The Chinese New Year, like in dozens of countries across the globe, is also celebrated throughout Thailand as a result of the country's large Chinese community. But, if you're in Thailand and wondering where the best place to experience this tremendous event is, then go no further than Bangkok's Chinatown. Occurring either in January or February, the Chinese Lunar New Year is a time of traditional ceremonies and paying respect to ancestors. Offerings and feasts are laid to the spirits as well as many other symbolic gifts such as paper items like paper telephones, paper money and paper whiskey bottles which are destined to be burnt during the festival. A Chinese New Year Festival would not be the same, of course, without enormous spectacles involving the traditionally famous dragon parades, large dance acts, lively live music and finally topped off with impressive firework displays. Although Bangkok's Chinese New Year is the most popular within the country, you can also take yourself to cities like Ayuthaya, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Phuket where festivities will be large and highly memorable. It's an extraordinary event you won't want to miss!
The Bangkok Fringe Festival, similarly to other Fringe Festivals across the globe, is an ultimate showcase of everything that embraces performing arts. Taking place between the end of January and early February at the Patravadi Theatre, these elegant weekend evening shows are jam-packed with dance, theatre, puppetry, music, acrobatics, film, multi-media performances, and art exhibitions. Everything is on show from the weird to the wonderful so there is a little to satisfy anyone. These acts are in most part intelligible to non-Thai speakers meaning you can appreciate each performance to the max no matter what language you speak!
You may not think you know about the Wat Bang Phra Tattoo Festival but you most likely have heard about it. Why? Because it has been attended by Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie and is where she got the elaborate tattoos we've all seen gracing her upper and lower back. Thousands of foreigners have actually followed in her footsteps by attending the festival and getting similar or the exact same tattoos done.
Held in the hot summer month of March, more specifically on the Saturday nearest the last full moon prior to the Thai New Year (Songkran), this now globally-recognised festival may appear strange to those of the western-world but for Thais it is highly engaging and many times amusing. For the committed devotees of this tattoo honouring festival however, it is something a lot more spiritual.
Within the Wat Bang Phra Temple, only 50 km west of Bangkok, devotees will gather to be tattooed by monks of the temple who use one single needle 18-inches long. The most popular tattoos are those of powerful animals such as the tiger, monkey and buffalo. In Thai culture these very elaborate tattoos are worn as symbols of spiritual and physical protection and are believed to protect those that work in dangerous professions or that belong to Thailand's dangerous underworld. Once tattoos are done devotees will sit together in a trance-like state displaying their impressive tattoos in front of a giant crowd. From a calm and serene state, all hell breaks loose when devotees are believed to undergo a form of possession by the animal spirits integrated into their tattoos. Devotees, seemingly enraged, leap to their feet, clench their fists, scream and contort both their bodies and faces as make their way towards the senior monks and creators of the tattoos who are delivering spiritual prayers. After devotees turn back into their normal state, monks will spray both the devotees and crowd with holy water in an act of cleansing.
If you wish to get a tattoo or Sak Yant as it is known in Thai, an offering is traditionally made to the monks beforehand which can be in the form of money, incense sticks, cigarettes or flowers among other things.
Carrying on with old traditions, the International Thai Kites Festival that takes place annually in the month of March is a kite-flying event that honours and preserves one of Thailand's favourite National Heritages. The city of Bangkok, near the prominent Grand Palace is where you'll find the best action that counts on the presence of hundreds of professional kite-flyers from up to 20 different countries worldwide. Join the fun and check out the thousands of latest creative and original kite designs as they take to the skies performing awesome stunts and wowing the huge crowds.
Do you love yourself a good water fight? Fancy getting soaked? Then the Songkran Festival has that in store for you plus much, much more. Thai's celebrate the beginning of a New Year during mid- April and do so by carrying out different acts of cleansing and purification as a symbol of a new start or leaving old grudges in the past. And the best part is anyone who is anyone is invited to participate. Bangkok's Songkran Festival lasts 3-days from 13-15 April and its main highlight takes place on a short road close to the Grand Palace known as Khao San Road. It is here where water splashing turns into a full-blown fun-filled water-fight between family, friends, and complete strangers including excited tourists looking to get in on the action. It may seem odd to soak down a complete stranger but don't be shy, because no one else will be! Come prepared by wearing old clothes, leaving any valuables behind and of course, bringing the essential item with you, a water gun which you will find on sale prior to or during the event. Apart from getting drenched, expect to be covered in flour or even talcum powder. It'll be the most fun you've ever had at New Year's!
Much like the King's Birthday, Thailand also celebrates its Queen's special day on the same day as commemorating Mother's Day. Celebrated across the country, some cities like Bangkok go all out by traditionally wearing pink in to show love and respect for their Monarch's wife; decorating streets; setting up stages across different points of the city in preparation for live music performances and exhibiting traditional Thai weaving along with other cultural demonstrations on the streets. Grand fireworks can also be expected as usual. Currently, this special event takes place on 12 August.
Bangkok's Vegetarian Festival or Tesagan Gin Je Festival is Chinese in its origins and comprises a strict ten-day abstinence from foods containing meat and dairy products following only a vegan diet. There are many other rules to abide by during this October event which are symbolic of cleansing the body and mind like wearing white and yellow and not drinking alcohol for instance. During this festival, Bangkok's Chinatown area is made even more vibrant than usual and loaded with food stalls selling all the kinds of vegan food imaginable including tofu and a huge range of gluten-based meat substitutes that many times look, taste and smell like the real thing. The other highlight of the Vegetarian Festival is performed by devotees that carry out acts of self-mutilation. Although this act is most prominent in the province of Phuket, Bangkok does have its fair share too. Devotees, known as Ma Song, will pierce their cheeks, ears and tongues with knives, swords and other sharp metal objects whilst walking through the streets and demonstrating this act for all to see. It's a real cringe moment but worth watching!
This November event is probably one of Bangkok's most beautiful occasions. Falling on the night of the full moon, Loy Krathong which literally means "to float raft" is a ceremony where people pay respect to the goddess of the waters and also welcome a new beginning by forgetting old grudges or asking for forgiveness. This spiritual ceremony is done by floating candlelit Krathongs containing offerings like incense and flowers for example, in the sea, rivers, waterways and canals. As this is done, a wish is also made. These days, Krathongs are made from bread and wrapped in banana leaves as it is believed to be better for the environment and in turn provides food for fish and other creatures. In Bangkok, Chang Mai and Lumini Park are where you'll find most people floating their Krathongs within the capital. If you happen to be on holiday with your other half, the Chang Mai River is a recommended location if you fancy spending a romantic evening in the candlelight. It's a rare sight and a sight that sums up what Thailand is all about...beauty and spirituality.
One thing Thais love more than a good party is a good beer, so as can be expected the Bangkok Beer Garden Festival is a much attended annual event running from November all the way through to mid-January. Although this event is popular throughout the country, the most famous Beer Garden is that at Central World Plaza in Thailand's energetic capital. Join the thousands of locals and intrigued tourists as they congregate in various Beer Gardens sampling both local and foreign beers for an ultimate beer fiesta. But that's not all on store, plenty of live music performances by Thai bands and all the traditional Thai delicacies you might want to tantalize your taste buds with.
One thing you may not know about Thailand is that it has the longest reigning monarch and each year, out of respect for his Royal Highness, the Thai people maintain an annual tradition of celebrating their King's birthday. This day also commemorates Father's Day meaning festivities are in double servings. Within Bangkok, streets are fully decorated; special activities are organised; formal events take place; traditional dance and music performances provide entertainment; candle processions light up the surroundings and an evening of flagrant fireworks end this fun day of celebrations like most Thai events. Currently, this event takes place on 5 December and is a bank holiday.