While planning your trip to Thailand, make sure to check the calendar and find out if you stay will coincide with one of the many festivals that are held in the country. It would be a pity to miss them, since they could allow you to see one side of Thailand’s popular life that is not that common for travellers to enjoy.
Almost every month there is a big popular celebration in Thailand. Some of them are celebrated nationwide, while others are local affairs. And even some of them have become worldwide famous, like Songkran (Thai New Year) or Koh Pha Ngan’s Full Moon Party.
Traditional festivals in Thailand are related to Buddhist religion or animist beliefs, although over time they have diluted their spiritual significance to become more of a sanuk (fun) affair.
In modern times other festivals and celebrations have appeared, and some have been successful enough to gain a regular slot in the calendar. Most of these modern festivals have no relation whatsoever with religion, and aim straight for the fun. Some are local adaptations of popular international celebrations, while others are aimed at attracting tourism.
Most of the traditional festivals don’t follow the Gregorian calendar but the traditional Thai lunar calendar, so their exact dates change slightly every year. Therefore, you will have to confirm the dates from reliable sources. One of the easiest and most reliable ways is to visit the website of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
End of January: Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year is one of the biggest holidays on the planet. In China it causes the world’s largest annual human migration with 200 million Chinese returning to their hometown. In Thailand, as many Thais have Chinese roots, this festival is also celebrated although to a lesser extent, especially in those areas with large population of Chinese such as Bangkok. For a few days, Bangkok’s Chinatown area gets even more bustling than usual. All Chinese New Year celebrations include the dragon parade, tiger dances and firecrackers, which are intended to ward off the evil snake demon that, according to tradition, used to ravage Ancient China’s villages. And of course there are lots of paper lantern decorations and loads of street stalls selling Chinese food.
February 14: Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day, or ‘Wan Valentine’ as they call it in Thai, is not a major celebration in Thailand, but in Bangkok it is hard not to notice it. And it has a distinctly Thai touch. Many malls and restaurants host special Valentine promotions, and decorate their venues with red hearts, ribbons and such. You’ll possibly spot youngsters riding their motorbikes with oversized teddy bears and girls walking with a bouquet of flowers in their hands. Two of the spots in Bangkok that boost their activity on Valentine’s Day are Trimurti Shrine and Pak Khlong Talat (the flower market). The Trimurti Shrine is centrally located in the commercial Siam area, and many Thais go there to make offerings for love and good luck.
First weekend of March: The Tattoo Festival at Wat Bang Phra
* Photo by Binder
This is perhaps one of the most peculiar festivals in the country. During the Tattoo Festival held at Wat Bang Pha monastery (Nakhon Chaisi, 50 km from Bangkok), hundreds of people queue up to get a magical Thai tattoo (sak yant in Thai). It is believed that these tattoos grant all kinds of powers such as dodging bullets or attracting the person you love (Angelina Jolie wears one intended for this). The tattoo artists are monks from the monastery, and they use a long thin needle with the tip spilt into two so that it pierces two holes on the skin at a time. During the ceremony, many of the participants are supposedly possessed by spirits, and momentarily act like the animals that just got tattooed upon their skins. This yearly festival brings together more than 10.000 worshipers to the monastery.
April 13-15: Songkran Festival
Songkran, the Thai New Year Festival, is the most important festival in the Thai calendar. Traditionally people ceremonially sprinkled water over statues of Buddha and their elders as a way of showing respect. But over time the party has basically turned into a massive water fight, often mixed with large amounts of alcohol. In touristy areas like Bangkok’s Khao San Road there are impressive water parties. Thais and foreigners alike walk around carrying huge water pistols and soaking anybody they come across. Many locals do the same from the back of pick-up trucks loaded with water barrels. It is just impossible not to end up soaked from head to toe, but since it is the hottest time of the year, if you keep your wallet and electronic equipment waterproofed every splash will be welcome.
June 3: The Queen’s Birthday
It is a national holiday in Thailand, and since 2019 it is held annually on June 3rd, the birthday of the current queen of Thailand, Queen Suthida. Before that it was held on August 12th, the birthday of Queen Mother Sirikit, but it was changed after the coronation of King Vajiralongkorn.
June 22-23: The Phi Ta Khon (Ghost Festival) at Dansai (Loei)
* This photo is by Robert Pratt
Thais are generally very superstitious and most of them believe in ghosts. Proof of this is Phi Ta Khon festival, which is celebrated in Dan Sai, a town of Loei province, in Isan region (northeast Thailand). The town’s residents take part in processions wearing masks, dressing colourful costumes and disguised as ghosts. Some carry big wooden phalluses, which they use to tease the spectators. It’s kind of a Thai Halloween with lots of rice whiskey. The festival lasts for 3 days, and the dates change a lot depending on the year, since it can be held between March and July, and the specific dates are chosen annually by local mediums.
