Every year Phuket hosts dozens of exciting and varied local events, festivals and holidays, which attract an eclectic mix of Thais, local expats, and holidaymakers. The events in Phuket are always crowd pleasers and there is definitely something for everybody to enjoy.
From the rather shocking self mutilation and exuberance of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival to the excitement and thrill of competitive yacht racing in the King’s Cup Regatta, there is never a dull moment to be had in Phuket. The sheer number and choice of cultural, sporting, religious, historic and simply fun events throughout the year is one reason why so many people visit the island, besides the fantastic scenery, sublime beaches, gorgeous islands and world famous nightlife.
During the most popular festivals and events, it can be a challenge to find reasonably priced accommodation due to the temporary increase in visitor numbers, particularly when events occur in peak season or coincide with important religious festivals such as Chinese New Year and Songkran. At peak times, it can be worth booking accommodation in advance to make sure you stay at your preferred location. Luckily, Phuket has ample hotels and apartments and so with a little perseverance, you can always find a room of some kind or another.
Below we have listed most of the main cultural, entertainment and sporting festivals that take place in Phuket each year in chronological order. However each year the dates and venues are subject to change and there are often last minute alterations and cancellations, so it’s advisable to check the details nearer the time. Occasionally, there are also one off local events happening around the island, so watch out for up to the minute information. All the latest up and coming events in Phuket are listed in calendar section.
We have also mentioned some lesser known and unusual events that occasionally take place in Phuket, but most of those listed below are now firm fixtures on the local calendar. However, the major Thai national holidays which are celebrated all over the country, as well as the traditional Buddhist ceremonies, are described separately in our Holidays article, and we have only provided precise dates for 2012 when the date is already fixed.
Phuket Community Foundation (PCF) Race Day
One of the first annual events to kick off the year is the Phuket Community Foundation Race Day which consists of a full day of whacky races and other varied entertainment. The main event and highlight is the rubber duck racing (thousands of bright yellow rubber ducks are an amazing sight to behold and prove very popular with the audience), dragon boat races, cardboard box races, rafting and kayak races. Other entertainment on the day includes several dance contests and classic car rides.
In the past some truly staggering prizes totalling more than 1 million baht in value were up for grabs, and the top prize in 2011 was worth over 800,000 baht (a luxury yacht cruise for ten people). The best news is that it’s all done to raise money for local charities in Phuket.
Previous years’ events have been in November or January at the Laguna Phuket resort, so check the website below for more information on the next event.
More details can be found on the PCF website at www.phuketcharity.org
Phuket Red Cross Fair
The Phuket Red Cross Fair provides unmissable evenings of entertainment for the whole family. It normally lasts for around 11 days and takes place at Saphan Hin Park in Phuket Town, in the same week as New Year when everybody is still in high spirits. The event is essentially a traditional fairground and carnival with dozens of interesting side attractions, temporary stalls and small shops where you can buy knickknacks, local arts and crafts, as well as food and souvenirs. It’s become a firm favourite with locals and tourists.
Besides the nail biting rides, there is live music aplenty and dance shows every night. To promote the event, the Phuket Red Cross sells lottery tickets to raise money for charity. The lottery has become overwhelmingly popular in Phuket due to the massive prize funds, so don’t forget to buy a ticket because in 2010 the first prize was a brand new house worth several million baht!
Phuket Old Town Festival
This always popular three-day festival goes from strength to strength every year. One of the main aims is to promote tourism in Phuket and especially the old town, to celebrate the ancient culture and traditions of Phuket which, unbeknown to some people, is not only about tropical beaches and crazy nightlife but also offers some fascinating cultural and historical attractions.
The festival presents an excuse to escape from the beach, and to experience what many people consider is the real Phuket for a day or two. Another important aim of this event is to encourage local people to preserve the historically important and attractive Sino-Portuguese architecture, and the traditional ways of life which are both in danger of being lost to modern encroachments and practices. Leading up to the celebrations, many of the local houses and shop owners are encouraged to make repairs and improve the buildings, so in this sense some of the goals are achieved.
