Thailand - Events And Festivals
Several events and festivals take place in Thailand throughout the year and if you happen to be in Thailand when a festival is taking place you may wish to join in. Nothing makes Thais happier than to see foreigners participating in their own culture.
If you watch TV footage of any Thai festival you will notice that the camera likes to zoom in on foreigners in the crowd. I have experienced this myself and have appeared briefly on Thai news reports as a result.
In addition to Thai traditional festivals, the fun-loving Thais with their love of sanook have been more than happy to embrace festivals and holidays (especially holidays) from other cultures. The traditional Thai New Year is still celebrated, but so now is the Western New Year. Chinese New Year is a big event in Thailand and some Thais too will also celebrate the Islamic New Year - four New Year celebrations in one year. Can't be bad, eh?
There is an enormous Chinese presence in Thailand and many Thais have some Chinese blood, to varying degrees. It comes as no surprise then that traditional Chinese festivals are also widely celebrated.
Some festivals take place nationwide, whereas others only occur in certain places. Some festivals have fixed dates but quite a few are based on the lunar date, therefore the actual date changes each year. If you have access to a Thai calendar it will show the dates for festivals and this information is also easy to find on-line.
Some events are related to Buddhism and although I think many foreigners will find them interesting, they are quite solemn. On the other hand some of the other events can be quite raucous.
The following is a list of events and festivals in Thailand in roughly chronological order.
Traditionally, the Thai New Year was marked by the Songkran festival in April. The military dictator Plaek Phibunsongkhram, in his attempts to make Thailand appear more civilised to the outside world, introduced a series of cultural mandates which dictated how Thais should think and behave, and even what they should wear.
Another change he made - to come in line with Western countries, which were regarded as being civilised - was to change the date of the Thai New Year to follow Western countries.
In 1940 the New Year began in April, as it had always done, but finished at the end of December and from January 1st 1941 it has been the same as Western countries.
Many towns and cities organise 'Countdown' parties to welcome in the New Year and lots of fireworks are set off at midnight.
Date in 2017: 1st January
Some Thai children are spoilt rotten, but many get very little because their families have so little money. When I hear my wife talk about her childhood I feel quite sad.
Childrens' Day is on the second Saturday of January and lots of free activities are laid on for kids. They can get free dental and medical checks, free haircuts, and other treats. Local municipalities and many private companies participate and offer different activities.
The local fire brigade might allow children to climb all over their fire engines and military camps might have an open day.
Close to where I live there is a Royal Thai Airforce base and I was keen to have a look inside, but entry is normally restricted. When the base was opened up for Childrens' Day I got the opportunity to have a good look inside.
Children's Day can thus be fun for adults as well.
Date in 2017: 14th January
Royal Thai Airforce Display For Childrens' Day
Free Haircuts On Childrens' Day
Playing Firefighters On Childrens' Day
Young Thai boy out and about on Children's Day
The kids are made to feel special on their special day
Chinese New Year
There is a massive Chinese presence in Thailand and most Thais have varying degrees of Chinese blood. There have been several waves of immigration from China and the Chinese immigrants have assimilated so seamlessly that it can be difficult to distinguish native Thais from Thai Chinese.
Furthermore, most tourists visiting Thailand these days come from China and the majority of tourists visiting the deep south of Thailand are ethnic Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore.
Understandably, Chinese New Year is a major event in Thailand.
Behind closed doors Thai Chinese people follow many of their own traditions and life on the streets gets quite busy too, not to mention nosiy. The firecrackers that are banned in most other countries aren't banned in Thailand and they explode with a deafening noise.
Ancestor worship is an important part of Chinese culture and you will see lots of things being burnt on the sidewalks. The act of burning items is regarded as a kind of celestial mailbox and anything that is burnt will find its way to ancestors.
Specialist shops can be found that are full of items for this purpose. They sell paper clothes, paper houses (completely with paper security guards), paper cars, papers iPads and iPhones, and wads of currency from the Bank of Hell.
The number of events taking place will probably depend on the aize of the local Chinese community. Where I am there is a huge Chinese population and therefore lots of events, but this may not be the case everywhere.
The events are centred around Chinese temples and community centres and, of course, in Bangkok there will be lots of activities taking place in the Chinatown district.
The date of Chinese New Year changes from year to year, but it will take place in January or February.
Date in 2017: 28th January
Makha Bucha Day
The date varies from year to year because Buddhist holidays are based on the lunar month. This one falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month, which can be in late February or early March. On this day during the Buddha's lifetime, 1250 Buddhist monks went to pay homage at Veluwan Vihara. They went of their own initiative and none had prior knowledge. All Buddhist temples will celebrate this event. You can join in by lighting candles and incense, and walking around the temple.
Date in 2017: 11th Febuary
Lighting candles at the temple for Makha Bucha Day
This is the traditional Thai New Year and for Thais it is the biggest festival of the year. Thai families get together at Songkran just as Americans get together for Thansgiving and Chinese get together for Chinese New Year. It involves a LOT of water.
I will state upfront that I dislike Songkran quite intensely and opinions of Songkran tend to be quite polarised. Some foreigners love it, while others (like me) stay indoors all day or make plans to be out of the country.
