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Best Thailand Festivals – Make Your Trip Extra Special

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Home » Blog » Best Thailand Festivals – Make Your Trip Extra Special


by: RJ Fisher
Last Update: December 2022


Here are 14 Thailand festivals, from “Songkran” to the “Festival of Lights”

that will truly enhance your Thailand trip



The many Thailand festivals are an excellent opportunity to enhance your trip to the land of smiles. This article will update you on several festivals throughout the country. There’s bound to be one or more to coincide with your travel dates.

Don’t get stuck on the beach. Instead, immerse yourself in the local Thai folklore by attending one of the great festivals. Get yourself wet at the Songkran water fights or be amazed by thousands of lanterns filling the night skies during Yi Peng. Here are 14 Thailand Festivals to make your trip extra special by including an authentic and unforgettable experience!:


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Best Thailand Festivals




1. Chiang Mai Flower Festival

Chiang Mai is also dubbed “the rose of the North” and now we know why. Every year in February, Chiang Mai reveals her most colorful side to the world by hosting the Flower Festival.

A colorful parade on Saturday, with floral floats gliding through the Chiang Mai streets. One after the other, beautifully decorated with thousands of indigenous flowers boasting Buddhist and Thai mythology themes. Accompanied by marching bands and dancers, the floats head for the festival grounds at Nong Buak Haad park in the Southwest corner of the old city. Afterwards, they will remain there on display for the rest of the weekend.


Decorations in the park for the Chiang Mai Flower Festival
Decorations at the Flower Festival photocredit: travel.mthai.com

Of course there’s a competition to select the Chiang Mai Flower Festival Queen. Traditional music and dance performances continue until late. Streets around the park are blocked for a flower and botanical market. Since this is Thailand, you can also expect abundant food vendors present.

Where: Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand.

Flower Festival dates: February 3 to February 5, 2023



2. Songkran – Water Festival

Songkran is the biggest of Thailand festivals. It’s the holiday of the year and a festive event of epic proportions. Everyone joins in to celebrate the Thai New Year. The day starts very solemn with a ritual cleansing of Buddha images to wash away all bad deeds and misfortune of the previous year.


Songkran - Ritual cleansing of Buddha images
Ritual cleansing
Songkran = Water Festival
Great fun

As the day progresses more and more people go out into the streets. Some of them might carry a modest water bucket…or two. Others are more extreme and load up their pick-up vans with 55 gallon oil drums filled to the brim with water. The atmosphere starts to tense up and the air is thick with anticipation.

Next, all hell breaks loose and suddenly Thailand is the scene of the biggest, wacko madcap water fight in the world. Everyone is splashing water over everyone. Grandpa empties water buckets over giggling granny’s head. Youngsters with enormous super-soaker guns are jetting high pressure water bombs at anything that moves. Water trucks driving up and down the streets unleash tons of spray into the crowd, mimicking an early monsoon.


Songkran is one of the best Thailand festivals
There is no escape

Songkran truly is one the best festivals in Thailand and great fun, but nevertheless keep your wits about. Always keep in mind that Songkran is still a religious holiday so be respectful with how you dress and don’t take the fight to the temples.

Where: All over Thailand, but the best water fights are in the cities. The more the merrier!

Songkran Festival dates: April 13 to April 15, 2023



3. Boon Bang Fai – Rocket Festival

Rain season is coming to Isan. We need lot’s of rain to grow our crops, so let’s shoot rockets into the sky to please the gods. Bam, Rocket Festival is born, a three day fest that will blast your socks off.

Isan is an area half the size of Germany in the Northeast of Thailand. It’s mainly agricultural, making the population completely dependent on the weather for their livelihood. The launching of rockets is therefore taken very seriously with some of the rockets carrying as much as 120kg of gunpowder.


Street parade at the boon bang fai - rocket festival
Boon Bang Fai is truly one of the best festivals in Thailand

On Friday evening the festival kicks off with all night traditional music performances and lot’s of locally brewed rice wine. Saturday is for street parades and folk dance. Obviously, there’s also a competition of the most beautifully decorated rocket floats. Finally, on Sunday the rockets are launched with another competition on height and distance traveled, which can range up to several kilometers. Extra points for the most beautiful vapor trails.


