Traditional festivals in Thailand are some of the most colourful and incredible in Southeast Asia. From seeing the night sky light up with thousands of lanterns to epic water fights and even a banquet for monkeys, these annual festivals in Thailand really take the cake. The Land of Smiles might be known for its beautiful beaches, lush jungles and delectable food, but these incredible events definitely deserve a mention too! Which of these festivals in Thailand are you most eager to experience?
1. Yi Peng Lantern Festival, Chiang Mai
Taking place in Mid-November, on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month every year, The Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai is a beautiful sight to witness. Hundreds, if not thousands of lanterns are released to the sky.
Releasing the lanterns is a symbolic way of letting go of anxieties, fears and worries, as well as to make merit and wish for good fortune in the new year. As part of this festival, there are also plenty of other activities that take place all over Chiang Mai. These include traditional Thai dance shows, a parade, street food, live music and handicraft workshops.
Since this is a local festival, details of Yi Peng will only be released a few weeks before. Check the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s event calendar for more information!
2. Monkey Buffet Festival, Lopburi
On the last Sunday of November, a bountiful banquet is laid out among the ruins of Phra Prang Sam Yot temple in Lopburi. Its special guests? Lopburi’s thousands of macaques.
The locals believe that monkeys descend from Hanuman, the monkey deity and his army. According to legend, they saved the wife of Lord Rama from the hands of a demon lord. Ever since, the monkeys are believed to bring good luck and they are allowed to roam anywhere they please in the city. Even if they do cause some trouble sometimes!
The macaques’ feast can get quite unruly, and it’s not unheard of for them to steal humans’ belongings. So watch out for your items and also your ponytails!
3. Vegetarian Festival, Phuket
Taking place on the first nine days of the ninth lunar month, the Vegetarian Festival is generally observed nationwide, but most prominently in Phuket. During these nine days, locals eat a strict diet that is free of meat, animal oil and bulbous plants such as onions and garlic and abstain from tobacco. The abstinence of meat is a way to purify the body and mind and make merit for good health.
Sounds docile enough? The festival also has a more gruesome side. At the start of the festival, a 10-metre pole is raised to alert the nine gods. Hundreds of shamans and participants, both men and women, fall into a trance-like state and they parade through the streets performing acts of mortification. This includes piercing their cheeks with sharp objects and walking through hot coals, all to show their devotion to the gods. It’s kind of similar to Thaipusam!
Locals believe their faith and devotion protects them from all harm, and sure enough, they emerge virtually unscathed with little to no blood. The gruesome aspects aside, this is also the best time to try Thailand’s best vegetarian dishes!
4. Songkran, all of Thailand
Western cultures celebrate New Year’s Day, the Chinese have Chinese New Year, while the Thais have Songkran. Every April, the whole nation erupts into a giant water fight with water guns, water balloons, buckets, hoses, and even elephants. Major streets are closed to traffic and become arenas for these water fights. The Thai new year has become so popular, even foreigners get in on the action!
Songkran is not just the one of the most popular traditional festivals in Thailand. It is also the most important one! The new year means welcoming in the new, and letting go of the past. Locals believe that water has the ability to cleanse. Not just physically, but also spiritually.
Other than the water fights, locals also visit temples to pray and offer food to the Buddhist monks. Paying reverence to ancestors is also an important part of the festival, and people who moved away will return home to visit their loved ones and elders. Traditional parades take place in some places, where a procession of Buddha statues passes through the streets and locals pour water over the statues.
5. Naga Fireball Festival, Nong Khai
The Naga Fireball Festival is one of the most fascinating traditional festivals in Thailand. Locals gather along a 250-kilometre stretch of the Mekong River to witness glowing red ‘fireballs’ shoot up from the river into the sky. The local people attribute this phenomenon to the mythical ‘Phaya Nak’, a giant serpent which resides within the river.
Needless to say, this unusual phenomenon has captured the interest of skeptics and scientists. Both have their own opinions on it. While the locals believe that the lights are supernatural, skeptics think that it comes from flare guns or tracer rounds firing from the other side of the river. Scientists have not figured out an exact explanation, but they have a few theories such as flammable swamp gas or free-forming plasma orbs.
For now, it’s unclear what causes the ‘fireballs’, but that certainly doesn’t stop people from celebrating and coming together to watch the event unfold. Regardless of whether it comes from an underworld serpent or the result of swamp gas, this is something that is unique to only this part of the world. Join in the merrymaking and experience it for yourself!