There are a ton of Thai festivals.
Between actual holidays, annual festivals and various fairs or celebrations, it seems like something is going on every week, especially November through February.
Thailand is filled with interesting festivals and up in Chiang Mai we get to partake in some of the best – plus a few events not seen anywhere else.
Most of the holidays and celebrations don’t fall on the same dates year after year as many of the Buddhist holidays are based around the lunar calendar and local festivals (the exceptions are the King and Queen’s birthdays – also known as Thailand’s Father’s and Mother’s Days – and Songkran). Sometimes this can make nailing down specific dates ahead of time confusing as often many Thais won’t know the exact dates as well. However, if you know when a holiday is coming up you can start searching for definite dates and information ahead of time. The Tourism Authority of Thailand, Bangkok Post and Chiang Mai City Life are good sites to look at for dates.
Bo Sang Umbrella Festival – 3rd weekend – Every year the village of Bo Sang (on the outskirts of Chiang Mai toward San Kamphaeng) holds its Umbrella Festival celebrating the village’s traditional practices and products. There are parades, markets and shows held at the centre of town throughout the weekend. In 2018 the festival is expected to be held from January 19-21 2018.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival – 1st weekend – As soon as you touch down in the Land of Smiles you’ll notice that flowers are everywhere. From intricate offerings made from fresh flowers daily, to lush gardens and fun flower bouquets, in Thailand you’re never far from beautiful blooms. In February, Chiang Mai’s flowers are in full bloom and celebrated with a weekend long display of parades, intricate floats decorated solely with flower buds, and plenty of plants for sale. The inner moat road at the southwest corner (near Suan Buak Hat park) is closed to traffic as visitors wander the stalls and marvel at the floats. In 2019 the Chiang Mai Flower Festival will be held from February 1st-3rd.
Chinese New Year – 15th day of the first lunar month – Since many Thais come from Chinese descendants, Chinese New Year sees its own special celebrations throughout the country. Thai-Chinese families will come together to cook special foods in special amounts to honour their ancestors and set off fireworks. (There are also more Chinese tourists in the country as they enjoy a public holiday for the new year!) Chinese New Year 2018 is on February 5th.
Poi San Long – March 30th – April 9th – Originating from the Shan people of Burma, the three-day Poy San Long ceremony is a mass ordination of boys (often between the ages of 7 – 14) into monastic life. The tradition starts with the boys dressing up as the young Buddha when he was still a prince and ends on the third day with the ordinations earning the boys and their families merit.
Songkran – 13-15th – The Thai New Year is a wet and wild affair filled with city-wide water fights, concerts, parades and partying – and Chiang Mai is the best place to be for it. For three days the city shuts down – especially between 10:00 a.m. until sunset – as both sides of the road along the entire moat are turned into water fighting territory. The areas around Tha Pae Gate, the South Gate and Huay Kaew tend to see even higher concentrations of people and often have concert stages and party areas. If you need to get anything done, it’s best to avoid the moat and Old City completely and take backstreets instead. That said, there’s practically no safe place from getting buckets of water thrown at you.
Vesak Bucha (Visakha Bucha) – Full moon on 6th lunar month – Celebrating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha, which supposedly happened on the same month and date, Vesaka Bucha is honored at temples throughout town, but particularly at Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh where people light candles, give offerings and make three rounds around the chedi or temple complex. While it’s a serious occasion, there’s a festive mood in the air with street stands selling flowers, food and drinks. Visakha Bucha day 2018 will fall on May 18th.
Pilgrimage walk up to Doi Suthep – during Vesak Bucha – Starting at the front gates of CMU (where there’s parking) and ending with three walks around the golden chedi of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, thousands of people make the trip up the mountain to respect the Lord Buddha. The entire experience has a carnival atmosphere to it as volunteers hand out free water and snacks along the way and the street is lit with colorful lights.
Inthakin – 13th day of the waning moon during the 8th lunar month – Unique to Chiang Mai, the Inthakin festival donors the city pillar, which is kept at Wat Chedi Luang. Along with paying respect to the city pillar in a ceremony supposedly started by King Mengrai, there are also associated ceremonies at the four corners of the moat, as well as at the gates and Three Kings Monument to help ensure peace, prosperity and good fortune for the city. (This is one of those festivals that you never really know when it’s happening until it’s over.)
Lien Pu Sae-Ya Sae – 14th day of waxing moon – Dating back to animist beliefs, the Lien Pu Sae-Ya Sae ceremony involves ritual sacrificing of a water buffalo which is then eaten raw by a local shaman or medium to appease the two guardian spirits, Pu Sae and Ya Sae, that live on Doi Suthep.
Asalaha Bucha and Wan Khao Pansa – Full moon and 1st day of waning moon of 8th lunar moon – One of Theravada Buddhism’s most important festivals, Asalaha Bucha marks the first sermon given by the Buddha and is The following day, Wan Khao Pansa, is the first day of the annual rains retreat (also called the Buddhist Lent) in Thailand where monks are required to stay at the same temple until the rainy season has passed.
Mother’s Day – 12th – Considered the mother of all Thai people, Queen Sirikit’s birthday is also observed as the country’s Mother’s Day and is a Thai national holiday (schools and government buildings are closed).
Wan Ok Pansa – 1st day of waning moon of 11th lunar month – Marking the end of the Buddhist rains retreat, Wan Ok Pansa is more colourfully celebrated in the eastern part of the country but many people in Chiang Mai will make trips to the temple to mark the day.
Loi Krathong/Yi Peng – The full moon of the 12th lunar month – For three days surrounding the full moon, Thailand celebrates the end of the rainy season by thanking the spirits of the river during Loi Krathong. The celebration, filled with magical glowing lanterns, intricate flower floats and lots of fireworks, is especially popular and picturesque in the north, where it’s called Yi Peng in the local dialect. The full moon of Loy Krathong 2018 will be on November 24. Loi Krathong 2019 will fall around November 13.
The King’s Birthday/Father’s Day – 5th – As with the Queen’s birthday, the King’s birthday on December 5th is also the country’s Father’s Day and a national holiday.
Christmas – 25th – While Christmas is usually recognised in areas that see more foreigners with simple decorations and menu specials, it never really feels quite like Christmas here.
New Year’s Eve – 31st – Though Thais have their own traditional New Year in April, December 31st still sees a call for celebration, good wishes of “Sawadee Bpee Mai” (Happy New Year) and, of course, fireworks. Thais also get an extra day off around the New Year which means many people are eating and partying with their families. As with Songkran, motorbike and road accidents, jump during this time due to drinking and driving. Be careful!
There are also a number of other national holidays throughout the year where many workers get the day off and schools and government offices are closed. You can find a list of Thai public holidays in 2018 here. Sometimes the government makes last minute adjustments to the public holiday schedule.
Want to remember these Thai festivals in Chiang Mai?
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Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
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