Rocket launching at boon bang fai - rocket festival  in Thailand
Launching of the rocketsphotocredit: @we-rworldtour
Beautifully decorated festival float for the boon bang fai - rocket festival
Beautifully decorated floats

Where: All over Isan, but Yasothon is the place to be for the largest festivities.

Rocket Festival dates: May 12 to May 15, 2023



4. Phi Ta Khon – Ghost Festival

A three day celebration to awaken and revere ghosts and spirits. If that sounds a bit eerie to you, then wait until you see the attire of the participants. I don’t even want to mention the large wooden phalluses they poke the spectators with (oops, I just did).


People dressed up as deities for the Phi Ta Khon Festival
Strange creatures
Phi Ta Khon, one of best Thailand festivals
Colorful creeps

In one of his past lives, Buddha was a prince and set out for a journey together with his wife. Ghosts, disguised as humans blend in with villagers to see him off. Anyway, that’s the short version of the festival’s origin. I assure you that the long version is much more elaborate and fascinating.

Day 1 sees processions and the summoning of the spirits to plead their protection. Next, dance, music, games and rocket launches are on for Day 2, while Day 3 is reserved for Buddhist ceremonies.


Phi Ta Khon costumes
Spirits and ghosts walking among usphotocredit: Tourism Authority Thailand, @TAT

Where: Dan Sai village in the Northern province of Loei.

Ghost Festival dates: June 23 to June 25, 2023



5. Candle Festival

Originally a 2 day religious merit making holiday to celebrate Buddha’s first sermon. It’s also the start of Buddhist Lent when monks go in retreat to study and meditate for a period of three months. Because of the religious background, alcohol is banned, but still a party atmosphere remains with lot’s of food, music and dance.

Next to the ceremonies at the temples there are processions with 20 meter high extravagant wax sculptures on floats that depict scenes from Thai mythology. Colorful traditional dancers parade alongside the magnificent floats. They accompany them on their way to the center of town where they will remain on display.


Candle Festival is one of the best festivals in Thailand with huge wax sculptures on display
Huge wax sculpture float on display

At the candle festival, culture and entertainment come together in a wonderful and visually spectacular event.

Where: Ubon Ratchathani in Isan hosts the largest event. Korat, Nakhon Phanom, Suphan Buri, Lat Chado and Pattaya also have (much) smaller, but still worthwhile celebrations.

Candle Festival dates: 1st and 2nd of August, 2023



6. Jay – Vegetarian Festival

Also known as “Nine Emperor Gods Festival”, this nine day religious festival is predominantly celebrated by Chinese descendants in South East Asia. To participate in ceremonies one has to follow strict rules. Abstain from meat, dairy products and strong spices like chili and garlic. Shops and street food stalls display the red and yellow “jay” symbol to indicate that they sell the appropriate vegan food.


Vegetarian Festival is one of the best festivals in Thailand
Vegan food on display
Vegetarian Festival is one of the best festivals in Thailand
Red and yellow “Jay” symbol in Chinese and Thai script

Furthermore, devotees also have to refrain from sex, alcohol and other stimulants. Also, wear white clothing and keep pure thoughts, so no gambling, quarreling, fighting or killing (yeah, it’s the rule). To demonstrate their submission to the Gods, spiritual mediums engage in ritual self mutilation while seemingly in a trance like state.

The piercing of cheeks, arms and backs with all kinds of (large) objects, but also cutting and skinning are common. Strange enough, the wounds seem to heal unnaturally fast after the festival and permanent scarring is hardly ever seen. More rituals take place at the temples with barefoot walking over burning coals and climbing an 8 step sharp blade ladder.


Participants of the Jay Vegetarian Festival in a procession
Spiritual mediums with pierced cheeks

Some of the scenes are rather gruesome and you will have to make up your mind on whether you want to give this festival a hit or miss. The festival definitely offers authentic folklore with many processions. Next to spectacular visuals there’s dance, music and fun involved as well.

