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Steeped in ancient tradition, Thailand hosts some of the world’s most colourful and unique festivals in the world. Some are celebrated nationally, while others are region-specific. Thailand is a Buddhist-majority nation so several festivals mark important dates in the Buddhist calendar. Some of the biggest festivals are Songkran new year festival or Water festival which is a vibrant celebration running over three days and essentially one huge water fight!
Another very popular festival for visitors to observe is the Festival of Lights, where Thai waterways are full of handmade offerings or lit paper lanterns floating away in the sky. The atmosphere is full of hope and a beautiful spectacle to see.
There are several other festivals, some of which borderline on the bizarre, which are sure to leave onlookers with last impressions. Planning your trip so you can observe or participate one of these events would be a very enriching experience and give you insight into intricacies of Thai culture, their values and beliefs. And most importantly, how Thai people like to have fun.
There are several festivals in Thailand. Some are countrywide, others are location specific.
Water Festival or “Songkran” is Thailand’s largest festival, marking the beginning of the Buddhist New Year. Expect one massive water fight as people cleanse one another with water to welcome a fresh start to the coming year. This Thai water festival extravaganza runs for three days in April.
Loy Krathong or” festival of lights” occurs usually on the evening of the full moon in the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar. You can go to any waterways such as rivers or canals and you will witness Thai people paying their respects to the goddess of water by making offerings in the form of little banana leaf rafts filled with flowers, incense and candles. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, and Phuket are some of the best places to enjoy this colourful festival.
In conjunction with Loy Krathong, Yi Peng is also a festival of light, also known as the lantern festival Thailand, and celebrated on the same day. During the festival, thousands of paper lanterns called “khom loi” are released into the sky. It is an incredible spectacle to behold. The biggest celebration of Yi Peng is held in Chiang Mai.
Visakha Bucha Day celebrates the three most important events in Buddha’s life: his birth, his enlightenment, and his death. Buddhists visit local temples, make offerings, and participate in rituals, and candle-lit processions are performed at major temples around the country. The festival is based on the lunar calendar and normally occurs in May or June.
Magha Puja is one of the most important Buddhist festivals celebrating the Buddha and 1,250 of the first disciples whom he enlightened. Thai Buddhists prepare and offer food to monks, listen to Buddhist teachings and bring offerings to temples at night. It falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month usually in February.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony
The Royal Ploughing Ceremony celebrates the harvest season nationwide. This age-old tradition is integral to Thai culture who are still largely dependent on agriculture for economic means. In the ceremony, two sacred oxen plough the field nine times in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Then they are offered seven crop items such as rice, corn etc., and depending on whichever item the oxen choose, it is believed that this will be the most bountiful crop for the approaching planting season. Farmers then take this prediction into account for planning their crops for the coming season.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival
Specific to Phuket, there is the Phuket Vegetarian Festival or otherwise known as the Kin Jay Festival or Nine Emperor Gods Festival. This week-long event happens once per year during the ninth lunar month, which is usually in October. It is one of the most auspicious events on the island with most restaurants closing for one week. During this cultural festival based on Hindu-type beliefs, devotees don’t eat meat so you will find many food stalls full of tasty vegetarian fare. Many devotees demonstrate their devotion by practising self-mutilation. You will witness some extreme acts which can be confronting to onlookers, but this is part of their devotional process.
Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival
Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival is another location-specific cultural festival that the local farming communities in Yasothorn province mainly participate in. Large handmade rockets are launched into the sky by farmers to welcome plentiful rains for the coming planting season. There is a rocket parade prior to launching. The winner is the one whose rocket takes off with a bang and soars the highest. Those whose rockets backfire and don’t make it into the air are punished by being thrown into mud pools to the great amusement of onlookers.
Be mindful that a full moon party is not part of any Thai traditions. These events are arranged purely for tourism purposes.
Here’s come cultural customs that you might find useful to know for your next trip to Thailand. Observing these traditions might help you avoid any cultural faux pax or embarrassments.
When eating in a group, it is customary for food vendors to serve foods in the centre of the table with rice and or noodles. Use the centre utensils to serve your food and to be polite, wait until everyone has been served to start eating. Thais usually eat with a spoon for rice dishes and fork for noodles, or a combination of both.
