Plan your visit to coincide with one of these Thai festivals. Thais celebrate even their religious holidays with gusto and invite the visitor to join in. Precise dates for many of the festivals and holidays may vary from year to year. Check with the Tourism Authority of Thailand at 73-75 Phuket Road (Tel 076 212213, 076 211036).
Chinese New Year is celebrated in this month, this year from the 21-23, alot of smaller shops may be closed during the celebration.
Magha Puja (full moon day) celebrates the spontaneous gathering of 1,200 disciples to hear the Buddha preach. In the evening when the full moon rises, Buddhists gather at wats to honour him. The most beautiful ceremony is at Wat Chalong. Arrive about 19:00. Buy incense sticks, a candle and flowers from a vendor. After the sermon, follow the monk-led procession around the temple. After completing three circuits, place your candle, incense sticks and flowers in the sand-filled trays as the others do, perform a wai (hands clasped in prayer before the face) and depart.
Songkran (April 13 - 15), the traditional Thai new year, finds the Thais at their boisterous best. One blesses friends by sprinkling water on them which soon develops into a full-scale war with ample dousings. Expect to get drenched so dress accordingly.
See more pictures from the Songkran festival.
Turtle Release Festival (April 13) is the auspicious day when young turtles are released into the sea in a grand ceremony at Nai Yang beach. It begins early in the morning with alms offered to monks and is accompanied by music and dance and food.
Visakha Puja (full moon day) commemorates Buddhas birth, enlightenment and death, all of which occurred on the same day. It is celebrated in the same manner as Magha Puja with a triple circumambulation around the temple as the moon is rising.
Loy Rua is a Chao Lay or Sea Gypsy festival held on the 13th, 14th and 15th (the full moon) of the sixth and 11th Thai lunar months to mark the beginning and the end of the monsoon season. Fishermen build a 2 1/2 m long model boats of bamboo and fill them with models of weapons as well as strands of hair, fingernail clippings and other items where bad luck is belived to reside. Loy Rua resembles the Loy Kratong festival in that the boats are set adrift in the sea, taking with them all bad thoughts. Elders pray for harmony within the village for months afterwards. This ancient rite is undoubtedly a ritualistic purging of aggressions to maintain peace within the village.
Asalaha Puja (full moon day) commemorates Buddhas first sermon to his first five disciples. It is celebrated in the same manner as Magha Puja.
Chinese Moon Festival (early September) is celebrated on the full moon night of the eight lunar month. The moon goddess is honoured with shrines laden with fruit, incense and candles. It is a lovely festival with lanterns of all shapes and sizes lit up. Luscious moon cakes are sold, filled with nuts, durian and salted eggs.
Vegetarian Festival (usually October) is the most unusual of Phukets festivals. This Chinese celebration runs from the first to the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. There are daily processions through the streets but its most salient features are gruesome tests of devotion. Devotees called Soldiers of the Gods enter trances and perform feats of daring including climbing ladders with rung made of knives. While in trances and thus oblivious to pain, they run skewers, hoses, spears, and even Chiang Mai umbrellas through cheeks and tongues. They must fast for several days beforehand and must abstain from sexual intercourse, killing, quarrelling, telling lies and - one which bars foreigners from participating - staying in a hotel during the previous three weeks! Among the most daring feats is walking barefoot across fiery coals. To get an idea of what it involves, try walking barefoot across a Phuket beach at noon. To enter the Chinese temples, you must be dressed entirely in white. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Patong Carnival is a grand blow-out in Patong beach with a Miss patong contest, procession, beer drinking marathons, ice carving contest, races and carnival rides.
Lay Krathong (full moon day) is the most beautiful of Thai celebrations. It is said to have begun in 13th-century Sukhothai when young queen Nang Nopamat floated a small boat laden with candles and incense downstream past the pavilion where her husband was talking with firends. It has grown to be one of the countrys most enchanting festivals. As the full moon rises, Thais fill tiny floral floats with candles and incense and launch them into the rivers, canals, ponds and the sea to wash away sins and bless love affairs. It is a romantic night for lovers of all ages. Join in the festivities: buy a krathong from a vendor, light the taper and incense, place in it a small coin and a few hairs plucked from the head, say a prayer and send it on its way on a pond or waterway. The celebration begins at about 19:30.
Buddhist temple fairs (November through February) are held during the cool season to raise money for temple repairs. In the evening, villagers gather to enjoy local drama troupes, carnival rides, and patronise booths selling farm products. There is a convivial ait of good fun. Ask at your hotel if one is being held nearby or ask a hotel employee to take you to a temple fair in his village.
Phuket Kings Cup Regatta (early December) is a week of races from Nai Harn beach that has become a fixture on international yachting calendars. The regatta has grown in international stature in recent years. During the event, the bay at Nai Harn is transformed by a kaleidoscope of rainbow-coloured spinnakers from around the world.