Where: Practically everywhere in Thailand where there is a significant Chinese community, but Phuket Town sees by far the largest and most significant celebrations.

Vegetarian Festival dates: October 13 to October 22, 2023



7. Bang Fai Phaya Nak – Naga Fireball Festival

This is probably the strangest festival I have attended, ever. It has a beautiful story though.

A mythical serpent, also king of the underworld, goes by the name of Phaya Naga. He is Buddha’s great servant and helped him in the war against the God of rainfall when the latter was responsible for a long lasting drought on earth. When Buddha returned from a visit to heaven, Phaya Naga welcomed him back by shooting fireballs from the Mekong river into the sky. Ever since, he has continued his warm welcome with fireballs year after year.


Fireball emerging from the Mekong at the Phaya Naga fireball festival - Best festivals in Thailand
Mysterious phenomenonphotocredit: @khaosod.co.th

So yes, fireballs from the Mekong into the sky, every year at the end of Buddhist lent. A phenomenon that many scientist have tried, but failed to explain until today.

Thousands of people from Thailand and beyond flock to the Mekong shores in Nong Khai province every year to spot the mysterious Naga fireballs. Smart entrepreneurs make good use of the phenomenon by setting up a fair and organizing festivities in the wake of the fireball occurrences. Seeing is believing…


Celebrations at the Phaya Naga fireball festival
Parades and shows
Worshipers at the Paya Naga fireball festival
Worshiping of the Phaya Naga

Where: In the Northeastern Nong Khai province along the Mekong shore, especially in Sri Chiang Mai, Sung Kom, Phon Phisai and Pak Khad districts.

Naga Fireball Festival dates: October 28, 2023



8. Lai Reua Fai Festival – Illuminated Boat Procession

Another celebration to mark the end of Buddhist lent. What once started with small boats made from banana tree logs and bamboo, has now grown into an over the top illumination spectacle. It’s a way of showing respect to Buddha by offering to the Naga (mythical serpents) that are said to reside in the mighty Mekong.

Today’s boats are gigantic bamboo structures illuminated with thousands of lanterns, creating a magical sight for the large crowds of spectators from all over Thailand. Some of the illuminations are even animated, creating wonderful reflections in the waters at night.


Lai Reua Fai - Illuminated Boat Procession in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Illuminated Boat Procession – Photocredit: @painaidii.com

The boats stay on display for nine days (and nights). Meanwhile, visitors to the festival can enjoy long-boat races, cultural performances, street processions, music and entertainment. Of course there’s the unavoidable night market as well (which also opens during the day) with local street food stalls and handicrafts.

Where: Nakhon Phanom in Northeast Thailand.

Lai Reua Fai Festival dates: October 28th, 2023, but celebrations start a few days ahead.



9. Monkey Banquet Festival

The three towered Phra Prang Sam Yot temple in Lopburi town is the stage for a quaint annual event, a.k.a. the “Monkey Banquet”.


Phra Prang Sam Yot temple is the venue for one of the famous thailand festivals - Lopburi Monkey Banquet
Phra Prang Sam Yot temple
Monkeys in Lopburi
Monkey troop roaming the city

Decades ago, when the monkeys settled in the city, it was seen as a sign of good luck and prosperity. The monkeys’ lineage from Hindu God Hanuman guaranteed them reverence and protection by the local population. Now, they are a part of everyday life in Lopburi town.

One troop of monkeys became more troops and at long last became too many troops. The downsides are obvious. Chewed through telephone lines, snatched food bags and even purses, aggressive behavior and more. Still, the monkeys are tolerated and moreover, once a year they are rewarded with an exuberant, all you can eat buffet.

Wait, did I say buffet? I meant to say 4 buffets, in one day! Starting at 10am with two hour intervals, long tables with abundant food are laid out for the monkeys to feast on. Towers of sticky rice, pineapple pyramids, carved watermelons, wreaths of grapes and cherries. Other tables feature sliced papaya, sugar apples, bananas, lettuce, orchids and sunflowers. The monkeys are elated and attack the rich spread much like the lead characters in “La Grande Bouffe“.


