The Weirdest and Most Wonderful Thai Festivals

25 Apr 2022

Festivals are one thing that Thailand can't get enough of (apart from food). Every month, there's a religious ceremony or ancient event, sometimes mainstream but frequently relatively obscure.

Attending a festive event in another nation is not only exciting, but it could also allow you to gain insight into the culture. Plus, because of Thailand's unique religious makeup and heritage, several of its holidays are influenced by other cultures — for example, a Chinese influence may be seen in many of the year's events, making it even more enjoyable.

Perhaps most importantly, the atmosphere will be celebratory, meaning you will have happier vacation experiences. Read on to learn about Thailand's most popular festivals, so you can add the ones that interest you to your travel bucket list!

 

Songkran (Water Festival)

Songkran is a great experience if you like water battles, dancing, and fun in the sun. This national water festival brings out the best of Thai hospitality, community, and love. It is a Thai New Year tradition, and a celebration of friendliness, compassion, and thankfulness expressed using water.

Be ready to get wet because people with high-powered super-soakers bombard onlookers and eager participants during the festival. The festival is everywhere, so you will get wet if you go out - even just to the corner store!

History:

Songkran has Sanskrit roots. Sanskrit is a 3,500-year-old language. "Songkran" means to advance or step forward in Sanskrit. Songkran begins as the sun moves from Pisces into Aries, corresponding to the Brahmin calendar's New Year.

The festival is based on a Buddhist narrative. According to legend, Buddhist God Kadilla Brahm lost a bet with a youngster. As a result, he had to cut off his head, but the deity left it with his seven daughters. On New Year's Day, the daughters took turns carrying the head on a tray. The seven daughters represent the seven days in a week.

When:

Every year on April 13th, 14th, and 15th. The first day is called Maha Songkran, or The Grand Songkran.

Where:

Songkran is a national holiday in Thailand, so it is celebrated throughout the country (and even in Laos). However, the tourist hotspots for Songkran are Khao San Road in Bangkok, Bangla Street, Patong Beach in Phuket, and the Old City area in Chiang Mai.

 

Wan Lai Festival

If you missed Songkran, you could see the extended celebrations at Bang Saen. Unlike the rest of Thailand, which celebrates Songkran with water fights from April 13 to 15, Chon Buri celebrates Wan Lai, or "the day that flows," from April 16 to 20.

The celebration at Khao Lam and along the seashore route also includes a water ceremony for individuals seeking blessings from the elderly, several cultural shows, stalls giving Thai traditional sweet culinary demonstrations, and other cultural activities.

You will also see fantastic sand sculptures on these beaches (near Pattaya), all part of the festivities. The sand sculptures are part of a competition. Traditionally, artists made only chedi sai (sand pagodas). But now, many make more innovative sculptures. For example, some larger projects are so extravagant they are sand supported by plywood.

Artists work on their sculptures for 2-3 days before the final day until the very last moment. Then, the residents choose and reward the best on the big day. Then the sculptures are removed, and the beach returns to normal. So, you only have a brief window to catch it.

History:

The custom originates from the Thai belief that people should repay sand accidentally lost from the temple grounds by their feet during the previous year. The tradition was that people bring sand or soil to their local temple and build pagoda-shaped statues with it onsite.

When:

The Wan Lai Festival is held in Chonburi province from April 16 to 20, with different towns and districts celebrating different days. For example, Pattaya's last water-throwing day is April 19, whereas Bang Saen's is April 17.

Where:

Wan Lai Festival is held at Bang Saen Beach, next to Bang Saen Village in Chonburi between the north of Pattaya and Bangkok.

 

Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year (also called the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year) is a big deal in Thailand, given the many Chinese populations and their shared Sino heritage.

As assumed, the festivities center around Bangkok's Chinatown (Yaowarat), one of the world's largest and most active Chinatowns. Its compact, bustling alleyways are always fun to explore, but they're much more so during Chinese New Year. As a result, this celebration is its most thrilling event.

The entire length of the street (and neighboring lanes) comes alive with worshippers, firecrackers, dragon dancers, and families of Chinese descent, all gathering to enjoy and partake in the festivities and exquisite Chinese feasts. You might even get the opportunity to catch a Chinese Opera show.

