From floating lanterns to epic water fights and monkey banquets, Thailand festivals are some of the most incredible in Southeast Asia. The Land of Smiles is widely known as a paradise of soft-sand beaches, elephant-filled jungles, glittering temples and frantic cities. However, it’s the country’s unique annual celebrations that really steal the show. Here are the top 9 Thailand festivals you have to experience.
!! Important: TopTravelFoods does not promote/recommend any festival that harm animals. For that reason, a few popular Thai festivals are not listed in this article.
The best Thailand Festivals are:
1. Songkran, the Thai New Year Festival
Do you like the idea of a giant, three-day water fight? Then you’ll love the most famous of Thailand festivals: Songkran. All over the country locals and tourists alike take to the streets to attack each other with water guns, hoses, and buckets of icy water. This is all to celebrate the start of the Thai New Year, which is thought of as a time of cleansing and renewal. This is symbolized by pouring water and smearing white talcum paste on people to bring luck and prosperity.
Songkran is a major event in the Buddhist calendar, making it the most important Thai festival. During Songkran, Buddhists visit temples to pray, light candles and make merit as well as cleanse each other with water. On the main day of celebrations, a procession of Buddha statues, monks and floats passes through the streets and Buddhists pour water over the statues. Tourists are welcome to take part in Songkran celebrations and are even singled out for special drenching by Thai locals.
Songkran is by far the most popular Thailand Festival for a simple reason: water gun fights!
When is Songkran?
The dates for Songkran were traditionally determined by the Thai lunar calendar. In Sanskrit, Songkran means ‘astrological passage’, the time when the sun passes from one sign of the zodiac to another. Nowadays, Songkran is always celebrated on the 13th – 15th April, which is the hottest month in Thailand and the end of the dry season. The perfect time for a water fight!
Update: due to the coronavirus, Songkran is postponed. To be clear, Songkran is not cancelled in 2020. The new date has yet to be determined.
Where can you celebrate Songkran?
Songkran is one of the most popular Thailand festivals and is celebrated all over the country. Bangkok is a Songkran hotspot and the backpacker favourite, Khao San Road, becomes one big water fight zone. For more party-minded youngsters, RCA in Bangkok offers amazing parties. Celebrations are also huge in the beach resorts of Pattaya and Phuket and last for a week in the northern city of Chiang Mai. More information about where to celebrate Songkran, as well as the history of this Thai Festival, how locals celebrate Songkran and all the details of how to celebrate this festival can be found in our in-depth article about Songkran and how to celebrate it.
2. Yi Peng, the Lantern Festival
Imagine thousands of paper lanterns, lit by flickering candles, floating into the night sky against a full moon. This moving spectacle is the highlight of the Yi Peng festival and thousands of people flock to northern Thailand every November to witness it. However, the lantern release is just one part of the three-day Buddhist festival. Celebrations also include religious events, lantern displays, music, parades, fireworks and food, making Yi Peng one of the most exciting Thailand festivals.
Most importantly, Yi Peng is a time for Buddhists to release bad memories, make wishes for the future and pay respect to Buddha. The act of releasing a lantern symbolises letting go of the past and moving from darkness into light. It’s an ancient, sacred ritual which originated in the Lanna (northern Thai) kingdom. Traditionally, only monks released lanterns but today anyone can take part in the festivities, provided they are respectful.
Stunning scenes during Yi Peng, another world-famous Thai festival.
Yi Peng is often confused with a completely separate, unrelated event which is held in a nearby town called Mae Jo. The Mae Jo lantern release used to be part of the traditional Khatina ceremony held in the town, whereby Thai Buddhists donate robes and money trees to monks as a way of making merit. When the ceremony became flooded with visitors, the event organisers set up a separate ticketed lantern release for tourists, which costs between $100 and $400 to attend. Alternatively, you can witness thousands of floating lanterns for free at the Yi Peng festival.
When is Yi Peng?
Yi Peng is another Thai festival which falls during the full moon of the 12th month of the Thai Lunar Calendar. This occurs around November but the exact date changes each year. In 2020 the dates are set from the 30 October – 1 November. Lanterns are mainly released anytime from dusk till early morning on Yi Peng night itself, which is on the 31 of October 2020.
Where can you celebrate Yi Peng?
Yi Peng is celebrated throughout northern Thailand but the most famous festivities take place in Chiang Mai. The best areas to watch the lantern releases are around the city moat and the Ping River, as well as Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Dan Tao temples.
3. Loy Krathong, the Festival of Light
During Loy Krathong, people all over Thailand gather by the water after dark to release floating baskets (Krathongs) filled with burning candles. As the rafts drift away they carry with them a clipping of the owner’s hair or nails to symbolise letting go of bad luck and negative thoughts. Flowers and coins are also placed in the baskets to give thanks to the water goddesses for providing rain during the rice harvest season. The flickering candle itself pays respect to Lord Buddha.
