Have you seen a calendar in Thailand before? If you have, you must have noticed many fine details and differences from what you usually see in the west — especially the year number. So, you might wonder, “why does Thailand have a different year from other countries?”
Thailand displays Gregorian solar dates and Buddhist lunar dates in one calendar. Both pieces of information are relevant to the Thais. They use solar dates for daily life and lunar dates for Buddhist holidays. As of 2023, it is the year 2566 in Thailand — 543 years faster than the Christian year.
The Thai calendar might look bizarre at first. But if you take the time to learn all the details, it might smoothen your experience in Thailand. Especially on determining which day you should visit famous temples. Read on to uncover the story of the Thai calendar.
Why Does Thailand Have a Different Year From Other Countries?
Thailand, like many Buddhist countries, uses the Buddhist year calendar. This kind of date indication can be found in both official documents and the daily life of the locals. All Thais are well-versed in interchanging between the Christian year and Buddhist year.
What is the Buddhist year?
Like the Christain year, the Buddhist year started counting from a significant date in Buddhist history. Christians use Jesus’s birthday as a starting point; Buddhists use the day Buddha passed away and reached nirvana (Parinibbana). (Source)
The Thais call the Buddhist year “พุทธศักราช” (Buddhasakkarat). And as of 2022, it is the year 2565 in the Thai Buddhist calendar.
Why do the Thai use the Buddhist year?
The simplest answer would be Buddhism is Thailand’s national religion.
The first contact between Thailand and Buddhism is unclear. However, there is evidence showing the presence of Buddhism in the Sukhothai Kingdom. This predates even the days of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
In the Ram Khamhaeng Inscription, King Ram Khamhaeng of Sukhothai mentioned a Chedi (Thai version of pagodas) construction to contain a piece of Buddha’s relic. This means that the locals of that time are already acquainted with Buddhism. (Source)
Thai Buddhist Year Converter
If you plan to live in Thailand, you must learn to convert the Christian year to the Thai Buddhist year. It is vital for your daily life. After all, most event announcements use this type of year.
Follow this formula:
Christian year + 543 = Thai Bhuddist year.
However, this formula might not work in every Buddhist country. Myanmar, for example, is 1 year faster than Thailand. While Thailand calls the year Buddha passed away year 0, Myanmar calls it year 1. (Source)
Another Year Type in Thailand
As you already know, Thailand is unique. And once in history, the locals wanted to elevate that uniqueness by having a year of their own.
In 1889, King Rama V decided that the year Rattanakosin city (Bangkok in the present) was made the capital of Siam should be year 1. This year-counting system is called Rattanakosin Sok or Rattanakosin Year. (Source)
This means that Rattanakosin year 1 equals the Christian year 1782.
However, this system was later canceled by King Rama VI in 1912 — only 20 years after its first use. King Rama VI wanted to emphasize the Buddhist influence in the country, so the Thai went back to using the Thai Buddhist year. (Source)
Nowadays, nobody keeps track of the Rattanakosin year. However, some historical events are recognized with the Rattanakosin Year. The best example is the Pak Nam Incident during the colonial period. This is when the French gunboats invaded Thai Bangkok and forced King Rama V to give up territories. (Source)
To the Thai, this event is known as the Rattanakosin Sok 112 Incident.
Now that you understand how the Thai years work, you might be interested in the lunar calendar. After all, this calendar is crucial for determining Buddhist holidays.
The Difference Between Thai Lunar Calendar and Gregorian Calendar
The main difference between the Gregorian calendar and the Thai Lunar calendar is the sun and moon.
The Gregorian calendar tells you dates based on the earth’s orbit around the sun. On the other hand, the Lunar calendar tells you dates based on the moon’s orbit around the earth.
