10 Must-See Festivals in Thailand
Looking for a natural high? Then head to Thailand’s biggest festival of the year: Songkran. Traditionally it’s a three-day festival: April 13th celebrates the Thai New Year, April 14th is the nation’s Family Day and April 15th is the National Elderly Day, and the festival is a special time for family reunions. People get together and make merit at the temple and gently pour water mixed with Thai fragrance, called Nam Op Thai over the Buddha images. The Nam Op Thai is also used to pour over the hands of the elders when asking them for blessing.
One of the unique aspects of Songkran is everyone’s pre-occupation with throwing water at each other. (The underlying significance of this festival is the process of cleansing and purifying one’s self before starting the New Year.) And of course, because it’s so hot during April, getting wet offers a welcome distraction from the heat. So be prepared to find your own water gun, hose or bucket of water and join in the fun!
In fact, most of the activities during Songkran involve water. There are rituals of cleaning Buddha with water; this water is deemed to be blessed and used to soak others as a way of showing respect and is believed to bring good fortune. It’s also a time of making merit to the monks, doing special acts of kindness, making New Year’s resolutions and doing a massive spring cleaning. One custom is to throw away things that are old, worn-out or useless to ward off bad luck.
Bonus: each region has its own unique variation of the Songkran Festival and the number of days may go beyond the three days mentioned. For an example of what you can expect throughout the country, visit Tourism Thailand’s website. Many places host pageants, elaborate processions and ceremonies, contests, food extravaganzas—the list goes on.
Looking for more festivals?
Here are nine other amazing festivals in Thailand (courtesy of Destination Asia/Thailand):
Flower Festival Chiang Mai
Northern Thailand is noted for its rich variety of flowering plants, which are at their best during this cool month. Spectacular floral floats are a feature of the annual event, together with displays of flowers, handicraft sales and beauty contests. (February first weekend)
This is the holiest of all Buddhist religious days during the year, marking the birth, enlightenment and death of the Lord Buddha. As on Makha Bucha, temples throughout the country may be crowded. (May full moon)
The Rocket Festival Yasothon—Bun Bang Fai
Traditionally, northeastern villagers have created and launched rockets of all kinds and sizes as a belief that this will ensure plenty of rain for the rice-planting season. (Second week of May)
Asanha Bucha (Khao Phansa)
Khao Phansa marks the beginning of Buddhist Rains Retreat, a period of three months during which monks must remain in their temples and strictly observe their religious duties. Most young Thai men choose to enter the monkhood at this time. (July full moon)
Candle Festival—Ubon Ratchathani
‘Khao Phansa’ is observed in the northeastern city of Ubon Ratchathani with this lovely festival that displays artistic skills such as carved beeswax candles, some of them several metres tall, exhibited in colourful parades before being presented to local temples. (July full moon)
Phuket Vegetarian Festival
This is one of Phuket’s major events. Residents of Chinese ancestry undertake a 10-day vegetarian diet, and there are ceremonies at local Chinese temples and parades that feature remarkable feats by ascetic believers. (Early October)
Chonburi Buffalo Races
The water buffalo is one of the mainstays of Thai rural life, but in this annual event it is put to more amusing uses, namely in buffalo races and contests pitting buffalo against man. Beauty contests add to the fun of a festival that attracts large crowds. (October)
River Kwai Bridge Week—Kanchanaburi
The bridge on the River Kwai is the setting for this week-long series of events. Highlights include a light and sound presentation at the bridge, archaeological and historical exhibitions, and rides on vintage trains. (Late November–early December)
Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1991, Ayutthaya celebrates its glorious past with historical exhibitions, traditional cultural processions and performances, light and sound presentations. (December)