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Thailand Festivals and Holidays - with Wired Destinations
Thailand temple fairs upcountry are great fun to attend. They are usually held in the evenings during the cool season to raise money for repairs to temple buildings. There are carnival rides, the odd freak show, halls of horror, rumwong dances, food vendors and deafening noise - the one element without which a fair would not be a fair. If you see one in progress, stop, park and enjoy yourself. The dates for these Thailand festivals and fairs change from year to year. Check the exact dates by calling the TAT in Bangkok. (Tourist Authority Thailand, phone 1672, www.tat.or.th)
New Year's Day is a day of relaxation after the festivities of the night before. It is a public holiday. In 2009, 2. January was a newly appointed public holiday in order to boost the travel industry’s revenue.
Phra Buddha Chinarat Fair is held in late January or early February. Enshrined in Phitsanulok's Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, Phra Buddha Chinarat is one of Thailand's most sacred and delicately cast Buddha images of the Sukhothai style. The fair includes a display of giant birds made from straw, folk performances and various forms of entertainment.
Don Chedi Memorial Fair in Suphanburi (late January) commemorates the decisive battle won by King Naresuan at Don Chedi. The fair features historical exhibitions, entertainment and local handicraft stalls.
Bo Sang Umbrella Fair, in Bo Sang near Chiang Mai, is held in the main street and celebrates the traditional skill of making gaily painted umbrellas and other handicrafts.
Flower Festival is held in Chiang Mai during early February. This annual event features flower displays, floral floats, beauty contests and coincides with the period when the province's temperate and tropical flowers are in full bloom.
Dragon and Lion Parade is held annually between January and February in the central Thailand town of Nakhon Sawan, by people of Chinese ancestry. The Dragon and Lion procession is a traditional homage-paying rite to the golden dragon deity in gratitude for his benevolence to human beings. The lively parade includes marching bands, golden dragon and lion dances, and processions of deities.
Chinese New Year is not celebrated with the boisterousness of other Asian countries. The temples are a bit busier with wishes made for good fortune in the coming year, but otherwise there is nothing to mark the period. Shops close and, behind the steel grilles, private family celebrations go on for three or four days.
Maha Bucha, a public holiday in Bangkok and a Buddhist holiday on the full moon night of February, marks the spontaneous gathering of 1,200 disciples to hear the Lord Buddha preach. In the evening, Thais gather at temples to hear a sermon by the chief monk of the wat. Then, when the moon is rising, they place their hands in a praying position before their faces and clasping candles, incense and flowers, follow the chanting monks around the bot of the wat three times before placing their candles and incense in trays at the front of the bot. It is a most solemn and moving ceremony.
Kite flying is not a festival but it would be difficult to convince kite enthusiasts otherwise. They gather at Sanam Luang, in Bangkok, in the afternoons as the brisk winds haul their large kites aloft, filling the sky with bright colors.
Barred Ground Dove Festival. Dove lovers from all over Asia come to Yala for this event. The highlight is a dove-cooing contest involving over 1,400 competitors.
Chakri Day on 6 April celebrates the founding in 1782 of the dynasty that presently rules Thailand. It is celebrated in the palace, but there are no public ceremonies. An official holiday, most Thais celebrate it as a day off from work.
The Phra Chedi Kiang Nam Fair is one of the larger temple fairs. It is celebrated at the wat on the river's edge at Phrapadaeng, 15 km (9 miles) south of Bangkok, on the Thonburi side of the river.
Songkran is a public holiday that, in the past, this was the traditional Thai New Year – until royal decree shifted the official New Year to 1 January. It most closely resembles the Indian festival of Holi which occurs at the same time. Songkran is a time of wild revelry, a chance for the normally placid Thais to let off steam. The central event is the sprinkling of water on one's friends to bless them, but this usually turns into a boisterous throwing of buckets of water on passers-by.
On the whole, the celebration of Songkran in Bangkok seems a little more subdued than in the north, but only because certain areas have become the focus for most of the partying. Curiously, Thanon Khao San has been the most popular Songkran destination in recent years, as many young Thais converge on the backpacker enclave to douse the visitors. Other areas where you're sure to get a good soaking are the Patpong and Nana nightlife, districts. To see Songkran at its most riotous, travel down the western bank of the Chao Phraya River to the town of Phrapadaeng. There, no one is safe, but in the April heat, who cares? Songkran in the north of Thailand, particularly in Chiang Mai, is fervently celebrated over several days and attracts many visitors from Bangkok.
Turtle Releasing Fair. At Nai Yang beach in Phuket, young turtles are released for their journey to the sea. The festival begins early in the morning with alms offered to monks and is accompanied by music, dancing, sports and food.
Labor Day is on 1 May. Coronation Day on 5 May is a private royal affair and a public holiday.
The Rocket Festival in Yasothon in the northeast of Thailand is held in early May. Well worth the trip to witness the launching of the locally made missiles of all shapes and sizes, some as tall as a person.
The Ploughing Ceremony is a colorful ancient tradition celebrated only in Bangkok. Held at Sanam Luang, it is presided over by King Bhumidbol and marks the official start of the rice planting season. Crimson-clad attendants lead bullocks, drawing an old-fashioned plough, around a specially prepared ground. The lord of ceremonies, usually the minister of agriculture, follows behind, scooping rice seed out of baskets held by pretty maidens and sowing it in the furrows left by the plough, all to the accompaniment of blaring conch shells and drums.
Visakha Pucha is a public holiday on the full moon night of May that commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. The three things are all said to have happened on the same day. Visakha Pucha is celebrated like Maha Pucha, with a triple circumambulation around the temple as the moon is rising.
