Whether it was planned or by pure coincidence, do not miss the opportunity to attend these fun festivals if the dates of your trip allow it.
In chronological order of celebration:
1. Chinese New Year. Late January – Early February
2. Thai New Year. Songkran. April 13, 14 and 15
3. Parade of Buddhist Novices Riding Elephants. Surin. May
4. Phi Ta Kon festival. Loei. Late May – June
5. Loi Krathong. November
The lunar calendar governs most festivals and ceremonies in Thailand, so the date changes from year to year.
Late January – Early February.
The traditional Chinese calendar is based on the time it takes the moon to orbit the earth. The monthly cycle is the time that elapses from the moment that the moon is in a particular position until it returns to that position again, for example from new moon to new moon, which happens every 28.53 solar days.
The animals of the Chinese zodiac are used to date the years in a cycle of 12 years. 2020 is the year of the Rat, a highly respected animal in China and 2021 the year of the Ox.
Here, people always say that the New Year is the ideal time to purge all past “sins” and make new vows for the coming year to ensure that luck will be on your side. Wearing red garments is the way to guarantee this.
People clean their homes until they are spotless and then fill them with all sorts of things that are said to attract good luck. Orange blossoms for decoration; shrimps (representing abundance) are on the menu as well as baskets of mandarin oranges.
Corporate and family meals are part of the celebrations, as well as burning objects, which has two different meanings: on the one hand, to get rid of everything that is old and, on the other, to make an offering to the spirits of their ancestors (burning, for example, a piece of cardboard that pretends to be an ounce of gold).
The most colourful festivities take place in Bangkok’s Chinese district where every street and corner oozes tradition, replete with people celebrating and recalling their origins and ancestors. Three days packed with activities that take place along the Yaowarat Road and adjacent streets.
The lion dance is an explosive show of colour and energy. It brings good luck and wards off evil spirits. The lion dance performers parade it through shops and businesses to bring good fortune to them in exchange for a good tip.
Thai New Year: Songkran
In Thailand, New Year celebrations begin shortly before the start of the monsoon in mid-April: days 13, 14 and 15.
Traditionally, Songkran is a time when families gather together in their hometowns to pay their respects and affection to the elderly, as well as going to Buddhist monasteries to make actions that merit them the spiritual protection of Buddha and improve karma.
During the three bank holidays, Thais flock to temples with candles, incense sticks and small bottles of scented water, called ‘Nam ob’.
At the end of the religious ceremonies, as people were leaving the temple, children used to grab the opportunity to soak them with water, with a particular preference for the girls.
That was the beginning of what ended up with the entire population being bathed and which later turned into a full-fledged water battle with a wide arsenal of purpose-built weapons for the occasion.
One especially effective trick is to use large blocks of ice to bring down the temperature of the water and thus give the victim of the prank a real shock.
There is no truce or compassion.
It is celebrated throughout the national territory, although the celebration in Chaing Mai is famous and the ones that take place on the beaches are amusing.
Parade of Buddhist Novices Riding Elephants
Parade of Buddhist novices riding elephants, in May, during the full moon of the sixth month of each year.
It’s a Thai tradition that young males are ordained as a Buddhist monks for a period of time. A rite of passage to adulthood that increases their social esteem and for families is a source of pride.
Novices ride elephants in a colourful parade. A Buddhist ceremony oriented to the practice of dharma.
As a part of the celebration, fun entertainment activities are held for three days.
It takes place in Baan Ta Klang, an ‘elephant village’ located in Surin province.
Phi Ta Kon festival
Dan Sai. Loei.
Late May – June
Phi Ta Khon or ‘The Ghost Festival‘ is part of the calendar of agricultural festivals and takes place in Dan Sai, Loei Province, in the region of Isaan.
The reason for the festival is the commemoration of the return of Prince Vessantara from exile, a party so fun that even the spirits do not want to miss it.
In the background is the intention to propitiate a good rainy season that fertilises the land, with merit-making deeds and offerings.
As on other occasions, animistic beliefs are intertwined with Buddhist ideas, but what makes this celebration really special is the explicit presence of spirits, who join the party with their grotesque appearance and clearly transgressive manners.
They are spirits; therefore they are governed by their own rules, that is, none. They can do whatever they want, be rude, dirty, agitators, obscene, drink without measure and dance without style or order. In fact, they are all dead and come from the underworld.
You can get the idea that it has to be fun.
The celebration is exciting because it comes about on a real background of animistic beliefs, beyond the overwhelming presence of so many demons. Brahman priests and mediums perform rituals to obtain the favour of the spirits.
November, in the full moon.
Originally Loi Krathong was not directly related to Buddhism although it’s already a tradition that many of the acts involved in this festival take place in temples and are based on Buddhist beliefs.
It is a community festival in which people try to do good deeds that will improve their karma.
In November once the rainy season has ended and the clouds part, giving way to clear skies, t’s Loi Krathong time.
Coinciding with the full moon, this festival is about making an offering to the water spirits, a thanksgiving to these spirits for having nourished the earth. It is also an ideal opportunity for family get-togethers and a well-earned break from agricultural chores.
‘Loi‘ means to float and ‘Krathong‘ is the banana leaf that is used to make a boat that holds candles, incense sticks and maybe a coin, boats that fall downstream at dusk.