Jai Thep Festival - Thailand Festivals

21 Thai Festivals – From the Traditional to the Hip

Whichever month you’re travelling to Thailand, you’ll be sure to find a Thai Festival that may just turn out to be the highlight of your tripRead on for our pick of the 21 best festivals in Thailand!

As Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, most of the traditional festivals in Thailand are religious in nature and coincide with the full moon (or Buddha Days).

However, there are several other festivals which display Thailand’s deep animist roots, as well as those festivals which have been influenced by neighbouring countries such as Laos or China.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival
Phuket Vegetarian Festivals has its roots in Chinese culture.

To add to the mix of festivals in Thailand, there’s an increasing number of environmentally-conscious music and art festivals which attract trendy Thai locals, international expats backpackers alike. Thailand’s version of ‘Burning Man’

Festival goers at the trendy Jai Thep Festival in Chiang Mai. (Photo credit: Lindsie Muller.)
Festival goers at the trendy Jai Thep Festival in Chiang Mai. (Photo credit: Lindsie Muller.)

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The Best Festivals in Thailand | January – December

1. Jai Thep Festival

  • Dates: January/February each year. 2021 date TBC.
  • Location: Chiang Mai.
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A three-day environmentally friendly art and music festival that’s a big hit with backpackers and hippie communities of Northern Thailand. The festival takes place at a venue called Lanna Rock Garden, just 30 minutes outside of the city of Chiang Mai.

The festival plays host to a variety of Thai and international artists with an emphasis on promoting local homegrown talent. Performances take place throughout the day and into the evening. The countryside venue with views of rolling hills and forest makes for a magical experience which is enhanced by the art and light installations. There are also workshops, yoga classes, cooking classes and massage tents.

Jai Thep Festival - Charlie Snead
A yoga class at Jai Thep Festival. Photo credit: Charlie Snead.

Festival goers can purchase a one or three-day pass and on-site camping is available for those looking for a true festival experience. There’s a variety of food on offer at the event from vegan to gluten-free options and there are plenty of family friendly activities making this festival fun for everyone.

Jai Thep in Thai means ‘Heart of God’ which sums up the passion behind this festival as the organisers have really put a lot of thought and soul into creating a truly magical and inclusive event.

2. Chinese New Year

  • Dates: 12 February 2021
  • Location: All over Thailand, most notably in Chinatown in Bangkok
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is celebrated in Thailand.

Chinese New Year isn’t an official holiday in Thailand, but it is celebrated by Chinese people across Southeast Asia, who make up an estimated 14% of the population. In Thailand, the largest Chinatown can be found in Bangkok, where you’ll find several impressive Chinese temples, many food stalls, shops and markets. It’s here in Yaoworat (the local name for Bangkok’s Chinatown), where you’ll come across the majority of the Chinese New Year celebrations.

A family at a Chinese Temple during Chinese New Year.
A family gather at a Chinese Temple during Chinese New Year.

The date of Chinese New Year is determined by the lunar calendar and it usually falls around the end of January or early February. During this time, people pay respect to their ancestors by leaving offerings and give each other gifts of money placed inside red envelopes (known as lai-see in Cantonese). (The colour red is believed to be lucky in Chinese culture.)

In Chinatown, you’ll come across dragon performances, dances and sometimes acrobats. You’ll also see people setting off lanterns, launching firecrackers and putting out offerings (usually consisting of mandarins) in order to appease evil spirits or scare them away. Red lanterns are hung outside people’s homes to bring good luck.

3. Trang Underwater Wedding Ceremony

  • Dates: 12 February 2021
  • Location: Trang
Trang Underwater Wedding Ceremony
The Trang Underwater Wedding Ceremony.

The Trang Underwater Wedding Ceremony is an annual event which attracts couples wishing to tie the knot in an unusual way – 12 metres under water! The event is also available for those couples who are already married and want to renew their vows.

The ceremony is held over Valentines Day each year and couples who want to take part must be qualified SCUBA divers and provide their own dive gear. Of course, if you want to wear a full wedding dress and tuxedo (and many do!) then that is totally encouraged!

4. Wat Bang Phra Tattoo Festival

  • Dates: Early March
  • Location: Wat Bang Phra (1 hour Northeast of Bangkok)
A monk with a sak yant tattoo.

