February 17, 2015
The confusion surrounding the dates for Holidays and Festivals in Thailand
Let me start by stating you are not alone if you are unable the fathom the exact dates of festivals, social events and special days in the Kingdom of Thailand, with that in mind let me try to explain some of the reasoning behind the mishmash of dates.
There are at least sixteen public holidays in Thailand, which makes them the forth placed country in the world for time off, so says ‘wego’. The Thai calendar also includes many holidays and festivals which are not official holidays. (See more)
The majority of shops and entertainment venues may be open on public holidays but government buildings, offices and schools are normally closed. The down side to all these holidays is that tourist attractions (and shopping malls which most Asian people like to frequent) can be particularly busy on public holidays so it is best for those averse to crowds to keep away.
Basic banking is not normally a problem (but don’t expect a full service) with branches in shopping malls, and foreign exchange booths normally staying open over the festivities, ATM’s are normally kept topped up but come Monday morning most will be empty. For anything to deal with the government……. forget it, that includes, immigration and the post office as they will be closed.
Many of the important Thai holidays will occur on the same date each year. The problem for most of us is that some dates will follow the Gregorian calendar others will follow the Thai lunar calendar. Most of the main Buddhist holidays will occur around the full moon of a particular (Thai or other) lunar month, with the actual date only being released a few weeks before some of the events.
Other festivals and holidays are determined by astrologers or spirit doctors. (See more on spirits in Thailand) To make it even harder still, there are a few events which are determined by other calendars including the Chinese, Lanna and Mon, lunar calendars and the Muslim calendar, all of which are different from the Thai lunar calendar.
Clear so far?
It’s not all bad some public holidays are celebrated on the same date every year, for example most of the holidays that celebrate the monarchy or the constitution. (Excluding the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, which is fixed in consultation with royal astrologers).
It is worth noting that if these holidays fall on a weekend, the actual holiday is usually shifted to the following Monday. Just when you think you have mastered these variances the government can step in at any time and grant extra holidays for what-ever reason they seem fit and with little to no notice.
Regional and Special Holidays in Thailand
Apart from the main public holidays, Thailand also has its share of religious holidays that are only observed by certain minority groups, such as the Chinese New Year, Eid Al-Fitr and Christmas. There are also local celebrations that are only observed in certain Thai cities or provinces, such as Inthakin in Chiang Mai, the Isan San Don Ta Festival, the Kanchaburi festivals of both the Mon and Karen people The Mon Floating Boat Festival and Khao Ho or Ang Mi Thong. The list is endless.
The Thai Buddhist Calendar
The Thai people use both the Thai lunar calendar and the Thai Solar Calendar, through-out their daily lives and not just to calculate religious holidays, it is true to say that the Western Gregorian calendar is becoming more widely used, especially in the business community, but surprisingly not by the government nor the judicial system. The Thai calendar is calculated from the death of the Buddha in 543 BC, so that 2017 is in fact 2560. The easiest way to find the equivalent western year is by simply subtracting 544.
Travelling during a holiday
A good tip if you are backpacking or holidaying, is that some holidays in Thailand, particularly the Buddhist religious holidays, are when the Thai people like to return home to their families.
Making all travel prior to the start and immediately after the holidays somewhat difficult. This can also mean that transportation is sold out days before and immediately after the event. It is also common during these time to find that the price of hotels will be hiked and local attractions including the beaches will be overly crowded. This is especially true during April and Songkran when it is estimated 30% of the population will travel home to see family and friends.
So there you have it…….. Clear as mud.
‘However difficult it would seem to most western people the Thai nation has been using their own unique calendar system for centuries and it works for them. One thing is for sure the mass of events that occur across the ‘Land of Smiles’ are always worth trying to find, as they are filled with a vast array of dazzling colours, sounds and smells, that will stay with those lucky enough to track them down….. for a life time’
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