Thailand GOINGS-ON

Following is a list of our favorites of the many events that go on annually in Thailand. Luckily for the visitor, Thais stage festivals all year. These events offer excellent photographic opportunities and glimpses of the country’s unique, kaleidoscopic culture. Many of the dates we give are approximations.

Chaiyaphum Elephant Roundup, January 10-12. Re-enactment of medieval warfare, elephant catching, parades.

Chiang Mai Flower Festival, February 1-7. City parade of gorgeously decorated floats and the kingdom’s “most beautiful” women, held in February’s cool weather. Good camera opportunities.

Songkran (Thai New Year), April 13-15. Thais ritually “bathe” elders and parents with holy water to show respect, before turning the holiday into a riotous drenching for everyone in sight—including foreigners. Wear old clothes, leave the camera (unless it’s waterproof) in your room, and get ready for a soaking.

Coronation Day, May 5. The King and Queen preside over ceremonies at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Extremely colorful.

Rocket Festival, second week in May. If you’re in the northeast, at Yasothon (best), Ubon or Nong Thai, at this time, catch Thailand’s answer to Cape Canaveral, as villagers fire bamboo sky rockets into the clouds to bring rain for the rice crop. Great fun, but beware of misguided missiles.

Royal Plowing Festival, second week in May, to begin the official rice planting season. The King officiates at this Brahman ceremony, where the royal oxen divine the abundance of the coming harvest. Usually very crowded, but worth taking the camera along for excellent shots.

Buddhist Rains Retreat, mid-July. Monks retire to their monasteries to meditate during the rainy season. A good time to witness young monks being ordained at local temples.

Southern Vegetarian Festival, last week in September. Best in Phuket and Trang, but not for the squeamish. Celebrated by devout Chinese Buddhists, who abstain from meat and skewer themselves with weighted fish-hooks and stilettos and walk over red-hot coals.

Loi Krathong. Perhaps the most memorable Thai festival, when Thais fill the canals and rivers with drifting candle-lit lotus-shaped floats symbolizing their past sins. If the krathong stays afloat until out of sight, the following year will be lucky. Best seen in the ancient capital of Sukhothai, but all hotels put on their own show.

River Kwai Bridge Week, last week in November. At Kanchanaburi, where s ome 16,000 16,000 Allied POWs died in World War Two building the Death
who ‘way into Burma. A moving experience for POW relatives and survivors, make the pilgrimage each year.

King’s Birthday, December 5. A time for all Thais to celebrate. Lots of special events, carnivals, open-air movies in Sanarn Luang field, opposite the Grand Palace.