Where to Experience 6 Alternative Festivals in Thailand

July 9, 2021Holly Keates

A festival in the UK often consists of rain, live music, alcohol and muddy fields. However, the alternative festivals in Thailand are a different story.

Songkran Festival
Songkran Festival

The vibrant and alternative festivals in Thailand take place across the whole country, throughout the year. Celebrating different things from cultures and traditions to food and animals. These celebrations are not the kind of festivities you see in the UK. But they are a delight to take part in if you’re visiting the country.

Experience Thailand’s Culture in all it’s Glory

If you’re in Thailand for the beautiful beaches, delicious food, and incredible sightseeing- why not add a festival to the list? Discover the coolest, but most alternative, festivals Thailand has to offer, and get involved in the celebrations.

  1. Songkran Festival (Water Festival)
  2. Phi Ta Khon (Ghost Festival)
  3. Lopburi Monkey Banquet (Monkey Buffet Festival)
  4. Boon Bang Fai (Rocket Festival)
  5. Phuket Vegetarian Festival
  6. Candle Festival

Songkran Festival, Water Festival

Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year’s national holiday which takes place around mid-April every year. It’s also known at the Water Festival due to it being used during the festivities. The water is used for purifying and cleansing yourself of bad energies, so you are ready to welcome in the new year clean.

There are also symbolic acts of cleaning Buddha statues, showing respect to monks and elders and overall, just paying homage to Buddha. It’s one of the more alternative festivals in Thailand, but it does have celebrate an important event in the Buddhist calendar.

Songkran Water Festival. Picture by: John Shedrick
Songkran Water Festival. Picture by: John Shedrick

It’s essentially a giant water fight for around three days where people take to the streets with any kind of item that stores water. You will definitely get soaked if you’re out on the streets during the festivities, so maybe don’t wear your best outfit.

However, a cold bucket of water will be a nice welcome as you walk around in the hottest month in Thailand.

As well as the giant water fight, there are also parades, dancing and street parties. The more popular tourist destinations such as Phuket, Bangkok and Chiang Mai are where you’ll find the craziest celebrations. Though, no matter where you are staying in Thailand, you’ll still find people celebrating Songkran.

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Phi Ta Khon, Ghost Festival

Phi Ta Khon is another three-day festival which takes place in Dan Sai Town in Loei Province. This usually small and quiet town becomes one of the liveliest and loudest locations during the Ghost Festival. Thousands of locals take to the streets wearing elaborate ghostly masks, painted in garish colours and designs.

There are different speculations and myths about where the Ghost Festival originated. One legend is that in one of his past lives as a prince, the Lord Buddha returned from a trip after being presumed dead. The celebrations of his returns were so loud and joyful, that even the dead wanted to join the living in their delight.

Ghost Festival. Picture by: Wikipedia
Ghost Festival. Picture by: Wikipedia

The date for the festival does change every year but it is usually held in June or July.

On the Friday you will find this to be when the spirits parade the town with lots of dancing and singing. Saturday is where another procession takes place. Locals take a sacred Buddha image through the streets and bamboo rockets are let off.  Finally, Sunday is kept for the Buddhist ceremonies and locals come together come together at the Wat Ponchai temple.

Lopburi Monkey Banquet, Monkey Buffet Festival

150 km north of Bangkok is one of the oldest cities in Thailand, Lopburi. Amongst ruins and attractions, it’s also now home to 9,000 macaques! They usually spend their time roaming around the historic city, being mischievous towards the locals and tourists.

Although they can be a bit cheeky at times, they are highly respected as they’re thought to bring good luck to Lopburi and its people. So, on the last Sunday in November, the macaques are celebrated. How are they celebrated you may be wondering? With an enormous feast of course!

A large banquet table is set out near the historical Khmer ruins and the Phra Prang Sam Yot temple. There are fruit towers and vegetable galore for these little monkeys, and they are free to indulge in as many delicious treats as they want.

They can be a bit naughty, so make sure to keep your belongings close. They also like to have food fights, so watch out for any flying bananas.

Along with the incredible feast that is put out for the macaques, you can also enjoy some mouth-watering local cuisine. With food vendors and stalls set out for humans, you will also get your fair share of yummy food. Just look out for any prying monkeys!

Boon Bang Fai, Rocket Festival

Another one of the alternative festivals in Thailand is one that tries to bring on the rainy season (we don’t think this is something that would catch on in England). The Boon Bang Fai festival, also known as the Rocket Festival, involves firing home-made rockets towards the sky to captivate the rain gods.

Thailand’s north-eastern region is where you will find the celebrations. However, the town of Yasothon holds the most significant festivities. With parades, dancing and live music, it’s a barrel of fun for everyone. 

Rocket Festival. Picture by: Wikimedia
Rocket Festival. Picture by: Wikimedia

After the parades, it’s time to get down to business. The participants gather to launch their home-made rockets into the clouds, the higher the rocket the better the weather will be for the harvest. Be aware though, if a rocket misfires, a member of the team will be thrown into a pool of mud.

As the festival is all about asking for fertile fields, there are a lot of sexual innuendos and phallic symbols. It’s all good fun and everyone gets into the festival spirit.

That is to say, although it’s a lot of fun, there is an element of danger. Sometimes when the rocket launch fails, it has been known to injure spectators. So, if you are watching the rocket launches, please be aware of your surroundings and make sure to stand at a safe distance.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival isn’t what you might expect. Although, it is the most popular festival in Phuket. The annual Vegetarian Festival takes place during the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar.

The festival celebrates abstinence from meat and other negative stimulants. From this they will gain peace of mind and good health. But this festival isn’t just about this, there are also shocking acts and rituals taking place.

From extreme body modification and self-mutilation to fire walking and bathing in boiling oil. These acts are committed to invoke the gods.

Extreme Body Modification at the Vegetarian Festival
Extreme Body Modification at the Vegetarian Festival

The celebrations take place around the 6 Chinese temples in Phuket and the first event held is the Raising of the Lantern Pole. This is what tells the 9 Chinese gods that the festival has begun. The Hindu god, Shiva, is then believed to descend down and bring spiritual power to the event.

Of course, there are food stalls around the festival selling delicious vegetarian food for those taking part in the ceremony. Protein substitute products are used to replace the meat in traditional Thai dishes.

Candle Festival

Ubon Ratchathani is one of the four major cities in the North-eastern region of Thailand called Isan. Here is where you can experience the magnificent Candle Festival. Every summer the festival is held in Ubon, and it is the city’s largest event of the year. The purpose of the festival is to donate items of personal use to the monks, such as candles.

There are colourful parades, dancing and food stalls scattered throughout the streets. However, the main spectacles are the incredible giant candle sculptures which represent a local temple or district.

Candle Festival
Candle Festival Sculpture on a Float. Picture by: Wikimedia

The sculptures depict different Buddhist stories and artists sometimes spend months carving out the elaborate statues. You can see the procession on the morning of Wan Kao Pansa, which is the beginning of a three-month long Buddhist retreat period.

It’s a great way to see how many Thai’s are devoted to the Buddhist traditions, and also their amazing craft skills!

I’ve got my water gun ready!

If you are heading out to Thailand to discover more about the deep history and culture, a day out to one of their festivals is an incredible way to do that.

Of course, it’s also a way to spend the day having tons of fun and eating lots of delicious food.

If you’re wanting to book a trip away to Thailand, but haven’t decided on a location, check out our blog on affordable Thailand resorts that won’t break the bank.

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