9 Unusual Thai Festivals to Note on Your Travel Calendar

9 Unusual Thai Festivals to Note on Your Travel Calendar

There’s Songkran, and there’s more. Here are some of the unique festivals in Thailand that are definitely worth checking out or taking part in.

Thailand has many awesome festivals throughout the year, with events that cover culture and traditions, music, film, food, religion, and more. If you want to add something a bit different to your travel plans, the country also hosts several rather unusual celebrations. Here are some of them:

1. Songkran

unusual thai festivals

Image credit: John Shedrick

unusual thai festivals

unusual thai festivals

Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year and it takes place in mid-April each year. Celebrated all around the country, festivities usually last for three full days, though some places, particularly Chiang Mai, keep the fun going for even longer. As well as symbolic acts, like cleansing Buddha statues, making merit, and paying respect to the elders, Thais celebrate the start of the New Year in a very unusual manner—they take to the streets for gigantic water fights! Many tourists visit Thailand with the sole aim of experiencing Songkran and, it has to be said, it is a really unique experience. Popular tourist destinations, like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Pattaya, often have huge Songkran street parties, with dense crowds throwing water on the streets, but you can still experience a hectic (and wet) Songkran in the most rural reaches of the nation.

2. Lopburi Monkey Banquet

unusual thai festivals

Central Thailand’s historic city of Lopburi is home to a large population of unruly macaques who usually romp and frolic throughout the old city, delighting tourists and irritating locals. For one day of the year, however, the monkeys are treated to a gigantic party in their honour. Typically held on the last Sunday of November, a bountiful feast is spread across several large tables for the monkeys to come and help themselves to. The buffet includes fresh fruit and vegetables along with cartons of juice and bottles of water. Huge monkey statues are temporarily set up around the so-called Monkey Temple of Phra Prang Sam Yod, there are street sellers cooking up an array of tasty treats, and music blares from large speakers.  

3. Surin Elephant Round-Up

Another festival that celebrates Thailand’s native animals, Surin Elephant Round-Up is a major event in the Northeastern Province of Surin each November. All elephants registered in the province make their way home from around the country to participate in the weekend’s events. The Friday morning celebrations are, in my opinion, the best—the elephants make their way through the town in a long procession, with dancing groups, bands, and other performers spread throughout the parade. As the sounds of a marching band fade, they may be followed up by a group playing traditional Thai instruments, dancers decked out in traditional attire, or flag bearers.

There’s heaps of diversity but the elephants really are the main stars. At the end of the walk, the elephants come across a huge stretch of tables spread with food for a morning breakfast feast. There are various elephant shows on the following two days, meant to celebrate the elephant’s role throughout Thailand’s long history and give thanks to the massive creatures for their part in helping to shape modern-day Thailand throughout the ages. While the battle reenactments are interesting to see, animal lovers may find the shows quite distressing. While I would really recommend seeing the breakfast part of the festival, I wasn’t too keen on the actual show.

4. Yasothon’s Bung Fai Rocket Festival

Rocket Festivals take place in several provinces in the Northeast of Thailand, but Yasothon’s is one of the biggest and most elaborate. Also common in nearby Laos, such festivals launch gigantic rockets into the skies in an attempt to appease the Gods and signal that rain is wished for. Held close to the start of the rainy season, the festival includes colourful processions with dancing and music, cultural performances, and food aplenty. Rocket making and launching competitions are abundant and the air is filled with the booms of rockets being fired above the river.

5. Long Boat Races

Held in various parts of the country, including Phetchaburi, Singburi, Phichit, and Ayutthaya, long-boat racing competitions bring life to Thailand’s rivers in October and November. Watch as teams skillfully and energetically propel the long vessels through the waters, decked in bright team colours and cheered on by animated supporters at the sidelines. More than just boat races, the festival also takes on a carnival-like air, with street food sellers, competitions, stalls, and games set up alongside the rivers.  

6. Phi Ta Khon Festival in Loei

Loei’s Phi Ta Khon Festival is held every year in the province’s district of Dan Sai. The dates change each year as it is decided by a group of local fortune tellers and wise people. Known also as the Ghost Festival, it is said to have spiritual roots; local stories say that it is based on a tale of the Lord Buddha returning from a long journey and his followers, who had previously thought him to have died, celebrated loud enough to wake the dead. Today’s celebrations in Loei are also loud and boisterous, and people wear large and elaborate ghost masks and costumes.

7. Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival

Held in September or October each year, Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival is, despite the name, a rather gruesome affair. The festival which is also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival has Chinese roots and is celebrated by Chinese communities across the world. In Phuket, however, the celebrations have an added twist. Similar to the Hindu celebration of Thaipusam, participants at the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket practice extreme body mortification. Slashing one’s own tongue is common, and it’s possible to witness people with gigantic piercings through the cheeks, lips, and other parts of the body. Rather obscurely, devotees may make large holes in the body to hold various vegetables and fruits! It is definitely not a scene for kids!

8. Bangkok Illumination Festival

A charming display of millions of twinkly lights, the Bangkok Illumination Festival is a relatively new event. Inspired by Japan’s beautiful winter celebrations, Bangkok’s first light festival took place in 2017. Multi-coloured lights lit up a large piece of land around Ratchadapisek Road, with tunnels, animal figures, cubes, strings of fairy lights, and more.     

9. Hungry Ghost Festival in Phuket

Another Phuket-based festival, the Hungry Ghost Festival, or Por Tor Festival, takes place each August or September. The precise date changes according to the lunar calendar. With Chinese roots, the festival is a time for people to honour and remember their ancestors and dead relatives. It is believed that for one month of the year the dead are allowed to roam the earth again, gorging on offerings given to them by their families and satisfying their eternal hunger. Families hold rituals at graves throughout the province, leaving lots of food and drink as well as flowers, candles, and other offerings. The festivities also feature parades, music, dancing, food, and traditional performances.  

About Author

Sarah W
Sarah W

Sarah W is a travelling cat-lover who enjoys exploring places that are a little bit quirky or away from headline attractions. Favourite things include delicious falafel, snuggling under a thick duvet, (badly) belting out karaoke at the top of her lungs, and, of course, her family, friends, and furry pets.


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