Unique Thai Festivals and Traditions

Written by Team Expique
Published: January 19, 2021

Estimated reading time: 18 minutes

Thai people love celebrations, and this evident by the countless number of Thai festivals. These are both Thailand wide festivals and unique regional festivals.

In this article you will find a list of the most unique Thai festivals and traditions that you will not find anywhere else in the world. You may also be interested in this article on public holidays in Thailand.

With the disruption caused by current COVID-19, dates of many festivals are still to be confirmed. There is a risk of cancellation or postponement on all festivals.

Bor Sang Umbrella & Sankampang Handcrafts, Chiang Mai

Bor Sang Umbrella & Sankampang Handcrafts, Chiang Mai

Bor Sang Umbrella and Sankamphang Handcrafts is an annual 3-day festival held at Bor Sang, a small village in Chiang Mai home to skilled craftspeople, to honor the efforts of the local artisans.

During the festival, you will enjoy plenty of fun and wonderful events throughout the 3 days. There is an opening ceremony, a parade, special cultural performances, art contests, creative art and handicraft exhibitions, a traditional handicraft market, a beauty pageant, live music, dancing, and carnival games along the 1km street from the entrance through to the back of the village. This is one of the most colourful festivals in Thailand.

Date of festival: A weekend during mid of January every year (2021 still to be confirmed)

Pak Nam Pho Chinese New Year, Nakhon Sawan

Pak Nam Pho Chinese New Year, Nakhon Sawan

This festival has been held for over a thousand years, and is very important festival for the Nakhon Sawan people. Dating back to the year 1917 – 1919, when there was an epidemic of cholera in the city. People believe that the gods helped them get through the crisis, so every year they will parade the gods around the city. Eventually, it became a festival lasting 12 days and 12 nights.

During the festival, the city centre will be full of lanterns and red banners. There are various markets, street food, game stalls, live music, and a carnival along the streets. Also, there is a traditional Chinese village mockup on the cultural street – Srikrairaj. Moreover, in the last 2 days, you will get to see special parades – the Golden Dragon of Nakhon Sawan, at night and the following morning.

Date of festival: 5th – 16th February 2021

Songkran (Thai New Year)

Family blessing during Songkran Festival

This is the most famous of Thai festivals. Songkran is a traditional Thai New Year that runs over three days.

Its name comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “to move” or “to pass into”. Water plays important role in this festival as it used as a symbol of purification. Thais will pour fragrant water over Buddha images and elders to ask for blessings for the new year. As time went by, this festival has become widely well known as the water festival.

Songkran is a special occasion for families as it is a long holiday. This festival is relevant to Buddhism, and most of the temples across the country will typically hold special events and activities. It is traditional to pour water over a Buddha image, and build sand pagodas (Chedi Sai). Temples will often have live music, traditional dancing, game stalls, and beauty pageants.

A water war during Songkran Festival

Modern day Songkran is known for its water fights. Please prepare to get soaked as crowds will be pouring into the streets and no way that you could avoid the battle! The recommended cities to join the festival are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Khon Kaen, and Chonburi. They are well known for their huge Songkran events.

Date of festival: from 13th – 15th April (2021 festival likely to be postponed)

If you want to know more about Songkran in Bangkok, check out our article here https://www.expique.com/article/celebrating-songkran-in-bangkok/

Bun Bang Fai, Yasothorn Rocket Festival

Bang Fai - Bun Bang Fai, Yasothorn Rocket Festival

Bangfai is a homemade rocket made of bamboo, plastic, wood, paper, and fuelled with gunpowder. These rockets may not reach space, but it flies into the sky to honour the god of rain – Phraya Taen and ask for rain.

Bun Bangfai is an important traditional ceremony for Isarn people. As most of the population are farmers and they normally start doing rice farming during June which is the beginning of rainy season. They believe that any year that they do not honor the god, there will be a severe drought.

The biggest rocket festival takes place in Yasothorn, a province in Eastern Thailand. Hundreds of homemade rockets will be launched into the sky while the airspace above the region is closed. The festival not only attracts locals but there is even an international competition. It gathers skilled craftspeople from Laos, Cambodia, Japan, and South Korea to compete for the most beautiful and fastest rockets.