From what I can make out, it used to be quite a civilised event with younger people bathing the hands of older people. However, at some stage it just turned into a huge nationwide water fight. I got bored with squirting water at around the age of seven, but many people - it seems - never get bored.
Basically, on Songkran day everyone has a licence to douse anyone else with as much water as they wish, regardless of whether the other person wishes to participate or not. I like to be able to make choices in life, but during Songkran I cannot choose not to participate.
If you have something urgent to do and need to go outside you WILL be doused with water. If you are carrying valuable documents or expensive electronic items that aren't protected they will be ruined. You aren't allowed to say no and you aren't agreed to get angry. When your new iPhone is destroyed you are supposed to laugh and say, "That was fun, wasn't it?"
Many Thais participate in the festival while riding on the back of pickup trucks. The trucks will carry large drums of iced water and maybe twenty people who will throw the ice-cold water at people they pass. It's so much fun.
Thais generally avoid physical contact, but at Songkran there is another traditional of smearing paste over people's faces made from powder and water. Some Thai girls won't go out for fear of being groped.
There is also a huge amount of alcohol drunk, but this doesn't deter Thais from riding their motorbikes or driving their pickup trucks. The road death rate in Thailand is the second highest in the world and during Songkran it soars. Many people celebrating Songkran will not live to see another Songkran.
If you do wish to participate, wear old clothes, buying a big water gun, and don't take anything with you that will be damaged by water.
Songkran Day is one day, but businesses are generally closed for several days. In the south, fortunately, the water squirting only lasts for one day. In the north it can last for a week.
Date in 2017: 13th April
Songkran festival, Thailand
Songkran festival, Thailand
Visakha Bucha Day
This Buddhist holiday celebrates the birth of the Buddha, his death, and also his enlightenment. All three events occurred on the same day. It's another day when Thai temples see a lot of activity and if you haven't been before it's a good experience. Thais walk around the temple carrying three flowers, three candles and an incense stick as a reminder of the Triple Gems. The actual date varies each year because it falls on the 15th day of the waxing moon in the 6th lunar month.
Date in 2017: 10th May
Asaanha Bucha Day
This falls on the 15th day of the waxing moon of the eighth lunar month. It was this day during the Buddha's lifetime that he delivered his first sermon to five disciples at the deer park in Benares, India.
Tomorrow is the start of the Buddhist Lent, or Rains Retreat, which lasts for three months. Traditionally, Thai males ordained as monks during this time. In addition to learning about Buddhism, keeping the men in temples also kept them from walking on and damaging crops. Nowadays, it is still traditional for Thai males to ordain as monks, but the ordination period is often less than a week.
As usual for these important days in the Buddhist calendar, there will be ceremonies at all temples involving processions with candles and incense sticks.
Date in 2017: 8th July
Kao Punsaa Day
This is the start of the Rains Retreat or Buddhist Lent. Traditionally, this is the day when Thai males ordain as monks to spend some time in the temple and learn about Buddhism.
Date in 2017: 9th July
Buddhist Ordination Ceremony
Awk Punsaa Day
This is the end of the Rains Retreat or Buddhist Lent.
Date in 2017: 6th October
This is another big Chinese festival that takes place in Thailand. The festival in Phuket is probably the best known, but the equivalent festival in Hat Yai also attracts a lot of people.
The festival lasts for nine days and many participants wear white as a sign of purity. Eating vegetarian food serves different purposes. Avoiding meat is a kind of detoxification for the body and not having to kill animals to provide meat to eat is a form or merit making.
This festival is also very well known for the public acts of self-mortification among devotees. These can be quite gruesome. It's fascinating, but maybe not for those with weak stomachs.
I have attended the Hat Yai vegetarian festival several times since 2004. You can see some photos here:
Date in 2017: 20th to 28th October
Vegetarian festival, Thailand
Vegetarian festival, Thailand
Vegetarian festival, Thailand
King Rama V was a very special king for the Thai people. He was born on 20 September 1853 and died on 23 October 1910. He is remembered every year on the anniversary of his death. Many Thai cities have a Rama V statue at which events take place on this day, normally fairly early in the morning.
Date in 2017: 23rd October
Chulalongkorn Memorial Day, Thailand
Loy Gratong Day
'Loy' is the Thai verb 'to float' and a 'gratong' is a small basket, traditionally made from banana leaves.
This festival falls on the full moon day of the 12th month, which is normally in November. Thais float (loy) their 'gratongs' on the nearest convenient body of water. Inside the gratongs they place a nail clipping, some of their own hair and a coin.
Ask around to find out where you can participate. I know where this festival is celebrated in Hat Yai, but I don't know about other towns. However, all of the locals will know and they will be able to tell you where to go. They may even offer to take you.
In addition to floating gratongs, there are also beauty contests staged to find 'naang nopamaat' (a Thai legend). Loy Gratong is a far more civilised occasion than Songkran and normally very enjoyable.
If you want to see genuinely beautiful Thai girls at their best, this is probably the best day of the year.
Date in 2017: 3rd November
A Loy Gratong Day Beauty Contest, Thailand
Loy Gratong Day Parade, Thailand
Loy Gratong Day Parade, Thailand
Thailand for Tourists
Living In Thailand
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand