Thailand has many festivals throughout the year, most of which – not surprisingly – are most spectacular in Bangkok. Most national holidays follow the lunar calendar, therefore dates change each year. On those days, banks and government offices are closed. The following list details most festivals held in the capital. Some are held nationally, others are unique to Bangkok and its suburbs.
Major festivals and events are detailed here, but the list is by no means comprehensive. Thais love festivities; if you walk with open eyes and mind, you will very likely encounter some that are unknown to all but the locals. Enjoy those hidden treasures!
New Year’s Day – 1st January 2008
(Central Bangkok, Sanam Luang Park)
A Western-influenced public holiday, held in Thai style. Buddhist merit-making starts early in the morning, while entertainment shows take over in the afternoon and evening.
Shopping Street Festival
(Ratchadamri Road Ratchaprahsong Square – Siam Square)
Starting at around Christmas the previous year, this celebration lasts through most of January. Shopping centers and malls hold wide-scale promotions and sales for many products and performances.
Bangkok International Film Festival
The Bangkok International Film Festival is a celebration of the world of filmmakers and artist from around the world. This event provides an exciting opportunity for major studios and independent film companies to premiere and showcase their films in Asia, and build marketing and business opportunities across the continent.
River of Kings
(Rachaworadit Pier, Bangkok)
This festival is a light-and-sound show on the river, complete with synchronized fountain show, giant waterfall and an illusion show. Originally held to celebrate the auspicious occasion of His Majesty the King’s 6th cycle birthday in 1999, the show is now performed every year. For more information contact the Bureau of the Royal Household. Tel: (66) 02-623-5500 ext. 1120-1122
Chinese New Year – 7th February 2008
(Yaowarat Road [Chinatown], Bangkok)
Each year, Thais of Chinese descent congregate in Yaowarat and Charoen Krung Roads to celebrate the Chinese New Year, with exotic music, fireworks, lion dance contest, Chinese cultural shows and opera. Fellow Thais and foreigners are always welcome to join the merriment.
Makha Bucha Day – 21st February 2008
This Buddhist holiday is held on the full moon of the third lunar month to commemorate the famous event of Lord Buddha preaching in front of 1250 spontaneously gathered monks. Besides the usual Buddhist merit-making during the day, the main part of the celebration consists of a candle-lit walk three times around the chapel on the temple grounds.
Thai Sports and Kite Festival
(Sanam Luang, Bangkok)
Thai sports competitions have been held at Sanam Luang since 1950. Various contests, including kite flying, Takraw-lot-huang, Krabi-Krabong (sword-staff), sword fighting, chess and checkers.
Bangkok International Jewellery Fair
The capital’s most important gem and jewellery trade show, held in major hotels in the area.
Chakri Day – 6th April 2008
(Wat Phra Kaew)
This national holiday commemorates the foundation of the current Royal dynasty, from Rama I to Rama IX. Visitors pay homage to the former kings in the Temple of Emerald Buddha, and in the Royal Pantheon.
Songkran – 13-15th April 2008
(Sanam Luang, Rachadamnoen, Klang Avenue, Maha Chetsadabodin Square, Phra Athit Road, Khao San Road, Wisutkasat Road, Phraeng Phuthon Square, Santichaiprakan Park and Silom Road)
The beginning of the Buddhist New Year is marked with this three-day national holiday. Besides the much-publicized wild water tossing, much gentler aspects of the celebration also take place during this time. Houses are cleaned, Buddha statues get washed, and the younger generation pays respect to the monks and elderly by gently sprinkling water over their hands.
Coronation Day – 5th May 2008
(Royal Chapel, Grand Palace; Wat Phra Kaew)
This national holiday commemorates the King’s 1946 coronation.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony – 9th May 2008
(Sanam Luang Park)
This agricultural ceremony of Hindu origin starts the rice-planting season. This ritual involves sacred oxen to predict the agricultural happenings of the season, as well as the state of international relations. Blessed seeds are then sown in the field of Sanam Luang, for which the crowds scramble afterwards, in hopes that the token seeds will bring abundant harvest to their own farmlands.
Visakha Bucha Day – 19th May 2008
Another important Buddhist religious holiday, this one celebrates the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Lord Buddha. The usual sermons, candlelight processions and chantings in and around the temples are the hallmarks of this ceremony.
Amazing Thailand Grand Sale
More of a tourist spending incentive than an actual celebration, this event spans the entire months of June and July. Many unique items are available for sale at this time, and bargain hunters will be pleased to know that department stores across country have goods on sale from 10-80% off. Lucky dip coupons for every 1000 ฿ spent add more excitement to this already exciting shopping spree.
Ashana Bucha Day – 17th July 2008
The first sermon of Buddha to his five disciples is commemorated by this national religious holiday. As usual, candlelight processions in wats mark the celebration.
Khao Phansaa – 18th July 2008
At the beginning of the rainy season, young men enter monkhood, and all monks retreat for three months to the monastery. It is also called Rains Retreat for this reason. Khao Phansaa marks the beginning of the Buddhist Lent. Devout Buddhists make resolutions at this time and try to live their lives according to the precepts.
Queen’s Birthday (Mother’s Day) – 12th August 2008
(Th Ratchadamnoen Klang, Grand Palace)
Offices, homes and streets are brightly decorated and the Queen’s portrait can be seen everywhere. Radio and TV programs are devoted to celebrate her birthday. Thais hold activities throughout the country that reflect the same reverence towards her as they have for their own mothers, hence the same day is also Mother’s day.
International Swan-boat Races
(Chao Phraya River, [Rama IX bridge])
Yaowarat Food Festival
Food demonstration, food sale and activities.
Ohk Phansa – 14th October 2008
End of the Buddhist Lent, beginning of the Kathin (Thawt Kathin) season, a one-month long celebration during which robes and gifts are offered to the monks.
Chulalongkorn Day – 23rd October 2008
Rama V, arguably the most famous former king of Thailand, is honored this day.
Loy Krathong – 12th November 2008
Lotus-shaped baskets containing a candle, joss sticks and other small objects, are floated in water under the full moon light throughout the country. This celebration is of Hindu origin and has common elements with the famous Indian Diwali festival. Traditionally, people ask for forgiveness from the River Goddess as they set their Krathongs afloat. Each region has its unique variety of this very famous and picturesque celebration. Krathong competitions, beauty pageants, fireworks and games are the usual elements of this festival. In Bangkok, the shores of the Chao Phraya have the best places to see and participate in the merriment.
(Sanam Chai Road, near Grand Palace)
The first marathon in Thailand, Wing Roi Fa Chaloem Phra Kiat, was held in 1987, for the occasion of HM the King’s 5th cycle birthday, and held annually ever since. The length of this marathon is 42km; mini-marathons are also held. These are 5-10km distances. For more information, contact the Running Association of Thailand ((66) 02-280-7667-8
King’s Birthday (Father’s Day) – 5th December 2008
(Th Ratchadamnoen Klang, Grand Palace)
The 5th of December sees activities similar to those during the Queen’s birthday. This day is also Father’s Day.
Constitution Day – 10th December 2008
A public holiday celebrating the Constitution of Thailand
Thai Regional Food Fair
(World Trade Center)
Aimed at foreigners more than for locals, the Thai Food fair is a spectacular display of Thai culinary excellence. Food exhibition, cooking demonstration, cultural shows and concerts are held; beer gardens and a multitude of food stalls complete the fair.