Top Festivals You Must Experience In Thailand

One the great joys from my visit to Thailand was being able to witness the lantern lighting festival. To see it in person, was more stunning than any picture I’ve seen online.

Truly, if there’s ever been a window into Thailand’s soul, it’s the many festivals it holds each year. These festivals range from solemn religious ceremonies to events that feel like large outdoor parties.

There’s no better way to tap into a country’s traditions than to attend a festival. Below is my list of festivals you must experience in Thailand.

 

Yi Peng and Loi Krathong

We've all seen the pictures of thousands of people gathering to release lit lanterns into the dark night's sky (part of the Yi Peng festivities). The pictures of these glowing lanterns floating in the air are simply awe inspiring. 

Equally moving is Loi Krathong, where people send small floating boats carrying ornate lanterns, incense, offerings and flowers into the rivers. This is an ethereal sight, a perfect movie scene moment, come to life. 

The act of releasing lanterns into the skies and rivers is a way to reflect-on and let-go-off our personal demons and negativity. These lights also celebrate both Buddha and Phra Mae Khongkha (Hindu goddess of water). Besides the lantern lighting ceremonies, other events held during these festival include: bright parades, musical performances, traditional dances, fireworks, and lots of food. 

The best place to catch both these festivals is in Chiang Mai. These festivals truly deserves to be on everyone's bucket list. 

Celebrating Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is probably the most important annual festival on the Chinese lunar calendar.

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.

Candle Parade Festival / Ubon Ratchathani

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”.

In Ubon Ratchathani province, men with artistic skills labor over the task of molding and sculpting these Lenten candles. Since these works of art are presented as Buddhist offerings, the artisans pour their heart and soul into their craft. And the results are stunning.  

Vegetarian Festival 

The Vegetarian Festival is a colorful event held over a nine day period in October. It celebrates the Chinese community's belief that abstinence from meat will grant people good health and peace of mind. 

While the principles of this festival are commendable, in Phuket this festival has morbidly morphed into an exercise in self-mutilation. Both men and women will perform acts of self-mortification including extreme body piercing and firewalking. The level of self mutilation is unnerving, people will puncture their cheeks with knives, skewers and any other object they get their hands on.

Google for images of this ceremony and you'll see pictures that will make you recoil in horror. Definitely NSFW. 

This festival isn't for the faint of heart. At the same time, it's amazing to consider (with belief) what people are capable of enduring. How the mind is able to conquer the pain of the human body. 

The Ghost Festival 

Phi Ta Khon (commonly referred to as the "Ghost Festival") is held in Dan Sai district of Loei, 500km from Bangkok. 

The story of the festival revolves around an ancient legend that claims that Prince Vessantara (Buddha in his last life) took a long journey and was presumed dead by his followers. When he returned, the celebrations were so wild they woke the dead.

Today the men of Dan Sai get dressed up as the masked "spirits". The masks worn are huge, colorful and impressive. This festival also has strong sexual undertones that aren't very subtle. The masked men in the procession carry red wooden penises that they wave around and thrust towards the crowds. The atmosphere has a playful naughtiness to it. 

 

Lop Buri Festival

The world's craziest banquet is held in November in the Lop Buri province (90km north of Bangkok).

Known as the Monkey Banquet, the locals celebrate a colony of macaque monkeys who they believe bring good fortune. The food is carefully prepared and laid out in front of Pra Prang Sam Yot Temple. Tourists gather to photograph the world's luckiest monkeys feasting like kings. 

It literally looks like the Mad Hatter Tea Party come to life.

Songkran

Of all the world's festivals, this has to be one of the most fun to attend.  

Songkram, which is celebrated with the Thai new year, represents a time for cleansing and renewal. Of course today it's known for its wild and crazy-fun public water fights. It's hard to believe but at one time this was a quiet festival, that had a playful water splashing aspect to the ceremony. It has since morphed into an all out battle between water warriors carrying super soakers. 

There are big celebrations in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. But without a doubt, the best place to experience this event is on Khao San Road. This is a water pistol fight to the bitter end, no prisoners taken .....