Thailand: The Best Country for Festivals?Article by: Brandon Presser|@bpnomad
Tue February 04, 2014 | 00:00 AM
There’s a certain grace to the madness of Thailand that doesn’t exist in other places. It’s the glint in one’s eye during the meditative wai that’s earned the kingdom the most welcoming of monikers: the Land of Smiles. It’s fitting then that local practices—both spiritual and secular—embody that trademark sense of glee. Whether it’s worshipping the moon, deifying a king, or blasting friends with water guns, the festivals of Thailand remind us not to take life so seriously, especially in a place where you’ll come back to live another one.
Photo credit: Tourism Authority Thailand
Held in April, Thailand’s traditional New Year starts as a sunrise processional to the local temple—Buddha idols in-hand—where water is drizzled about for luck. By midday, however, these solemn spritzes devolve into the world’s biggest water war; an awesome brawl complete with Super Soakers, garden hoses, buckets, and balloons.
Photo credit: Maxim B. via Flickr Creative Commons
Named for the hundreds of tiny origami boats that float through the waterways in November, Loi Krathong honors the river goddess who brings fertility to the country’s arable lands. In the northern city of Chiang Mai, the event is taken to new heights, so to speak, with an elaborate display of paper balloons set ablaze in the sky with the help of a candle.
Photo credit: Roberto Trm via Flickr Creative Commons
Like a gathering of human voodoo dolls, the Vegetarian Festival is a nine-day purification ritual during the ninth month of the lunar calendar. Not an ounce of meat is consumed as hundreds of devotees descend upon the southern island of Phuket to pierce their entranced bodies with skewers, swords and just about anything else they can get their hands on.
Full Moon Party
Photo credit: Joe Stump via Flickr Creative Commons
An all-night trance fest honoring Smirnoff, Tanqueray, and other such spirits, the Full Moon Party takes place along the sands of the aptly named Sunrise Beach on the island of Ko Pha-Ngan. A seaside strand of DJ booths compete with another blasting an unholy blend of top 40 and electronica as revelers, bedecked in neon tribal paint, dance along.
His Majesty The King’s Birthday
Photo Credit: Heiko S via Flickr Creative Commons
The Thai adoration for their king rivals the fervor of a totalitarian state, with ardent lese majesté laws that have led to the banning of YouTube on several occasions. As the king’s health continues to decline, his birthday—on the 5th of December—is feted each year with more alacrity than the last. His loyal citizens dress in pink—the color of the monarchy—and celebrate a national Father’s Day in conjunction with the merit-making for the royal.
Photo credit: Davidd via Flickr Creative Commons
Though lacking the pomp and circumstance of the festivals above, the more locally famous Monkey Banquet in the central city of Lopburi is a laugh-out-loud event in late November during which an elaborate feast is unceremoniously picked over by a riotous band of cheeky macaques.
Photo credit: Timo Kazlowski via Flickr Creative Commons
Marking the beginning of Vassa, or Buddhist lent, this festival of candles initiates new disciples into the monastic order; their heads shorn as they start three months of intensive praying locked away behind temple doors.
Travel expert Brandon Presser is an award-winning writer, photographer and TV personality. He's penned over 40 guidebooks—most for Lonely Planet—and has appeared on a variety of programs for ABC, CBS and the Weather Channel. For more, check out www.brandonpresser.com.