At this time, the monsoon is finally receding and the country is preparing for the end of Lent. Chiang Mai, Central, Northern, and Northeastern Thailand are mostly dry with gradually falling temperatures. However, almost all of the islands are still wet.
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North (Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi)
This is the perfect time to visit anywhere from Bangkok and further north before peak winter tourism hits. The hippie vibes of Pai in the North may be especially attractive to some. Also in the North is a marvel of nature with no clear answer in science that rivals the aurora borealis or Northern Lights. Smokeless, silent balls of fire, known as the Naga Fireballs of Nong Khai, erupt from Mekong River and are waited on breathlessly by onlookers.
This only takes place twice in the year, for a few days in May and then again in October. May is too hot, so this is truly the time to appreciate this wonder. The locals call it bung fai paya nak and believe the fireballs are the overheated breath of Naga, a river serpent in Buddhist mythology said to roam the river in these parts. Find a chatty local to tell you about the monster and they’re likely to describe encounters or legends of the creature from their childhood.
The fireballs can be as tiny as a spark and as large as a basketball and appear in numbers ranging from ten to thousands a night along a 100 km stretch of the river. They rise from the water a few hundred meters into the sky before evaporating without a trace as though a backwards explosion.
Hundreds of thousands flock to the Mekong riverbanks for the show, also known as Bang Fai Phaya Nark Festival. The centre of the buzz is the town of Phon Phisai and the locals will be happy to share current intel on the best viewing spots. The festival features fireball exhibitions, food stalls, information on the Naga legend, a night market, long-boat races before the show, and light and sound infotainment.
Do keep an eye out for the Phon Phisai parade of villagers in traditional costume, carrying pictures of the Naga and marching to the accompanying band. Once the procession has passed, visitors will settle in to wait. Make sure to come with supplies to last hours as there is no knowing when and how many fireballs will erupt.
Doi Ithanon National Park in Chiang Mai is the destination at this time for mountain and mist lovers. “The roof of Thailand” is part of the Himalayan mountain range and experiences high humidity yet cool weather all year round.
Grab a good pair of shoes, a flashlight and mosquito repellent, then take to the trail. There are spectacular views on offer in the deep quiet only punctuated by the trilling of forest birds and the buzzing of striking insects. Cool off at a waterfall on your way down.
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There is no place to experience the end of Buddhist Lent better than the Nakhon Phanom Illuminated Boat Procession, or Lai Ruea Fai. Held from 6th to 14th October every year, this grand and graceful festival features boats heaped with candles, incense sticks, lanterns and flowers or lit up with tiny lights. The intricately designed boats are made of banana or bamboo tree trunks. About twenty of them set out on the Mekong River in a stately procession for 4 kilometers, creating a visual treat to remember for a lifetime.
With time, the boats have become larger and grander and can be up to 90 meters long! The boat building commences at the beginning of October and lasts three weeks, with curious onlookers throughout. It is believed that the end of lent marks the Buddha’s return to Earth from heaven. The lit boats are then a sign of welcome and respect.
As you wait for the show to begin, you can wind through the street stalls, wander in and out of cultural exhibits and enjoy a cultural performance or two. Don’t be shy to join the locals in their folk dances if you wish to.
South (Phuket, Krabi, Hat Yai, Hua Hin)
Phuket has a visual spectacle of a gory kind to offer. The Vegetarian Festival marks a nine day holiday from meat in adherence with ancient Chinese beliefs on the purification of mind, body and soul. It can be difficult to watch entranced marchers impaling themselves with skewers and walking on fire. This is when the culture gap becomes even more important to bridge with respect.
In Krabi the rain is scant, so you can soak in hot springs in the luxurious lap of pristine nature. Klong Thom Hot Springs make for the perfect spa date, solo or coupled. Hot springs bubble up on the smooth rock from volcanic depths. The warm, gushing water is rich with natural mineral salts, said to cure various health issues including skin issues like sciatica.
There is also a cool stream to swim in and a nearby emerald pool. While you’re at it, take a walk in the nature reserve to work up a good appetite.
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Not to be left behind, Koh Lanta too has a festival at this time, with the Moken people or sea nomads floating on boats and celebrating with traditional song and dance. Called the Loi Ruea Chao Le Festival, the festival is held on different dates every year as per the lunar calendar.
October 13th is a public holiday that marks the passing of beloved Thai King Bhumibol. Expect a grave mood nationwide.
Central region (Bangkok)
Running from October to February every alternate year, the Bangkok Biennale is a young mega-festival that started in 2018. It showcases the works of Asia’s most influential and trendsetting artists at public spaces across the city. The next edition is slated for this year!
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East (Pattaya, Koh Samet, Koh Lan)
Tiffany’s Cabaret is the crown jewel of the Grand Theatre, Pattaya. Three times a day, transgender performers or ladyboys in exquisite costume and make-up regale visitors with an hour-long show of burlesque. Enjoy the show, then call it a night with the delicious buffets on offer.
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