HOLIDAYS & FESTIVALS
The number and frequency of festivals and fairs in Thailand is incredible -there always seems to be something going on, but especially during the cool season between November and February.
10 to 12 January
Chaiyaphun Elephant Round-up - a rather recently established event that focuses on re-enactment of medieval elephant-back warfare. Much smaller and less touristy than the Surin round up in November.
24 to 31 January
Don Chedi Memorial Fair - commemorates the victory of King Naresuan of Ayuthaya over Burmese invaders in 1592. The highlight of the fair is dramatised elephant-back duelling. At the Don Chedi memorial in Suphanburi Province.
1st week of February
Flower Festival in Chiang Mai - colourful floats and parades exhibiting Chiang Mai's cultivated flora.
Magha Puja (Makkha Buchaa) - held on the full moon of the third lunar month to commemorate the preaching of the Buddha to 1,250 enlightened monks who came to hear hint 'without prior summons'. A public holiday throughout the country: culminating in a candle-lit circumambulation of the main chapel at every wat.
1st week of March
Barred Ground Dove Fair - large dove-singing contest held in Yala that attracts dove-lovers from all over Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
14 to 21 March
Phra Buddhabaht Fair - annual pilgrimage to the Temple of the Holy Footprint at Saraburi, 236km north north east of Bangkok. Quite an affair: with music, outdoor drama and many other festivities. The shrine is worth visiting even in the 'off-season', if you're in the area.
Chakri Day - public holiday commemorating the founder of the Chakri Dynasty, Rama I.
13 to 15 April
Songkran Festival - the New Year's celebration of the lunar year in Thailand. Buddha images are 'bathed', monks and elders receive the respect of younger Thais by the sprinkling of water over their hands and a lot of water is tossed about for fun. Songkran generally gives everyone a chance to release their frustrations and literally cool off during the peak of the hot season. Hide out in your room or expect to be soaked; the latter is a lot more fun.
Phanom Rung Festival - a newly established festival to commemorate the restoration of this impressive Angkor-style temple. Involves a daytime procession to Khao Phanom Rung and spectacular sound-and-light shows at night. Be prepared for very hot weather.
Coronation Day - the King and Queen preside at a ceremony at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, commemorating their 1946 coronation. Public holiday.
May (Full Moon)
Visakha Puja (Wisakha Buchaa) - falls on the 15th day of the waxing moon in the 6th lunar month, which is considered the date of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and parinibbana, or passing away. Activities are centred round the wat, with candle-lit processions, much chanting and sermonising, etc. Public holiday.
2nd week of May
Royal Ploughing Ceremony - to kick off the official rice-planting season, the King participates in this Brahman ritual at Sanam Luang (the large field across from Wat Phra Kaew) in Bangkok. Thousands of Thais gather to watch, and traffic in this past of the city reaches a standstill.
2nd week of May
Rocket Festival - all over the northeast, villagers craft large skyrockets of bamboo that they then fire into the sky to bring rain for rice fields. This festival is best celebrated in the town of Yasothon, but also good in Ubon and Nong Khai.
Asanha Puja - full moon is a must for this holiday, too, commemorating the first sermon preached by the Buddha. Public holiday.
Mid to late July
Khao Phansaa (beginning of Buddhist 'lent') - the traditional time of year for young men to enter the monk hood for the rainy season and for all monks to station themselves in a single monastery for the three months. A good time to observe a Buddhist ordination. This is a public holiday.
Mid so late July
Candle Festival - in the northeast they celebrate Khao Phansaa by carving huge candles and parading them on floats in the streets. This festival is best celebrated in Ubon.
Queen's birthday - this is a public holiday. Ratchadamnoen Avenue and the Grand Palace are festooned with coloured lights.
Thailand International Swan-Boat Races - takes place on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok near the Rama IX Bridge.
Narathiwat Fair - an annual weeklong festival celebrating local culture with boat races, dove-singing contests, handicraft displays, traditional southern Thai music and dance. The King and Queen almost always attend.
Late September to early October
Vegetarian Festival - a nine-day celebration in Trang and Phuket during which devout Chinese Buddhists eat only vegetarian food. There are also various ceremonies at Chinese temples and merit-making processions that bring to mind Hindu Thaipusam in its exhibition of self-mortification.
Buffalo Racing Festival - is one of the oldest traditional festivals of Chonburi, usually taken place in October of each year. Similar occasions are also organized in the nearby towns such as Banbung and Nongyai. Farmers decorate their buffalos with different coloured robes for a competition gathering on the front ground of the Municipal offices. Activities taking place after this gathering is the buffalo running competition, animal's health competition, etc.
Mid-October to mid-November
Thawt Kathin - a one-month period at the end of 'lent' during which new monastic robes and requisites are offered to the Sangha.
Chulalongkorn Day - a public holiday in commemoration of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V).
Loi Krathong - on the proper full-moon night, small lotus-shaped baskets or boats made of banana leaves containing flowers, incense, candles and a coin are floated on Thai rivers, lakes and canals. This is a peculiarly Thai festival that probably originated in Sukhothai and is best celebrated in the north. In Chiang Mai, residents also launch hot-air paper balloons into the sky. At the National Historical Park in Sukhothai, there is an impressive sound and light show.
Third weekend in November
Surin Annual Elephant Round up - pretty touristy these days, but no more so than the 'running of the bulls' in Pamplona, Spain.
Late November to early December
River Kwai Bridge Week - sound and light shows every night at the Death Railway Bridge in Kanchanaburi, plus historical exhibitions and vintage train rides.
King's birthday - this is a public holiday, which is celebrated with some fervour in Bangkok.
31 December & 1 January
New Year's - a rather recent public holiday in deference to the western calendar.
Note: The official year in Thailand is reckoned from 543 B.C., the beginning of the Buddhist Era, so that 2004 A.D. is 2547 B.E.
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