Over the years I have seen some really great Thai festivals. This is a list of my Top 10 favourites in no particular order.
(1) As the full moon of the twelfth lunar month (usually in mid-November) lights up the night sky, throughout the Thai kingdom, hundreds of thousands of ornately-decorated krathong or traditional banana leaf floats are set adrift in rivers and waterways in a spell-binding ritual called “Loy Krathong” – the ‘festival of lights”. This is one of the Kingdom’s oldest and best-preserved traditions. The next festival takes place on 10th November 2011.
(2) Songkran Festival, a national celebration of the traditional Thai New Year, captures the imagination of travellers for both its cultural and fun attributes; the latter being enthusiastic bouts of water splashing between friends and relatives. This takes place all over Thailand in mid-April. The date used to vary but it is now fixed and takes place on 13-15 April every year.
(3) The celebration of the Chinese New Year remains the most important of annual festivals on the Chinese lunar calendar observed in the various regions of Thailand. Festive celebrations are typically staged in areas where there is a significant Thai-Chinese community such as the Yaowarat district in Bangkok and in the provinces of Suphan Buri, Ayutthaya, Chon Buri, Ratchaburi, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Sawan, Chiang Mai, Songkhla and Phuket. The next festival is on 23rd January 2012.
(4) The Lotus Flower Receiving Festival, or Rub Bua in Thai, takes place at Bang Phli. This festival has been handed down from one generation to the next. It is held annually one day before the end of the Buddhist Rain Retreat. Traditionally, local people line up on both sides of Klong Samrong and throw lotus flowers onto the boat carrying a replica of a revered Buddha image.The next festival is on 11th October 2011.
(5) The Candle Festival takes place as the seasonal monsoon rains descends over the kingdom, marking the beginning of the Buddhist “rain retreat” and the Buddhist Lent, or “Phansa”. As Ubon Ratchathani province prepares for the Buddhist Lent, men with artistic skills set about the task of moulding and sculpting Lenten candles. As these works of art are to be presented as Buddhist merit-making offerings, the artisans pour their heart and soul into their craft. The next festival is around the 3rd August 2012.
(6) The Phi Ta Khon festival is unique to the Dan Sai district in Loei Province and reflects the local Isan belief in ghosts and spirits. Held once a year, it is part of a grand merit-making festival known as the “Boon Luang” festival. Young men of the community dress up as “spirits” wearing long trailing costumes made from colourful strips of cloth sewn together. The next festival will take place around June/July 2012.
(7) The Hae Pha Kuen That Festival is unique to the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat. Holy cloth, known as Phra bot, is draped around the stupa in a merit-making ritual. The custom reflects a form of communal merit-making designed to strengthen community spirit and foster unity and has been observed for some 800 years. According to Buddhist belief, participation in communal merit-making earns an individual more merit. The next festival will take place around 7th March 2012.
(8) The Tak Bat Dok Mai floral offering merit-making ritual is unique to Saraburi province. This ritual stands out from the merit-making activities conducted in the other parts of Thailand because in addition to the offerings of cooked rice, food, incense, candles and other conventional sacred items, the Tak Bat Dok Mai ritual includes offerings of Dok Khao Phansa flowers that only come into bloom during the Buddhist Lent. The next festival is around 2nd August 2012.
(9) The longest running temple fair in Thailand is the Phra Samut Chedi Fair in Samut Prakan. It starts with parades through the town and along the river of the red cloth that is later wrapped around the stupa. Then for ten days the city virtually comes to a standstill for one of the biggest temple fairs in the region. The next festival is on 17th-28th October 2011.
(10) One of the most famous places in Thailand to see monkeys is among the ruins of the historical city of Lopburi. In appreciation of their efforts to attract tourists, local businessmen put on a grand Monkey Buffet Festival for the monkeys on the last Sunday in November every year. Over the years this has become one of the world’s biggest monkey parties. The next festival is on 27th November 2011.
There are obviously more big festivals that take place in Thailand. Those will have to wait for another day and another list. What are your favourites? Are they missing from this list? Let us know in the comments below. For information and dates of Festivals of Thailand please visit our Thai Festival Blogs.