Loy Krathong has evolved into one of the largest festivals in Thailand. The three-day event is filled with parades, beauty contests and firework displays. Krathongs are traditionally made from banana tree trunks or lilies. In Bangkok, there’s a river parade of large-scale Krathongs made by government offices and businesses, with a prize for the most creative design. Loy Krathong is closely tied to Chiang Mai’s Yi Peng festival as it occurs on the same night and focuses on the same Buddhist principles of releasing the past and making wishes for the future.
Scenes from Thailand festival Loy Kratong.
When is Loy Krathong?
Loy Krathong falls in November, during the 12th month of the lunar calendar on the night of a full moon. The dates vary each year, but in 2020, Loy Krathong is on the 1st of November with celebrations due to take place from 30 October - 1 November.
Where can you celebrate Loy Krathong?
Loy Krathong is one of the most celebrated Thailand festivals. In Bangkok there's a huge opening ceremony on the Chao Phraya River and the historic town of Sukhothai is also renowned for its festivities. In Trat, a small town near Myanmar, locals use coconut shells for Krathongs, which they string together to make beautiful chains. Since Loy Krathong falls on the same night as Yi Ping, in Chiang Mai you can experience both floating sky and water lanterns at once.
4. Phi Ta Khon - the Ghost Festival
During the ghost festival, the quiet farming village of Dan Sai is transformed by colourful, masked spirits who dance and parade through the streets. The three-day Thai festival is a re-enactment of a Buddhist story and a celebration of animist reincarnation beliefs. In this tale, Lord Buddha was living his final incarnation before enlightenment as a prince who had been banished from his kingdom. After a long exile, he returned to such a joyous homecoming that it woke the dead, who joined the celebrations.
Villagers dress in patchwork costumes and long-nosed, painted masks made from rice husks. They wear bells around their waists to announce the presence of spirits and wave swords and phallic charms as they parade through the streets. On the second day, rockets filled with good luck tokens are fired to pray for rain and there are traditional dancing and an award for the best-dressed ghost. On the third day, people gather to listen to monks recite thirteen sermons about Lord Buddha.
The iconic parade of Thai Festival Phi Ta Khon.
When is Phi Ta Khon?
Phi Ta Khon is part of a bigger Buddhist festival called Bun Luang, which is celebrated in many parts of northern Thailand. The dates for Phi Ta Khon change every year, but fall in either June or July. In 2020, Phi Ta Khon is from 26th June until 28th of June.
Where can you celebrate Phi Ta Khon?
Phi Ta Khon takes place in Dan Sai, a farming village in the Loei province of Thailand. Many visitors stay in nearby Loei city because the village itself gets flooded with festival-goers.
5. Phuket Vegetarian Festival (the Nine Emperor Gods Festival)
Want to see people pushing knives through their cheeks, setting off firecrackers and walking over hot coals? Oh, and eat some tasty vegetarian food? Then visit one of the most unique Thailand festivals: the Nine Emperor Gods celebration in Phuket. The festival origins are unclear, but it’s thought that a Chinese opera group visited the island many years ago and fell sick with malaria. They miraculously recovered after observing a strict vegetarian diet and praying to the nine Emperor gods.
Nowadays, thousands of people from across Asia visit Phuket for the nine-day festival. Rituals include eating a vegetarian diet to cleanse the body and mind and taking offerings to temples to pray. The more gruesome aspects of the festival, like the body piercing, are practised by mediums to invoke the gods. At the start of the festival, a 10-metre pole is raised to alert the nine gods and participants descend into a trance-like state as they take part in a street procession.
Shocking scenes during this lugubrious Thai festival.
When is the Phuket Vegetarian Festival?
The vegetarian festival takes place on the first nine days of the ninth month in the Chinese Lunar calendar. In 2020 - the festival dates are set between 16th October and 25th October.
Where can you celebrate the Vegetarian Festival?
The festival takes place on the island of Phuket. Although celebrations occur around all 40 of the island’s Chinese shrines, most of the action is around the main temples: Kathu Shrine, Cherng Talay, Jui Tui, Jaw and Bang Niew.
6. The Lopburi Monkey Buffet Festival
In the Thai city of Lopburi, monkeys rule. Local people revere the long-tailed macaques so much that every year they hold an extravagant feast for them in the crumbly ruins of an old Khmer temple. Over 3,000 macaques attend the banquet of fruit, vegetables and sticky rice, which is laid out on long tables. Before the banquet, Lopburi locals perform songs, speeches and monkey dances in honour of the macaques.
The Lopburi people believe that monkeys descend from Hanuman’s monkey army who, according to legend, saved the wife of Lord Ram from a demon. Since then, monkeys have been thought to bring good luck and are allowed to roam where they please in the city, even if they do cause chaos and tend to mug people. A local Lopburi inn owner, Yongyuth Kitwatananusont, held the first buffet for the monkeys in 1989 and the festival now draws thousands of tourists every year.
Lopburi Monkey Buffet Festival
When is the Monkey Buffet Festival?
The Monkey Buffet has become known as one of the wackiest Thailand festivals and it takes place every year on the last Sunday in November.
Where can you celebrate the Monkey Buffet Festival?