History:

The dragon is the Chinese New Year's symbol because of the festival's legend. The story says that a mythological dragon-like Nian would ravage a Chinese community during the ancient Chinese New Year, eating children. The district would defend itself by leaving food for the Nian, finally exacting vengeance with firecrackers and a show of the color red, which the Nian feared.

When:

The second new moon after the winter solstice marks the date of the Chinese New Year. This beginning of the Lunar (Chinese) calendar falls somewhere between January 21 and February 20.

Where:

The Chinese New Year celebrations in Thailand are best seen on Yaowarat Road in Bangkok's China Town, with the best experience being at Wat Mangkon Kamalawat on Charoen Krung Street, just north of Chinatown.

 

Jungle Experience, Full, Black, and Half-Moon Festival

The four original infamous Thai beach parties have gained worldwide fame. They are loud, wild, and fun, all characteristics craved by young adults.

Depending on which festival you go to, it's a raging party on the beach or the jungle. The Fullmoon Party is on the beach. The others are in the jungle.

The Fullmoon Party features rows of nightclubs and bars along the coast of Had Rin Beach. The Jungle Experience Festival, Halfmoon Party Festival, and Blackmoon Festival are all private, so they're a "nightclub" unto themselves, with stalls selling knickknacks and food and plenty of performers to keep you entertained.

The one thing you'll find in common at all these festivals is the thousands of people dancing to EDM with buckets and neon paint tattoos from nightfall till dawn.

When:

Once a month there is a party for all four festivals. But there are smaller parties every weekend too on Koh Phangan!

Where:

The Full Moon Party is on Koh Phangan's Haad Rin beach. The other festivals are in Baan Tai.

 

Phi Ta Khon (Ghost Festival)

Phi Ta Khon, a three-day celebration known for the colorful masks worn by hundreds of residents, combines religious traditions, local handicrafts, and a fun-loving party atmosphere. The masks are monstrous, stretched faces painted in vivid colors.

On the first day, people march through town with song and dance, ringing cowbells to signal the presence of spirits. Then, three days of drinking, feasting, and revelry follow.

History:

The festival's origins are a blend of Buddhist and animist beliefs. It's intended to reproduce the mythology of a party that was so enjoyable that everyone – living or dead – wanted to join.

When:

The celebration dates vary, falling anywhere between March and July. Every year, the town council sets a date for that year.

Where:

It is celebrated in Dan Sai, Loei province, Isan, Thailand. The province borders Laos.

 

Wonderfruit Festival

The only thing genuinely Thai about this festival is the location. Nevertheless, it is the country's premier music and cultural festival, modeled after UK and US festivals like Glastonbury, Coachella, and Burning Man. It goes on for four to five days.

The festival promotes social responsibility and inclusive sustainability through the arts, music, sculpture, food, and community activities. The organizers invite speakers to lecture on various issues, including self-improvement, sustainability, plastic pollution, wildlife protection, permaculture, bitcoin, blockchain technology, and zero waste (a circular economy). There's also meditation, yoga, and restaurants featuring some of Bangkok's best chefs.

A significant emphasis is placed on the architecture; a central stage built entirely of recycled plastics. The designers embellished it with handmade cotton umbrellas and empathic engineering.

History:

It began in December 2014.

When:

Wonderfruit Festival is held every mid-December.

Where:

It takes place in Chonburi near Pattaya at Fields of Siam Country Club. It's about an hour's drive from Bangkok.

 

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

It is a macabre event smeared with blood and self-inflicted horrors. Therefore, a great deal of guts is required to attend this festival.

Body piercing with skewers, knives and even pipes is common. You can see people walking on hot coals. This is because the Chinese gods are believed to protect the body and intellect.

History:

The story goes that a Phuket Chinese Opera company contracted malaria. Infected with the disease, they resolved to abstain from meat, drink, sex, and cleanse their bodies for a few days. Everyone recovered quickly. The locals have observed a nine-day fast to honor the practice ever since. However, when it comes to the celebration, people have become more severe - hence the dramatic body piercing with knives.

