20 Festivals in Thailand from Astonishing to Bizarre
I feel that we highly underrate festivals in Thailand when it comes to traveling.
Of course, there is usually a thin chance that your vacation and festival dates will collide.
But even so, very few people look up for any upcoming event.
Attending a festive celebration in another country is not only exhilarating but can really give you a chance to delve deep into their culture.
And the environment is going to be jolly. Therefore you will have happier memories of the vacation too.
So I thought I will include the popular festivals of Thailand in a list (in the order of awesomeness). You can always look up for any upcoming event and maybe add that in your travel itinerary.
Traveling in Thailand? Also read 101 things to do in Thailand
Songkran is the most awaited and popular festival among the locals. It is celebrated as the start of the traditional Thai New Year (which is different from the Gregorian calendar). Locals are super-excited for and a full week of festivities and relaxing.
The main appeal of Songkran is the water fight. People take to the streets with water guns, water balloons, hosepipe, buckets, or anything they can find to throw water at each other. You don’t even need to know the other person. It won’t take you more than a minute to be soaked up in the water which is a relief in the scorching heat of summers.
At the major streets where Songkran is celebrated at its peak, you will find pubs and bars with an open dancing area. Blaring music and even dancers appear to take the event up a notch. Sweet girls and boys also go around painting people in natural color powder.
Carry electronics only in waterproof packets or don’t carry them at all.
When? The dates of Songkran tend to shift every year but it is usually held between the second and third week of April. Songkran is celebrated for three consecutive days.
Where? Songkran is celebrated throughout Thailand (and even Laos). However, as tourists, you can catch the best of Songkran in Bangkok at Khao San Road, Patong Beach and Bangla Street in Phuket and Chiang Mai Old City area.
2. Yi Peng Festival
Yi Peng is probably the most photographed festival in Thailand. This is celebrated mostly in north Thailand by people of once the Lanna Kingdom (which merged with the Siam Kingdom). Yi Peng also collides with Loi Krathong (Read next) on the same day.
People get together to honor Buddha and seek blessings by lighting and releasing paper lanterns in the sky. These lanterns are called ‘Khom loy’ and readily available around the town.
The lanterns are released in large grounds. Hundreds of lanterns gently floating up in the sky creating a magnificent effect, reflecting on the waters that draw a lot of photographers and travelers from around the world. People also light their homes and shops with candles and tea lights and people are dressed in their best traditional Lanna garments.
To give you a heads up, many accidents have also been reported during the fire. There were also talks on banning the festival due to increased pollution in nearby forests. However, nothing has been finalized and the locals continue to celebrate every year.
When? Yi Peng is celebrated on the Full Moon of the twelfth Lunar Month. It usually lies in the first half of November but the actual dates vary every year.
Where? Yi Peng is celebrated at venues like Mae Ping River, Mae Rim, and Doi Saket in Chiang Mai. But the best one with fantastic photo opportunity is held at Lanna Dhutanka Temple behind Mae Jo University. Another one is CAD Khom Loi Lantern Festival. Many agents also sell a packaged tour online (with food and conveyance).
3. Loi Krathong
Loi literally means ‘to float’. Krathong is a small basket made out of leaves. Practically the occasion signifies floating of small basket made out banana leaves and flowers lit with a candle.
Loi Krathong is celebrated at the end of rice harvest and closure of monsoon season. It is also a way to be grateful to the river spirit and water bodies for providing life.
People make small baskets and get together near rivers (or ponds and lakes in cities) to float away from their baskets. Some put a strand of their hair or a fingernail as a significance of releasing anger or old grudges.
If the candle of your Krathong is lit by the time it goes out of sight, it means a good year ahead. Couples often do this together for the hope of blessings and happiness together.
When? Like Yi Peng, Loi Krathong is also celebrated on the Full Moon of the twelfth Lunar Month somewhere in November.
Where? Loi Krathong is celebrated next to the Chao Phraya River at Phra Athit Pier, Asiatique, Lumphini, and Chatuchak Park in Bangkok. Similarly, in other cities, it is usually celebrated by the main river or a large lake.
4. Chinese New Year
Thailand has a large Chinese community and a lot of locals now refer themselves as Thai-Chinese. Sticking true to their traditions, the Chinese New year is also celebrated in Thailand. However, it is mostly restricted to Bangkok, home to China Town.
Chinese New Year is not a public holiday and most of the offices operate during this time. However, Chinese shops and households do not work. One of the important ways to celebrate is to NOT work at all during the holidays.
