Makha Bucha takes place on the day of the full moon in the third lunar month. In 2017, this fell on February 11th. In 2018, it will be on March 1st.
The festival always happens in February or March but, as you can see, the precise date varies from year to year. Make sure to do your research ahead of time.
Makha Bucha is the first significant Buddhist festival of the year (we’ve explained its special significance below, in the ‘Why’ section).
The day begins with alms-giving ceremonies in temples across the country, where Thai people make donations to monks. Throughout the day, chanting and prayers continue. In the evening, the monks finish their chanting inside and light candles, then walk outside and go around the temple’s stupa three times whilst holding candles. It’s a particularly beautiful ceremony, and one which you should try to be present for if you possibly can.
In accordance with its religious significance, Thais make an extra effort on Makha Bucha to observe the main Buddhist precepts. One of these is to abstain from alcoholic drinks, meaning they’re unavailable from major retailers (although not all bars and restaurants will follow suit). If you were planning a big night out on Khao San Road, consider yourself warned!
Makha Bucha is a hugely significant day in the Buddhist calendar. It marks the day exactly nine months after the Buddha achieved enlightenment, on which four special events happened:
1,250 of the Buddha’s followers gathered spontaneously to see him, and hear him speak.
All 1,250 of them were considered to be enlightened ones, or ‘Arhantas’; all of them had also been ordained by the Buddha himself.
The Buddha gave out three main principles of Buddhism, which are still followed today: abstain from sin; do what is good; and cleanse your mind.
The full moon also fell on that day.
Makha Bucha gains even more significance because exactly 44 years after that special day, the Buddha decided that he would go to Nirvana (i.e. die).
Being such an important day, Makha Bucha is observed in temples up and down the country. If you’re in Thailand at the right time, you’ll have no trouble finding a place to take in the ceremonies.
Perhaps the best place to observe the festival is the Golden Mount, in Bangkok. It should already be near the top of your ‘to-visit’ list when you visit the capital, but it’s particularly wonderful on Makha Bucha when the monks proceed up the spiralling path.
One thing to remember is that the sale of alcohol is usually banned on this day and bars will be closed or at least stopped from selling alcohol.