with water acting as the main weapon of choice, with tourists and foreigners alike utilizing buckets and water guns to join in the fun. There is no better time for this holiday to take place, as the month of April is when Thailand has some of its hottest temperatures.
Chakri Day is a royal festival and is held on the day the Chakri Dynasty was founded on April 6, 1782. General Chakri became king after King Taksin was dethroned. The holiday is a celebration of all the country’s kings and the Chakri dynasty. Onlookers are really only allowed to partake in the ceremony when the king places wreaths on the statue of Rama I. Otherwise, this holiday is pretty quiet.
No festival is as loud (or seemingly dangerous) as the Rocket Festival, otherwise known as Bun Bang Fai. The two-day long festival takes place in hopes that it will bring about rain. The more powerful the rocket, the more powerful the downpour, or so many Thais believe.
Those hoping to celebrate and partake in a Thai festival should steer clear of the month of June, as it is seemingly lacking any sort of holidays or festivals.
Marking the start of Buddhist Lent is the Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival. Monks are to remain stagnant during this time, as they focus on things like meditation and teaching young monks in monasteries and temples across the country. Thais would come to bring them candles, and over time, these candles got more and more elaborate until it was decided that a competition would take place to see who could make the most beautiful one. There is a big parade held, showcasing these candles on large floats.
August is another month which lacks any fun proceedings that would make a visit during this time more memorable.
The Phichit Boat Racing Festival is two-days long and has been in existence for some 200 years. The race began in the Ayutthaya era. The boats and the warriors in them were heavily relied upon to protect the kingdom which was almost entirely surrounded by water, and many would partake in racing the boats to get stronger and faster on the water. Many rowers come together today for these races in the hope of beating other boats and as a means of celebration. At times they will bless their own boats with things like spirit houses and other auspicious items. After the races, participants and onlookers get together to celebrate with food, drinks, and, of course, a large party.
Though the Vegetarian Festival is celebrated in cities across the Land of Smiles, the most noteworthy (and cringe-worthy) celebration is held on the island of Phuket in Phuket Town. The festival, otherwise known as Tesagan Gin Je, is a time in which many Thais will abstain from eating meat, cheese, eggs, and a number of other foods that practicing vegans would not consume. The festival lasts about a week and is derived from Taoism, which is deeply rooted in Chinese customs which encourages people to live harmoniously.
In addition to a long set of rules which participants must follow, there are many processions carried out in Phuket in honor of the festival, though they are often pretty painful to watch. Alongside fire walking ceremonies, the most impressive spectacle is the parade that takes place on the last day of the festival. Thai men and women alike possessed by masongs will walk the city with items such as axes, needles and knives, many of which are thrust into their bodies as they walk. They are believed to not feel pain during these processions.
Colorful and detailed boats make their way down the waterways and lakes across Thailand on Loy Krathong. These boats are actually krathongs, and loy in Thai means “to float”. These boats are often made of plantain or banana leaves, and they are beautifully decorated with flowers, lighted incense, and candles. The holiday takes place one month after the end of Pansa. The krathongs are released to the goddess of the waters, Mae Khongkha. This is the way in which many Thais ask for forgiveness for polluting the water over the year. The holiday derives from an ancient legend that originated during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng, which is where many Thai festivals and holidays get their origins.
The Surin Elephant Roundup takes place in the province of Surin and began in 1960. Elephants were no longer allowed to be captured to be used for tasks like transportation, thus leaving many hunters jobless. The Roundup was started not only as a means of entertainment but also as a way to gather funds to help compensate these hunters on their losses. The event is filled with ceremonies, performances, and parades given by elephants and their mahouts, who are essentially the elephants’ controllers and trainers.
December 5 commemorates the late King of Thailand’s birthday. King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away last year, but his birthday, otherwise known as Father’s Day, is still celebrated. The three-day celebration is marked with events including runs across the capital. A large crowd normally gathers at the Grand Palace in honor of him, along with other national proceedings.