Thailand, the country known as the “Land of Smiles” a country is best known for its diverse tourist spots drawing in thousands of tourists per year to experience Thailand on a personal level. With so much to do, where can you go or what types of activities you should participate in? Depending on how long you’re staying here, one of the best times to travel to Thailand is during their festive seasons. Thai people love to engage in colorful festivals and yearly, major celebrations are held to honor birthdays or notable traditions. There are many notable festivals in Thailand thus; this is a brief guide to the festivals to take part in when visiting for the first time. Enjoy the splendor, extravagance and rich tradition offered by the Kingdom of Thailand, it may just capture your heart!
Songkran (April 13-15)
Everybody knows about Songkran; Thailand’s famous water festival, celebrated during the hottest month of the year: April. Temperatures can soar up to 40 degrees Celsius (or more)! This is considered to be Thailand’s New Year (equivalent to Chinese New Year) but the date doesn’t change.
Many parts of Thailand take part in these water festivals, especially in Chiang Mai, located in Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is best known for their water festivals, parades and intricately decorated floaters. People gather on the streets with loaded buckets, water guns and engage in epic water fights. Of course, these ‘battles’ are friendly with the addition of water balloons or being powered in the face. For those thinking of participating in water fights (where ever you may be), here’s some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Don’t go out with expensive electronics. Bring a cheap or a disposable phone in case you lose it (or are victims to theft)!
- Bring waterproof pouches for your cellphone or money. This keeps your valuables soak-free.
- Wear appropriate clothing. Although it is a festival and things may get out of hand, dress appropriately. It is not recommended to wander down the streets in bikinis or bare boxers; it is not safe for you!
- Celebrate responsibly. One of the newest (and most enforced) laws in Thailand prohibits drinking in a vehicle, whether you’re driving or not. The best way to go about this is to not drink in vehicles but rather, drink at designated drinking locations: Bars and restaurants. This lessens the casualties on the road significantly.
Songkran may be all fun and games but there is a traditional aspect to it; during Songkran, many families will pay respects to their elders and lost loved ones. Many people go to temples to offer food, flowers and incense to those who passed to wish them a ‘Happy New Year’. If relatives are still living, people will hold a small family gathering to pour water on the elder’s hands for a blessing, wishing them longevity, health and happiness. Others simply go to temples to offer food, money and flowers to monks and Buddha idols for a successful year and looking forward to a new prosperous year ahead.
Foreigners are encouraged to participate in such traditions to experience this festival on a personal level. In fact, by participating, travelers and earn merit which is believed to improve your quality of life!
Phi Ta Khon Festival (Dates are selected by Mediums between July and August)
Phi Ta Khon or Ghost Festival is a festival celebrated in Loei Province. This is a strange festival involving spirits and people wear ghost masks causing ruckus to wake the dead. The first day of the Ghost festival is called Wan Ruam or assembly day where residents of the village or towns will invite a protection spirit from the Mun River. The protectorate spirit, known as Phra U-pakut will rise, to bless the inhabitants and protect them from any bad luck or evil spirits they may encounter.
Those taking part in the ceremony will wear ghost masks made of rice husks or coconut leaves, topped with a hat made from rice steamers and patchwork clothing. Colorful parades will be held along with celebrating the festival with local games and contests.
The festival itself may seem ‘exotic’ or ‘weird’ but this is nonetheless one of the most celebrated festivals in the Issan region of North Eastern Thailand. Do be warned that this festival may scare little children due to the amount of ghosts and ghouls involved!
Loy Krathong (Celebrated on the full moon of the 12th Thai month)
This is another famous festival travelers are encouraged to go to. Although it’s not as crazy as Songkran, this festival is more humble. Loy Krathong is celebrated during the night of the full moon with handmade floaters released into the river. These handmade floaters are made out of banana leaves, decorated with a wide assortment of flowers, incense sticks and several candles. Many people tend to put in money, a coin or two into these banana floaters, offering it to the river spirits.
Coinciding with Loy Krathong is the infamous Yi Peng festival where thousands of lanterns are launched into the sky to mimic large schools of jellyfish. This beautiful spectacle is famously seen in Chiang Mai. During this festival, people from all over the country will gather and light up lanterns. Many believe that lighting up a lantern and releasing it into the sky will make a wish come true. Of course, that differs from individual to individual. Many see this as an opportunity to take part in witnessing an event that takes place once a year.
They sky will literally be filled with orange lanterns, floating off into the sky. Any traveler who is interested in this festival should head up to Chiang Mai during the Loy Krathong festival. It is a once in a lifetime event that everybody should experience, no matter your nationality or religious beliefs.
His Majesty the King’s Birthday (December 5)
This is one of the most looked forward ‘festivals’ in Thailand. Thai people look forward to celebrating the king’s birthday which falls onto December 5. The celebration is accompanied by people wearing the king’s colors, mainly yellow (gold) or pink and gather in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. On this day, the king’s song will be played, Long Live the King and the people will sing, in honor of their king.
After the initial speeches and songs, comes the firework. Every year the fireworks are big, spectacular and beautiful. It may not be considered a true ‘festival’ but the people enjoy this momentous day, nonetheless.
Paul Smith is a substitute teacher from Surrey, British Columbia now living in Bangkok, Thailand. As a part of his hobby, Paul travels through Thailand and participates in both famous and non-famous festivals across the county. Paul enjoys telling his travel experiences to his fellow travel companions and continues to documents his travels in his personal journal. As of the moment, Paul is living with his wife in a hotel on Silom road for his next adventure.