Other than that, you will find the town in rows of beautiful red Chinese lanterns. Special Chinese delicacies pop up at places. There is a procession with dragon dance and music on the roads. If you are lucky, you can also catch a Chinese Opera shows.
When? Chinese New Year is celebrated at the beginning of the Chinese or Lunar calendar. The dates keep changing but is usually sometime in February.
Where? Yaowarat Road in China Town in Bangkok is one of the best places to see the celebrations of Chinese New Year in Thailand.
5. Lopburi Monkey Banquet
Monkeys are considered to bring good luck in this part of the world. They are also known to be the descendants of Hanuman, an important character from Ramakein (Ramayana) in Thai mythology. Lopburi is full of monkeys and is also called the monkey town.
A local Inn owner in Lopburi started giving out feasts to the local monkey back in 1989 in gratitude. Soon, it started creating news and attracted travelers from around the country. The feast grew in size to many meals a day.
Humans not only interact with them by feeding them but also let them hop around their backs and arms. Don’t be shocked if you find yourself as a ride for one of the macaques. However, keep your purses, money, and camera tucked away tightly since some can get funny or sometimes aggressive about it.
When? It is held on the last Sunday of November every year.
Where? This takes place only in Lopburi at Phra Prang Sam Yot in central Thailand and is a little more than 2 hours ride from Bangkok. If you are staying in Lopburi, your hotel staff will be able to tell you the schedule for the day’s feast.
6. Phi Ta Khon
Once upon a time, Buddha made a long journey. He was gone for such a long period of time that his followers began to doubt if he was alive. But he returned thereafter and the event was said to be at par with awakening the dead.
On the verge of bizarre and scary, Pi Ta Khon is one of the less talked festivals of the world. It includes local boys and men to dress up in colorful costumes made out of patchwork. The focus is on the bamboo mask painted with images of demons.
People take a procession with music and dance throughout the town with cowbells announcing the presence of spirits on the first day. Drinking, a feast and celebrations follow for three days of the festival.
When? Phi Ta Khon is celebrated somewhere between March and July. The exact dates are decided by the town’s council and differ every year.
Where? It is celebrated in the town of Dan Sai in Loei province in the Isan region of Thailand. The province is right next to the border of Laos.
7. Boon Bang Fai Festival
Primarily borrowed from Laos, Boon Bang Fai is celebrated in the Isan region of Thailand. Dated right before the planting period, the festival aims for people to enjoy as much as they can before the hard work begins in the farms.
There is a lot of music, dance, concerts, markets, and celebrations. But the main feature of the festival is its rocket launching competition. Homemade rockets are painted and decorate. Loaded with several kilos of gunpowder are launched in the open fields that go on for the whole day.
The rockets are also a way for the locals to signal the rain gods for a good amount of rainfall during crop planting. The teams whose rockets go bad are humiliated by swinging them in the mud. Mind you, accidents are common but ambulances are always near if that makes you feel any good.
When? The festival usually falls in the mid of May just before the monsoons and at the start of the planting season.
Where? It takes place at Phaya Thaen Park in Yasothon in the north-east part of the Isan region of Thailand.
8. Phuket Vegetarian Festival
It is a gruesome festival stained in blood and atrocities of the self. So you will need a lot of balls to attend.
The tale says that there was once a Chinese Opera group in Phuket that got sick of Malaria. Caught in the disease they decided to follow the practice of refraining from eating meat, alcohol, having sex, and cleansing their body for the next few days. Everyone recovered from the disease shortly.
To commemorate the practice, the locals follow a nine-day practice of refraining from evil practices of the human world. But when it comes to the festival, over time people have taken to more severe ways.
You can see a lot of body-piercing from skewers to knives and even pipes. You can also spot people walking on burning hot coal. The locals believe that the Chinese gods will protect the body and the mind.
When? It is held in the ninth Lunar month of the Chinese calendar that usually falls in September or October.
Where? The main festivities take place near the 6 Chinese shrines in Phuket. The main temple is Jui Tiu Shrine in Phuket Town. Some toned down festivities are also seen in China Town in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
9. Wing Kwai or Buffalo Racing Festival
Wing Kwai is a way of expressing gratitude towards the farmer’s buffalo partners in the fields. As a way to thank them, the buffalos get special treatment during the festival with daily massages, a getover, and great food.
A lot of competition revolves around buffalos like the best dressed, the most beautiful (I don’t know how you rate that!), the healthiest and of course the fastest. Buffalo race is of course the main event. Hundreds of people cheer the 100-meter race in mud after a lot of training.