The festival date coincides closely with the Chinese New Year. The action is mainly centred in the heart of the old town along Krabi, Thalang and Phuket Roads, and the very well known Soi Rommanee. The streets are completely closed to traffic and turned into temporary walking streets. There is plenty of entertainment and activities, and you get a chance to observe things that many visitors don’t see very often in Phuket such as Chinese lanterns paraded along dark streets, traditional Chinese dances, street parades, cultural shows, as well as the possibility to ride an authentic rickshaw around the old streets. Besides all this, you can buy souvenirs and delicious local cuisine from the tiny booths that are set up everywhere. It’s even possible to visit some of the old houses which temporarily open to visitors; quite a fascinating experience that should not be missed.
The main celebrations start at 3pm each day and last until midnight. Further information can be found on the Tourism Authority Thailand (TAT) website at www.tourismthailand.org
2012 date: 16-19 January
Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year or Spring Festival Week falls on a different date each year (as it’s based on the lunar calendar) and is one of the most important and enjoyable local festivals that takes place in Phuket. For the sizeable Chinese population in Phuket, this is the main traditional event of the year when they can celebrate for a couple of weeks with close friends and family. Despite not being an official Thai holiday, many of the local Chinese-owned businesses will be temporarily closed, and many people will travel abroad to visit relations, in what is known as the Golden Week (due to the additional business and revenue that is generated at Chinese New Year). This is unsurprisingly a very busy but exciting time of year to be visiting Phuket.
In Phuket Town especially, and at the many Chinese temples on the island, you’ll be able to see related ceremonial events and cultural processions. A common practice is to light noisy firecrackers in the street each day, and there is local food on sale and entertainment everywhere. It’s a fabulous time to visit Phuket and you’ll notice that local shops and houses raise red banners (the colour red is considered very lucky in Chinese society) and decorations to encourage fortune and happiness in the New Year. Little red envelopes stuffed with small amounts of money are also given between friends and family as gifts.
In 2012 the Chinese New Year starts on January 23 which happens to be the Year of the Dragon, the most auspicious animal in the Chinese zodiac, so you can expect an especially enthusiastic celebration and some big parties this time around.
2012 date: 23 January 2012
Wat Chalong Fair
The spectacular and historic temple of Wat Chalong is considered the most sacred and important temple in the south of Thailand. Every year a large fair is organised in the grounds that usually coincides with the Chinese New Year, but it’s also been held in February during previous years. It takes place over 8 days and is an extremely important local event that attracts people from all over Thailand, and of course Phuket.
Traditionally, the fair was intended as a way for the local farmers to celebrate the completed harvest when all their hard work was finished. The ceremony has continued and nowadays includes a wide range of activities, shopping stalls and Thai food vendors that come from all over the country, as well as lots of games and activities. If you’re looking to shop and grab a bargain, this is an ideal opportunity as amongst the popular items on sale are clothing, bags, flowers, electronics, ceramics, jewellery and much more.
Entertainment wise it’s a great day out for families, with shooting games, merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, live music and even Muay Thai boxing displays courtesy of local training camps. You might see the occasional appearance by well known (in Thailand) Thai celebrities and there is even a drive-in movie theatre! During the fair, the temple is more elaborately decorated with bright colours and lights, and an impressive firework display is part of the celebration. If you are in Phuket around this time, it’s a very worthwhile event and one that you won’t forget in a hurry.
Phuket International Blues Rock Festival
Blues and rock music has carved a niche in the Phuket music scene in recent years, and has led to this fabulous and increasingly popular festival that started in 2005, which attracts many well known and respected contemporary musicians from around the world. The event has become an established favourite which always takes place over the last weekend in February, and in 2012 will be at the Laguna Phuket resort near Bang Tao Beach (north west Phuket), with the last day being a special wrap-up party.
