The tourist season is just starting to take off, with cool, dry and sunny weather in most parts of Thailand. Get here early to beat the teeming crowds. This is the ideal time to be a beach bum on the Andaman coast, or on Koh Chang archipelago off the Eastern Gulf. Avoid the western gulf as it is still rainy and stormy.
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North (Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi)
A must see at this time is the Yee Peng Lantern Release Festival on Ping river, Chiang Mai. Everyone has seen an image of the night sky lit up with thousands of yellow lanterns, but the mass lantern lighting is only one part of the Loy Krathong festivities, and actually precedes them.
Observe the locals’ homes decked out in flags and long limbed lanterns. At a time when both moon and river are at their fullest, releasing the lantern and krathong is letting go of the previous years’ heartache and misfortunes. Buddhists believe that if you make a wish as you release the lantern, it will come true as long as you back it with merit worthy deeds in the coming year.
Accompanying the festivities are handicraft sessions, traditional Thai dance performances, live music and the official ‘Yee Peng Parade’ that commences at the Old City gate. There are also firecrackers, food stalls and swarms of selfie-stick toting tourists. Steer clear of Tha Phae Gate to bypass the throng.
Though lanterns are released from all over Chiang Mai, the place to be for the best photo-op of the simultaneous release is Mae Jo University well before six thirty pm. This will ensure you get a good spot. Do wear modest clothing to show respect to the tone of the ceremony. If you’d rather admire from a distance, grab a seat at one of the many rooftop bars in the vicinity.
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South (Phuket, Krabi, Hat Yai, Hua Hin)
Phuket offers a glorious festival celebrating the country’s national animal, the gracious elephant. The Surin Elephant roundup is held during the third weekend of November and features a huge buffet spread for the friendly giants, along with sound and light shows. For an additional dash of history, check the audiovisual shows at the ancient ruins of Prasat Sikhoraphum closeby.
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Central region (Bangkok)
Speaking of buffets for beasts, a must see is definitely the Lopburi Monkey Festival. One of the first cities to be built in Thailand, Lopburi is otherwise hardly a tourist destination, despite treasures such as King Narai’s palace and ancient ruins. Except for this one time of the year.
The festival, also known as the Monkey Banquet, was the brainchild of a local business tycoon who dreamt it up in the 1980s. His idea was to show gratitude to the monkeys that brought tourists to the area. Though it’s not clear what the contribution of the huge monkey population in this area has made to its tourism at the time, in a self fulfilling prophecy,, the monkeys are certainly bringing in the bucks now.
Over time, the festival has mushroomed, attracting thousands of curious visitors from across the globe. No less than a whopping 4000 kilos of food is lovingly prepared by teams of local chefs each year and served up on actual dining tables. What are the monkeys gobbling up? Everything from succulent fruit salads, carvings, sticky rice and even traditional Thai dessert made with egg yolk.
No human shall starve while the monkeys have their fun. Head to the food stalls for local delicacies of which Marl Salted Egg and Coconut jelly are a must try.
Khai Khem Din So Phong or Marl Salted Egg is raw egg coated in marl, salt, water, and sugar. The resulting preserved egg is then tossed into boiled as well as friend dishes. If you’re feeling adventurous, give it a go as is.
Coconut Jelly is a classic dish from the area and is happily, vegan friendly. To make it, coconut juice is fermented with acetic acid. This causes white fungi to float up and form mushroom-like jelly. The coconut jelly is then served with ice making a refreshing dessert, with the option of additional syrups for varied flavours.
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Situated in Koh Samui, the Angthong Marine Park is set amongst a beautiful archipelago of islands. It hosts stunning limestone mountains, forest trails and waterfalls to explore. You can snorkel or kayak to escape the heat, or luxuriate on the white sand beaches. Easily turn the day trip into an overnight stay at a bungalow. Though it’s slowly getting on the tourist map, till date it remains a pristine, untouched paradise.