Many Thai festivals follow the lunar calendar (a complex system based on astrology) and therefore change annually relative to the Gregorian calendar. Contact local tourist offices for exact festival dates.
Chinese New Year, January/February
Vegetarian Festival, September/October
Loi Krathong, November
Wat Saket Fair, November
The weather is still relatively cool in Bangkok; if you're OK with relatively high tourist numbers, January is one of the most pleasant months to visit the capital.
Bangkok World Film Festival
More than 80 films are shown at this increasingly popular film festival (www.worldfilmbkk.com), which has an emphasis on Asian cinema. For popular films, book ahead.
Chinese New Year
Some time between late January and late February, Bangkok’s large Thai–Chinese population celebrates the lunar new year, called đrùđ jeen in Thai, with a week full of house cleaning, lion dances and fireworks. The most impressive festivities, not surprisingly, take place in Chinatown.
With relatively comfortable (although increasingly warm) temperatures and likewise few tourists, plus a unique religious holiday, February is a great time to visit Thailand's capital.
During the windy season, from the middle of February to early April, colourful kites battle it out over the skies of Sanam Luang and Lumphini Park.
Makha Bucha, held on the full moon of the third lunar month (late February to early March), commemorates the Buddha preaching to 1250 monks who came to hear him ‘without prior summons’. It culminates with a candlelit walk around the main chapel at every wát.
This is the height of Bangkok’s hot season, so it should come as no surprise that the Thais have devised a festival that revolves around splashing water on each other.
Songkran is the Thai New Year, and although it has origins in a religious practice of ‘bathing’ Buddha images, today’s celebrations resemble a city-wide water-fight. The most intense battles are fought on Th Silom and Th Khao San – don’t carry anything you don’t want wet.
May and June mean the beginning of the rainy season in most parts of Thailand, and some of the festivals during these months have origins in this significant occasion.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony
To kick off the official rice-planting season in early May, the king presides over this ancient Brahman ritual held at Sanam Luang. It culminates in sacred white oxen ploughing the earth and priests declaring it a good or bad year for farmers.
Visakha Bucha, on the full moon of the sixth lunar month (May or June), is considered the date of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinibbana (passing away). Activities are centred on the local wát, with candlelit processions, chanting and sermonising.
Wai Kru Muay Thai Ceremony
A celebration of Thailand's unofficial national sport of moo·ay tai (Thai boxing; also spelt muay Thai), held at Wat Mahathat in Ayuthaya. The one-day event includes demonstrations and a competition; call Ayuthaya's Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) office for exact dates and schedule of events.
Thailand’s rainy season is well under way during this time. The most significant event of the season is a Buddhist holiday ushering in the rains.
Asanha Bucha & Khao Phansa
Held on the full moon of the eighth lunar month (July or August), Asanha Bucha commemorates the Buddha’s first postenlightenment sermon. The following day, known as Khao Phansa, young men traditionally enter the monkhood and monks sequester themselves in a monastery for three months.
September is the wettest month in and around Bangkok, and tourist numbers are correspondingly low. Foodies are advised to coordinate their visit with the annual vegetarian festival.
International Festival of Dance & Music
An extravaganza of arts and culture sponsored by the Thailand Cultural Centre and held at venues across the city. Highlights include performances by renowned dance troupes from the US and Europe.
Thailand International Swan Boat Races
In late September, more than 20 international teams race traditional Thai-style long boats in various classes (the largest has 55 paddlers) along Mae Nam Chao Phraya in Ayuthaya.
During the first nine days of the ninth lunar month (September or October), this Chinese-Buddhist festival, called têt·sà·gahn gin jair, sees streetside vendors serving meatless meals to help cleanse the body. Most of the action is in Chinatown: look for yellow banners and white clothes.
Bangkok is wet during October, so festivals are few on the ground. Low tourist numbers mean that it's a great time to come if you want the city to yourself.
Reinstated after nearly a decade, this six-day festival of parades, parties, awards, sequins and feather boas is organised by city businesses and organisations for Bangkok’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community; set for May but occasionally held in October/November.
The rain’s (mostly) stopped, the weather’s (relatively) cool, the crowds are low and the festivals are plentiful: November is one of the best months to visit Bangkok.
On the night of the full moon of the 12th lunar month, grà·tong (boats made of a section of banana trunk) are floated on Mae Nam Chao Phraya. The ceremony is both an offering to the water spirits and a symbolic cleansing of bad luck.
Wat Saket Fair
The grandest of Bangkok’s temple fairs (ngahn wát) is held at Wat Saket and the Golden Mount around Loi Krathong. The temple grounds turn into a colourful, noisy fair selling flowers, incense, bells, saffron cloth and tonnes of Thai food.
The coolest month of the year sees a handful of outdoor festivals and events. Tourist numbers are at their peak, but this is arguably the pleasantest month to visit Bangkok.
Concert in the Park
Free concerts from the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (www.bangkoksymphony.org) are performed on Sunday evenings (from 5.30pm to 7.30pm) between late November and mid-February at Lumphini Park.
King’s Bhumibol's Birthday & Father’s Day
Celebrating former King Bhumibol’s birthday (5 December), the city is festooned with lights and large portraits of the king. In the afternoon, Sanam Luang is packed for a fireworks display that segues appropriately into a noisy concert with popular Thai musicians.
Phra Nakhon Si Ayuthaya World Heritage Fair
A series of cultural performances and evening sound-and-light shows among the ruins of the World Heritage site in the former Thai capital, Ayuthaya; held in mid-December.