As a country rich with culture and tradition, it's no surprise that there are many enthralling festivals in Thailand which are celebrated throughout the year. Each month offers an exciting opportunity to celebrate with family, friends and loved ones. From significant revelries like Songkran that is celebrated across the country to region-specific festivals like the Surin Elephant Festival, there's plenty for eager tourists to take in.
1. Phi Ta Khon (Ghost Festival)
Called the 'Ghost Festival' of Thailand because of its embrace of the macabre, Phi Ta Khon takes place in the small town of Dan Sai. It is a three-day celebration marked by colourful masks. These masks are painted in gaudy, eye-catching colours along with large phallic noses. It typically takes place in the 6th full moon of the Lunar calendar which occurs in June or July. As the legend goes, Phi Ta Khon is meant to be a party so fun that both the living and death want to attend. Locals believe that the loud noises will awaken the spirit of the Mun River who protects their town. There are massive parades, beauty pageants and music performance on the first two days of the festival following by a more sombre day of Buddhist ceremonies. As Dan Sai is a small town, travelling there can be tricky, and accommodations fill up quickly, so it's a good idea to make bookings beforehand.
Location : Dan Sai, Loei Province, Isan, Thailand.
2. Boon Bang Fai (The Rocket Festival)
The rocket festival is observed in the Yasothorn province of north-east Thailand. It is one of the festivals in Thailand which is very popular amongst the farming communities as the rockets are meant to encourage the gods to bless them with plentiful rains. Locals make elaborate rockets that are almost 20 feet in length. The rockets are first paraded around the city before being launched into the sky fuelled by sulphur and charcoal. The person whose rocket soared highest usually wins a prize of almost THB 10,000. Those people whose rockets failed to launch are playfully thrown into a mud-bath as punishment. There is plenty of live folk music here and merriment marked by drinking local rice wine.
Location : Yasothon Province, North-east Thailand
Dates : May 3 to May 7, 2019
3. Surin Elephant Festival
This festival is a celebration of Thailand's friendly giants. Elephants have been an essential part of this country's history, they were used in battle, they aided in agriculture, and they were even used for travel. In fact, the Hindu deity of Ganesha is hugely popular here, and his statues aren't uncommon in most towns and villages. This elephant festival in northeast Thailand sees enormous parades of elephants that are lovingly fed with fruits and vegetables. These parades are followed by marching bands and elephant shows. Tourists love interacting with these friendly beasts and taking pictures, especially once they have been decorated with flowers and paste. The Surin Elephant Festival usually takes place in the third weekend of November.
Location : Surin Province, Isan, Thailand
Dates : 3rd week of November
4. Yi Peng (Lantern Festival)
One of the most spectacular festivals in Thailand, the Yi Peng festival takes place in the legendary city of Chiang Mai which was once the capital of the Lanna kingdom. It continues to hold cultural significance for its worn-out fortifications and moats that speak of a foregone era. During Yi Peng in November, Chinese paper lanterns are released into the night sky which is meant to symbolise letting go of the misfortunes of the past year. Thousands gather to take part and enjoy the spectacular view. Tha Phae Road and Mae Jo University are the best locations to enjoy the festival, although it's best to come ahead of time to find a good spot in the crowds. After the lanterns are released, you can enjoy the live music performances and firecrackers that light up the night sky.
Location : Chiang Mai, Thailand
Dates : November 11, 2019
5. Songkran (The Water Festival)
The water festival is a national holiday that marks the Thai New Year. It takes place on 13th April every year although festivities stretch for at least a week. This is a festival where people clean their houses, pour water over Buddha statues, and drench each other to symbolise cleaning away sins of the past year. They also pay tribute to elderly members of the family and their ancestry. It is celebrated all across the country although the biggest festivities can be seen in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Bangkok. Streets are cordoned off in favour of massive parades, and dance performances and many regions crown a Miss Songkran every year. Before the water celebrations, Thai people first visit temples to thank god for the past year and pray for good fortune in the year to come.
Dates : 13 April - 15 April, 2019
6. Wing Kwai (Water Buffalo Racing Festival)
This buffalo-racing festival of Thailand takes place in October in the province of Chonburi. It features a race course near Chonburi City Hall that is over 100 metres long. Dozens of jockeys take part in this festival, racing their buffalos bareback to the finish line. Other bovine-related activities include buffalo decoration and a quirky buffalo beauty contest. The province exudes a carnival-like atmosphere of merriment along with games and food stalls. Chonburi is an hour's drive from Bangkok and Pattaya, making Wing Kwai an easily accessible festival for tourists.
