By Ben Baldieri
Thailand will forever hold a special place in my heart. The people are some of the friendliest you will ever meet, the food is fantastic, and the weather is beyond compare. It was the first country I visited in Asia and was the place where my TEFL journey began. I remember emerging from the airport, being ripped off by a taxi-driver (make sure they turn the meter on), and being struck by how different everything was.
I know that’s a ridiculous thing to say now – Thailand obviously isn’t the same as the UK, but at the time I’d never experienced anything like it, so cut me some slack. One differentiating factor above all else that caused me to fall in love with Thailand: the culture. In Thailand, roughly 95% of the population is Buddhist. Thai people are fiercely proud of their religion, culture and heritage, and are renowned for celebrating those things in ways only the Thai people know how. Festivals play a huge role in the cultural calendar, so here are my top cultural festivals in Thailand:
Loi Krathong & Yi Peng
Loi Krathong is one of the most important cultural festivals in Thailand, taking place in November to coincide with the 12th full moon of the Thai lunar calendar. “The Festival of Light” has been called the most beautiful festival in Thailand, with thousands of candles floated (Loi) by small boats (Krathong) down the country’s rivers and waterways. This yearly ritual is celebrated all over the country, and is accompanied by prayers and wishes for the coming year.
The dates for Loi Krathong coincide with the northern Thai festival of Yi Peng, celebrated in Chiang Mai. Swarms of thousands of paper lanterns, carried by candle, are released into the air. The release of the lanterns pays respect to Buddha and is said to rid you of the demons of the previous year.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival
Chiang Mai is often dubbed ‘The Rose of the North’ and holds onto this title with the annual Flower festival. Celebrated on the first weekend of February, when winter is coming to an end, the city is blanketed by a sea of flowers and plants in full bloom. The focal point of the festival is Suan Buak Haad City Park and it is transformed by collections of ornate displays, all vying for the attention of the judges. This transformation coincides with the flower festival parade, a procession that moves very slowly through the city on the Saturday of the weekend.
Lop Buri Festival
Lop Buri is also known as the “Monkey Banquet Festival”, taking place in the provincial capital of Lopburi, 3 hours train ride north of Bangkok. There’s a reason for the somewhat obscure name – troops of Macaque monkeys have adopted the Khmer temples around town as their home. It is believed the monkeys bring good fortune to the province, so they are honoured accordingly. Every year at the end of November, a sumptuous feast is laid out for the simian squatters, and everyone gathers round for photos of play and feeding time.
Last, but by no means least, is Songkran. Celebrating Thai New Year, Songkran takes place 13th-15th April every year, and is probably the biggest water fight on the planet. Everyone takes to the streets and brings in the New Year in a uniquely Thai way. The biggest celebration takes place in Chiang Mai, in the north, but the festivities are country-wide.
I was lucky enough to spend Songkran in Bangkok this year and ended up spending a week soaked through to the bone, running around with a water gun and laughing hysterically. There’s a deep cultural significance to the fun too: water is a symbol for purification in Thai culture. With the coming of the New Year, the festivities cleanse the individual of the bad things of the previous year. What does that mean for you? Simple: nowhere is safe. If you’re in the back of a tuk-tuk, or even in a shopping mall, you’re fair game. The entire country gets involved with the celebrations.
Honorable mention – The Full Moon party
I know The Full Moon Party isn’t strictly a ‘cultural’ festival, but it still deserves a mention as no trip to Thailand would be complete without experiencing it. The island of Koh Phangnan is home to the Full Moon, which takes place on a monthly basis. My first full moon was in April 2017, just before Songkran in Bangkok. Dancing the night away with thousands of other revelers on the beach and watching the sun rise over the Gulf of Thailand was one of the best experiences of that trip and is an experience everyone should have at least once.
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