Bangkok is packed with many activities for both visitors and residents and there are a variety of festivals throughout the year. Blending together Thailand’s rich culture and Bangkok’s metropolitan values, the city offers a busy social calendar of traditional, religious, contemporary and international events. In addition, there are plenty of smaller festivals, shows, exhibitions and rituals that cannot possibly be covered inclusively on this page, so it’s advisable to study local magazines and newspapers for details.
New Year Festival
Even though Thai New Year is not the 1st of January, Thais still celebrate on this day, including lots of fireworks, parties and gift-giving. The 1st of January is also considered a national holiday and if this day falls on Saturday or Sunday, there is a day in lieu on Monday.
Chinese New Year Festival
Because many people in Bangkok are of Chinese origin, Chinese New Year is a very important event. During this time, people will pay respects to their forefathers and it is also considered a gathering of the family, where the elders give money to the children – everyone eats together. There are many parades and contests in Bangkok, as well as the Chinese food festival held in Yaowarat, Chinatown.
Makha Bucha Day
This celebration originally came from the day that 1,250 disciples from the Lord Buddha gathered to listen for the Dharma speech after Buddha’s enlightenment. Buddhists go to the temple to make merit and in the evening they perform candlelit processions by walking three times around the temple.
Kite Flying Festival
Thailand’s summer starts around March and this is when Bangkok residents go out and fly kites at Sanam Luang, the main grounds opposite the Grand Palace. This kite-flying activity has been a popular sport among Thais since ancient times. There is also a kite-flying contest at Sanam Luang every year.
Better known for the fun of water fights, Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year. On this day, there are many activities going on, including parades of dancers, music troupes and boat races. Thai people visit their parents and grandparents in order to wish them good health and receive blessings in return. They also go to the temple to make merit and wish for good luck and prosperity.
In Bangkok, Songkran events are held around the Grand Palace and Sanam Luang, near Khao San Road. For wild water fighting, head to the hubs of fun; Khao San Road, Silom, RCA, Siam Square and Central World.
The splashing lasts for three days over the lunar full moon; 13th-15th April.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony
The King is the host of this event in which he ploughs the ground in order to mark the beginning of the planting season. This is an ancient Brahmanic ceremony and it has been passed on over the years. The King also gives blessings to the farmers so that they will have the best year of their harvest.
Visaka Bucha Day
The Buddhist religious day, Visaka Bucha Day, is the holiest day of all Buddhist days as it commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. Buddhists usually go to the temple in the evening to join the candlelit procession.
June is a quiet month in Bangkok on the festival front.
Asanha Bucha Day
This celebration takes place one day before the Buddhist Lent day. This day is to commemorate the first sermon of Buddha to his five first disciples and the significance is that it deals with Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. There are also candlelit processions and fun fairs at the temple.
Buddhist Lent Day (Wan Khao Phansa)
For three months after this day, the Buddhist monks will not leave the temple to make their prayers. This day falls in the rainy season, so it is believed that the monks make the rain retreat so that they will not step on the plants grown by villagers. Buddhists usually go to the temple to make merit and give food to the monks since they are not allowed to visit the residents. During this period, there is a fun festival where people decorate big candles and enter them in the candle competition. All candles are to be taken to the temple so that the monks can use them at night.
The Grand Celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s Birthday
The 12th of August is Queen Sirikit’s birthday and serves as the National Mothers’ Day holiday. There are many celebrations going on in Bangkok, most of which are to show love and respect to the Queen of Thailand. In the evening, Bangkok residents gather at Sanam Luang with lit-candles in their hands in order to wish the Queen a happy birthday. During the month, many streets are beautifully decorated with the Queen’s pictures and an array of charming flowerbeds. Thai people also give jasmine (a symbol of Mother’s Day) to their mothers and take their mothers out for a special meal.
International Festival of Dance and Music
Organised every year in Bangkok, the festival features an array of class performances from all over the world – a variety of dance and musical shows have gained international fame as a result. Annually September until October.
Bangkok residents of Chinese origin celebrate this event by giving each other a ‘moon cake’ – a special kind of sweet cake prepared in the shape of the moon and filled with sesame seeds, ground lotus seeds and eggs. This ceremony is to pay respect to the Goddess of the Moon.
Vegetarian Festival in Chinatown
During this month, Chinatown on Yaowarat Road is turned into a main hub for a great selection of Chinese and Thai food. This event also includes cultural and musical shows.
End of Buddhist Lent Day (Wan Ok Phansa)
This day marks the monks’ three-month rain retreat and they are allowed to go out of temples. Robe offering ceremonies, or tot kra-tin, take place everywhere in Thailand in which Thai people take clothes and food to the monks. The ceremony usually lasts for one month.
Bangkok International Film Festival
The Bangkok International Film Festival takes place annually to promote alternative award-winning international and local films, some of which cannot be seen on major screens. Organised by the Royal Thai Government and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the Bangkok International Film Festival also features workshops and symposiums, special tributes, the Bangkok Film Market (BFM) and spectacular special events. If you’re in Bangkok during this time, this festival is not to be missed.
This festival is observed nationwide and has been since the Sukothai period. People gather at the water’s edge to float (or loi) their krathong; a lotus-shaped vessel elaborately decorated with flowers and candles. They do this in order to pay respect to the Goddess of Water for giving them water to use each day. Fun fairs, concerts, contests and many other fun games and activities are organised during this festival.
Golden Mount Fair
Buddhists in Bangkok go to the Golden Mount in the compound of Saket Temple during this week-long festival to worship the Buddha’s relics. There you can find some interesting folk plays, local food, and a small amusement park. It takes place from the 11th day of the waxing moon of the 12th lunar month to the 3rd of the waning moon of the same month. Usually in November during Loy Krathong.
Thai Beer Festival
When the weather cools, Thai people enjoy coming out to sit at one of the beer gardens mushrooming everywhere around Bangkok. The most famous one is in front of Central World Plaza where Thailand’s main brews can be enjoyed – Singha, Leo and Chang – along with international brands of beer like Heineken. Food and snacks can also be had and stages are set up for singers and dancers to croon their songs and show their moves. From early November until mid-January.
Trooping of the Colours
Once a year the Royal Guards go on a parade in unity before the King on the Ground of King Rama V’s Equestrian Statue to show their respect and loyalty to the three most important institutions of Thailand: the King, the nation, and Buddhism.
The Grand Celebration of His Majesty the King’s Birthday
The 5th of December is King Bhumipol’s birthday, which also serves as the National Father’s Day holiday. There is a grand celebration at Sanam Luang where important people of the country and Thai citizens gather to pay respects and wish the King a happy birthday. Throughout December, you can see almost every street decorated with Thai flags, the King’s pictures and many beautiful flowers. On this day, Thai people also give canna flowers – the symbol of Father’s Day – to their fathers and take their fathers out for a special meal.
Even though Thai people do not celebrate Christmas in a traditional manner, there are usually many parties going on. Christmas fairs are held at some markets and you can find a variety of Christmas cards and Christmas trees at malls around Bangkok. Some restaurants even celebrate Christmas by giving discounts or special promotions. Gigantic Christmas trees can be seen in front of first-class hotels with a few shops selling candies and ice-cream only during Christmas time.