Besides the contest, there is a rocket parade, rocket making demonstration, a cheering team contest, cultural performances, and local markets selling Yasothorn’s famous food and items.

Date of festival: 10th May 2021

Phi Tha Khon Festival

Phi Ta Khon Festival

Phi Tha Khon Festival (Phi” means ghost) is a unique and traditional Thai festival that is a part of the Boon Luang ceremony (a big annual merit ceremony). This ghost festival is held over 3 days in a farming village of Dan Sai in Loei province (Northern Thailand) to honor the city guardians who are believed to be ancestors who have passed away.

During the festival, there are an opening ceremony, parade contest, costume contest, dancing contest, and Buddhist rituals. The highlight is a parade that people will wear a mask decorated with a scary painted face made of Thai sticky rice streamer and a colourful dress. They will walk pass in front of reviewing stands on the main street and ends at Wat Phon Chai.

Date of festival: The festival normally falls on June or July and lasts over 3 days (With the current COVID-19, dates and whether the festival will be held still needs to be confirmed)

Ubon Ratchatani Candle Festival

Candle parade in Ubon Ratchatani Candle Festival

Ubonratchatani Candle Festival is one the biggest annual festivals of Isaan region. It has been held for over a hundred year and falls during the Buddhist holidays of Asanha Bucha and Khao Phansa. Skilled carvers from each temple will carve their candles that represent stories relevant to Buddhist teachings. Then they will compete to find the most beautiful candle.

During the festival, you will see a big candle parade. Also, there is a candle carving community gathering candle carvers in temples to exhibit their pieces and show how to make and carve a candle.

Date of festival: The festival normally held during Asanha Bucha and Khao Phansa public holidays.

Nakhon Si Thammarat Tenth Lunar Month Festival (Hungry Ghost)

Offering food for Hungry Ghost in Tenth Lunar Month Festival

Tenth Lunar Month Festival or Sart Duen Sib/Ching Pret is a 3-day festival influenced by the belief of Brahmanism and mixed with Buddhism of people in Southern Thailand, especially in Nakhon Si Thammarat.

They believe that ancestors who did bad things will become a hungry ghost, named Pret, after death. Therefore, descendants show their respect and help those ancestors’ spirits suffer less by offering food in the tenth lunar month of every year. The reason is it is the only time that Pret will be liberated from hell to come to the earth and get such merits.

During the festival, you will see offering ceremonies, tray food parades, and tray food contests. People will rush to snatch that offered food as they believe that anyone eating the offering food will get good luck. “Ching” means “snatch” in Thai and hence the reason why this festival is called “Ching Pret”.

Date of festival: It falls in the tenth Lunar month which makes the date varies every year. In 2021, it starts on 6th October.

Nakhon Phanom Illuminated Boat Procession (Lai Ruea Fai’) Festival

Nakhon Phanom Illuminated Boat Procession (Lai Ruea Fai') Festival

Nakhon Phanom is famous for its illuminated boat procession or Lai Ruea Fai. Which translated means “floating a fireboat”. The giant bamboo rafts are loaded with food, flowers, incense sticks, candles, and lanterns , and launched on the Mekong River.

This festival is held over weeks during the end of the rainy season or the end of the Buddhist Lent. It is believed that they float the boat to pay respect and welcome Lord Buddha back to the earth after preaching to his mother in heaven during the 3-month period of the Buddhist Lent. 

Weeks before the festival, local people and Buddhist monks from each village temple will gather to decorate their boats. During the festival, there are illuminated boat possessions, longboat races, cultural performances, music contests, and walking streets featuring food and handcrafts.

Date of festival: It normally falls on October – date to be announced or whether the festival will be held still needs to be confirmed.

Vegetarian Festival

Vegetarian Festival at Wat Mangkon Kamalawat (Wat Leng Noei Yi), Chinatown

In general, the Vegetarian Festival (aka Tessagan Gin Jay) typically falls in the ninth lunar month – September or October of each year. It takes place over 9 days, and Thai–Chinese people throughout the country will completely abstain from meat and various stimulants. It is believed that doing so will help them clean their body and mind. 