Apart from that, there are a lot of shops selling great food and the environment is overall joyous.
When? It is usually held in September at the end of Buddhist Lent. Dates change every year.
Where? It is held in Chonburi and the main event takes place right in front of Chonburi city hall. Chonburi is one hour away from both Bangkok and Pattaya.
10. Khao Phansa or Candle Festival
Tracing back history, it was Rama V who received the task of increasing the influence of the kingdom of Siam over the fragmented today’s ‘Isan region’.
While stationed there, he noticed that the residents suffered grave injuries during the Boon Bang Fai festival (refer above). He then encouraged people to switch to a more peaceful candle festival.
Today this is celebrated by making huge mind-blowing artistic candles. It sometimes takes more than 3 months for several artists to make a candle. A procession takes place displaying the waxwork.
There is a lot of traditional dancing and merry-making. Artists from all around the world participate in making large wax sculptures.
When? It is celebrated on Asana Bucha and Khao Phansa that commemorates the starting of Buddhist Lent according to the Buddhist calendar somewhere in July.
Where? This starts at Wat Pa Lelai Woraviharain in Ubon Ratchathani in the Isan region of Thailand.
11. Bo Sang Umbrella Festival
While all the above festivals are chippier and upbeat, the Bo Sang umbrella festival is a more intimate low-key affair. Bo Sang is a village in north Thailand famous for its oriental umbrellas made of paper and mulberry bark.
The town celebrates its local craftsmanship with parades, cultural performances, and exhibitions. There is a beauty pageant parade early in the morning. Lovely Thai ladies dress up in their traditional attires and ride on a bicycle with a colorful umbrella.
There is a competition to find the most beautiful umbrella of the year. Hundreds of umbrellas are illuminated in the night to make a show out of it. Lanna dance performances also take place around the main market area in the night.
When? It is celebrated on the third weekend of January every year for 3 days.
Where? It takes place in the small village of Bo Sang which is located 6 km east of Chiang Mai city.
12. Chiang Mai Flower Festival
While traveling around north Thailand I witnessed some of the most beautiful gardens ever! With cooler temperature and tropical geographical location, Chiang Mai can surprise you with flora.
Chiang Mai flower festival takes place every year to showcase the diversity of ornamental plants. The main venue is Suan Buak Haad Public Park. The park completely transforms with fresh tulip gardens, topiaries, flower domes, and structures.
But the main event is a street parade that consists of around 25 floats. These depict stories, incidents, and characters from Buddhist scriptures completely made out of flowers. Needless to say, traditional dancers, musical bands, and performers accompany the unbelievable elaborate parade.
When? The festival is usually held on the first weekend in February at the end of cool-season every year.
13. Wan Lai Festival in Bang Saen
If you have missed Songkran, you can catch extended festivities at Bang Saen after a few days. You will find some fantastic sand sculptures at these beaches near Pattaya.
Traditionally artists made only chedi sai or Sand pagodas at the beginning. But now apart from them many more creative sculptures pop up across the beach. Most of them are only made of sand. However, sometimes the artists use plywood to hold up bigger structures.
The artistic make the sculptures only 2-3 days before the final day well until the last moment. The locals hold a competition on the main day to select and reward the best one. Once it’s over, they knock down the sculptures and the beach is back to normal. So there is only a small window when you can catch it.
When? It is held every year just a few days after Songkran later in April. The dates are not fixed.
Where? It is held at Bangsaen beach, next to Bangsaen Village in Chonburi between Bangkok and north of Pattaya.
14. Procession of the Royal Barges
The tradition of the procession of royal barges dates back to 700 years! But in modern times, it is very rare to be able to witness a procession. In the reign of 70 Rama IX, the late king, the procession took place only 16 times.
The royal barges are a fleet of intricate beautiful boats from the Royal household. The kingdom used them for military activities during the war and ceremonial during the time of peace. Today, the fleet has 52 boats and a crew of 2,200 that leads the ceremony, always with the King.
The fleet has 4 royal barges that carry the Royal family members along with escort barges. The last procession took place in 2019 to conclude the ascension of present King of Thailand Rama X on the throne. If you are really curious, you can get a snippet of the view at Ancient City in Samut Prakan outside Bangkok.
When? There is no set date for the upcoming procession and may take many years to witness. However, one can have a look at the barges at the Museum on Royal Barges in Bangkok.
15. Full, Black and Half-moon Festival
The three original infamous beach parties in Thailand have earned its fame all over the world. Loud, crazy and (ahem) dirty, it has what a lot of youngsters in their 20s are looking for.