Location : Chonburi Province
7. Phuket Vegetarian Festival
The vegetarian festival of Phuket gains its name from abstinence of meat, garlic, onions and other food groups for one month before the festival. It culminates in a massive celebration in October. It is considered one of the most gruesome festivals in Thailand as revellers take part in body mortification like face-piercings, walking on hot coals and laying on a bed of knives. There are also fireworks, energetic dancing and chanting involved. Participants believe that this will convince the gods to protect you from harm. This festival sees ceremonies in Chinese temples like Jui Tui Shrine in Phuket. It is a fascinating experience to witness the Phuket Vegetarian Festival but we wouldn't recommend it for the faint-hearted.
Location : Phuket, Thailand
Dates : 28 September - 7 October, 2019
8. Lopburi Monkey Banquet (Food Festival)
Legend has it that the Hindu deity Hanuman saved a god's daughter from a demon in Thailand and monkeys have been gladly welcomed here ever since. They are most commonly found in ancient towns such as Lopburi which is located 150 kilometres north of Bangkok. In Lopburi, the local people conduct a huge monkey banquet every November as a celebration of these apes. The banquet has fruits, vegetables and seeds kept on offer for the 3,000 monkeys that live in Lopburi's temple area. It's a pretty exciting sight to see these monkeys enjoy the festivities, though you should be careful to keep your distance else they climb onto you too!
Location : Lopburi, Thailand
9. Mekong Naga Fireballs
The Mekong Naga Fireballs is one of the festivals in Thailand which has fascinated people from around the world. Taking place beside the Mekong River, thousands of large reddish-pink balls of light are observed to rise into the night sky without a sound or seeming human interaction. They rise to 600 feet in the air. Locals believe that this is the work of a serpent-like creature called Phaya Naga with divine powers while scientists postulate that it is caused by combustion of sulphur in the river's marshy environment. Regardless of whether it is a scientific phenomenon or the work of a water god, people gather at the Mekong River every October to watch this magnificent site unfold. In recent years, the mysterious red balls of light are joined by bursting of firecrackers.
Location : Mekong River
Dates : October - November
10. Chinese New Year
Because of a large Chinese population here, the Chinese New Year in Thailand has become one of the most famous festivals in Thailand. It takes place in January or February, depending on the lunar calendar. It is best celebrated in Yaowarat which is the Chinatown of Bangkok. During these days, you'll see firecrackers across the sky, and traditional dragon dancers take over the streets. For those who enjoy Chinese cuisine, there are plenty of Chinese banquets on offer. It is typically a long weekend of merriment and gala. Before the celebrations begin, it is customary to visit temples (especially Wat Mangkok Kamalawat on Charoen Krung Street in Bangkok) to pay respects.
Dates : 5th February, 2019
11. Mother's Day and Father's Day
The people of Thailand are fiercely devoted to the ruling monarch, and they mark the birthdays of their rulers as Mother's Day and Father's Day in the country. Mother's Day is celebrated on the Queen's birthday on August 12th while Father's Day is celebrated on December 5th. Both days are national holidays marked by festivities such as parades, music performances, traditional food stalls and visits to the temple. On Mother's Day, mothers are invited to their children's schools where there are songs and dances performed in their honour. On Father's Day, it is customary to wear yellow or golden attire. Both days see huge decorations across the cities of Thailand and people often put up large Thai flags and portraits of the king and queen in their homes.
Dates : 12th August, Mother's Day 5th December, Father's Day
12. Candle Festival
This elaborate festival takes place in Ubon Ratchathani in southeast Thailand. It is held in July on the days of Asanha Puja (which commemorates Buddha's first sermon) and Wan Khao Pansa (which marks the beginning of Buddhist Lent). During the Candle Festival, large wax sculptures are created to be paraded on massive floats. In recent years, these wax sculptures are created through an influence of traditional and modern art aesthetics while the candles represent different districts of Thailand. Some elaborate candles are carved with scenes of Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Regular sized candles are placed all around temples to dispel gloom while custom dictates that people donate food and clothing to monks. The parades include lots of dancing and traditional music performances while proceeding towards the temple premises.
Location : Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Dates : July, 2019 (TBC)
Along with beautiful beach getaways and energetic city life, Thailand is full of culture and festivities that welcomes all. All of these festivals in Thailand are great occasions to immerse yourself in the local culture and enjoy the country's rich cultural heritage and traditions.