The bands take to the stage from 6pm until midnight each day. This year the roster is expected to include luminaries such as Rich Harper (USA), AkashA (Malaysia), John Meyer’s Blues Express (Australia) and Chris Thomas King (USA). Because it’s a charity event admission is not free, but the tickets represent good value for money considering the amount of quality music and entertainment on offer.
More information can be found on the official website at www.phuketbluesfestival.com
2012 date: 23-26 February
The Bay Regatta
The Bay Regatta (sometimes known as the fun regatta because nobody takes it too seriously) is one of the most enjoyable sailing regattas held in Phuket each year. There are four days of intense racing from Phuket to Krabi, with the route going through the picturesque Phang-Nga bay before returning to Phuket. On average, around 40 to 50 yachts take part in the competition each year, with most participants sleeping on their boats as they visit different anchorages each night. The regatta aways generates masses of excitement as the crews compete, but the overall vibe is friendly and is thoroughly fun to watch. As expected, there are always some good parties onshore when the racing is over.
You can find more information at www.bay-regatta.com
Two Heroine Sisters’ Festival
This important local celebration is sometimes known as the Thao Thep Kasattri and Thao Sri Suntorn Festival, but most people simply call it the Two Sisters Festival as it commemorates the selfless and brave acts of two eponymous and revered sisters that helped rebut a Burmese invasion in 1785. In Phuket, just about everybody knows the story of the sisters (see our history of Phuket article in the General section) who have become local legends, and immortalised at the prominent Heroine Monument in Phuket.
The festival is one of the main events on the island, and even though it’s mainly attended by Thais it’s a fascinating experience and there’s plenty to see and do. Activities at several locations are included in the day’s events such as shadow puppets, bicycle racing, a fun run, and an outdoor cultural show with hundreds of participants that re-enacts the invasion. As with most festivities in Thailand, there are masses of local food and products to buy at the temporary market stalls. The festival takes place annually on March 13th, which happens to be the anniversary of the attempted invasion.
2012 date: 13 March
Sea Gypsy Boat Floating Festival
The local Phuket sea gypsy communities (known as Chao Lay) are amongst the oldest inhabitants of Phuket and hold this unique festival (known as Loi Reua in Thai) twice a year on the full moon of the sixth and eleventh lunar months. This notable three-day event takes place at all the sea gypsy villages around Phuket including the island of Koh Sireh, as well as in Rawai and Sapam.
The festival is quite similar in principle to the important Thai festival of Loi Krathong (where thousands of tiny boats are floated on rivers), and is a rare chance to observe the local Chao Lay paying respects to the spirit of the sea. In the ceremony, a traditional wooden boat decorated with flowers is floated out to sea very early in the morning, an act which represents expelling bad fortune. Little wooden dolls, and even finger nail clippings and hair are placed inside the boat before setting it adrift. The festivities take place throughout the day and culminate with the boat being floated on the last day.
Phuket International Marine Expo (PIMEX)
The PIMEX expo is by far the largest boat show in the region. Begun in 2003, it has steadily attracted more support each year as the maritime industry in Phuket has experienced a massive surge in growth. Phuket has become a major and important centre for boating of all kinds, and considering the wealth of attractions in the region it’s not surprising that increasingly wealthy residents and visitors are keen to invest in a luxury motor boat, sailing yacht or catamaran.
The show takes place at the Royal Phuket Marina over four days in late March. Previous years have managed to pull in more than 6000 visitors interested in all manner of boats and maritime activities. There are dozens of local and international exhibitors, as well as expensive cars and luxury boats on sale, which range from 30 footers to 90 foot super yachts. It’s a popular venue for companies to launch their latest and greatest boats, and in 2010 around $20 million of transactions were completed at the show. For anyone that doesn’t have a few million to spend, there are more affordable jet skis, kayaks, and boat supplies which are always in high demand, and it’s a fascinating place to see how the other half lives.