The parties are held on a clear beach with a row of nightclubs and pubs with a dance floor on the beach. You can find people drinking from buckets, painted in neon tattoos, sometimes even playing with a skipping rope of burning fire.
The party starts after dusk and goes well into dawn in Koh Phangan. If you love this stuff, it is one of a kind. If you have outgrown it, you can really give it a miss since it is loud and can get really crowded.
When? There is usually a party once every month. But you can participate in smaller theme parties almost every weekend. Look up the schedule online.
Where? The main full moon party takes place at Haad Rin beach on Koh Phangan island. But Half Moon festival takes place in Baan Tai, close to Haad Rin.
16. Wonderfruit Festival
You can loosely say that Wonderfruit is Thailand’s own Burning Man. It started back in December 2014. The festival focuses on inclusive sustainability and social responsibility through performing arts, music, sculpture, food, personal style, and community workshops.
Several singers and bands have performed on stage during the festival like Richie Hawtin, Roots Manuva, Izzy Bizu, Wild Beasts, and many more. A special focus is there on the architecture with the center stage made of recycled plastics. The amphitheater was decorated with handmade cotton umbrellas and a general emphasis on empathy engineering.
The organizers have invited people to talk on topics related to self-improvement, bitcoin and blockchain technology, sustainability, permaculture, wildlife conservation, zero waste solution, and plastic pollution.
When? The event goes on for 4-5 days in mid-December every year.
Where? Wonderfruit Festival takes place at Fields of Siam Country Club in Chonburi near Pattaya, an hour’s drive from Bangkok.
17. Mekong Naga Fireball Festival
A strange phenomenon takes place in October in the Isan region of Thailand over the Mekong River every year. Balls of fire and lights shoot up from the river to the sky and fade away. Moreover, nobody knows why.
According to the local legend, people believe that the giant sea serpent called a Naga or Phaya Nak creates them. He lives underwater wakes up at this time of the year. He releases fireballs to honor the end of Buddhist Lent or Vassa at that time.
Many people have tried to come up with an explanation. A possibility being the release of phosphine gas due to the marshy environment but nothing has come to conclusion.
People in the present time gather every year along the banks of the Mekong River bordering Thailand and Laos to witness the sightings.
When? You can catch them in late October by the end of the Buddhist Lent. However, people cannot predict sightings beforehand.
Where? You can see them over a stretch of 250 km centered on Phon Phisai in Phon Phisai district in the Isan region.
18. Salak Yom Festival
Salak Yom festivals revolve around a Salak. It is a tall pyramidal structure that contains articles like household utensils, fruits, vegetables, cloth, and eight items of the necessity of a monk. They then donate these to the local monks after the festivities end.
Traditionally Yong people, an ethnic tribe from the borders of Burma celebrate the festival. In time, more tribes in the northern part of Chiang Mai have participated. Traditionally, unmarried girls made the Salak. They would save up money for a few years and collect household items, also as training for their married life.
When? Salak Yom is celebrated in the twelfth lunar month of the Buddhist calendar that falls between September and October.
Where? It takes place in Wat Prathat Haripunchai in Lamphun and nearby temples on different dates.
19. Sak Yant Wai Kru Festival
Sak Yant is a traditional tattoo, usually of animals made by a Buddhist monk. It is made using a long bamboo stick dipped in ink made of oil, Chinese ink, and sometimes even snake venom.
The festival is a gathering of over 10,000 people at a time. They travel far and wide to renew and get a tattoo for merits and protection. They wait long in lines in the scorching heat outside the main temple.
The most astonishing sight comes a little later. A lot of people suddenly act as if possessed by the spirit of animals of their tattoos. It is common to find people roaring, wailing, and even crawling on all fours like a crocodile.
When? It takes place sometime in March. The exact dates keep moving.
Where? You can spot it at Wat Bang Phra monastery, 50 km west of Bangkok.
20. Surin Elephant Festival
People of Thailand have a long history of building a life around these huge creatures called elephants. Once a part of the war army and logging activities, today they make a big chunk of the tourism industry.
According to the Suring Elephant Festival, it celebrates that companionship. I, on the other hand, Do not support using animals for tourism or entertainment and will urge my readers to not do so either.
While you cannot call the treatment completely unethical, the training that elephants go through to paint a painting, throw darts at balloons and participate in circus-like activity makes one feel queasy of the unnaturalness of the act. The elephants do go through a lot of training to do that and one can assume that some of it would not be pleasant.