When:

It takes place in the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which corresponds to September or October in most years.

Where:

The main activities occur near Phuket's 6 Chinese shrines – the principal temple being Jui Tiu Shrine. Bangkok and Chiang Mai's China Towns also have some tamer celebrations.

 

Yi Peng Festival (The Lantern Festival)

Yi Peng is undoubtedly Thailand's most photographed event. This festivity coincides with Loi Krathong, another great Thai festival held on the same day.

It is primarily celebrated in northern Thailand by Lanna Kingdom descendants. People light and release paper lanterns in the sky to worship Buddha and request blessings. Known as 'Khom loy,' these lanterns are widely accessible.

The lanterns are set free in broad fields. Hundreds of lanterns gently float up in the sky, reflecting on the waves, attracting photographers and travelers from all over. Also, people are dressed in their best traditional Lanna clothing and light their homes and shops with candles.

History:

The Yi Peng Lantern Festival is a centuries-old joyful occasion that dates back to the ancient Lanna Kingdom (late 13th century). Historically, it was observed to mark the conclusion of the monsoon season and the start of winter, or the chilly season.

When:

Yi Peng takes place on the twelfth lunar month's Full Moon, which is usually in the first half of November, but the exact dates change from year to year.

Where:

Yi Peng is celebrated in Chiang Mai in Mae Ping River, Mae Rim, and Doi Saket. However, the best one with fantastic photo opportunities is hosted behind Mae Jo University at Lanna Dhutanka Temple. Additionally, there is the CAD Khom Loi Lantern Festival.

 

Loi Krathong

Loi means 'to float .'Krathong is a leaf basket. The occasion Loi Krathong calls for the floating of a banana leaf and flower basket that's carrying a lit candle.

Some people also add a piece of hair or a fingernail to the basket to symbolize letting go of old grievances. If your Krathong candle is still lit before it fades from sight, it indicates a good year ahead. Couples commonly float a basket together to share blessings and happiness.

The event marks the conclusion of the rice harvest and the monsoon season. It's also a method of thanking the river spirits and water bodies for life.

History:

Loy Krathong is a Brahmin celebration honoring water spirits. Thailand modified the event to honor Buddha. It's a national ceremony to let go of negative wishes and deeds so Buddha can take them away.

When:

Loi Krathong is commemorated on the twelfth lunar month full moon in November, the same as Yi Peng.

Where:

In Bangkok, Loi Krathong is commemorated at Phra Athit Pier, Asiatique, Lumphini, and Chatuchak Park, all of which are located near the Chao Phraya River. Similarly, other cities celebrate it along a main river or large lake.

 

Boon Bang Fai Festival (Rocket Festival)

Boon Bang Fai is a Thai tradition that originated in Laos. The celebration is timed to allow people to enjoy themselves before the farmers' hard labor begins.

Teams build more sophisticated rockets every year to ask the gods to deliver bountiful rainfall to help the treasured rice harvests thrive. On the first day, the homemade and painted rockets are paraded around before being launched all weekend. If a rocket fails to launch, its makers are penalized by being thrown into a mud bath.

If a rocket fails to launch, its makers are penalized by being thrown into a mud bath. However, there is also an abundance of music and dance, markets, and festive occasions.

History:

These Buddhist celebrations are believed to have originated from pre-Buddhist fertility ceremonies performed to commemorate and encourage the arrival of the rains before the development of black powder in the ninth century. It also features some earthy Lao folklore.

When:

The festival occurs in mid-May, shortly before the monsoons and the planting season.

Where:

It is held in Phaya Thaen Park in Yasothon, Isan, Thailand.

 

Mekong Naga Fireball Festival

Every year in October, a bizarre event occurs on the Mekong River in the country's Isan province. Fire and light shoot up from the river and disappear. Nobody knows why. Many have tried to explain it. The marshy environment may cause the discharge of phosphine gas; however, nothing has been shown. So naturally, people assemble at this magical place between Thailand and Laos to see the sights.

History:

Local folklore says a massive sea serpent called a Naga or Phaya Nak makes them. He awakens at this time of year. He throws fireballs to mark the conclusion of Buddhist Lent or Vassa.