The Monkey Buffet is held in Lopburi, which is 150 kilometres north of Bangkok. The celebrations start at 10 am at the Phra Prang Sam Yot Temple.
7. River Kwai Bridge Week
For those among us who are interested in a Thai festival that covers the gruesome history of World War Two, the River Kwai Bridge Week in Kanchanaburi is a highly recommended event. Each year, the events of the Death Railway and the prisoners of war during World War Two are reenacted with plays. These reenacted battles are combined with a spectacular light and firework show. Besides the show itself, several exhibitions are on display as well where you can get a deeper knowledge of what happened in Kanchanaburi’s recent history.
During the River Kwai Bridge Week, the majority of the hotels are fully booked, so booking in advance is highly recommended. The event itself takes place at the Bridge Over The River Kwai and in 2019, there was no entrance fee to attend the event. Right behind the event, northeast from the bridge, there is a large fair where you can enjoy all the street food you could possibly imagine as well as live music performances. A nice little detail: during the River Kwai Bridge Week, the city itself is completely lidded up with all sorts of light creations which is beautiful to watch when driving through the city.
The light and firework show during River Kwai Bridge Week.
When is the River Kwai Bridge Week?
The River Kwai Bridge Week is held each year at the end of November and the beginning of December. Keep in mind that the reenacting performances are not held on the last day. On the last day of the River Kwai Bridge Week, only the fair is open. In 2020, this is from 28th of November until 7th of December.
Where can you celebrate the River Kwai Bridge Week?
River Kwai Bridge Week is being held at the Bridge Over The River Kwai which is located in the Kanchanaburi Tambon Ban Tai area. To be clear, Kanchanaburi itself is the - third-largest - province. If you are planning to book a hotel during the River Kwai Bridge Week, make sure to select an accommodation in the Kanchanaburi Tambon Ban Tai area or simply near the Bridge Over The River Kwai.
8. Boon Bang Fai - Rocket Festival
To celebrate the beginning of the raining season, which is hardly needed to grow crops, a rocket festival is being held in the Isaan-region to wake up the sky god Phaya Taen that it’s time to unleash the rain. The celebration of the wet season is common in many cultures all over the world and in Thailand, Boon Bang Fai evolved into a celebration with homemade bamboo rockets, parades, traditional dancing and late-night parties. Boon Bang Fai is being held in many villages all over the Isaan-region, each with slightly different celebrations. The most popular rocket festival, however, is the Yasothon Rocket Festival.
The festival at Yasothon is being held on the weekend and takes three days in total. On Sunday, the competition starts where participants try to launch the missile as far and as long as possible. To prove that this Rocket Festival at Yasothon is serious business: they use homemade rockets that weigh over one hundred kilograms and it will fly over five minutes long. We don’t have to explain to you that this festival can be very dangerous. In the past, people have died or got seriously injured during this festival. If you plan to attend this crazy Thai festival, make sure to take precaution.
When is the Rocket Festival?
The Rocket Festival is being held all over the Isaan-region on different dates around the start the raining season, however, the Rocket Festival at Yasothon is being held on the second Saturday of May.
Where can you celebrate the Rocket Festival?
As said, the Rocket Festival is being celebrated all over the Isaan-region, but the most popular Rocket Festival is being held at Yasothon.
9. Phimai Festival & Long-Boat Race
One of the older festivals in Thailand is the Phimai Festival, that is being held every second weekend of November. During this five-day festival, homage is given to the more than thousand-year-old ancient city with a daily light and sound show at seven o’clock at night at the ruins of Phimai Historical Park. The light and sound show takes you on a historical journey of King Jayavarman VII. During the five days, there are several activities to do and to watch, including visiting the year market and attending cultural performances. But the absolute highlight is the traditional long-boat race, which is being held on Sunday.
When is the Phimai Festival & Long-Boat Race?
Phimai Festival & Long-Boat Race is being held every second weekend of November. The Long-Boat Race, in particular, is being held on Sunday.
Where can you celebrate the Phimai Festival & Long-Boat Race?
The Phimai Festival & Long-Boat race can be celebrated at the Phimai Historical Park. If you're looking to watch a long-boat race in Thailand: There are several other long-boat races being held in Thailand around September and October as the raining season caused the rivers to be filled with plenty of water again. One of these alternative boat races is being held at Phitsanulok as well as Bangkok. The dates of these events vary each year though.
Visiting a Thai festival is one of the best ways to get an insight into a country’s culture. It can also be great fun, whether you’re taking part in a sacred lantern release or getting soaked in the streets. So, why not time your trip to coincide with one of these incredible Thailand festivals? If you can't plan your trip around one of the listed festivals, you can always check for upcoming events in Thailand promoted by TourismThailand.org.
Further reads for your holiday in Thailand:
Planning A Trip To Thailand
The 7 Best Night Markets in Bangkok
The 4 Best Floating Markets In And Near Bangkok
The 41 Ultimate Things To Do in Thailand (long read)
22 Best Local Thai Dishes In Bangkok And Where To Get Them