More details can be found at www.iirme.com/pimex
2012 date: 29 March-1 April
Phuket Bike Week
Just like many other towns and cities across Thailand, Phuket hosts it’s own successful and well-organised bike week every year in Patong Beach, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors and generates hundreds of millions of baht of revenue for the island. This noisy event is really just an excuse to have a big party where bikers can show off their incredible machines and admire what others have. Most bikes at the show tend to be flamboyant choppers but there are also custom bikes, sports bikes and just about every other kind imaginable. As expected there are plenty of tattooed middle-aged blokes wearing leather waistcoats adorned with motorcycle club emblems, but most of them are a very friendly and welcoming bunch.
Like most bike weeks in Thailand, the event not only appeals to hardcore bikers, but is popular with anyone that wants to marvel at the impressive bikes or simply enjoy the party atmosphere and activities. Avid bikers and fans come to Phuket from all over Thailand and abroad especially for the event, often with an accompanying posse of riders from the many motorbike clubs in Asia.
To keep the crowds entertained, loads of activities are laid on such as a music festival with live rock bands, food and drinks stands, booths selling bike gear, a tattoo contest and even coyote dancers. There is an accompanying bike exhibition in the JungCeylon mall in Patong, where Thai and international manufacturers open booths selling bike equipment and accessories. There are even unique helmets for sale that have been lovingly decorated by Japanese artists. The most beautiful and just downright bizarre bikes battle it out in the bike contest, and the most attractive girls can win prizes in the Miss Phuket Bike Week competition.
More details are available at www.phuketbikeweek.com.
2012 date: 6-8 April
The Sea Turtle Releasing Ceremony
The Turtle Releasing Ceremony takes place at Nai Harn beach around the 13th of April each year, which aims to increase the numbers of critically endangered turtle species such as Green Sea Turtles, Olive Ridley Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles. Some of the lucky creatures are tracked by satellite to learn more about their migration habits and to aid conservation efforts. The ceremony coincides with the Songkran festival which is traditionally a time when Thais let birds, fish and turtles go free. There are now several sea turtle release programmes established in Phuket, another of which is organised by the Laguna Phuket in April, which also draws quite a crowd of onlookers.
More details can be found on this website: www.lagunaphuket.com/CSR
2012 date: 13 April
Phuket Gay Pride Festival
The popularity of this festival which takes place in Patong during February reflects the thriving and vibrant gay scene in Phuket, and is a fun experience for anybody that enjoys street carnivals and the flamboyant paraphernalia and exhibitionism that surrounds them. You are sure to experience a few eye raising moments but it’s all good fun and spirits are high. The festival originally started in 1999 and has become more popular every year, both for gay and straight people. Come prepared to be a little shocked and expect to see copious amounts of lipstick, mascara, topless men, ladyboys, tight spandex and more raunchy behaviour than you can imagine. Just a normal day really in Patong Beach…
2012 date: 27-28 April
The Phuket marathon is another top class sporting event held in conjunction with the Laguna Phuket. There are several events on the day including the main run which is a gruelling 42 kilometre marathon, plus a half marathon, a 10.5 kilometre run, a 5 kilometre walk and a 2 kilometre kids’ run. The route is through a fairly quiet and scenic part of Phuket which goes past local villages, pineapple fields and rubber plantations. There’s also a pasta party on the previous day to give you enough energy for the big race.
More details can be found at www.phuketmarathon.com
2012 date: 10 June
Phuket Six Senses Race Week
The Six Sense Race Week was established in 2003 and comprises a series of races over four days of competition, with many different classes of boat taking part such as cruisers, bare boats and charter yachts. The event starts at the luxurious Evason Phuket and Six Senses Spa, and there are challenging courses for the most competitive boats and some more fun courses around the islands for less serious racers. The nightly parties are also quite lively and have become an essential part of the experience.
Full details on the race are available at www.phuketraceweek.com
Phuket Fireworks Festival
Phuket holds a tremendous fireworks festival in mid-August every year at Laem Saphan Hin just outside Phuket Town, which can be seen for miles around due to the scale of the display. Supposedly more than 4000 fireworks are set off during the 40-minute spectacle which certainly lives up to its reputation. It’s even better up close, however!
