Thailand has an abundance of festivals, many of which date back centuries ago. A lot of these festivals such as the Chiang Mai Flower festival and Loy Krathong celebrate Nature and the Goddess of water respectively and are a way of thanking the Gods for the abundant bounty that they’ve showered with. From the lit candles that set the night a-glow with their radiance to the floats bedecked with flowers, Thailand is chock-a-block full of colours during these festive days and the floral fragrance and scent of incense that fills the air during the rituals held during these festivals also lend a great ambience to various cities such as Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Thailand, etc. where the festivals are celebrated. Some of these festivals are:
Loi Krathong Festival (November 13)
It is truly a magical sight to watch as thousands of little Krathongs (handmade boats/rafts filled with lit candles, incenseand flowers) float down rivers, ponds, canals lakes, even in hotel swimming pools during this festival, which usually takes place in the night of the 12th Full moon of the year in October or November (except in Laos, where it is coincides with the 11th full moon as soon as the rains retreat during Buddhist lent. Although the dates may vary, the aim behind celebrating this festival remains common- to give thanks to the rains for giving an abundance of crops and helping in the harvest, to ask for forgiveness/apologise to the Goddess of water for polluting the water and wishing for a year of good luck.
Traditionally the Krathongs which are released into the water are made from natural materials like coconut shells, banana leaves and bark, baked bread and even potato slices and are designed to resemble lotus leaves, turtles or other such sea creatures. The floating away of these also symbolise the floating away of sins, grudges and any anger that the person holds in his/her heart and a way of letting go of any disheartening burdens on mind or any negative feelings. It is a day of letting go of negative feelings from our dark side, cleansing sins and starting anew life. It is said that if the candle you’ve lit on theKrathong stays lit till the Krathong floats out of sight, then you will be blessed with good luck throughout the year. Lucky you, eh?
Apart from the floating of the Krathongs, there are various other cultural activities which are held, such as the Ram Wong dance performances, Krathong-making contests, as well as beauty contests. In places such as Bangkok, Phuket and Samui, people also release lanterns which light up the night skies and bring a vibrant look to the surroundings.
This festival had originated in Wat Saket in the Old City where it still enjoys popularity, but with urbanism, it is even celebrated in the many riverside hotels in the pool areas, such as along the Chao Phragya River and has proved to be a boost for tourism. These hotels are also known for their special dinners and fireworks displays during this time.
It is also held at Asiatique, a riverfront market, since 2013. The celebrations at Asiatique kick off around sunset and apart from buying Krathongs and floating them here, one can also learn the traditional art of fashioning a Krathong via the banana leaf folding technique. The Loy Krathong story is also retold via song and dance, followed by an illuminated float parade and fireworks display. Other popular places to head to in order to enjoy this festival are Khao san Road, Phra Athit Pier, as well as the popular lakes like Lumpini, Benjasiri and Benjakiti, which have long since replaced the canals or klongs which were preferred earlier.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival (February)
You’ll find more flowers and plants at this festival than in any garden or botanical park. It takes place in Chiang Mai, a city which has rightfully earned its nickname in honour of this festival- The Rose of the North. This festival is the Thai version of the famed Rose Bowl Parade of America. The city not only smells of the sweet fragrance of flowers but the vibrant colours ranging from electricorange, lilac colours of bougainvillea, velvety blossoms of petunias in all shades of pink, white and purple, sharp red poinsettias (usually only visible at Christmas time), scarlet salvias, etc. Not only these flowersare reserved for window sills on this day, but also can be seen lined along each andevery street in colourful flower boxes. The floats which make their way through the city streets during the parade are also adorned from top to bottom in flowers. The women who wave from atop the floats are also as pretty as flowers and look lovely in their traditional Thai costumes. Most of these women are from the Hill Tribes or former beauty queens who were chosen in the past during the beauty pageant which is held later in the day as part of the festivities. Spectators who line up along the streets to watch are handed out roses by the performers who play Northern Thai music or play in the uniformed Marching bands during the parade. Not only is it a visual treat, but also a treat for the ears and the taste buds as well, since the streets are also lined with food stalls and vendors who sell delicious foodstuff for all to savour.
Seeds, flowers and orchids are also sold and many different types of decorative and exotic plants, miniature trees, as well as flowers are elaborately put on display for all to see at the charming Suan Buak Haad near the city centre for all 3 days of this festival. While Saturday is a day to celebrate the beauty of flowers with the parade, Sunday is reserved for the beautypageantwhereinthebeauty of women is praised or judged, before the winner is crowned a beauty queen. Landscape specialists also put on elaborate displays of patios, waterfalls, etc.
This extravagant festival can be enjoyed by relaxing along the curb side in lawn chairs and watching the parade pass you by or waiting at the train station from where it begins at 9 a.m. and following it from there till the Nairawatt bridge. The Torenmuang Road is usually closed at this time and VIP viewing stands are available right next to the Chiang Mai Governor’s home. Since, the parade moves at a slow and graceful pace, there is plenty of time to take photos of the grand floats, the performers, et al.
Songkran/Thai New Year (April)
This festival originated in the old kingdom of Lamna, which back then comprised of Northern Thailand, parts of Laos and Southern Yunnam province of China. It takes place from 12th to 15th April.
April 12th or Wan Sungkhorn Cohng Day is a day for cleaning the house and for general preparations for the upcoming New Year. The Thai’s traditional dressing up indicates the coming of the new year.
April 13th or the next day iscelebrated as Wan wao. The grand New Year begins with an early morning merry making and on this day, the people offer cooked and preserved foods.People also clean their Buddha images at home using scented water. This day is also known as the day when water is poured on each other and water fights are held. 50-gallon drums are filled with water and huge blocks of ice, before being loaded onto a pickup truck and prepared for the world’s biggest water fight.
April 14th is celebrated as the Wan Paywan and comprises of a parade of Buddha images which wind through the streets of Chiang Mai. Each float also has an attendant on board, accompanied by minstrels and townspeople.
The final day of the festival is known as Won Parg-bpee and homage is paid to ancestors during this day, homage is paid to ancestors, elders and older, respected people. ‘Rohd nam Sangkran’ is a ritual which involves sprinkling water on the elders whishing them luck and good future.
The only thing left to do now, is for you to pack your bags, so you can experience these festivals in person. But before you leave for this amazing trip, make sure to check out the German website from Backpackertrail, there you can find more information about what to expect on your journey to Thailand.
List of other major festivals
January- Bo Sang Umbrella and Sankhampaeng Handicrafts Festival of Chiang Mai.
February- Macha Bucha Day.
March- National Muay Thai Day and National Elephant Day
April- Poy Sang Long Festival, Chakri Day, Wan Lai Festival.
May- Coronation of Rama X or H.M. King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Rocket Festivals of Isaan, Royal Ploughing Ceremony of Bangkok, Hua Hin Jazz Festival, Chiang Mai Inthakin City Pillar Festival, Ko Samui Yacht Regatta, Visakha Bucha Day.
June- Birthday of HM Queen Suthida, Phit Ta Khon Ghost Festival of Dan Sai, Loei.
July- Asahna Bucha Day, Khao Phansa, Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival.
August- Queen Dowager Sirikit’s Birthday, Por Tor Hungry Ghost Festival of Phuket.
October- Buffalo racing festival of Chonburi, Vegetarian Festival, Awk Phansa.
November- Yi Peng Lantern Festival of Chiang Mai, Elephant roundup festival of Surin, Monkey banquet festival of Lopburi.
December- New Year’s Eve, Outdoor concert season, King Bhumibol Birthday Commemoration Day.