Lopburi Monkey Banquet - Thailand Festivals
Monkeys on a pyramid of fruitphotocredit: @postjung.com

Unfortunately, you are not invited to join in. But not to worry, as the many food stalls will be more than happy to accommodate hungry humans. Further entertainment at the festival includes music, dance and kiddy rides.

Where: Lopburi City, 150km North of Bangkok.

Monkey Banquet Festival dates: November 26, 2023



10. Yi Peng – Lantern Festival

Have you ever seen thousands of lights slowly rising into the night sky?

Unique to the North of Thailand, the end of rainy season is celebrated with the Lantern Festival- Yi Peng. At this festival it is custom to float away your worries into the air with a candlelit lantern (Khom Loi). Sure, nowadays we see lantern releases throughout Thailand, but nowhere is it as popular as in Chiang Mai. Everyone joins in and the whole town is beautifully decorated and covered in colorful lanterns.


Yi Peng - Lantern Festival
Yi Peng at the temples
Yi Peng - Lantern Festival
Yi Peng lantern decorations in Chiang Mai

On the night of Yi Peng, the Khom Loi are released. Everyone can release a lantern, as long as it’s between 7pm and 1am. At the temples, monks will give blessings and release extra large Khom Loi, sometimes with firecrackers attached.

This is the must-see of Thailand festivals. I guarantee that the magic will touch you and you will never forget what you have seen and felt at that moment. Fortunately the environmental concerns are now seriously being addressed. More and more biodegradable materials are used for the lanterns.


Lantern release at one of the Thailand festivals - Yi Peng - Lantern Festival
Khom Loi release

Where: All over Northern Thailand, but Chiang Mai is the place to be.

Yi Peng Festival dates: November 27 and November 28, 2023

Note: To witness a guaranteed mass lantern release event opt for the event at the Chiang Mai Culture, Arts and Design center just out of town. Pricey, but all-inclusive. However, note that you can also witness plenty of lantern releases for free in the city. Whether or not they are mass releases is a matter of being at the right place at the right time.



11. Loy Krathong – Festival of Lights

Love, peace and understanding. I can’t help it, but that’s the vibe I get from Loy Krathong. It’s definitely the most lovable of all Thailand festivals.

Pay your respects to the Goddess of water by releasing a small candlelit vessel onto the river or lake. All bad stuff will float away and you are ready for new beginnings. The whole of Thailand joins in this ceremony, lighting up all waterways. Just imagine the magical sight of all of those small flickering lights gently fading into the far distance.


Loy Krathong - Festival of Lights
Float all the bad stuff away

The whole of Thailand celebrates Loy Krathong, but in Chiang Mai the event coincides with Yi Peng, which makes for an even greater feast. In Chiang Mai, numerous activities take place, such as traditional dance performances and music in the streets and podia. Of course there’s also a most beautiful Krathong (floating vessel) competition and the absolute highlight is the grand parade of flower covered floats.


Loy Krathong - Festival of Lights
Some of the Krathongs are works of art
Loy Krathong - One of the best known of Thailand Festivals
Decorating the town

Between 7pm and 1am the krathongs are released. Krathong spotting is best from the Narawat bridge or the Iron bridge (Khua Lek, sometimes Saphan Lek) over the Ping river in the center of town.

Where: Everywhere in Thailand, but the best place to celebrate is Chiang Mai, since Loy Krathong coincides with the regional Yi Peng – Lantern Festival.

Loy Krathong Festival dates: November 28, 2023



12. River Kwai Bridge Festival

The famous bridge over the river Kwai has its own festival with a full week of remembrance and festivities. Knowing the history of the bridge, you might feel that festivities are out of place. However, I guess there’s nothing wrong with celebrating freedom as well. The festival is organized in cooperation with the local Red Cross and the local population also seems to benefit, so it’s all good.


Stage at the River Kwai Bridge Week
Stage for the sound and lights how at the bridgephotocredit: @thai.tourismthailand.org

A week long of cultural activities and historical exhibitions next to a handicraft market, an amusement park and plenty of food-courts. There’s laughter, dance and music, but also solemn and sober memorial ceremonies.

