Songkran (pronounced sohng-krahn) is the traditional Thai New Year which is celebrated for three days in April by symbolically washing sins away and blessing friends with water. Young people have a fun time lying in ambush with buckets of water, huge water guns and hoses to get everyone soaking wet.
People also go to a wat (temple) to pray and give food to monks. They cleanse Buddha images by gently pouring scented water over them. In northern Thailand, people build stupa-shaped piles of sand and decorate them with colorful flags and flowers.
Loy Krathong (pronounced loy krah-tohng) is an ancient festival to honor and thank the water spirits for all the water provided during the growing season. It is celebrated (usually in November) on the first full moon after the rice harvest.
At night, the people float colorful, candlelit banana-leaf bowls, baskets and lanterns on the rivers. The act of floating away a raft is symbolic of letting go of one’s grudges, anger and defilements of the past year and ushering good luck in the coming year.
Rocket Festival is the most lively festival in Isan, northeast Thailand. The festival’s origin lies in the custom of firing rockets into the sky at the start of the rice-growing season to remind the sky god to send promised rain. The festival now takes the form of a competition to see whose rocket will stay aloft for the longest time. It is held annually over the weekend that falls in the middle of May.
Villagers packed charcoal and gunpowder into long plastic tubing tied to a bamboo pole. The beautifully decorated rockets are mounted on vehicles and traditional carts and paraded through the village/town. Music, song, dancing, drinking and revelry are integral elements of the procession.
On Sunday, the rockets are launched from a tall ladder-like structure. A single rocket will be launched and predictions are made with regard to the next season’s rains and harvest. Then, the rocket competition begins. If a rocket fails to launch or explodes then the owner will be thrown unceremoniously into the mud!
Royal Barge Procession is rarely staged — only 15 times during the 60-year reign of King Phumiphon. The procession consists of 51 historical barges and the Narai-Songsuban (the only barge built during King Phumiphon’s reign). The exquisitely crafted barges are manned by oarsmen dressed in traditional costumes. The oarsmen keep time by chanting as they row.