Por Tor Festival
The Por Tor or Hungry Ghost festival is a very unique and unusual local event, in which the local Hokkien Chinese residents believe the ghosts of their ancestors are released for a month by the goddess Gwan Yin, so they can return to visit their old homes. Of course, a hungry ghost could be an angry one and so the locals “make merit” by offering all sorts of delicious food to the ghosts, and pray at temples to give thanks and as a mark of respect. The date changes each year but it normally falls in August or September. The celebrations are centred on the Por Tor Kong shrine in Phuket Town which is close to the Bang Neow shrine, just south of the old part of town.
During the festival, various foods such as steamed pork, duck and chicken, yellow noodles (which represent longevity) and fruit are offered to appease the hungry spirits. The most common items offered are the red turtle cakes called Ang Ku, which also represent longevity and are usually made of sticky rice coated with a red topping, which is then decorated with flowers and various messages. They come in many sizes and the largest can cost up to several thousand baht. The well known local bakery Geng Tin makes some of the finest examples. Residents then take the turtle cakes to the shrine which is filled with hundreds of candles and burning incense. The gifts they take are offered to the spirits and they also burn paper money in a furnace to appease their ancestors.
Besides all this merit-making, the Thais and Chinese never miss an opportunity to setup stalls in the streets selling clothes, toys, and various games such as darts. Even though it’s supposed to be unlucky for children to be outside after 6pm during the festival, these days nobody seems to take much notice of that tradition.
Phuket Seafood Fiesta
Food lovers will be thrilled with this annual event. Everybody knows that Thai food can be sublime and that Phuket has some excellent seafood, top class restaurants and skilled chefs. As if an excuse were needed, this is an ideal opportunity to taste some of the delicacies and varied cuisine that Phuket is known for. The fiesta runs for the whole month and aims to increase tourist numbers in the low season, as well as promote Thai cuisine and help boost the income of local fishermen, of which there are many in Phuket.
Many special events and promotions are put on to help the cause, such as discounts of up to 20 percent at dozens of the participating restaurants. More food related activities and presentations take place at locations around the island such as Patong, Kata, Rawai, Chalong Bay, Nai Yang and Phuket Town.
Visit www.phuketseafoodfiesta.com for further details.
Honda Racing Fest
Rev up your engines and prepare to be thrilled at the immensely popular Honda Racing Fest, which takes place around a specially prepared 2 kilometre long track at the Saphan Hin public park in Phuket Town. Japanese and European drivers compete and race around the track in souped up, customised Honda Jazz and Civic models, to the thrill of the crowds. Besides the races there are some additional family oriented activities such as go-karting. The Fest usually takes place in September or November and is completely free.
Quicksilver Thailand Surf Contest
In 2011 this surfing contest was moved from Kata Beach to Patong Beach, which is slightly puzzling as the waves there are generally not as good. The event is part of the Asian Surfing Championship and takes place over 4 days around September each year. This well publicised event attracts some well known competitors from around the region and abroad. In 2011, about 52 surfers took part in the men’s competition alone.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival
A vegetarian festival…you may think it would be rather uninteresting. However, this is Thailand and you may be in for a surprise. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is one of the most exceptional, interesting and unique celebrations in Thailand and draws thousands of people to the island to experience the bizarre and amazing feats that take place.
The event is rumoured to originate from a group of Chinese entertainers who visited Phuket in the 19th century to entertain the migrant workers (at the time a substantial Chinese population was working in the tin mines). Many of the visitors became ill and to cure themselves they followed a strict vegetarian diet and abstained from sex and alcohol. Miraculously, they all recovered, and the locals were so impressed that they decided to follow the same principles every year. Nowadays, it’s become a very famous event around the world, probably due to the bizarre and exciting rituals involved.
The 9 days of festivities start on the first night of the 9th lunar month (September or October) centred around the many Chinese temples around the island, particularly those in Phuket old town. There are a set of strict rules to follow over the 9 days, such as don’t eat meat (what a surprise), abstain from sex (a challenge), abstain from alcohol (nearly impossible) and a few more besides; don’t worry too much because you can simply observe without having to follow any rules. Phew!
