Several noteworthy fetes are taking place in different regions of the country this month, so make sure you mark your calendar accordingly.
by Dave Stamboulis.
Thai festivals are a great way of getting insight into and participating in Thai traditions and culture, and November is one of the better months in the calendar for seeing some truly unique and extremely colorful festivities. At this time of year, there are several noteworthy fetes that take place in different regions of the country, so make sure you mark your calendar accordingly.
Surin Elephant Roundup
Every year, during the third weekend of November, Surin city in the northeastern region of Isan celebrates the historical connection between elephants and their mahouts (trainers) and the role that the elephants have played in Thai daily life throughout history.
The festival gets going with the elephants replacing taxis, waiting for arriving passengers at Surin’s small train station, and giving them rides around town. There is also a large elephant breakfast to kick off the main event, with a massive lineup of elephants lining the streets to dig into a feast.
The festivities then move over to the large Si Narong Stadium, where there are demonstrations of the techniques used to train elephants, and the big beasts show off their prowess engaging in elephant polo matches, playing football, and large us versus them tug o’ war events in which the audience are invited to come out and pull on the rope (of course the elephants always win). Following the fun and games, the mahouts show off the feeding and bathing rituals, as well as traditional ceremonies like phi pakarn, a rite used to fend off danger during the roundups of wild elephants.
As elephants have traditionally been a vital part of ancient warfare in Siam, the main event of the festival is a fully recreated mock battle with large armies being led by their colorfully costumed elephants, complete with cannons and plenty of smoke and fire.
In addition to these activities, there is also a beauty pageant, a parade, and plenty of rides and photo sessions available with the hundreds of elephants that come in from around the province just for the event. It’s also a great opportunity to experience a local slice of Isaan, famed not only for its som tam papaya salad and sticky rice, but also for its warm hospitality and fun-loving inhabitants. Local mor lam folk music and plenty of partying are staples in the small town each year. The Surin Elephant Roundup takes place on Nov. 20-22.
Lopburi Monkey Banquet
It’s not only elephants who get feted in Thailand. The town of Lopburi in Central Thailand is noted for its abundant monkey population who often seem to have the run of the town, scurrying across the rooftops, greeting arriving trains, and scampering throughout the atmospheric Prang Sam Yod temple.
As the city became noted for its simian population, the residents decided to pay homage to them for drawing in visitors and providing good luck to the town, and thus once a year on the last weekend in November, a massive banquet is prepared and thousands of monkeys descend to feast to their hearts content. There are over 4,000 monkeys living in Lopburi, and over 2,000 hang-out at Prang Sam Yod, which is a delightful Khmer temple.
Dozens of tables are laden with food, including some of the most expensive and juiciest durians, and sometimes, the food packets have even been delivered by skydivers, who parachute out of planes and drop into the temple courtyard where the festival occurs!
Due to the large crowds, the monkeys are rather shy at first, but once a few hit the tables, a feeding frenzy begins with thousands of macaques riding on peoples’ shoulders, climbing on photographers’ heads, drinking cans of Coke and Pepsi, and generally making a complete nuisance of themselves.
The temple gets trashed in fruit peel, shredded aluminum cans and plastic water bottles, and the grounds are littered with monkey droppings yet it is all in the name of good fun. By the afternoon Lopburi is back to normal with both monkey and man alike sound asleep, and the city looks forward to another year of prosperity and feting their prized primates. The Monkey Banquet will be held on Nov. 28-29.
Loy Krathong and Yi Peng
The floating “krathongs,” which used to be made from banana tree stalks but are now made from bread or lotus leaves, are formed into rafts, decorated with candles and flowers, and launched by thousands of Thais along rivers, canals, ponds, and other bodies of water, symbolizing the release of anger, bad deeds and corrupt thoughts. The festival also celebrates the end of the harvest season and pays homage to the Goddess of Water for a bountiful crop.
In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River is the focal point for many Loy Krathong events, with all the top hotels and restaurants with prime access to the river putting on special events, and mass crowds turn out to float their boats.
The festival is even more magical in northern Thailand where it is known as “Yi Peng.” This is actually a slightly different festival, but celebrated on the same date, and involves thousands of floating candle lanterns getting released into the sky. It’s a traditional Lanna Thai festival, but these days there are two festivals: one paid event for tourists with guaranteed seating, transportation and dinner, and the traditional event, which is free of charge but very crowded and chaotic and does take some planning to get to and enjoy.
Loy Krathong and Yi Peng will take place on Nov. 25 this year.