Thai festivals you shouldn't miss! Most festivals depend on the lunar calendar, so the date varies from year to year. Verify the right dates with for example the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Royal Barges Procession (กระบวนพยุหยาตราชลมารค)

A very spectacular sight is the Royal Barges Procession. The royal fleet totals around 100 barges that are used for important ceremonies like the Kathan robe-giving ceremony, when the King offers robes to the monks at major temples.

The barges, which are classical frigates and barges with figureheads, are rowed by oarsmen from the Royal Thai Navy, dressed in traditional red and gold costumes. Their rowing looks more like a dance with the oars and is accompanied by their chanting, which creates a very special atmosphere. The main barge is the Supphanahongse, which can be recognised by its dragon head. All other barges have a fixed location and are grouped around the Supphanahongse.

Nowadays the procession is held only occasionally, but don't miss it if you have a chance to see it. When not in use, the barges are on view in the Royal Barges Museum. Video

Chinese New Year (ตรุดจีน)

Around 10% of the Thai population is Chinese or has a Chinese background, so the Chinese new year is celebrated extensively. During the day one can for example enjoy the famous lion dance, performed by 2 men in a lion suit, doing all kinds of acrobatics and visiting Chinese shops to get the money that the owners of those shops stuck on the roof. Performances all over the place, a big market in Chinatown and a lot of fireworks too. [January/February] More photos • Video

Traditional Thai Games & Sports Festival

This festival is organised to preserve the local traditional sports and games. It features combat sports with swords and sticks, Thai boxing, takraw (like football with a straw ball) and kites. The kite competition (kite chula) is my favourite. It has been popular since the reign of Rama IV and at this time of the year it is windy enough to play. Huge kites, handled by groups of people, are hunting down smaller kites. This is quite an exciting sight. Besides the competition, plenty of kites for sale and space to play around by yourself. [March, Bangkok, Sanam Luang]

King Narai Festival (งานแผ่นดินสมเด็จพระนารายณ์มหาราช)

The annual festival in Lopburi is named after King Narai, one of the great kings of Ayuthaya, who made Lopburi the second capital of Thailand about 350 years ago. The festival is held in his old palace, Phra Narai Ratchanivet Palace. The local people dress up in old costumes, displaying old crafts like fruit carving and weaving, demonstrating traditional sports with swords and sticks, selling traditional food and snacks and playing children's games and theatre. A good way to get to know the traditional ways of Thailand. [February, Lopburi] More photos

Songkran (Thai New Year) (สงกรานต์)

All Thai people get 2-3 days holidays for their new year. Traditionally Buddha statues are bathed and elders are sprinkled with water to show respect. These days there is more water around. The streets are filled with people smearing white paste on each others faces and throwing water at every passer-by. You will get wet wet and wet. Khao San in Bangkok is a favourite place to go and see how it works, but Chiangmai is the place to be. People put big hose pipes in the khlong (canal) and never stop spraying. Pickup trucks with big water tanks are driving around town doing the same thing. Since it is at the height of the hot season, it is actually quite nice the first day, but like me you'll probably get bored on the second and annoyed on the third day. [13-15 April, most famous in Chiangmai; later that month in Pattaya and Prapadaeng]

Tattoo Festival

The annual Tattoo Festival at Wat Bang Phra has put the village of Nakorn Chaisri on the map. Many Thai men believe that tattoos will protect them from all things bad, like accidents, evil spirits and business disasters. Patiently they line up for the revered monk that will scratch the tattoo on their body. The monk tattoos the men with what I would describe as a huge knitting needle and it doesn't get disinfected between jobs. Looking at the faces of the men being tattooed, it is a very painful operation. Quite of a few of these tattoos are done without ink, so that they can protect the owner but won't be visible afterwards, while others proudly display tattoos all over their bodies. At the same time other monks are busy blessing amulets and Buddha images visitors can bring in. [March, Nakorn Chaisri]

Royal Ploughing Ceremony (วันพระราชพิธีพืชมงคลจรดพระนังคัลแรกนาขวัญ)

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony is an ancient Brahman ritual that is held each year just before the start of the rainy season. The ceremony is presided by HM the King or a family member, who will bless the rice before it is used in the ceremony. A procession of officials in ceremonial dress and ploughing white oxen will sow the rice as a symbol for the new rice-planting reason. After the ceremony the public is invited to dig up the rice and take it home, where it will bring an abundant harvest and/or good luck. Those who don't want to get their hands dirty can buy some rice afterwards from small (and fast) traders. One of the oxen will be given a choice of 7 types of food and drinks (water, rice, corn, alcohol, grass, beans and sesame seeds). The one it selects will determine how rich the crop is going to be the coming year. [May, Bangkok, Sanam Luang] More photosVideo