Highlight of the festival is the spectacular sound and light show at the actual bridge that re-enacts the historical events around the bridge. In fact, the (free for everyone) show is performed multiple times during the week.

Where: Kanchanaburi City, about 100km Northeast of Bangkok.

River Kwai Bridge Festival: Every year from end of November to beginning of December. Dates for 2023 have yet to be confirmed.


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Budget = from THB500 to THB1000

Perhaps not the most beautiful, comfortable or luxurious guesthouse in Kanchanaburi. It is however, the most friendly, welcoming and feel at home though. I’ve spent many a night here on different occasions and it never disappoints. Close to everything with a swimming-pool, personable staff and the best fruit shakes in town.





13. More Thailand Festivals

Other Thailand festivals that aren’t really festivals, but are celebrated nationwide include:

  • Chinese New Year, January 22nd 2023
  • Mother’s Day, August 12th every year
  • Father’s Day, December 5th every year
  • New Year’s Eve, December 31th every year


Fire crackers at the Chinese New Year celebrations
If anything, expect Chinese New Year to be loud



14. Modern Thailand Festivals

Thailand festivals of a less traditional kind are taking the country by storm. These events are extremely popular with young adults. But of course us older folk (well, somewhat older) are also welcome.

Wonderfruit Festival: Art, culture, music, and nature festival near Pattaya.

Maya Music Festival: Electronic music festival coupled with showcasing Thai culture near Pattaya.

Jai Thep Festival: 3 day arts and music festival, including theater and dj’s in Chiang Mai.

Full Moon Parties: Serious beach-parties that happen every full moon at Koh Phangan.


Modern Thailand Festivals


Editions of these festivals were temporary on hold, because of the pandemic, but are re-starting again. In fact the 2022 edition of Wonderfruit in December was a big success. I’m already planning my trip to visit more Thailand festivals.



Important Note

Two traditional Thailand festivals not included in this list are the Wing Kwai – Buffalo Racing Festival and the Surin Elephant Round-Up Festival. My concerns are of course about animal welfare, although I am not aware of any animal abuse at these festivals whatsoever. Fact is, I never visited so I honestly don’t know. They are important Thailand festivals however, so you are welcome to go, but maybe do some research first.


Thailand Festivals - Wing Kwai Buffalo Racing Festival
photocredit: @thai.tourismthailand.org
Thailand festivals - Surin Elephant Roundup
photocredit: @toeywanida847.wordpress.com



Next time you plan to visit Thailand, maybe you can time your visit with one these festivals. Make your trip extra special.

Safe Travels!

RJ


*affiliate links disclaimer



Frequently asked questions about Thailand festivals


What are the most important festivals in Thailand?

1. Songkran, also called Water Festival to celebrate the Thai New Year. 2. Loy Krathong (Festival of Lights) and Yi Peng (Lantern Festival), which are celebrated on the same day in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.

What is the best festival in Thailand?

Thailand has many festivals and the best one will be different for everyone. If you like folklore then Phi Ta Khon (Ghost Festival) might be for you. Or maybe the Naga Fireball Festival if you like mystery. Songkran (Water Festival) is a lot of fun with water fights all over Thailand. Loy Krathong offers beautiful floating lanterns in the waterways and lot’s of Thai ceremony.

Can foreigners visit religious festivals in Thailand?

Yes, foreigners can freely visit religious festivals and sometimes even participate in ceremonies. It’s important to always show respect in your behavior and to dress appropriate.

How many festivals does Thailand have?

There are too many festivals to count, but at least 10 of them are most popular and important: 1. Songkran (Thai New Year), 2. Loy Krathong (Festival of Lights), 3. Phi Ta Khon (Ghost Festival), 4. Boon Bang Fai (Rocket Festival), 5. Lopburi Monkey Banquet, 6. Lai Reua Fai (Illuminated Boat Festival), 7. Candle Festival, 8. Vegetarian Festival, 9. Wing Kwai Buffalo Race Festival, 10. Surin Elephant Round-up Festival.

When is Songkran (Water-Festival) in Thailand?

Every year from 13th to 15th of April.




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