In the Lunar calendar, the dates are indicated by the face of the moon: waning, waxing, full moon, and new moon. There are 14 phases of the waning moon, 14 phases of the waxing moon, 1 full moon, and 1 new moon. (Source)
A month starts on a New Moon night. This is a night where the moon is covered by total darkness. You can’t see it at all. Then, the moon shifts into a waning phase. (Source)
The second night of the month is the 1st waning moon. The third night is the 2nd waning moon, and the fourth is the 3rd waning moon. So on and so forth. This waning phase continues for fourteen days, then it is time for the Full Moon (some might call it the 15th waning moon). (Source)
After the Full Moon night, the moon will shift into a waxing phase. Like the waning phase, it moves from the 1st waxing moon to the 2nd waxing moon, and so on. The waxing moon phase continues for 14 days, then it comes full circle to the New Moon (15th waxing moon). (Source)
This entire moon cycle takes around 30 days, hence a month.
Like the Gregorian calendar, a year in the Lunar calendar consists of 12 months. However, the numbering is a bit different. The first month in the Lunar system is around December, and the twelfth month is around November. (Source)
So, a Thai person could say “Event X is on the Full Moon of the 6th month.” This means event X will happen around the middle of May.
Annual Thai Holidays and Festivals That Use the Lunar Calendar
There are 4 big holidays and 1 festival in Thailand that uses the Lunar calendar dates.
On the Gregorian calendar, these special days will be on different dates each year. So, you should note when these 5 holidays and festivals will occur. Here is the information you need.
1. Visakha Puja Day or Vesak
Full Moon of the 6th Month (Around the middle of May) (Source)
This holiday is also known as Buddha day. And the reason is simple. On this date in different years, Buddha was born, reached enlightenment, and passed away to reach Nirvana (Parinibbana)
Buddhists around the world celebrate this holiday in honor of Buddha. In Thailand’s case, people walk around the temple 3 times with lit candles in their hands. This ritual usually occurs in the evening.
2. Makha Bucha Day
Full moon of the 3rd month (Around the middle of February) (Source)
This holiday marks the date where Buddha first preached the core of his teaching called the Ovada Patimokkha.
The Thai of the present celebrate this day similar to how they celebrate Visakha Puja day. In the evening, they walk around the temple three times with lit candles.
3. Asalha Puja Day
Full Moon of the 8th Month (Around the middle of July) (Source)
The significance of this holiday is the appearance of the First Buddhist monk (after Buddha). His name was Kaundinya.
The celebration is the same as Visakha Puja day and Makha Bucha day.
4. Buddhist Lent Day
1st Waxing Moon of the 8th month (Around the middle of July) (Source)
It Takes place one day after Asalha Puja day. This holiday marks the start of a 3-month period where monks must stay inside the temple.
This tradition starts back in the day of Buddha. Usually, Buddhist monks go to the village early in the morning to let people offer food to them. However, this action proved problematic during the 8th month (July). Farmers grew crops during this time. The monks walked on the farming field, causing damage to these crops.
Due to that mishap, Buddha prohibited monks from leaving their temples during the farming season. This means they couldn’t go out for food. So, people went to the temple and offered food to them instead.
These practices have continued to the present day.
5. Loy Krathong
Full Moon of the 12th Month (Around the middle of November) (Source)
Loy Krathong is a festival where Thai people show respect and gratitude to the water goddess by floating a Krathong down the river.
A Krathong is a basket-shaped container people make exclusively for this festival. Traditionally, it is made from banana trees and decorated with banana leaves, flowers, candles, and incense sticks.
Thai Calendar and the People
Even though the Thai Calendar can be a confusing sight, it also tells you a lot about Thai people. Especially their open-mindedness.
The Thais use both Christian and Buddhist years in their daily life. They also use both the Gregorian and Lunar calendar for their holidays. Not many countries can pull off such a feat.
If you learn to be as flexible as the Thai, your experience in Thailand might be filled with more smiles than expected.
Like always, if you want to learn more about Thailand, stay with ThaiGuider. You might discover something you never knew about this unique country.