If any nation knows how to throw a party, it's the Thais. If there's something to celebrate, it's done with a bang (quite literally - the Thais love an explosive or two!), as well as plenty of colour and a great deal of style. And there's no better time to visit Thailand than during festival time, with annual celebrations such as Songkran and Loi Krathong attracting tourists from all over the world.
If you're stuck for inspiration, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has just released its calendar of festivals and events for 2013, featuring a total of 28 colourful cultural events ranging from annual marathons to music festivals and sporting tournaments. Here are a couple of highlights - might see you there!
Trang Underwater Wedding Ceremony, Feb 13-15.
Koh Kradan, Trang Province.
Join 15 couples swearing their undying love in this mass traditional Thai wedding ceremony, held underwater in scuba gear! Now in its 16th year, the event is as crazy as it sounds, but also is a great tool for promoting the beautiful marine environment of the Trang Province. And what could be more romantic than tying the knot on Valentine's Day? Participants must be qualified divers.
Wedding Ceremony on Elephant Back, Feb 14.
Elephant Study Centre, Tah Toom District, Surin Province
Speaking of romance - and Valentine's Day - why not get married on the back of an elephant? The Sud Tai Ceremony is the traditional wedding of the Guay elephant mahouts, with the highlight of the ceremony the marriage registration on the back of an elephant. It is believed that tying the knot on an elephant brings good fortune and prosperity to couples. Not to mention an unforgettable start to a life together!
Songran Festival, 12-21 April.
Songkran is the Thai New Year's Day, which falls on April 13-15 every year. Prepare to get wet during this fun and wild water festival, with a thorough soaking considered a blessing.
Phaya Thaen Park, Yasothon Province
Did I mention the Thais like explosives? In this ancient local festival, the letting off of rockets of Bang Fai is an entreaty to the gods to bless the community with plentiful rain for rice cultivation. Beautiful rockets are paraded to the launch site by local people dressed in traditional costumes, with noisy folk music and cheers accompanying the release of each rocket.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival, October
Muang District, Phuket Province
Held during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, this annual event is said to bestow good fortune upon those who observe the sacred rituals accompanying the festival. During this time, local people of Chinese ancestry strictly observe a 10-day vegetarian or vegan diet for the purposes of spiritual cleansing and merit-making. Sacred rituals include walking barefoot over hot coals or ascending ladders with bladed rungs.
Loi Kratong, 18 November
The most beautiful and moving of all Thai ceremony's, Loi Krathong is held on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month. To celebrate, Thai people release handmade kratongs made from banana leaves, flowers and incense into waterways, creating flotillas of sparkling lights. In Chiang Mai, the celebration coincides with Yi Peng, when thousands of lanterns are released into the sky, a double dose of illumination. Oh, and more fireworks, of course!
For a full list of Thai festivals and ceremonies, download the calendar at http://www.tatnews.org/images/images/images/News%20Release/Thai_event_2013_BOOK.pdf