When:

You can catch them in late October, just before Buddhist Lent ends. But no one can foresee the exact date and time of sightings.

Where:

They are visible over a 250-kilometers-stretch on Phon Phisai in Isan's Phon Phisai district.

 

Lopburi Monkey Banquet (Food Festival)

In this region of the world, monkeys are considered lucky. They are also regarded as descendants of Hanuman, a significant figure in Thai mythology.

Lopburi, 150 km north of Bangkok, "the monkey town," is teeming with monkeys. There are around 3,000 monkeys here!

Visiting this place is like attending the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, especially if you go for the Lopburi Monkey Banquet held once a year. The monkeys will climb on you and attempt to steal your possessions. Feel free to let them jump on your back and in your arms but watch out for your stuff! Keep your purses, money, and cameras hidden because some monkeys can get aggressive and pushy.

History:

In 1989, a Lopburi innkeeper began rewarding the neighborhood monkeys with feasts. It quickly gained national attention and drew visitors from all over. The feast evolved to multiple meals per day and a mega-feast of 4 tonnes of fruits, vegetables, and other delights in November.

When:

The mega banquet takes place annually on the last Sunday of November. But you can visit and feed the monkeys any day of the year.

Where:

This is only in Lopburi, Phra Prang Sam Yot, central Thailand, around 2 hours from Bangkok. If you stay in Lopburi, ask your hotel staff about the daily feast schedule.

 

Wing Kwai (Buffalo Racing Festival)

Wing Kwai is a means of thanking the farmer's buffalo buddies. The buffalos get daily massages during the festival and delicious food to thank them.

The major event is the buffalo race. Hundreds of people cheer the 100-meter mud race. However, there are other competitions as well. In addition to seeing which is the fastest, the animals are also awarded for the best clothing, the most beautiful, and the healthiest.

Aside from the festivities of the competition, many restaurants and businesses are serving delicious food.

History:

The buffalo represents Thai agriculture and rural life. The Wing Kwai Festival is a yearly event that symbolizes the end of the rainy season and the start of harvest. It's a custom that dates back over 140 years. Hundreds of local farmers vie to deliver the healthiest buffaloes to the festival and win.

When:

It usually occurs in September, after Buddhist Lent, but exact dates vary from year to year.

Where:

It is hosted in Chonburi, with the main event occurring in front of the city hall. Bangkok and Pattaya are both an hour away.

 

Chiang Mai Flower Festival

You can see some of the most gorgeous gardens while exploring north Thailand. Chiang Mai's colder temperatures and tropical environment can amaze you with flowers. Every year, the Chiang Mai Flower Festival celebrates the beauty of these flowers. Suan Buak Haad Park is the primary venue. The park is transformed with fresh tulip gardens, topiaries, flower domes, and other constructions.

The highlight is a street parade with roughly 25 floats. These illustrate Buddhist stories, occurrences, and characters entirely in flowers. In addition, there are traditional dances, theatrical performances, and musical bands, making for an unbelievable and elaborate parade not to be missed.

History:

The Chiang Mai Flower Festival began in the 1970s as a modest local event and has expanded to attract guests worldwide. Now, it is a beautiful family event that attracts both locals and tourists worldwide.

When:

The festival is held on the first weekend of February, at the end of the cool season.

Where:

It is in Chiang Mai at Suan Buak or Nong Buak Haad Park. The parade begins at Nawarat Bridge and ends at Nong Buak Haad Park.

 

Khao Phansa Or Candle Festival

International teams of artists create up to ten gigantic wax sculptures for this festival, combining classical art with more modern, abstract compositions. A "candle" can take numerous artists over three months to complete. The waxworks are paraded about on floats with dancers and traditional folk music accompaniment.

It's a religious celebration on a Buddhist holy day, but there's also a party vibe across the city. Alcohol is not sold in Thailand on Buddhist holidays, but it is consumed. So most locals stock up the day before and avoid drinking in front of monks and ardent Buddhists.

History:

Rama V was tasked with extending the kingdom of Siam's grip over the divided 'Isan region .'He saw residents injured during the Boon Bang Fai festival while stationed there and suggested a more peaceful candle festival.