Normally held on the first Saturday in March at Wat Bang Phra (which translates as the Temple of the Flying Tiger), Thailand’s most famous tattoo festival is a must for anyone interested in the spiritual side of the ancient art of ‘sak yant tatooing’. (Traditional Thai bamboo tattoos.)

The night before the festival, thousands of people travel to Wat Bang Phra to have a sak yant tattoo engraved onto their bodies by one of the resident monks. Each one of the tattoos reportedly unique and the monks work through the night to meet demand.

The next day, the new tattoos are blessed or ‘charged’ by the monks using a series of chanting mantras. Some people who had tattoos last year come to get their tattoos ‘recharged’ – as the tattoos are believed to have special powers of protection and good fortune.

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The scene is incredible as people fall into trances and some people start to behave like the animal that is represented by the tattoo that they have had engraved onto their skin, such as a tiger or a snake. Travellers can also attend the festival and get inked themselves. One famous person who queued up to get inked here was none other than Angelina Jolie.

5. Songkran (Buddhist New Year in Thailand)

  • Dates: Mid-April (13th April 2021)
  • Location: Songkran is celebrated all over Thailand. However, one of the best places to experience the festival is in Chiang Mai.

Songkran in ThailandSongkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

“The wetter the better” is the slogan for Songkran, the biggest festival of the year in Thailand! If you’re lucky enough to be in Thailand for these fun-packed few days you’re in for an unforgettable experience as the entire country turns into the site of an enormous water fight!

What could be a better way to cool off in the sweltering temperatures of Thailand’s hottest period? Garden hoses, water pistols, super soakers, even buckets of water mixed with talcum powder are thrown at innocent passers-by.

Traditionally, Songkran is the welcoming of the Buddhist New Year in Thailand and is symbolically a time for new beginnings and spiritual cleansing. As well as celebration, it is also an important time to spend with family members and pay respect to elders.

On the first day of the festival, Thai people clean their houses to welcome in the New Year and visit temples to pray and offer food to the monks. An important ritual is to cleanse or bathe Buddha images by gently sprinkling with scented water, a ceremony believed to grant prosperity and bestow good fortune in the New Year.

The exuberant soakings of today originate from this once mild ritual, as people used to pay respect and wish good luck to others by gently pouring ‘blessed’ water on people’s shoulders.

Songkran Festival.

Wherever you are in Thailand, it’s hard to miss the festival, although different places experience the festival at different times. The duration of the festival varies, depending on the location. (Songkran normally lasts for three days, but can extend to 10 days in some places!)

One of the best places to witness the event has got to be Northern Thailand’s capital of culture, Chiang Mai. Thousands of people flock to the city during these few days to celebrate on a huge scale. Hoards of people drive around the city looking for any victim who may have an inch of dryness left about his or her person! For locals and tourists alike it’s all about having fun, wet and wild style.

Songkran, Thailand.
Backpackers enjoying Songkran in Chiang Mai.

In Bangkok, the backpacker hub of Khao San Road experiences even more mayhem than usual and in downtown Silom and Sukhumvit, the carnival is in full swing! Especially being a farang (foreigner), soakings are unavoidable, so don’t even think you’ll be able to stay dry. Extra precautions must be taken if you’re travelling or carrying electrical items. (Our advice? Keep the laptop, camera and phone inside for the duration of Songkran!)

Read our Songkran Survival Guide here.

6. Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival

  • Dates: Held in the sixth lunar month (May or June)
  • Location: In Northeastern Thailand (Isaan) as well as Laos.
Rocket Festival Laos
The Rocket Festival goes off with a bang!

Taking place over two days, with plenty of eating, drinking and dancing thrown in, the Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival is one of the most enjoyable (and noisiest!) events in the country. The festival takes place in Northeastern Thailand, which shares many cultural traits with neighbouring Laos, where the festival originates.

Villages all across the country gather to create huge rockets made out of bamboo, decorate and paint them bright colours and stuff them with large quantities of gunpowder ready for the big launch!

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As the rockets are launched into the skies, onlookers watch to see which rocket reaches the greatest height. The owner of the highest fired rocket receives prestige and status amongst the group.

