From chaotic water fights to rocket-launching mud fests, and even mysterious red fireballs, here are some major Thailand festivals you have to experience when in the Land of Smiles!
Aside from its scenic beauty, Thailand never fails to introduce its deep culture and heritage to tourists in the form of its various festivals. From the old to the young, there is always a festival around the corner for locals to have the time of their lives. While most of us might be familiar with several of these spectacular celebrations, check out this entire list for the top 10 major Thailand festivals you can be a part of the next time you visit this gorgeous country!
1. Songkran (Thai New Year Festival)
Image credits: QBIC Travel
Arguably the most popular festival in Thailand, Songkran is a nationwide three-day water fight! In some areas, the Songkran festival could even last up to a week! Locals and tourists alike will take to the streets and attack one another with water guns, hoses, and buckets of icy water.
Taking place from the 13th to the 15th of April every year, this major festival is celebrated at the start of the Thai New Year to signify a time of cleansing and renewal. Don’t be too surprised when you see people pouring water and smearing white talcum paste onto others as it represents bringing luck and prosperity into another’s life.
Aside from water fights, Buddhists visit temples to pray, light candles, and make merit. While, a procession of Buddha statues, monks, and floats passes through the streets on the main day of celebrations.
Major Thailand Festivals You Have To Experience: Click here to learn more about the Songkran Festival
2. Thai Rocket Festival (Boon Bang Fai)
Image credits: Tat News
Held in the Isaan region in early May, the Rocket Festival is to celebrate the beginning of the rainy season and to wake up the sky god, Phaya Taen, in order to “unleash rain”. While it is common for Asian cultures to celebrate the wet season, Thailand takes it a step further with homemade bamboo rockets, cross-dressing parades, men in frog masks covered in white powder, mud fests, traditional dancing, and loud late-night parties.
At Yasothon, villagers celebrate Boon Bang Fai by holding a rocket competition. Participants will attempt to launch their missiles as far and as long as possible, with most rockets weighing over 100 kg and flying over 5 minutes long!
Spanning 3 days, spectators get to enjoy delicious local delicacies and rice wine as they watch their rockets fly (and try not to get hit by those falling out of the sky). To prove that this festival means serious business, there have been accounts of people dying and getting seriously injured in the midst of these festivities. While it’s always great to have fun, do remember to stay safe along the way!
Major Thailand Festivals You Have To Experience: Click here to learn more about the Thai Rocket Festival
3. Thai Ghost Festival (Phi Ta Khon)
Image credits: Remote Lands
As part of the bigger Buddhist festival, Ban Luang, Phi Ta Khon is celebrated in Dan Sai — a farming village in the Loei province. This 3-day festival is a reenactment of a Buddhist story and a celebration of animist reincarnation beliefs.
The story goes that the Lord Buddha was living as his final incarnation, a prince banished from his own kingdom, before enlightenment. Returning after a long exile, he was greeted with a joyous homecoming that woke up the dead and led to them joining in on the celebrations as well.
Expect to see villagers dressed up in patchwork costumes and long-nosed painted masks as they walk through the streets and wave swords at festivalgoers. The bells around their waist announce the presence of spirits, and many can find groups of traditional dancers showing off their spectacular talents.
Major Thailand Festivals You Have To Experience: Click here to learn more about the Thai Ghost Festival
4. Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival
Image credits: Visit Southeast Asia
If you’re a candle-lover, Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival will certainly not disappoint! Happening in early July in the major city of Isaan, this festival marks the start of the 3-month long Buddhist Lent period and showcases the wonderful culture and heritage of the city.
Having coined the Candle Festival, the parade floats live up to their name and are made entirely out of candle wax. Filled with colour, dance, music, and beautiful intricately carved candle sculptures, festival-goers can wander the streets and learn about the different aspects of religious life depicted in the candles.
Prior to the actual celebrations, participants are invited to visit candle-making communities at temples and have a front-row seat at observing the tradition of carving wax effigies and sculptures.
Major Thailand Festivals You Have To Experience: Click here to learn more about the Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival
5. The Nine Emperor Gods Festival (Jay/ Vegetarian Festival)
Image credits: Itinari
Not for the faint-hearted, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Phuket features nine days of body piercings practised by mediums, street processions, and delicious vegetarian food. Although the origins of this festival are unclear, it was said to have transpired after a Chinese opera group visited the island a long time ago and fell sick with malaria. After observing a strict vegetarian diet and praying to the nine Emperor gods, they miraculously healed.
