Thailand is a land of centuries-old festivals and celebrations that reflect the country’s traditions and cultural values.
Most Thai festivals derive from Buddhist and Brahman beliefs, with many originating from local traditions, folklore and the way of life.
Two internationally-known festivals are Songkran or the Thai New Year with its water-based fun, and the charming full moon festival of Loi Krathong.
Among the many religious events tourists are encouraged to witness are the Khao Phansa and Ok Phansa festivals that respectively mark the beginning and the end of Buddhist Lent.
Each event has its own outstanding features, which differ from region to region.
Here are just some of the many Thai festivals celebrated annually:
Songkran Festival (April 13-15, nationwide)
This is an event where boisterous fun and ancient traditions go hand-in-hand. For tourists, the festival offers a chance to enjoy a huge celebration where water parties break out in the streets of towns and villages.
For locals, it is a chance to spend time with their families and visit temples to observe ancient rites.
Some of the best regional locations to celebrate the Songkran Festival are Bangkok and Pattaya in the central and eastern region, Chiang Mai up north, Khon Kaen in the northeast and Hat Yai in the southern region.
Bun Bung Fai (Rocket) Festival (May or June, some provinces in the northeast and south)
This festival is seen as a way of encouraging the rains to fall and to help the local rice crops grow. It also allows people to have a fun and festive break before the hard work of planting and harvesting begins.
The celebrations differ from province to province, but mostly involve the firing of homemade rockets with teams competing against each other to send theirs the highest. There are also parades with floats and displays of traditional costume and dancing.
The festival can be enjoyed in many provinces of Isan, including Roi Et, Yasothon and Kalasin. There is also a rocket festival in the Sukhirin district in the southern province of Narathiwat initiated by people who moved south from Isan.
Bun Luang and Phi Ta Khon Festival (June or July, Loei)
One of the most vibrant and unique festivals in the northeastern region is the three-day Bun Luang and Phi Ta Khon Festival in the Dan Sai district, Loei.
The entire event is designed to celebrate the return of Prince Vessandorn (the last incarnation of Lord Buddha) and to worship at Phra That Si Song Rak, the highly-revered Buddha stupa.
The highlight is the Phi Ta Khon masked-dance procession. Villagers, who are mostly male, dress in ghost costumes and wear huge masks made from carved coconut-tree trunks, topped with wickerwork and sticky rice steamers.
They dance and strike amusing poses to the cheerful crowds as they parade around town. Other activities include the Phi Ta Khon costume competition and the firing of Bung Fai (rockets).
Other festivals of note:
Khao Phansa & Candle Festival (Buddhist Lent Day, July) Marks the start of the rainy season and the period when monks traditionally retreat to their temples for a three-month period.
Vegetarian Festival (October) Thai people, especially those of Chinese lineage, will restrict themselves to only a vegetarian diet for nine days and nine nights as a form of purification of a person’s body, mind and spirit.
Loi Krathong Festival (November) Designed to beg pardon from the water spirits as well as to overcome bad luck, this is probably the country’s most beautiful cultural festival featuring lotus-shaped floating vessels with lit candles being released into waterways and plenty of fireworks.
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