From ordination ceremonies to elephant processions and water fights, April and May are packed with festive fun
Choose to travel around Thailand in April and May and you’re in for a “hot deal” – quite literally. The temperature hovers around 40 degrees Celsius in the middle of the day but the heat shouldn’t serve as a reason to avoid some of the most interesting and fun festivals this country has to offer.
Whether you opt for a splashing good time over the Songkran Festival, a ceremonial rite of passage in Mae Hong Son or rocket science in Yasothon, there’s plenty to keep you entertained.
We take a look at the five festivals that should not be missed.
POI SANG LONG, MAE HONG SON
Head to Thailand’s northwest and join locals in celebrating the Poi Sang Long Festival. The revered ceremony marks the passage of boy to man, with Tai Yai teenagers leaving home to join the monkhood for a period of several months. The name of the ordination ceremony combines the Dai (or Tai Yai) words poi, meaning “arrangement”, sang (or chao sang), meaning “novices” and long (or along), which means “prince”. The Tai Yai believe that young boys who become novices and study the Lord Buddha’s teachings bring their parents great merit. The Poi Sang Long ceremony is one of Thailand’s most colourful and vibrant novice initiations and sees the youngsters dressed in ornate costumes, their faces made up and wearing turbans covered with flowers. The ceremony is held only in Mae Hong Son, which takes great pride in the beautiful Sang Long procession.
WHERE AND WHEN TO GO: Mae Sariang district (April 1-3 and 5-7), Pai district (April 2-5) and Mueang Mae Hong Son district (April 2-4).
HOW TO GET THERE: Chiang Mai is the gateway to Mae Hong Son province and its airport is served by both domestic and international flights. Kan Air (www.KanAirlines.com) operates a daily flight from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son and Pai districts. There are also public bus and mini-van services between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son.
SONGKRAN FESTIVAL, ACROSS THAILAND
Like their Southeast Asian neighbours, Thais deal with hot days with water. Better known among international tourists as the Water Festival, Songkran marks Thailand’s traditional New Year. It’s a big deal and the country takes a long holiday for the much-loved festival. From the backpacker’s ghetto in Bangkok’s Khao San Road to Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen, the crowds will be gathering with buckets full of water at city landmarks to dance, sing and pray their way into a new solar year. The government suggests that the celebrations be toned down in this year of drought but revellers are unlikely to take notice. Starting officially from April 12, though it generally gets underway unofficially a few days before, it continues until there is nothing left to soak.
WHERE AND WHEN TO GO: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Samut Prakan’s Phra Pradaeng district, Ayutthaya and Pattaya are the centres for the wettest action.
HOW TO GET THERE: Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Mueang International Airport are both hubs for travel from Bangkok to other Songkran destinations across Thailand.
ROCKET FESTIVAL, YASOTHON
Held every May about a month before rice planting begins, folks on the empty Isaan plains try to convince that you don’t need quantum physics to make the rockets fly. Led by monks, these rural rocket engineers place gunpowder inside long plastic pipes of varying sizes. The rockets are then launched into the clear blue skies in homage to the heavens and to remind the Rain God that the time has come to deliver downpours to aid the growing season. The smaller rockets are fancier in the way they shoot up into the heavens while the large ones look way too threatening to fly. Just like Songkran, the Rocket Festival is a homecoming for the province’s migrants and this year it’s expected to draw a crowd of some 50,000 visitors.
WHEN TO GO: May 14-15
HOW TO GET THERE: Yasothon is about 550 kilometres from Bangkok. Overnight buses leave from Mor Chit bus station. Otherwise fly to Ubon Ratchathani and catch a bus from there.
MAENG NA NGAM FESTIVAL, LOEI
As farmers in Yasathon tend to their home-made rockets in preparation for blast-off on May 14, their fellow agriculturists in Loei province are busy with a more spiritual kind of ceremony, one that pays tribute to the beast that ploughs their fields – the buffalo. Known locally Maeng Na Ngam, the festival has long been part and parcel of village life, with villagers donning buffalo masks and roaming the streets to honour the spirit of the Asian answer to the ox. Buffalo masks, some of them cute and others more fearsome, are crafted out of wood and every member of the family dons one to celebrate. In recent years, the local tourist authorities have brought this virtually unknown ritual to the public eye and today Maeng Na Ngam, as it’s known, has become a fully-fledged festival with music, dance and colourful costumes drawing visitors to a small village to party.
WHEN TO GO: mid May. For more information, call Tourism Authority of Thailand (Loei Office) at (042) 812 812.
HOW TO GET THERE: Thai AirAsia (www.AiraAsia.com) and Nok Air (www.NokAir.com) operate daily flights between Bangkok (Don Mueang) and Loei. An overnight bus runs between Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) and Chiang Khan.
HAT SIAO ELEPHANT PROCESSION, SUKHOTHAI
The Hat Siao Elephant Procession returns to the riverside communities of Sukhothai province on April 7. The annual ordination draws many thousands of visitors for its colourful elephant parade across the river. The elephants, who are attired in colourful costumes and paint, carry young men to their entry into the monkhood, with the ordination taking place at the local Buddhist chapel. Folk dances, music and festive acts add more colour to the rite. Hat Siao is part of Si Satchanalai District, which is noted for Wat Chang Lom in Si Satchanalai National Historical Park.
WHEN TO GO: April 7
HOW TO GET THERE: Bangkok Airways (www.BangkokAir.com) operates a daily flight from Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok to Sukhothai. Visitors can overnight in Sukhothai and visit its historical park before heading to the Hat Siao Elephant Procession, which takes place about 60 kilometres from downtown.