At the start of the festival, a 10-metre pole is raised to alert the gods and participants transcend into a trance-like state as they walk through the street procession, piercing their cheeks with the most extreme objects imaginable. Celebrations occur around all 40 of the island’s Chinese shrines, with entire streets lined with food stalls selling the best vegetarian food around.
Taking place on the first 9 days of the 9th month in the Chinese Lunar calendar, the festival dates are usually set between 24th September and 3rd October. Perhaps it’s time we give the vegetarian diet a try?
Major Thailand Festivals You Have To Experience: Click here to learn more about the Nine Emperor Gods Festival
6. Naga Fireballs Festival
Image credits: Bangkok Post
If you’re fascinated by unexplainable natural phenomena, do make time to check out the Naga Fireballs Festival. Celebrated in northeastern Thailand in Phon Phisai, people gather along the 250km stretch of the Mekong River to witness this mysterious yet natural scene of beauty.
Every year, thousands of red fireballs shoot up into the sky and were said to have been linked to the supernatural. Legend has it that the fireballs were caused by the breath of a giant sea serpent living in the river called Naga. The purpose of these fireballs is said to honour the period of Vassa. Baffling scientists, these orbs spring quickly into the sky before disappearing.
While the main event is to watch the fireballs, you can find most individuals camping out along the river enjoying the pre-show fireworks with picnic mats, food and drinks.
Major Thailand Festivals You Have To Experience: Click here to learn more about the Naga Fireballs Festival
7. Yi Peng (Thai Lantern Festival)
Image credits: Culture Trip
Like a scene straight out of Disney’s Tangled, the highlight of Yi Peng is the release of thousands of paper lanterns lit by flickering candles into the deep night sky. The act of releasing a lantern originated from the Lanna kingdom and symbolises letting go of the past and moving from darkness into light.
This moving spectacle attracts thousands of people, who travel to Chiang Mai (and across Northern Thailand) during November to take part in the 3-day Buddhist festival. Since this festival falls during the full moon of the 12th month of the Thai Lunar Calendar, the exact date differs annually.
As Yi Peng is a time for Buddhists to release bad memories, make wishes for the future, and pay respect to Buddha, celebrations include religious events, lantern displays, music, parades, fireworks, and of course our personal favourite — food.
Major Thailand Festivals You Have To Experience: Click here to learn more about Yi Peng
8. Loy Krathong (Thai Festival of Light)
Image credits: Time Out
Taking place around the same time as Yi Peng (November), Loy Krathong is another light-filled festival. People all over Thailand gather by the water after dark to release floating baskets (Krathongs) filled with burning candles as an offering to the river gods.
Celebrated all over Thailand, Loy Krathong shares the same principles as Yi Peng – letting go of bad luck and negative thoughts. The floating baskets, made from banana tree trunks or lilies, often carry a clipping of the owner’s hair or nails, flowers, and coins to thank the water gods for providing rain during the rice harvest season.
For the biggest display, head over to Bangkok where large-scale Krathongs made by government offices and businesses float in a beautiful river parade. There’s even a prize for the most creative design! Think you can beat that?
Major Thailand Festivals You Have To Experience: Click here to learn more about Loy Krathong
9. Lopburi Monkey Buffet Festival
Image credits: Rove.me
Want to see a bunch of cute monkeys chowing down on a buffet spread of fruits, vegetables, and sticky rice?
Head on over to the city of Lopburi (just 150km north of Bangkok) for the Monkey Buffet Festival, where over 3000 long-tailed macaques attend a banquet laid out on long tables! Locals will perform songs, speeches, and monkey dances to honour these little critters.
Believed to have descended from Hanuman’s monkey army, these macaques were revered and thought to bring good luck wherever they roam (even if they do cause a scene). The first buffet was held by local Lopburi inn owner, Yongyuth Kitwantananusont, in 1989 and has been set as a tradition on every last Sunday in November ever since.
Major Thailand Festivals You Have To Experience: Click here to learn more about Lopburi Monkey Buffest Festival
10. River Kwai Bridge Week Festival
Image credits: Hot Magazine
For all you history buffs, the River Kwai Bridge Week is a festival with a historical element. The event covers the history of World War II and the events that occurred on the Death Railway. Located in Kanchanaburi in late November, the celebrations combine reenacted plays of historical events with a large light show and several display exhibitions on the history of the infamous railway.
Since there are no entrance fees to the event, be sure to book your accommodations early as hotels around the area will be fully maxed out! Beside the bridge, there is a large fair where locals and tourists can enjoy yummy street food and live music performances.
Major Thailand Festivals You Have To Experience: Click here to learn more about River Kwai Bridge Week Festival
Ready To Go All Out At These Major Thailand Festivals?
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