Vegetarian Festival (ประเพณีกินผัก)

For 9 days Buddhist Chinese will eat vegetarian food. This habit dates back around 150 years, when visiting Chinese who fell sick with malaria, cured themselves with vegetarian food and ancient rituals. Chinese food shops will sell vegetarian food and are marked with little red & yellow flags. Highlight is the celebration of the end of the festival in Phuket. Men parade the streets with big piercings through their body, using e.g. knives, swords and spears. Because they are in religious ecstasy, you will see no blood and they claim to feel no pain. Not on an empty stomach. [September/October, Phuket]

Chonburi Buffalo Races (งานประเพณีวิ่งควาย)

The yearly buffalo races in Chonburi are quite dangerous. When I was there a lot of guys fell off their buffalo (they ride without saddle) and the public was reprimanded whenever they came too close to the beasts. Other attractions are e.g. pole climbing for money (the higher denominations are stuck near the top) and the 'Miss buffalo' election for the prettiest girl around. Junior girl singers warble traditional Thai songs, there is a buffalo parade and a lot more. [October, Chonburi] More photosVideo

Loy Krathong (ลอยกระทง)

People launch a boat made of banana leaves into the water to thank the river for providing water and to cleanse themselves. On this boat they put flowers, a candle, incense, golden coins, a hair and nail of the sender(s). In Bangkok one also finds a gigantic fair on the temple grounds of Wat Saket. [October/November] More photos

Temple Fairs

Thai winter is the best season for temple fairs. The most famous fairs in and around Bangkok are the fairs at the Golden Mountain and the Paknam fair.

Best attractions at the Golden Mount are things like the Siamese twins, the woman without body, the mermaid, the small Ferris wheels and the shooting gallery, were you can shoot a stuffed monkey that begins to sing and dance as you hit its button. Most popular is "girl falling in the water". She sits on a shelf, and if you hit the handle with a ball, the lady will fall in the water. More photosVideo

The 9-day Paknam Fair starts of with a religious ceremony involving wrapping a new piece of red cloth around the chedi marks the opening of the fair. Main roads are blocked for traffic, a giant market and fair are set up. Most exciting attraction is the "wall of death", a guy riding a motorcycle and driving a little car inside a big wooden barrel, interesting was the booth with Siamese twins and a little mermaid, but of course regular attractions like a ferris wheel and shooting are also available. [From mid October onwards] More photosVideo

Sunflower Festival (งานทุ่งทานตะวัน)

The Thai winter is the season for sunflowers and Lopburi province is the most famous for its sunflower fields. With colleagues and friends I did and an organised train trip to the sunflowers near Saraburi and the Pa Sak Cholasit Dam, the biggest water reservoir in Thailand. The flower fields are enormous, although the flowers in 'our' field were quite small. The train just stopped in the middle of a field, where a farmer let us in for a small fee. There were even some ugly souvenir shops. The train also drove along the ridge of the reservoir, good view, and at the dam itself we walked around the market, fed the fish, rode an elephant (we didn't, but we could've) and took pictures with a huge ugly plastic sunflower. [December, Lopburi Province] More photosVideo

Elephant Roundup (งานวันช้างไทย)

If you want to see a lot of elephants, this is the place to go. During the yearly elephant roundup more than 100 get together in Surin. Originally a local ceremony for the good health of all elephants in Surin province, it has grown into quite a tourist attraction too. I saw a light show, rode an elephant, fed elephants in a traditional feeding ceremony, saw an elephant show (games, tricks and even a war being staged), a parade and a great fair. [November, Surin] More photos • Video

HM the King's Birthday

In government offices, companies and private houses, everywhere you will find decorations in honour of HM the King's birthday. In Bangkok, during the day you can enjoy all kinds of performances and good food. In the afternoon around the royal palace, there is a parade, consisting of representatives of all groups in the population (e.g. Chinese, Sikhs, rich people, military). Just before 8 in the evening, people meet in front of the royal palace at Sanam Luang, light a candle and sing the King a birthday song (he is not necessarily home at that time). This is followed by a lot of fireworks and more performances, usually including 'luuk thung', traditional Thai country music. [5 December] Video