Volunteer in Thailand with Friends for Asia

Valentine’s Day in Thailand

Born in the sanguine narratives of Roman Catholic martyrdom and raised in the sensual poetry of medieval England and France, St Valentine’s Day has been woven into the traditions of many countries. Westerners may be surprised to hear that Asian countries have embraced the holiday as well, but perhaps none in such unique ways as Thailand. The Land of Smiles, as it is called, can claim that the spirit of this holiday both loving and amorous has influenced everything from tourism to politics. Valentine’s Day may originally come from Rome, but few love the holiday with as much excitement as Thailand.

A National Celebration of Love

In some ways, St Valentine’s Day in Thailand looks very familiar to that of the United States or Europe, but more on the scale of a national celebration than in the West. Hearts suddenly occupy public spaces and private storefronts. Hundreds converge early in the morning into Bangkok’s Bang Rak district, known as a traditional district of love, to obtain marriage certificates and sign up for a chance at one fashioned from gold. Couples reserve time to eat a delicious meal in a beautiful setting, including the beautiful tropical environment of Trang, where local businesses transform local plant life into heart-shaped decorations to celebrate the day. 

Forgiven Traffic Tickets and Lavish Celebrations Mark the Day

Of course, Trang is also where one might see Valentine’s fun and excitement like nowhere else in the world. Every year, Trang hosts a beautiful fusion of the Western ideal of St Valentine’s Day with the religious traditions of the Buddhist holiday of Makha Bucha. They then add the modern spectacle of a wedding service performed entirely underwater in scuba gear, but with all the trimmings. For those who prefer the mountains, a resort near Pachinburi features a role-playing escape from hungry pirates, dashing away from an Indiana Jones style boulder covered in flowers, and other oddball, but fun adventures. Other areas even see law enforcement embrace the festive mood. In Khon Kaen, a major city in the northeastern part of Thailand, police set up checkpoints to stop law-breaking drivers of both cars and motorcycles. Instead of tickets, or even a stern warning, violators receive roses. Those riding motorcycles received a free helmet if they were caught riding without one. 

Valentine’s Day in Thailand Not Without a Few Culture Clashes

In some cases, cultural differences within the country lead to very different ideas on how to mark the holiday. The culture of generally conservative Thailand clashes with the more open mindset of its capital city of Bangkok. While much of the country gravitates toward the love and romance associated with couples, many in the capital city more often embrace amorous hedonism. Many teenagers, especially in the capital, celebrate the day by ending their virginity. Officials have tried to crack down on this practice in recent years as the resulting social problems pile up.

The government promoted a more spirited celebration last year, but with an agenda. This contrasts with official efforts as recently as 2015 to strongly discourage teenagers from losing their virginity to mark the holiday. Thai officials had also expressed concern over exploding rates of AIDS transmission and underage pregnancy.  Last year, however, the government provided free heart-shaped boxes of folic acid and iron to boost procreation and healthy babies as the nation grew more concerned about falling birth rates. The kingdom’s birth rate slipped from six children per family in 1970 to under two last year. 

Above All, Peace and Reconciliation Mark Valentine’s Day in Thailand

Thailand’s government also used the occasion of Valentine’s Day last year to hold talks with opposition groups to promote national unity, even as it decided to postpone elections until this year. Prime Minister Prayut Cha-o-cha even used the occasion to link the day of affection with political peace and reconciliation by saying, ‘I have love for everyone – all 70 million Thais every day – not only on Valentine’s Day. I have roses for you every day. Thank you’.

Western traditions of St Valentine’s Day have meshed with cultural traditions and contrasts, as well as even politics, in the Land of Smiles. Both tourists and the people of Thailand can see the ancient holiday play out in spectacularly modern ways. While its intersection with some local culture has helped exacerbate some social problems, Thailand’s love affair with St Valentine’s Day remains a joyous celebration of life, affection, and enduring romance.