We have created this list to show you Thailand’s craziest, coolest and most bizarre festivals and gatherings, found all over the country, and graded for your pleasure.
If your idea of cultural sightseeing is dancing the night away to village folk band, drinking shots of liquor with the locals and marvelling at things you will never truly understand, then this list is for you!
#1. Songkran (Water Festival)
Starts April 13th
Songkran has to be the biggest, longest and most fun festival in Thailand, maybe the world!
In Thailand, New Year is now officially celebrated on 1 January, Songkran was the official New Year until 1888, when it was switched to a fixed date of 1 April. Then in 1940, this date was shifted to 1 January. The traditional Thai New Year Songkran was transformed into a national holiday
Songkran is the biggest water fight on the planet celebrated throughout the whole country. In some places like Pattaya it can last up to 7 days, day and night!
Crazy scenes of exuberance can be seen throughout Thailand, music, dancing, drinking and everyone drenched from head to toe. Water pistols, hose pipes, buckets, anything you can get your hands to splash people.
One thing is for certain: you will get wet!
#2. Ghost Festival (Phi Ta Khon)
Dan Sai, Loei Province – June or July
Combining religious traditions, local handicrafts and fun-loving party atmosphere, Phi Ta Khon is a three-day festival that’s renowned for the colourful masks worn by thousands of locals.
The masks are ghastly, stretched faces with phallic noses, decorated in bright, gaudy colours.
The origin of the festival is a mixture of animist and Buddhist beliefs. It is supposed to recreate the legend of when a party was thrown that was so fun, everyone wanted to attend – living or dead.
We don’t really know the significance of the phallic noses. The Ghost Festival is held on the weekend of the 6th full moon of the lunar calendar.
It usually has the main parade on the Friday (dressing up as a ghost optional), with pageants and music on the Saturday and Buddhist ceremonies on the Sunday.
Located in Dan Sai Town in Loei Province, the Ghost Festival is quite hard to get to. It’s easiest from Udon Thani (a three-hour bus journey) or Chiang Mai (five-hour bus journey).
From Bangkok, buses leave from Mo Chit Northern Bus Terminal about five times a day. It’s around a seven-hour journey.
#3. Lantern Festival (Yi Peng)
Chiang Mai – November
Chiang Mai’s lantern festival takes place every November and is truly a remarkable sight. Down by the banks of the Peng River, thousands of paper lanterns are released into the sky to float away on the evening breeze. It’s a more genteel affair than the other festivals on this list, but is a great opportunity for snapping some breathtaking photos. Releasing lanterns is the most photogenic part of the festival, but there are also parades, religious ceremonies, fireworks and the releasing of paper floats in the river.
#4. Rocket Festival (Boon Bang Fai)
Yasothorn Province – June or July
In the farming communities of Issan (north-eastern Thailand), rocket festivals are important events attended by entire villages as they’re considered the last big ‘knees-up’ before the planting season begins.
The rockets are meant to encourage the gods to send plentiful rains to help the precious rice crops grow, with teams building ever more elaborate rockets. They are paraded around on the first day of the festival before being launched high into the air throughout the weekend.
Supposedly, huge sums are gambled on who can build the best rocket, but considering gambling is illegal in Thailand we can’t confirm this.
If any rocket fails to launch, the builders of said rocket are playfully thrown into a mud bath as punishment.
The main rocket festival is in Yasothon Province, although many districts hold their own smaller rocket festivals.
Live folk music, fastidious drinking of local rice wine, beauty pageants and a party atmosphere accompanies every rocket festival.
#5. Buffalo Racing Festival (Wing Kwai)
Chonburi – October
Buffalo racing, and the festivities that go on afterwards, make this one of Thailand’s best festivals.
This tradition has been taking place for well over 100 years and now brings in the crowds – Thais and foreigners – from far and wide. The race course is around 100 metres long, located right in front of Chonburi City Hall.
Crowds line the race course and cheer on the jockeys, who ride bareback on their trusty beasts. It is amazing to see how fast the massive beasts can actually run!
Chonburi is quite easy to reach, around one hour away from both Bangkok and Pattaya. The buffalo racing is the main attraction, but there are plenty more bovine activities to enjoy, such as a buffalo beauty contest, buffalo decorations and muay Thai demonstrations.
There’s a small fair with rides for smaller children, and other fete games – definitely look out for the greasy pole game, which asks participants to climb up the pole to win 500 baht (or try to, at least).
While it doesn’t quite compare to the prestige of Ascott, the Melbourne Cup or the Kentucky Derby, Chonburi’s annual buffalo race festival is still a hugely fun day out.
#6. Lopburi Monkey Banquet
Located 150 km north of Bangkok, Lopburi is best known for its packs of monkeys, thanks to the central temple being overrun by the pesky simians.
It’s a popular tourist activity to feed the monkeys but, during November, the simple bags of sunflower seed you can buy are replaced by something much grander.
There’s a huge banquet laid out for the approximately 3,000 monkeys and they are allowed to feast on 4 tonnes of fruits, vegetables and other treats.
It’s a surreal experience that has traces of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Do be aware that the Lopburi monkeys will climb on you and try to take food or valuables from you, so you should keep your wits about you.
#7. Vegetarian Festival
Despite the name, Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival is famous to world travellers because of the extreme acts undertaken by some locals. Especially gruesome is the body mortification, by way of swords and spiked objects cutting through participants’ cheeks and other body parts, along with walking over hot coals.
The belief is that Chinese gods will protect you from harm in return for painful demonstrations of your beliefs.
The ceremonies of the festival take place in the vicinity of the six Chinese temples scattered throughout Phuket.
The main temple is Jui Tui Shrine, not far from the Fresh Market in Phuket Town. This annual festival takes place every October but, if you’re sensitive to the sight of blood, you probably should give this one a miss!
#8. Wonderfruit Music and Arts
Okay, the only thing ‘Thai’ about this festival is the location, but it is the country’s premier music and arts festival, taking after similar events in the UK and US – think Glastonbury or Coachella and you’re on the right lines.
Wonderfruit usually takes place in December, on the outskirts of Pattaya, and welcomes European and American artists to headline, with many local bands playing, too.
There’s also yoga, meditation, arts and pop-up restaurants by some of Bangkok’s best chefs.
#9. Chinese New Year
Bangkok January or February
Chinese New Year brings one of the most exhilarating celebrations to Yaowaraj, which is officially the Chinatown of Bangkok.
The narrow, bustling alleys of Chinatown are always a fun place to explore but, during Chinese New Year, things are ramped up a notch.
The entire length of the street (and surrounding alleys) comes to life, with crowds of worshippers, exploding firecrackers, dragon dancers and families of Chinese descent, who gather to partake in the street fanfare as well as enjoy sumptuous Chinese banquets.
The best place to experience the festival in Bangkok is at Wat Mangkon Kamalawat on Charoen Krung Street, at the northern edge of Chinatown.
#10. Candle Festival
Ubon Ratchathani – July
This large festival in one of Issan’s biggest cities is a nice mix of art, culture and celebration.
Up to 10 huge wax sculptures are crafted by international teams of artists, mixing traditional art with more modern, abstract creations.
The wax works are paraded around on floats, accompanied by dancers and traditional folk music. Principally, this is a religious festival on a sacred Buddhist holiday, when followers donate items to monks, but there is still a party atmosphere throughout the city.
Remember that no alcohol is allowed to be sold in Thailand on Buddhist holidays, but it can be consumed. Most locals will stock up the day before and will be discreet about drinking out of respect for monks and devout Buddhists.