Thus, an exciting blend of art, culture, and celebration in one of Issan's largest cities was born.

When:

It is held on Asana Bucha and Khao Phansa, marking the beginning of Buddhist Lent, and falls sometime in July.

Where:

Wat Pa Lelai Woraviharain in Ubon Ratchathani, Isan, Thailand.

 

Procession Of The Royal Barges

The Royal Barges are a flotilla of intricately designed watercraft. The kingdom employed them for military and ceremonial purposes during war and peace. The fleet now comprises 52 boats and a crew of 2,200, always with the King.

The fleet includes four royal barges and escort barges. The last procession was conducted in 2019 to mark King Rama X's accession to the throne. You may get a glimpse of the sight from the Ancient City in Samut Prakan, outside Bangkok.

History:

The royal barge procession dates back 700 years! However, it is rare nowadays to see a parade. For example, the march occurred only 16 times during Rama IX's reign.

When:

The forthcoming procession has no specific date and may take many years to witness. However, visitors can view the barges in Bangkok's Museum of Royal Barges.

Where:

The festival occurs on the banks of the Chao Phaya River in Bangkok, between Wasukri Pier and The Grand Palace.

 

Bo Sang Umbrella Festival

The Bo Sang umbrella festival is a more intimate and low-key affair. Bo Sang is a hamlet in northern Thailand known for its oriental paper and mulberry bark umbrellas.

The town promotes its local craftsmanship with parades, cultural performances, and exhibitions. Early in the morning, there is a beauty contest parade. Beautiful Thai ladies wear traditional clothes and ride bicycles while holding a colorful umbrellas.

In addition, there is a contest to find the year's most beautiful umbrella. Hundreds of umbrellas are lit up at night to create a spectacle. Also, at night, Lanna's dance performances occur around the main market area.

History:

The festival was inspired by a local monk named Phra Inthaa, who lived over a hundred years ago, according to an inscription on his statue in Bo Sang. He was given an elegant paper umbrella by a Burmese host to protect him during one of his pilgrimages. After that, he established the fabrication of Bo Sang's umbrellas.

When:

It is celebrated annually for three days on the third weekend of January.

Where:

It is set in the tiny town of Bo Sang, which is located approximately 6 kilometers east of Chiang Mai.

 

Sak Yant Wai Kru Festival

Sak Yant is a traditional Buddhist monk tattoo, generally of animals. The festival attracts about 10,000 people at any given moment and around 100 people daily on any other day of the year. They travel great distances to renew and receive a tattoo in exchange for merits and protection—they queue for hours outside the main shrine in the sweltering heat.

The most astounding sight occurs a few moments later. Numerous people exhibit abrupt behavior as if possessed by the spirit of the animals depicted in their tattoos. People frequently growl, cry, and even crawl on all fours like a crocodile.

History:

Wat Bang Phra is the premier venue to get a traditional Thai tattoo (sak yant). Sak Yant tattoos are a centuries-old Thai tradition. This ancient art style uses a long, thin bamboo needle dipped in a mixture of snake venom, cigarette ash, and herbs to produce archaic geometric designs.

To infuse the tattoo with extraordinary powers, the monk blows on the body artwork after 3,000 needle pricks and finishes the procedure with Buddhist prayers. It was historically used on warriors to boost their courage and vigor before a battle.

When:

The exact dates change annually, but the main festival occurs sometime in March.

Where:

It's in Wat Bang Phra, 50 kilometers west of Bangkok.

 

Salak Yom Festival

Salaks are fundamental to Yom Tov. It is a tall pyramidal structure with household furnishings, fruits, vegetables, cloth, and eight monastic necessities. After the festivities, they give these to the local monks.

History:

The Yong, an ethnic tribe from Burma's borders, enjoy the holiday. With time, other tribes in Chiang Mai's north joined in. Historically, unmarried girls made the Salak. They would save money and accumulate household belongings for years, the act being a symbolic preparation for marriage.

When:

Salak Yom is observed in the Buddhist calendar's 12th lunar month (September-October).

Where:

It takes place in Lamphun's Wat Prathat Haripunchai and surrounding temples.