Body piercing and mutilation as part of Phuket Vegetarian Festival

The festival has become a big event held in Thai-Chinese communities across the country, Bangkok, Phuket, Nakhon Sawan, Song Khla, Trang, Pang Nga, and Ranong. Common things to see across the country are street food stalls selling vegan dishes, identifiable by yellow triangular flags with red writing.

However, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is the biggest and most dramatic of all. It is full of acts of self-mutilation that vary from walking across hot coals to piercing the cheeks with long knives. Find out more about the Vegetarian Festival here.

Date of festival: Varies every year – from 4th to 13th October in 2021

Uthai Thani Tak Bat Devo Festival

Tak Bat Devo Festival literally is a kind of offering food to monks in Devo style. It is typically held on the first day of the eleventh waning moon according to the lunar year. This festival is held for remembering the day that the Lord Buddha return from visiting his mother in heaven during the 3-month of the Buddhist Lent. Every temple all over the country holds this festival but the biggest and most famous is in Uthai Thani province.

Wat Sangkat Rattana Khiri is famous for the Tak Bat Devo festival. The highlight is a huge crowd of people standing in 2 opposite lines to offer food to monks descending the long 449 steps staircase from the chedi. After the ceremony, there is a parade which people dress beautifully and hold their district name banners. Some districts play music, some sing and dance, and some have a beautifully decorated wagon.

Date of festival: On a day after Khao Pansa day. This year it falls on 22nd October 2021.

Chonburi Buffalo Racing Festival (Wing Kwai)

Chonburi Buffalo Racing Festival (Wing Kwai)

The buffalo is considered an iconic symbol for Thailand’s agriculture and rural life. The Buffalo Racing Festival (aka Wing Kwai) has been held for a century. This unique Thai festival is all about gratitude from farmers. It is a mark of respect and appreciation to the buffaloes for their hard work in the field. 

In the past, farmers from each village often met up and conducted friendly buffalo races amongst themselves. That now turned into an annual festival among farmers of Chonburi.

There is a buffalo parade to Wat Yai Intharam where Buddhist monks perform a religious ceremony before the race starts. The racecourse is around 100 metres long, located right in front of Chonburi City Hall. The races are split into 3 categories, small, medium, and large buffalos. In addition, there are activities such as muay thai performances, Miss Farmer beauty contest, and beauty contests for buffalos!

Date of festival: 20th October 2021

Lantern Festival – Yi Peng, Chiang Mai

Yi Peng or Larntern Festival

Yi Peng Lantern Festival is the Loy Krathong festival in Lanna Style. Though it is recognised as the same concept as Loy Krathong, they are different. Yi Peng means the religious celebration in the full moon night of November.

The festival is held over 3 days. The first 2 days are religious ceremonies and the last day is when people light up the lanterns into the sky and float the Krathong. Local people will decorate their houses and temples are also decorated with dozens of colorful hanging lanterns.

This festival has become a signature festival in Chiang Mai. There is a beautiful parade of a traditional Lanna dance with local northern music style. Every corner of the city is decorated with  colourful lanterns and full of hundreds of street food vendors selling delicious North food. This is one of the highlights of Yi Peng Festival.

The most important activity is to free the lantern. There are several venues not far from the city centre which have special festivals likes Yee Peng Lanna International near Mae Jo University.

Date of festival: For 2021, Yipeng festival is 19-20 November, now ticket available

More details can be found in https://yipengchiangmailanternfestival.com/

Sukhothai Loy Krathong and Candle Festival

Sukhothai Loy Krathong and Candle Festival

This is the biggest Loy krathong festival in Thailand and lasts for 10 days! Thais believe that Sukhothai is the beginning and home of Loy Krathong tradition. So, the celebration here is the biggest the most important Loy Krathong festival over the whole country.

During the festival, food vendors sell a variety of food and snacks from central and north cuisine styles. There is also a market for local products like silk and handicrafts. Shows likes traditional Sukhothai dance and Khon royal dance are scheduled every day.

The heritage site will be decorated with lights, candles and lanterns, and a stunning firework display over the heritage site is the highlight of this festival.

The schedule for 2021 Sukhothai Loy Krathong is to be confirmed. Normally, the schedule will be confirmed in early October each year. You can find more details here.

