Last year we spent a month in Thailand and feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of all that the country has to offer. We started out not that impressed with Thailand, but in the end it won us over. Why? Well in part because the Thai people adore children. Partly, because the beaches are gorgeous and despite a huge tourist industry and overdevelopment of some areas, it’s still possible to find a quiet, idyllic beach to enjoy totally to yourselves. Partly because family holidays to Thailand offer your children then chance to learn to care for endangered species like elephants hands on at a conservation park and see environmental issues up close, rather than just in a zoo or in a book. Do you need more reasons? Well there’s also the delicious cheap food, the colourful markets, and the fun of riding overnight trains or sitting in the back of a song thaew watching people weaving crazily through traffic on their bikes.
But one of the biggest reasons we want to return to the Thailand are the amazing festivals. Thailand is a country where everyone embraces festivals and comes together as a community. And it’s not just Colin and I that want to go to these festivals – it’s the kids. Here’s our children’s list of three festivals in Thailand they can’t wait to see.
A festival where everyone, young and old gets out water pistols and buckets of icy water in a free for all where no one is safe from a good natured drenching? Does that not just scream heaven for families?
The Songkran festival is celebrated from April 13-15 each year throughout Thailand, however the most famous Songkran celebrations are held in Chiang Mai. Thais roam the street with containers of water and water pistols to wage a friendly war on each other. Even old ladies get into the action, sitting innocently in their stalls until just as you think you are safe out comes a water pistol or hose.
It’s good natured, it’s clean and unavoidable – everyone gets involved, everyone gets wet. If there’s one festival that sums up the Thai people’s joy of live, it’s Songkran.
Traditionally Songkran is a time to visit family, pay respect to elders, visit a temple to pray and provide food for the monks, and cleanse images of Buddha with water. Originally the festival involved sprinkling water on elders as a sign of respect, but over time the emphasis has changed to the fun water-throwing activities seen today.
How can anyone not want to go to Songkran? Where else will your children (and you) get the chance to run around for three whole days with water pistols soaking everyone in sight acting like carefree kids? Not only will they have fun, their eyes will be opened to another culture and religion in an extremely positive way. Songkran is a chance to witness a city coming together in another culture to celebrate life, joy, community and religion. Did we mention that our children also think it looks like the most fun they’ve ever seen?
Tips: Pack plenty of dry clothes. Plenty! You might want to consider packing goggles and ear plugs – we’ve been told by a friend that people don’t hold back on squirting you right in the face and the water of course might not be the cleanest.
The Kings Birthday
When you’re a kid, your birthday is one thing your entire world revolves around. So when you hear an entire country shuts down to celebrate the a king’s birthday with one giant party, it sounds like a pretty big deal.
On December 5 each year, Thailand celebrates the birthday of their beloved King. Thailand’s King has won a special place in the hearts of his people through his devotion to the welfare of his people, the development of the nation and his awareness of political and social issues. In the weeks leading up to his birthday, every street is lined with his image, flags are hung cross the roads, public squares and roundabouts are filled with flowers. On December 5 the country literally shuts down for a full day of festivities. Parades, religious ceremonies, speeches, concerts, dancing, performances, fairgrounds and fireworks … just to list out a few of the celebrations that occur throughout the day.
Last year we flew out of Bangkok early on the morning of December 5. We didn’t realise beforehand what a huge celebration that day is. Even at 8am on our way to the airport, squares were starting to fill with people. The kids were disappointed that they’d missed out on joining in one of the worlds largest birthday parties. Hopefully one year soon we can return.
Loy Krathong Yee Peng
A thousand upon thousand twinkling lights floating up into the night sky. Candle lit lanterns floating down the waters of an actual moat … yes a moat! Streets strung with lights of every shape and colour. Welcome to joint celebrations of Loy Krathong and Yee Peng in Chiang Mai.
Loy Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the Thai lunar calendar (usually sometime in November). In Mae Jon just outside Chiang Mai, Yee Peng (the festival of floating lights) is held during Loy Krathong.
What can families expect to see if they’re visiting them? Well for one thing the streets of Chiang Mai are adorned with lights. Paper lanterns large and small,of every colour imaginable. Ponds within some of the temples are filled with so many floating candles that they look like they are on fire. The old city moat is lined with floating lanterns as people flock to the edges to watch and to release their own. Giant lanterns in the shape of animals, including huge brightly coloured elephant lanterns.
Chiang Mai is a gorgeous city to wander around at night but during Loy Krathong it’s stunning. In Mae Jon, thousands of white paper lanterns are lit and released into the night sky in unison as Buddhist monks chant. If you want to get an idea of what the night is like, take a look at this timelapse video Christine from Almost Fearless put together. We were in Chiang Mai last year just a week after the main festivities. There were still lanterns everywhere but we missed the main events. Our children have heard what they missed and want to go back. Heck I want to go back. It’s beauty, it’s science, it’s culture, it’s tradition … all rolled into one amazing night.
Have our kids convinced you yet?
Just writing about these have me wanting to book flights to Thailand? We’ve promised the kids we’ll make it back to Chiang Mai in November this year for Loy Krathong Yee Peng but hopefully one day soon we can tick off the other two.
Know any others?
We’d love to compile a list of great, family friendly festivals in Thailand. If you know of one that I’ve missed let me know!