July 28: The King’s Birthday
It is a national holiday in Thailand, and since 2019 it is held annually on July 28th, the birthday of the current king of Thailand, King Vajiralongkorn. Before that it was held on December 5th, the birthday of King Bhumibol, but it was changed after the coronation of King Vajiralongkorn.
August 12: Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day is a national holiday in Thailand, and it is held on August 12th, the birthday of Queen Mother Sirikit. A traditional Mother’s Day gift in Thailand is jasmine (dok mali in Thai), which is considered to be a symbol of purity and gentleness. Schools in Thailand usually host a Mother’s Day ceremony, in which children kneel at their mothers feet to show respect and appreciation.
October: The Phuket Vegetarian Festival
*Photo by Njambi Ndiba Photography/
Generally, the idea of a ‘vegetarian festival’ will only bring peaceful images to your mind, right? But in fact Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival is not for the squeamish! This yearly festival honors the town’s Chinese ancestors, who according to tradition recovered from a fatal disease by adhering to vegetarianism. During the 10 days that the festival lasts, residents wear white and abstain from drinking alcohol, eating meat and having sex. The most striking thing about the festival is undoubtedly the extreme ritual of devotion that some participants practice. Supposedly possessed by evil spirits, they pierce their faces with swords, knives and thick needles, in order to expel evil from the community. Other striking sacred rituals include walking on hot coals and climbing bladed ladders. This tradition is quite similar to that practiced in the Malaysian Thaipusam.
Full Moon of November: The Loi Krathong Festival and Yee Peng in Chiang Mai
The Loi Krathong festival is one of the most important of the Thai yearly calendar, only second to Songkran. It is held on the full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai calendar, which usually falls in November. For the main act of this celebration Thais head to rivers, lakes and swamps to release their krathongs: miniature boats made of banana leaves with lit candles. This tradition has an animist origin and aims to pay homage to the spirits of the waters. In Chiang Mai the spectacle is even more amazing, since in addition to the floating krathongs, they release thousands of small hot air flying lanterns in the sky, creating a breathtaking view. So actually in Chiang Mai take place two simultaneous celebrations: Loi Krathong (like in the rest of the country) and Yee Peng (almost exclusive to Chiang Mai). This celebration has become extremely popular, so if you plan to visit Chiang Mai during these dates you should book your accommodation well ahead.
Last Sunday in November: The Monkey Buffet in Lopburi
The small town of Lopburi (north of Bangkok) is famous both for its Khmer ruins and its huge population of monkeys. Over 20 years ago a local businessman put on an all-you-can-eat buffet for the monkeys to thank them for attracting so many tourists. The idea quickly caught on and became a tradition. Since then, every year thousands of people gather to feed the naughty primates. Be vigilant with them, since bag snatching is in their genes!
December 5: Father’s Day
Father’s Day is a national holiday held on December 5th, the birthday of late King Bhumibol, who died on 13th October 2016. It is likely that in the future the date will be changed for the current king’s birthday, but that has not happened yet. On that day many people dress in the symbolic colour of the monarchy (now pink, before yellow) and gather on Rachadamnoen Street (near the Grand Palace) to celebrate. On the esplanade in front of the Grand Palace (Sanam Luang), large concerts and free shows are usually held.
December 31: New Years Eve
It is interesting to see how Christmas has been somehow incorporated in a Buddhist country like Thailand. Every year Christmas takes over Bangkok and other Thai cities. You can notice it especially in shopping malls. There will definitely be no snow on the streets, but you’ll sure come across shops and restaurants adorned with typical Xmas decoration, Xmas trees and a few Santas in full costume.
*** The Full Moon party: The biggest backpacking party (every full moon night at Koh Phangan) ***
Not a traditional, religious or national celebration of any kind, the Full Moon Party has become so famous worldwide that it scratched its place in this list of Thai festivals and celebrations. Although yes, it is almost an exclusively tourist affair. The Full Moon party is probably the biggest beach party in the world. Every month on the full moon night, between 15 and 30 thousand people gather on one of Koh Pha Ngan beaches (Haad Rin) to the rhythm of electronic music. Don’t look for any Buddhist undertone: it’s plain wild party, with loud electronic music, gallons of alcohol, all kinds of drugs and fire shows.