Date of festival: Date: To be confirmed

Place: Sukhothai Historical Park

Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival

Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival

Lobburi has a unique festival called Monkey Banquet Festival. It is a huge buffet event dedicated to thousands of monkeys living around Phra Prang Sam Yot, ancient stone ruin in Khmer style located in the heart of the city. People believe the monkeys are followers of the supreme spirit who protect the city.

The festival is arranged at Phra Prang Sam Yot. On the day of the event, tables are set up with various kinds of fruit and food. A large number of monkeys will travel from every corner of the city to join the buffet. Monkeys are extremely naughty, so please take good care of your belonging when they are around.

Lopburi also has the reputation for sunflower fields, which are in full bloom from November – February each year. Therefore it is perfect opportunity to combine the monkey buffet with a visit to these sunflower fields.

Date of festival: Last weekend of November

Place: Phra Prang Sam Yot, Lopburi

Pattaya Firework Festival

Pattaya Firework Festival

Pattaya Firework Festival is 2 days annual festival in November. On both nights there are fireworks show as part of the international fireworks contest, which can be watched from the from the beach. There are also shows from famous singers, live concerts and contemporary shows every evening until midnight. Along Pattaya beach, many shops set up selling food, goods, souvenir, and craft product.

Date of festival: To be confirmed in 2021

Place: Pattaya beach

Surin Elephant Round-Up Festival

Surin Elephant Round-Up Festival

Warning: The use of elephants for tourism purposes is a highly controversial issue and we only encourage ethical activities. We have included this festival as it is a cultural event and we are not concluding whether it is ethical on elephants.

This is a unique festival in Surin dedicated to elephants. In this province located in the Northeastern of Thailand, local people have lived close to elephants for more than a hundred years. Thailand has a long history of training elephants for work and war, with the help of these local people who have gained the knowledge of taming elephants from their ancestors.

Life around the elephant village in Surin is all about ritual, superstition, and culture. Therefore, this festival is a nice celebration to see culture, people, and elephants at the same time.

The Surin Elephant Roundup started in 1960 and still takes place annually on the third weekend of November. This 4 day festival has become the world-famous. The first day starts with a rehearsal of elephants, a wonderful parade of elephants, and school students showing traditional dance with local music.

The highlight is the banquet contest for elephants made from tons of fruit and vegetable. Starting with a wonderful elephant parade along the streets from Phraya Surin Phakdi Si Narong Changwang (Pum) Monument to Surin Elephant Round-up Show stadium. 250 elephant line up waiting for super big meal elaborately with carved fruits and vegetables around 400 meters long. This is the only chance to see such a roundup of elephants at the same time.

On the other days of the festival, visitors will enjoy the show to demonstrate the local life of Gui tribe. These are a group of people in Surin who can tame Elephants, perform the Apsara Khmer style dance, and the battle showing warfare technique by elephants.

Date of festival: In the third weekend of November

Colours of Doi Tung Festival

Doi Tung flower garden - Colours of Doi Tung Festival

December is a high season for domestic and international tourism in Northern Thailand. It is the best time to visit Chiang Rai and enjoy the cool weather and the colorful flowers at Doi Tung.

Colours of Doi Tung festival is at the Doi Tung Development Project. This is the royal initiative by HRH the Princess Mother, to improve the well-being of the local hill tribe villagers. This festival takes place from December until January.

Visitors can enjoy Thailand’s highest walking street market and find various hill tribe and northern food. More than 80 food stall vendors sell agriculture products from Doi Tung project such as strawberry, coffee, cold weather fruit, and organic vegetable. There are also many handicrafts and hill tribe products available.

Other various activities include exploring Doi Tung Royal Villa; enjoy the scenic view of a beautifully landscaped garden with art installation; make your own handicraft from several workshops likes ceramic painting and handmade mulberry paper notebooks; adventure with the Tree Top Walk that offers a 360° panorama of the mountains and play a wooden car racing downhill.

For more information: http://www.maefahluang.org/?p=3374

Date of festival: December to January – date to be announced

Place: Doi Tung Development Project

Learn More About Thai Festivals and Public Holidays

Check out our guide to Public Holidays in Thailand.

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