Chiang Mai, also known as the Rose of the North, bursts spectacularly into life with the annual Flower Festival, which opens on the first weekend in February. Expect beautiful displays of chrysanthemums, Damask roses and Dendrobium orchids. The main focus of the festival is the Suan Buak Haad public garden, where plants, flowers and garlands are displayed for judging (and for sale). Also worth seeing are the slow parade through town featuring floats, dancing and hill tribe people in traditional costume and the competition to choose the Flower Festival Queen, complete with rock music.
Chiang Mai has a plethora of hotels, but you can't go wrong with the Four Seasons, Dhara Dhevi (ex Mandarin Oriental), Anantara (ex Chedi) or the more boutique 137 Pillars Hotel.
The Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival is held each May in Yasothon in Northeast Thailand. Scheduled for May 10th 2015, this Buddhist festival is celebrated by ethnically Laotian people throughout SE Asia. A merit-making ceremony and celebration of the start of the rainy season, the festival's main activity consists of a large number of home-made rockets being fired high into the air. If the rocket misfires, the owner is thrown into a puddle of mud, so there is plenty of hilarity. Stemming from the idea that firing large phallic-shaped rockets into the sky will 'fertilise' the clouds to produce rain, the festival now lasts three days and includes dancing, parades, bawdy music, cross-dressing and, perhaps unsurprisingly, consumption of vast quantities of grain spirit, also known as Lao Whiskey! Finding a luxury hotel may be challenging, so we advise not trying and just having fun!
Chon Buri is located approximately 100 km East of Bangkok, towards Pattaya. Each year, the town hosts an unusual festival of ox racing. The myth of the festival's origin is that it dates back several hundred years to an argument between farmers over who had the fastest buffalo. This led to a race to settle it once and for all. Now, in addition to the fast-paced action over 100 m of track, the event offers prizes for the best-dressed and most beautiful buffalos. Although the races may seem ferocious, the festival celebrates the animal and provides them with a special diet (including beer) and thanks them for their work over the past year. The event is generally held on the day before a full moon in October and in 2015, is due to take place on the 26th. We would recommend staying in Bangkok and visiting for the day. However, if you prefer to stay local, the Siam Bayshore or Hilton Resort in Pattaya seem the best bet. Alternatively, use the festival as a rest stop en route to Soneva Kiri.
Songkran is a fantastically fun time to be in Thailand, as this is the time of New Year celebrations. Falling in the hottest season, a large part of the festivities involves trying to keep cool through the throwing of water and squirting with water guns. Dress accordingly, bearing in mind that coloured powder is also sometimes thrown. This isn't a threatening time though, rather a time of great fun, although you are likely to get wet! The tradition of spraying water is seen as a way of cleansing you of your sins or bad luck, so that you start the next year afresh. If you are staying in Bangkok, most hotels will provide you with a Songkran survival kit, with items such as ear-plugs, water-proof bags and water-guns. In 2015, Songkran takes place around the 14th April (exact dates vary by principality and can last 3 days or longer).
This is one event that we have longed to see but not yet been able to make. In previous years, the King's Cup elephant polo competition has taken place in the seaside town of Hua Hin that is home to one of our favourite hotels, the Barai (part of the Hyatt Regency). However, the event has now moved to the capital and will take place in Bangkok from 27th-30th August. In addition to providing entertainment for viewers and the elephants alike, the event also raises money to support elephants in Thailand and sponsors schemes, such as an initiative to provide animal therapy to children with autism. Sponsored by Anantara hotels, the easiest way to get tickets to watch the tournament is by booking a package at one of their hotels in Bangkok, although packages for this year don't seem to have been released at time of writing.
The King's birthday is a wonderful time to be in Thailand, when the entire country enjoys a National holiday to celebrate the 5th December together. Buy a yellow T-shirt (this is the King's colour) from one of the numerous market stalls and enjoy the festive atmosphere. A word of warning though - it's best not to wear red as this could be seen as a political statement, red being the colour of the opposition Pheu Thai Party which, while not anti-royalty is nonetheless not welcome at the feast. Subject to medical advice, the King appears at the Throne Hall in Bangkok in front of thousands of well-wishers who have often camped for days to get a good spot so they can chant "Long live the King" and wave colourful flags. In the evening, a spectacular fireworks display lights up the sky outside the Royal Palace to conclude the formal and informal celebrations. Note that some sights, including the Royal Palace may be closed at around this time.