Daily processions are held by each Chinese temple on different days, which march around the town and then back to the temple. Everybody that takes part has to wear white clothes, and the group is accompanied by a shaman or spiritual medium who enters a trancelike state. The shamans pierce their cheeks and tongues with sharp instruments such as knives, swords and skewers, besides stranger items including fruit and vegetables. There are incredible daily rituals such as walking across hot coals and climbing ladders lines with sharp blades; all this is done without the use of any anaesthetic and seems quite dangerous, but there are safety teams on hand to monitor the proceedings.
The highlight of the festival is definitely the final night of processions, in which the onlookers bombard the marchers’ heads and feet with firecrackers, which culminates in them eventually breaking into a run. A massive fireworks display rounds off the festival, which starts early evening and continues until midnight. Unsurprisingly, there is also a chance to sample some of Phuket’s delightful vegetarian food during the event. Undoubtedly, if there is just one festival that you should experience in Phuket, this is it!
Kamala Go Surfing Contest
This annual two-day competition is organised by local surfing group the Kamala Go Surfing Club, and celebrated its ninth year in 2011. All the action takes place at the northernmost end of Kamala Beach, which is just a short hop north from Patong Beach. The categories include both short-board open and long-board open divisions, and has previously attracted around 80 surfers from Thailand and abroad. The competition is very friendly and relaxed, and on the final day a party with live music and prizes takes place on the beach. Even if you’re not surfing, the party is worth going along for.
Phuket International Sport Fishing Tournament
Every year this highly anticipated three-day fishing (and drinking) event is a great chance to land some of the biggest billfish that inhabit the waters around Phuket, such as Blue and Black Marlin, various species of Tuna, Dorado, Wahoo and Barracuda. Prizes are awarded for the team that catches the most fish by weight in kilos, as well as individual prizes for female and junior angler categories. The tournament is a great opportunity to experience the Andaman Sea and catch some real whoppers. Teams come to Phuket to compete from all corners of the world, as well as some local competitors.
Check out the official website at www.phuket-international-sportfishing-tournament.com
Laguna Phuket Triathlon
November seems to be a fantastic month for sports enthusiasts in Phuket. The long established Phuket triathlon based at the Laguna Beach Resort is one of the most well known in Asia and features a 1.8 kilometres swim, a 55 kilometre bike ride, followed by a tough 12 kilometre run. For anybody that can’t quite face such a gruelling ordeal there’s always the shorter 6 kilometres fun run.
More details are available here: www.lagunaphukettriathlon.com
FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Phuket
The final round of the FIVB women’s beach volleyball tournament has been held in Phuket at Karon Beach since 2006 and is one of the few truly international sporting events on the island each year. Some of the top female teams and players in the world take part and more than 20,000 spectators turn up. It’s a good excuse to get down to the beach and pretend that you’re doing something more worthwhile than just sunbathing.
More details can be found at www.fivb.ch/en/beachvolleyball
Phuket King’s Cup Regatta
Phuket is lucky to host several competitive sailing regattas. The most prestigious and well known is undoubtedly the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta which is held every December. This is an esteemed international yachting event which hosts a week of competitive sailing in the waters around Phuket. It’s certainly the largest and most well known regatta within Asia, and was launched in 1987 to commemorate the 60th birthday of Thailand’s King who is a keen yachting enthusiast and patron of the Cup. The event is gaining in popularity every year, and when the boats are not out racing they’re anchored just off Kata Beach.
For more information go to www.kingscup.com
Patong Carnival celebrates the start of the high tourist season at Patong Beach. There are normally a couple of stages set up down by the beach that have displays of traditional Thai culture, live music and pop bands, as well as various competitions and beauty contests. There are all the usual stalls selling food, handicrafts and souvenirs, plus firework displays and street parades. It’s worth a look and is a fun way to herald in the masses of tourists that are expected this time of year. In 2011, the carnival is scheduled for between December 15-20.