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 April 12, 2004
Amazing Thai Festivals Indulge The Senses

 A journey to Thailand offers a sumptuous feast for the senses. Savvy travelers can heighten their experience by planning a sojourn to coincide with any of the plentiful Thai festivals and holidays. The Fruit Festival tantalizes taste buds; the Chang Mai Flower Festival tickles noses; the Mekong River Illuminated Boat Procession dazzles eyes; rhythms of the Pattaya Music Festival awaken souls; and splashes of cool water during Songkran (the Thai New Year) refresh spirits.

Regardless of the time of the year, there is always a celebration underway in numerous locations throughout the country. The following important celebrations taking place in 2004 will enrich a visit to Thailand , offering insight into the country's history and culture as well as distinctive Thai experience.

April

• Songkran (April 13-15; Nationwide): This is the traditional Thai New Year and it is celebrated throughout the country. During Songkran, Thais pay homage to Buddha images, clean their houses, spend time with family and sprinkle water on their elders to show respect. As April is the hottest month of the year, the Thai people have taken to the tradition of splashing water on each other during the festival. Visitors can expect to be thoroughly doused---all in good fun, of course.

• Bangkok Songkran Festival (April 10-15; Citywide): While celebrations are citywide, the main spectacles center around the old area of Bangkok near the Grand Palace, Rachadamneon Avenue and Khaosan Road. At Sanam Luang, the revered Phra Buddha Sihing image is displayed and bathed by thousands of Buddhists. The charm of Rachadamneon Avenue is enhanced with the addition of beautiful fountains.

• Chiang Mai Songkran Festival (April 11-16): This northern province is also famous for is Songkran parades and beauty contests.

May

• Rocket Festival (May 9-11; Yasothorn): An age-old tradition of the local folks in the Northeast region of Thailand . Annually occurred at the beginning of the Buddhist Lent, the Rocket Festival is also held as a rite for rains and fertility. During this time, local people will flock to the temples to offer foods and alms to monks before having a blast at the firing of the giant local-made rocket.

• Thai Fruit Festival (May 1-31; Nationwide): Taste buds are tempted when myriad exotic fruits from mangoes and custard apples to jackfruits and mangosteen reach peak season in May. Throughout the month, many hotels and resorts in Thailand welcome guests with a selection of local fruits in a basket. Those traveling anywhere in Thailand by car should look out for the roadside fruit stands, offering an enormous variety of local fruits, fresh from the nearby orchards.

June

• Phi Ta Khon Festival (June 19-21; Loei): This rain-making festival is the Thai version of Halloween. Revelers don masks and costumes to look like ghosts, offering unique photo opportunities for visitors.

• Thailand Grand Sale (June 1-July 31; Bangkok and select cities): Music to shoppers' ears, the "Thailand Grand Sale" takes place at department stores, restaurants, hotels, resorts, travel agents, golf courses, jewelry shops, and more in Bangkok as well as in the provincial capitals and major tourist destinations upcountry.

July

• International Sculpted Candle Festival (July 31 -- August 1; Ubon-Ratchathani Province ): July marks the beginning of Buddhist Lent. One of the most important rituals at this time is the candle procession that involves the handing out of candles to the monks for use during the three-month period. The ceremony originated from the belief that items that provide light will provide monks with illumination physically and spiritually. The Ubon Ratchathani Province International Sculpted Candle Festival in the Northeast focuses on the craftsmanship of local artisans. Elaborately carved beeswax candles of various sizes and shapes are exhibited in high-spirited processions around the city before being presented in local temples.

August

• Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen (August 12; National Holiday ): Cities are decorated with lights and portraits of Her Majesty the Queen. Mother's Day is also celebrated the same day.

• Family Fun: (August; Nationwide): School is out in August and the attention turns to fun family outings. Many amusement parks, theme parks, zoos and museums throughout the country offer discounts for children.

September

• Boat Racing (September; Nationwide): Boat racing is a traditional sporting event that showcases the centuries-old folk traditions and rituals of Thailand 's river communities. The magnificent procession of the Royal Barges on the Chao Phraya River , Bangkok is the crowning event.

• Vegetarian Festival (Sept. 25 -- Oct. 4; Phuket): The festival will take place at many spirit houses around Phuket, the largest island of the country. Devoted Buddhists will refrain from eating meat products and some vegetables for nine days during the festival. Other activities include the rite to welcome all nine planetary saints, a procession including images of Chinese gods and many jaw-dropping stunts believed to be inspired by the gods.

October

• Mekong River Illuminated Boat Procession (Every Sat. and Sun. throughout October; Nakhon Phanom Province ): Held annually, this dazzling event on the Mekong River marks the end of the Buddhist Lent. More than 50 boats, elaborately adorned with lights and assorted offerings, will be launched in the Mekong River at night. The festival provides a striking image of rows of boats lighting up the river. Other activities include a colorful street procession and cultural performances.

November

• Loy Krathong (Nov. 25; Nationwide): This is probably one of the most beautiful festivals in Thailand . To pay homage to the river spirits, Thai people gather on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month every year to float "Krathong" made of banana leaves and flowers in the rivers and canals.

December

• His Majesty the King's Birthday (Dec. 5; National Holiday ): The celebration of His Majesty's birthday can be seen everywhere in Thailand throughout December. Many roads in Bangkok and every city in Thailand are decorated with lights and flowers. Spectacular shows and events take place nationwide.

• Thai Food Festival (December; Bangkok ): An annual festival of Bangkok 's greatest cuisine, demonstrations of fruit carving, and ancient Thai desserts and beautiful Lanna cultural shows take place.

January

• Legends of a Kingdom -- Light and Sound Shows (2005 dates TBD): There are countless stories behind the ruins that dot the country of Thailand . Each legend has its own history and aesthetic that reflects the evolution of the Thai Kingdom . Visitors can travel back in time while enjoying the many light and sound presentations portraying the history of Thailand , held throughout several provinces.

February

• Chiang Mai Flower Festival (2005 dates TBD; Chiang Mai Province ): February is the time when Thailand 's countless flowers are in full bloom. Whether visiting Bangkok or trekking in the mountains of Northern Thailand , a sweet aroma fills the air. Chiang Mai is particularly highly regarded during this period for its annual Flower Festival. This grand event features a parade of beautifully decorated floats, flower displays, cultural performances, handicraft sales and "Miss Flower" pageants.

March

Pattaya Music Festival 2004 (2005 dates TBD; Pattaya Beach , Chonburi Province ): Travelers can enjoy a long weekend of dancing and snorkeling during this three-night festival at Pattaya Beach , which includes live concerts in various musical styles daily from noon to midnight . Spectacular snorkeling excursions can be arranged to nearby coral reefs.

Most of Thailand 's annual events, especially religious holidays, are determined by the lunar calendar so dates change each year. For a comprehensive listings of festivals from major events in cities like Bangkok , to provincial celebrations in remote areas, travelers can visit the Tourism Authority of Thailand's dedicated festival website, www.thailandgrandfestival.com