Fruit Fairs. There are annual fairs in Chiang Mai, Rayong, Chanthaburi, Trat and several other locations throughout Thailand to celebrate the harvest of lychees, durian, mangosteen, rambutan, jack fruit and zalacca. Besides stalls selling the produce of the surrounding orchards, there are beauty pageants, cultural shows and local entertainment.
Sunthorn Phu Day. This annual celebration in late June commemorates the birth of the Thai poet Sunthorn Phu. The festivities include dramatic performances and puppet shows depicting his literary works, poetry recitals and folk entertainment.
Asalaha Pucha on the full moon night of July is the third most important Buddhist holiday and marks the occasion when Buddha preached to his first five disciples. It is celebrated on the full moon night in similar manner to Magha Pucha and Visakha Pucha. It also marks the beginning of the three-month Lent season. Tradition says that Buddha was approached by farmers who asked that he bar monks from going on their morning alms rounds for a period of three months, because they were trampling on the rice shoots they had just planted. They offered instead to take food to the monks at the temple during this period, a practice which has been followed ever since.
Khao Phansa is celebrated immediately following Asalaha Pucha and marks the commencement of the annual three-month Rains Retreat.
Candle Festival takes place during Khao Phansa in the northeast town of Ubon. It celebrates the commencement of Khao Phansa with a lovely spectacle where some beautifully embellished beeswax candles are ceremoniously paraded before being presented to temples.
Queen Sirikit marks her birthday (12 August) by religious ceremonies and private celebrations. It is a public holiday. The date is also celebrated as Thai Mothers Day.
Moon Festival. On the first day of the eighth lunar month, Chinese place small shrines laden with fruit, incense and candles in front of their houses to honor the moon goddess. It is a lovely festival, the highlight of which is the availability of utterly scrumptious cakes shaped like a full moon. They are specially prepared, often by chefs flown in from Hong Kong, and found no other time of the year.
Phichit Boat Races is a regatta featuring long-boat races. Similar events are held in Phitsanulok and all over Thailand at this time of year. The low-slung, wooden boats are raced with great gusto.
Taan Khuay Salak. A series of races held between mid-September and mid-October on the Nan River in long, narrow "dragon" boats propelled by 50 oarsmen.
Chinese Vegetarian Festival, held in mid-October, is a subdued affair in Bangkok by comparison with the firewalkers of Phuket. Enormous amounts of vegetarian food, Chinese operatic performances and elaborate offerings are made at various Chinese temples around the city and provide a superb photographic opportunity. Only those wearing all-white attire are allowed in the area of the altar, so dress appropriately.
Ok Phansa marks the end of the three-month Lenten season, and the beginning of the Kathin season when Buddhists visit wat to present monks with new robes and other necessities. Groups will rent boats or buses and travel long distances to spend a day making gifts to monks of a particular wat. If you are invited, by all means go, because it is a day of feasting and fun as well.
Chulalongkorn Day on 23 October honors King Rama V (1868-1910), who led Thailand into the 20th century. On this public holiday, students lay wreaths before his statue in the plaza at the old National Assembly building during an afternoon ceremony.
Lanna Boat Races, this regatta is as exciting as the Phichit Boat Races.
The Buffalo Races held in late October in Chonburi rival the excitement of the Kentucky Derby.
Golden Mount Fair, held the first week of November in Bangkok, is one of the noisiest of temple fairs. Carnival rides, food concessions, variety performances and product stalls are the main attractions.
The Little Royal Barge Festival at Wat Nang Chee in Phasi Charoen in early November is a smaller version of the grand Royal Barge procession, but it is marked by more gaiety in small towns.
Loy Krathong, one of the most beautiful festivals anywhere in Asia, is on the full moon night of November. It is said to have been started in Sukhothai in the 13th century. A young queen, Nang Nopamat, is said to have floated a small boat laden with candles and incense downstream past the pavilion where her husband was talking with his friends. Whatever the origins, it has grown to be one of the country's most enchanting festivals, a night when Thais everywhere launch small candle-laden boats into the rivers and canals to ask blessings. The tiny dots of light and shimmering water are mesmerizing.
Long-boat races have become increasingly popular in the past few years, and it is not unusual to open a newspaper during November and find that yet another race is being staged somewhere in Thailand. They are colorful and exciting and provide superb photo opportunities.
The Elephant Round-Up in Surin is held in mid-November and attracts visitors from all over Thailand.
Phra Pathom Chedi Fair at the world's biggest Chedi, in Nakhon Pathom, is regarded as one of the most exciting temple fairs.
Khon Kaen Silk Fair presents silk weaving demonstrations and a chance to buy lustrous silk in a major centre of production.
River Kwai Bridge Week. A sound-and-light presentation recaptures this dark period of recent history when Asians and Europeans died in their thousands at the hands of the Japanese to build the infamous Death Railway during World War II. Usually late November or December
Sunflower Fair. The photogenic sight of Mexican sunflowers in bloom is best seen in the hills of Doi Mae U-Khor, as Mae Hong Son holds a three-day festival of ox-carts decorated with the beautiful flowers. When the flowers fade, the seeds are used to make insecticides.
Trooping of the Colors On 3 December, the royal regiments dressed in brilliantly colored costumes pass in review before the king. Held on the plaza before the old National Assembly building, the Trooping of the Colors is the most impressive of martial ceremonies.
King Bhumidbol celebrates his birthday on 5 December with a ceremony at Wat Phra Kaew for invited officials and guests, and with a private party. It is a public holiday as well as Thailand's Fathers Day.
King's Cup Regatta. Long-distance yacht racing from Nai Harn Bay in Phuket with competitors from around the world
Constitution Day on 10 December is a public holiday in Thailand.
Christmas may soon be an official Thai holiday if the merchants have any say in the matter – that is if endless repetitions of Christmas carols in department stores bludgeon everyone into acceptance.
New Year's Eve on 31 December is a public holiday.
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