Most of Bangkok's significant festivals are religious in nature, or relate to the royal family, and particularly the king. The biggest by far are Songkran, the Thai New Year in April, and Loy Krathong, the festival of light in November – and you couldn’t have too more different events in tone.
January: Chinese New Year
Bangkok's Chinatown is always one of its busiest and most interesting districts, but during Chinese New Year it comes alive with street parades on Yaowarat Road featuring ceremonial dragons, dancers and vast amounts of firecrackers. Temples, too, are thronged as part of the celebrations.
Thai new year is celebrated as the Songkran water festival, which has evolved into a wet and wild free-for-all. It’s less aggressively pursued in Bangkok than in Phuket, Koh Samui or Pattaya, but expect to get drenched if you go anywhere near backpacker central, Khao San Road.
May: Royal Ploughing Ceremony
Held to mark the beginning of the planting season, and designed to ensure a good rice harvest, this event is held at Sanam Luang field near the Grand Palace. Religious leaders lead two oxen around the field as they plough rice seeds into the ground. A highly symbolic and popular ceremony for Thais.
June – August: Amazing Thailand Grand Sale
Hardly anyone who visits Bangkok doesn't hit the shops, and the annual two-month long sale in the capital offers serious bargains for serious shoppers. It is centred on the city's major malls but also can include small local businesses. Savings of 10-80 per cent are promised.
September & October: International Festival of Dance & Music
Held in September and October, this event brings to Bangkok artists of international repute in ballet, classical music, modern dance and opera, as well as a range of other musical genres, including folk, jazz, blues and reggae. The festival has been a fixture now for almost 20 years.
October: Vegetarian Festival
Centred on Chinatown's Yaowarat Rd, this is a slightly tamer version of Phuket's festival, which features – along with a focus on vegan diet – people poking skewers through their cheeks and firewalking. Here, expect food stalls, Chinese opera and reverential visits to temples.
November: Loy Krathong
By comparison with Songkran, Loy Krathong is a gentle, stately festival that involves floating krathongs – votive offerings of flowers set on paper boats and illuminated with candles – on the rivers and khlongs. It is a charming time to be in Bangkok.
November: Royal Barge Procession
This boat procession on the Chao Phraya sees as many as 50 traditional teak royal barges oared down the river from Rama XIII Bridge to Wat Arun. This ancient ceremony was revived by Thailand's revered King Bhumibol, and is presided over by members of the royal family.
December: Trooping of the Colours
Modelled on London's famous ceremony, this event at Royal Plaza sees members of the army, navy, air force and royal guard parade before representatives of the royal family. It is held just before the King's Birthday on December 5, but his ill-health in recent years has prevented him from attending.
December: The King's Birthday
As his health declines, the celebration of his birth on 5 December – he was born in the USA – has become more poignant, and if anything, the reverence shown by most Thais has become more intense. Focused on Sanam Luang, the celebrations include spectacular fireworks.