The temple fair at Wat Phra Buddhabat in Saraburi
Even though we've lived in Thailand for ten years now, we still spend a lot of our travel time seeking out the "real" Thailand. One of the few places where we've found we're almost guaranteed a glimpse of Thai life, even in the big city of Bangkok, is the temple fair. Most temples throughout the kingdom will hold a fair at least once a year. The timing is often according to the lunar calendar, so it can be difficult to find out when a fair is being held at any given temple in any given year.
The market at night during the Thao Suranaree fair of Nakorn Ratchisima (Korat)
Although mostly connected to temples, fairs are sometimes held in provincial towns to commemorate special events. These generally occur on specific dates each year, and so are easier to schedule around. One example of this event is the Thao Suranaree fair held in Nakorn Ratchisima every year from 23 March until 3 April. The annual festival commemorates the 19th century wife of a local official, who led a band of local women that managed to fend off a Lao invasion by getting the Laotian soldiers drunk.
Some of the country-style eats you can get at a temple fair: the "bug buffet"
A Thai fair is very reminiscent of an old fashioned American county fair. There will be many stalls selling local goods as well as clothes, kitchenware and other basic necessities. Of course, you'll find plenty of booths offering whatever edible item is the local speciality, no matter how disgusting it is (). There are also almost always some "midway" games such as darts, shooting galleries and the like where you can win stuffed animals and other things. A ferris wheel, bumper cars and other rides generally completes the carnival atmosphere.
The Phra Chedi fair of Nakorn Pathom
The larger fairs will often have a stage where high school bands or traditional music schools will perform by day, and more professional entertainment will be on at night. Sometimes there is even a sort of outdoor disco set up to dance the night away in.
We must point out that temple fairs are held in temples, and so there is a religious context to them as well. Temple fairs are usually held during times of pilgrimages, and they are always a period when Thais will "make merit" by making donations to the temple. Attending the fair and playing the midway games is often seen as a way of merit making in itself.
If you go to a temple fair, be sure to dress properly, as you would when entering a temple during any other time. There's often a bit more leeway in the relaxed atmosphere of a fair, but you will generally get a much better reception and treatment if you are dressed well.
Here's a sampling of some of the major temple fairs and festivals held throughout the year:
- Wat Phra Buddhabat Pilgrimage Fairs
- There are two pilgrimage fairs held each year, very close together, at this temple in Saraburi province. The first is near the end of January or early February while the second is in late February. See our story on Wat Phra Buddhabat.
- Golden Mount
- Bangkok's Wat Saket, site of the Golden Mount, is home to a temple fair every November. During the fair, a candlelight procession up the mount is held in the early evening.
- Phra Chedi Fair
- A huge fair is held at the end of October or early November on the grounds of the world's largest chedi, Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakorn Pathom province just west of Bangkok.
- Thao Suranaree Festival
- The fair is held in the city center of Nakorn Ratchisima, more commonly known as Korat, in Northeastern Thailand. The festival commemorates a 19th century event where a band of women lead by the wife of a city official, Thao Suranaree, saved the city from a Lao invasion by getting the Laotian soldiers drunk. The festival is held from 23 March to 3 April every year.
- Wat Indrawiharn
- The fair is usually held the first 10 days of March every year. The temple is quite cramped, but the fair still has almost everything on offer that you'd expect to find in a temple fair.