Thailand’s Public Holidays and Other Festivals
People always like to compare how many days off you get in different countries. The employers try to reduce the number of days when the businesses close, the workers prefer to increase them to get some deserved rest in-between periods of work. According to my count, Thailand has 14 annual public holidays, with one of them stretched over 3 days, which overall does not sound too bad. In addition, there are two Muslim holidays observed in some of the Southern provinces where the majority of the population follows Islam.
Still, Austria is the real champion in the holidays-category with an astounding 38 of them to put your feet up through. But they don’t have the sun and the beaches!
There are no less than three New Year celebrations in Thailand. The Songkran Festival is the Thai New Year and Water Festival and it falls between the 13th and the 15th of April. This is the time of year when you don’t want to be travelling. One, all the tickets and accommodation will be sold out, and two, you will get seriously soaked. The appreciation of water can be perfectly understood in a country that is hot and dry (Bangkok is supposed to be the world’s hottest capital), although to the unaccustomed eye (alias me), some of the rituals on the 14th of April resemble aggression and water wastage more than a water celebration. Water is thrown over every passerby, no mercy there. Ice and colour can be added – or even tiger balm. Ouch! The Buddhist calendar is based on the solar year, with the New Year beginning when the Sun enters Aries. This year it was happy 2556.
The Chinese community in Thailand puts great importance on the Chinese New Year, which is actually not a mandatory public holiday and is also globally known as the Spring Holiday or the Lunar New Year. In 2013 it was celebrated on the 10th of February and the Year of the Snake began. Another holiday attributed to the Chinese is the Vegetarian Festival in October, with the heart of the events in the South of the country. It is famous not so much for the food, as for the displays of gruesome self-mutilation, performed to prove the devotion to Buddha. Imagine a sword stuck through the cheek, tongue pierced with daggers, or even a motorbike gear-cog going through some part of someone’s face while the disabled motorbike is being wheeled along. Not for the blood shy!
Thailand’s third New Year is that which follows the Gregorian calendar. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are both public holidays in Thailand. I was also mildly surprised to see how strong the push to popularise Christmas is in this predominantly Buddhist country. The shopping malls in Bangkok are full of garish and out-of-place Christmassy decorations and memorabilia around this time of year. Anything goes that boosts sales and attracts new customers.
Back to the more traditional and Thai-specific holidays, which can be divided into those related to Buddhism and those pertaining to the Kingdom’s royal family. The Buddhist holy days are observed in February (Makha Bucha Day or Magha Puja), May or June (Visaka Bucha or Vesak), July (Asahna Bucha or Asalha Puja) and July or August (Vassa), which marks the beginning of Buddhist lent. The specific dates depend on that year’s lunar calendar. Vesak for example is a big celebration that can last up to a week and commemorates the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha. An unsolicited piece of advice: don’t sleep near a temple around that time. As holy and spiritual this holiday might sound, it has taken on a modern spin, so don’t be surprised if the temple grounds turn into a make-shift amusement park in the evening, complete with a huge sound system blasting out torturous Thai pop music until the early hours of the morning. Been there, and it wasn’t such fun anymore after five nights of tinny drum-machines and tone-deaf singers keeping me awake.
Chakri Day, on the 6th of April, celebrates both the establishment of the Chakri Dynasty (members of which have been on the throne to this day) and the foundation of Bangkok in 1782. It is officially known as the Chakri Memorial Day. Coronation Day commemorates the coronation of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej – King Rama IX – who ascended the throne in 1950 and is currently the world’s longest reigning monarch, with the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II in second place (she was coronated in 1952). The King’s and Queen’s birthdays are public holidays too and fall on the 5th of December and the 12th of August respectively. These dates are also regarded as Father’s and Mother’s day in Thailand. When the King celebrated his 85th birthday last December, the day was marked with celebrations and parades and in the evening the Bangkok sky was dotted with countless sky lanterns lit and released in his honour. One of the most revered kings in Thai history is the current king’s grandfather, King Chulalongkorn – Rama V. In his memory, Chulalongkorn Day is celebrated on the 23rd of October, which is the date he passed away in 1910. He is fondly remembered as the king who prevented the colonisation of Siam and introduced many social and government reforms.
The Thais also get a day off on the 1st of May, the world-wide celebrated Labour Day, and on the 10th December which is their Constitution Day, commemorating the date when the first constitution was passed in 1932.
So that brings us to 16 free days in the worker’s calendar. Some with more exotic connotations and celebratory rituals, and others just days to remember when it will not be possible to access government services or banks. Prepare accordingly, and join in the celebrations if given the chance. Or just enjoy observing the colourful festivals and traditions.