The festival is held at the beginning of May, in conjunction with the beginning of the rainy season. Since ancient times it has been performed by all those working on the land to request rain from the ‘Phaya Thaen’ or the ‘Rain God’ to pray for plentiful rice production for that year.

7. Chanthaburi Fruit Festival

  • Dates: Usually held in May
  • Location: Chanthaburi (three hours East of Bangkok.)
Durian Fruits at Chow Kit Market
Durian fruit is the smelliest fruit on earth!

Formerly known as the ‘Durian Festival’, this event was renamed when the organisers realised that there were many other fruits on offer! Succulent, thirst-quenching mangosteen, tangy langsat or sweet, pulpy jackfruit anyone? Visitors to the Chanthaburi Fruit Festival can indulge their taste buds with a delicious assortment of exotic Thai fruits!

Fruit buffets offer ‘all you can eat’ including dragon fruit, papaya, coconut, rambutan, sapodilla and lots more. Held once a year, during the best season for ripeness and flavour, this unique even is a great opportunity to fill up on those vitamins whilst having a great day out.

Chanthaburi is a small and pleasant riverside town in Eastern Thailand, located in the ‘fruit bowl’ of Thailand, one of the places which has the best conditions for growing fruit. It’s not far from the border of Cambodia and is a great place to get off the beaten track and away from tourists.

8. Koh Samui Regatta

Koh Samui Regatta.
Koh Samui Regatta takes place every year in May.

The annual Koh Samui Regatta is a huge sailing event which attracts over 200 participating teams and thousands of boat lovers from all over the world. Over five days, there are a variety of races taking place around the island including long-distance racing, short sprint racing and cruising displays. Expect a fun-filled event, with plenty of partying on dry land too, as those sailing types really know how to enjoy themselves!

9. Phi Ta Khon Festival

  • Dates: Held sometime between March and July, the actual dates of the festival differ each year as they are chosen by spiritual mediums.
  • Location: Celebrated in Isaan, Loei Province and Dan Sai in Northeastern Thailand.
Masks used during Phi Ta Khon
Spooky masks used during Phi Ta Khon Festival.

In Thailand, spirituality is never far away, but it perhaps comes closest with this ghostly festival, unique to the culture of North Eastern Thailand. (About 450km North of Bangkok.) Similar to the Western Halloween, locals don eerie spirit masks and wear phantom costumes and strange hats, while children play tricks in the street

The festival commemorates an old Buddhist tale, when villagers hold a celebration for the return of their Prince from banishment. It is said that they made so much noise that the dead are awakened from their graves and came out to party!

Musical processions pack the streets and rockets fill the sky for three days. On the last day, the villagers meet at the local temple, Wat Ponchai, to listen to the monks recite the message of Lord Buddha.

10. Hungry Ghost Festival

  • Dates: Held at the beginning of September.
  • Location: Chinese communities across Thailand.
Offerings of food are left at Chinese shrines during the Hungry Ghost Festival.

During the month of September, Chinese people believe that the ghosts of their ancestors descend to earth to search for food. Although you may not actually bump into one of the actual ghosts, you will encounter the festival alive and well in Chinese communities all across Southeast Asia from Phuket in Thailand, to Penang in Malaysia.

You’ll see offerings left outside temples and houses to appease the hungry ghosts, as Chinese people believe that their ancestors can bring them good luck. There are also Chinese Opera performances and puppet shows taking place in lively Chinatowns everywhere.

11. Khao Phansa (Buddhist Lent)

  • Dates: Begins in July and ends in October.
  • Location: All over Thailand, as well as other Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia.
Sampov Mountain, Cambodia
Khao Pansa is a time for monks to retreat to the temple.

Khao Phansa is one of the most important occasions in the Buddhist calendar that also marks the beginning of the rainy season across most of Southeast Asia.

Also known as the ‘Buddhist Rains Retreat,’ it’s a time when Buddhist monks retreat to the temple where they must remain for a period of three months.

Traditionally, this was so that they would not be in danger of treading on young plants, which sprout during this season of growth and new life. It’s a time for study and meditation and is also considered an auspicious time for ordinations into monkhood. Celebrations take place across the country to commemorate the beginning of Khao Phansa.

12. Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival

  • Dates: October.
  • Location: Ubon Ratchathani, Eastern Thailand.
Ubon Ratchatani Candle Festival
Ubon Ratchatani Candle Festival.

This is a religious festival that follows Khao Pansa, or Buddhist Lent. The festival includes floats, displays, cultural performances and Thai music and dancing. The event attracts tourists and Thai people from across the country.

The main part of the festival is the procession of enormous candles which parades through the streets as the temples are taken to temples. The candles are carved with intricate detail just days before the event. Each candle represents a temple or institution in the city and often tell stories from Buddhist or Hindu mythology.

13. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival - October
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is famous for its gruesome piercings.

Despite the rather misleading title of this festival, for spectators, this world-renowned event is a feast for the eyes rather than the stomach! The Phuket Vegetarian Festival occurs over 10 days with a series of celebrations through the streets of Phuket’s Old Town in South Thailand.

The festival is also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival and is also celebrated in nearby Malaysia and Singapore.

Colourful Sino-Portuguese Buildings in Phuket Old Town
Phuket Old Town becomes the site of the vegetarian festival.

While the festival lasts 10 days in total, it’s the sixth day in particular that has become a favourite of photographers the world over. On this day, devotees partake in incredible feats of body piercing, as well as acts such as walking barefoot on hot coals or climbing ladders made of blades. During such self-torture, it is said that Gods can enter the body and evil spirits are dispelled from town.

The festival dates back to 1825 when a Chinese Opera came to town. When the troupe became ill, they turned to a vegetarian diet used in conjunction with ancient rituals to cure themselves. Locals were astounded as each one was miraculously healed and thus became converts to ritual vegetarianism.

Since that day, the Thai-Chinese people of Phuket have celebrated the festival annually with the belief in its power to invite good fortune. Participants must refrain from eating meat for a number of days in order to purify the mind and cleanse the soul.

14. Bang Fai Phaya Nak (Naga Fireball Festival)

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Astounding miracle or an elaborate hoax? This unusual spectacle that occurs in the town of Nong Khai along the Mekong in Northern Thailand on the border with Laos has baffled even the most sceptical onlookers.

On the night of the full moon, at the end of Buddhist lent, hundreds of spectators congregate on the banks, eyes glued, as burning red fireballs ascend from the surface of the water into the night sky.

Locals believe this phenomenon occurs because of Naga, the great serpent of the underworld who dwells in the murky depths. Once a year, Naga sends a powerful sign to all villagers to remind them to respect the river and the life source it stands for.

Researchers have tried to solve the mystery, but no one has been able to explain how or why this phenomenon takes place on the same night each year. Still dubious? Well, there’s only one way to make your mind up!

15. Chonburi Buffalo Racing

  • Dates: October.
  • Location: Chonburi, one hour from Bangkok.

Thanks to the efforts of some determined farmers Chonburi’s buffalos have been transformed from sluggish workhorses to lean, mean racing machines. Each year at the beginning of October, the Chonburi Buffalo Races are a series of highly competitive sprints taking place in front of the town’s Municipal Office. Crowds of people gather to cheer their favourites to victory in an event that has been known to feature on the BBC and CNN.

16. Awk Pansa, End of Buddhist Lent

  • Dates: End of October.
  • Location: In Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia.
Temple in Phetchabun, Thailand
Praying at the temple at the start of Awk Pansa.

Awk Pansa literally means “leaving the period of rain” and is celebrated all over Thailand, Laos and Myanmar on the night of the full moon in October, marking the end of the Buddhist Lent.

Rooted in agricultural tradition ‘Awk Pansa’ indicates the start of a new season and indicates the planting of new crops. In many parts of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, Awk Pansa is celebrated with a series of boat processions. In Isaan province, huge boats are filled with offerings of sticky rice parcels, flowers, candles and lamps and are launched on the river by local villagers.

17. Loi Krathong (Festival of Lights)

  • Dates: Full moon in November.
  • Location: All over Thailand, but perhaps most impressive in Chiang Mai.
Loi Krathong Festival, Thailand
Loi Krathong Festival, Thailand.