It is considered respectful to always remove your shoes before entering someone’s home or temples.
Public displays of affection in public such as kissing are considered inappropriate. It is not prohibited but Thais prefer to keep these types of affection private and not in the public arena.
When speaking, Thais will use terms such as “Kha” for women and “Krub” for men to end sentences with. This is to demonstrate respect and politeness towards the other person.
You might also hear the phrase ” Mai pen rai” being used frequently. This means “its okay or no worries”. Thai people use this term to show that they are forgiving, polite and calm if there are mistakes or misunderstandings with others.
Another important tradition is that the Thai National anthem is broadcast twice a day on television and radio in the morning (8am) and evening (6pm) when the Thai flag is raised and lowered. When the anthem is played- no matter where you are or what you are doing, you must stop and stand to attention quietly until the anthem ends out of respect.
The following dates are all national public holidays:
This Thai tradition is celebrated to mark the beginning of the Buddhist New Year. Water is used to symbolically wash away our bad deeds from the year before and prepare us for the coming year with a fresh start.
The Lantern Festival or Yi Peng Festival is a cultural festival underpinned by the belief that by sending the Buddha an offering into the sky in the form of a paper lantern, a person’s soul can be forgiving for any misdeeds and their bad luck can be healed for a new beginning. During the festival, thousands of paper lanterns called “khom loi” are released into the sky. It is an incredible spectacle to behold. The biggest celebration of Yi Peng is held in Chiang Mai.
Thailand is a Buddhist-majority country but Christmas Day on 25th December is a public holiday in certain provinces. Christian-minority Thais may observe Christmas in their own way and you will see large lit Christmas trees in Bangkok throughout December in the major shopping precincts.
Loy means “to float” and “Krathong” is a handmade banana leaf raft offering filled with flowers, candles and incense sticks used during Loy Krathong festival.
December is one of the best months to visit Thailand. The cooler dry weather makes it perfect to visit all parts of the country. This is considered to be peak season through to February so tourism hotspots will be very busy.
This Thai festival takes place in many provinces throughout Thailand but the largest celebrations occur in the north of Thailand.
November to February is the cool dry season and high season with the weather in Thailand in December being the coolest month. Temperatures can sit at a pleasant 27-30 degrees celsius during daylight hours and is the most popular time to go to Thailand. The weather is warm all year round but many visitors prefer to avoid the wet season which is usually between June-October.
Water Festival or “Songkran” is Thailand’s largest festival, marking the beginning of the Buddhist New Year. Expect one massive water fight as people cleanse one another with water to welcome a fresh start to the new year. This water festival extravaganza runs for three days in April and is full of fun and celebrations. Expect to get wet!
The working week is generally Monday to Friday like many other countries. Sunday is a holiday for workers.
The historic city of Lopburi hosts a special festival to pay their respects to the large population of local macaque monkeys. Held on the last Sunday of November, a bountiful feast is prepared and the monkeys are welcome to indulge themselves in this food frenzy. Another festival that celebrates Thailand’s native animals, is the Surin Elephant Round-Up. This event in the Northeastern Province of Surin takes place each November. All the provincial elephants make their way home from around the countryside to participate in the weekend’s events such as colourful processions full of fanfare and the elephants are treated to a massive food buffet.
Queen Sirikit of Thailand, the reigning Queen and mother of Thailand, has her birthday celebrated on 12 August.
The current reigning monarch of Thailand- King Vajiralongkorn, has his birthday celebrated on the 28th July and it is a public holiday.
Celebrated as a national holiday, December 5th, was the date of the anniversary of the King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX who died on 13th October 2016. He was considered to be the Father of the nation. October 13 marks the passing of His Majesty the late king.
International Labour Day is observed on 1st May.
New year in Thailand is known as Songkran.
Chinese New Year is a cultural festival celebrated among Chinese communities across Thailand. Thai-Chinese families will decorate their homes and businesses with red lanterns and calligraphy banners. In Chinatowns across Thailand festivities include dragon parades, firecrackers, cultural and acrobatic dances. Bangkok’s Chinatown holds the largest celebration. Chinese New Year is based on the Chinese lunar calendar, but it generally falls around late January or February.
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