One of the most enchanting festivals in the Thai calendar takes place on the night of the full moon in November, marking the end of the rainy season. Night skies all across the country become illuminated as glowing lanterns are floated into the air and rivers and lakes glisten with candles as tiny boats are set afloat in honour of the Goddess of Water.

The roots of the festival lie firmly in Buddhist origins and the beliefs centre upon the concept of ‘letting go’ or ‘being freed’ from your troubles. As the lantern or boat is launched and drifts away, it is believed that people can be released from their ‘durkkha’ (suffering) and may wish for good luck in the future.

The name of the festival comes from the small lotus-shaped boats, which are called ‘krathong.’ Made of banana leaves and filled with candles, incense and other offerings. The boats can also contain locks of hair, photographs or symbolic remnants of the past.

Khratong boats
Khratong boats.

For those lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai at this time, the festival, known as ‘Yi Peng Lantern Festival’ is a sight to behold. One of the best places to watch the spectacle unfold is on the banks of the Ping River in Chiang Mai where thousands of people cast their fortunes into the night sky.

The paper lanterns, known as ‘khom-fai’ look like big luminous jellyfish hovering up above. Parades, music, markets, street entertainment and of course lots of street food surrounds the festivities by the river.

Khom Fai (lanterns).

18. Mae Jo Lantern Release

  • Dates: Part of the Loi Krathong celebrations.
  • Location: Mae Jo University, San Sai District, Chiang Mai.
Setting a lantern alight at the Mae Jo Lantern Release.
Setting a lantern alight at the Mae Jo Lantern Release.

Part of the Yi Peng celebrations, taking place just on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, in San Sai, the Yi Peng ‘mass lantern release’ event was created by a few entrepreneurial monks in order to attract tourists to the area. The event is extremely popular and you must buy a ticket to reserve your place.

Getting to and from the site is also a challenge as thousands of cars, tuk-tuks, motorbikes and people clamour to get a space. However, the stress is worth it. The release is truly a sight to behold with thousands of lanterns launched into the sky at the same time. Of course, the event attracts travel photographers hoping to get the perfect shot.

19. River Kwai Bridge Week

Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

Cultural performances, light shows, folk dances and a carnival atmosphere envelop the town of Kanchanaburi during the remembrance week of the world famous River Kwai Bridge. Historical exhibitions and displays explain more about the history and a light and sound presentation enacts the World War II legacy.

20. Hmong New Year

  • Dates: Early December.
  • Location: In Hmong communities of Northern Thailand.
Hill tribe children in Northern Thailand – Hmong ethnic minority.

Early December sees a New Year celebration unique to the culture of the Hmong people, one of the largest ethnic groups residing in Northern Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. The event takes place at different times each year as the timing depends on the harvesting of the rice.

The superstitious beliefs of the Hmong people mean that the festival must be at least three days long, as it is bad luck for events to last for an even number of days. Celebrations have been known to proceed for a month and a half!

Existing as both a religious and social event, it’s a huge festivity for the Hmong people, as it’s one of the only times that they have a break from farming during the year. Traditional performances, games and events are enjoyed by everyone in the community, so it’s also the perfect chance for the singletons of nearby villages to meet prospective spouses.

21. Wonderfruit Festival

  • Dates: Early December.
  • Location: Pattaya.
Wonderfruit Festival Pattaya Thailand
Wonderfruit, Thailand’s ‘Glastonbury’ or ‘Burning Man’.

A festival of music, art and lifestyle that takes place every year in a place called ‘The Fields’ at Siam Country Club just outside of Pattaya. There’s a focus on sustainability, eco-friendliness and social responsibility with workshops, talks and art installations.

The festival was created by the son of the founder of Think Earth (Pete Pornphrapha) and Thai musician Montonn “Jay” Jira. Their aim was to raise awareness of environmental problems in a fun and social way, as well as bringing the festival ‘vibe’ to Thailand.

The festival plays host to international and local artists and there are a series of wellness workshops, as well as ethical food buffets and family-friendly zones. Wonderfruit is definitely closest thing that Thailand has got to Glastonbury!

Have you been to a Thai festival that we haven’t listed? Be sure to get in touch and we’ll add it to the list!

Check out more – The Top 11 Festivals in Southeast Asia.

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