Chiang Mai – Flower Festival

The flower festival
Chiang Mai, Thailand

 


The Chiang Mai flower festival is a yearly event held over the first weekend in February. I am quite excited that the timing of my visit falls over this weekend!

The festival is opened with a series of 25 elaborate floats driving several miles around the edge of the old city, towards Nong Buak Haad Public Park, where the rest of the festival is being held. I love lots of pretty flowers and was hoping it would be a bit like Chelsea flower show! Also very handy that I’m staying a whole 2 minute walk away from the park.

The floats were supposed to start around 8am, so I got up fairly early as not to miss them. But by 11am, still no floats! Never mind, it gave me time to wander around and look at all the pretty flowers on display!

Several streets were closed off and lined with rows of flower displays – they were all beautiful. So many colours and varieties of flower. Probably the most impressive was the display of orchids – there were just so many! Ranging from the size of my hand, all the way through to the size of a pin head! And in every colour imaginable.

Amongst other things, there was a large display of bonsai trees – one of them displaying its value of 250,000 baht (£5,300!).

Past the flower displays were rows and rows of food stalls – selling everything you could want; noodles of all sizes, any type of bbq-ed meat or fish and all kinds of fruit! Some of the foods being a bit strange – fried silk worms or grasshoppers anyone? You could also get drinks of every colour, including some with black jelly inside! Plus many more stalls selling flowers, clothes, sunglasses and all the rest!

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The parade started coming through around 11.30am. Various different communities have each created their own ‘show’, complete with a huge elaborately decorated flower float. Many had marching bands, dancers, dancing flag waving girls, gongs and girls with umbrellas! Each costume was amazingly elaborate and all the music and decorations were so well thought out. There were literally thousands of performers. The parade lasted nearly 3 hours from my static position!

The floats were incredible. An array of elephants and dragons, people and peacocks and all made from flowers! The amount of detail and work was amazing. I don’t know how they do it!

The performers had already travelled a couple of miles and I felt sorry for the girls in their heels! The children were already bored of performing and most of the teenage boys looked like they would rather be elsewhere! However most of them did look happy to be there!

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After the parade, all of the floats were left lined up along the street, so I went for a closer look. Up close, you can see all the detail – some had carved fruit covering the edges, others totally covered in flowers. Some had detailed paintings made out of rice. All so pretty. They must have taken hours to make.

For lunch there was just so much choice! After being indecisive and wandering around the food stalls a few times, I settled for a Khao soi. This is a Northern Thailand specialty dish, being a non-spicy curry poured over egg noodles and chicken. On top, they put crunchy fried noodles, bean sprouts and picked cabbage. It was delicious! The best food I’ve had so far in Thailand – I will admit it even beat my all time favourite, red curry! All for 30 baht (around 60p)!

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I enjoyed myself so much I ended up wandering around the festival for over 6 hours!! After a bit of a rest, I went back out in the evening. The festival lasts well into the night, with even more food stalls coming out for the evening. For dinner I had some som tam – a spicy unripe papaya salad, it was really tasty, but far too spicy for me! My mouth was on fire. I was enjoying looking at all the floats again, but the evening was cut short by the rain and thunderstorm that moved in, that was a shame.

Sunday 3 February 2013

It’s my last day in Chiang Mai, so why not finish off with another temple!

Wat Doi Suthep is probably the most famous temple of Chiang Mai – and is the one you see most commonly in any photo of the area, along with being one of the most sacred temples in Thailand. The temple is atop of a mountain (named Doi Suthep) which looms 1,676m over the city.

The temple was first established in 1383, when a relic was placed on the back of a white elephant. The elephant was left to walk around until it died and thus chose a site for the temple to be built – and this was it!

To get to was a bit of a faf. It was a 40 minute walk up to Pratu Chang Pheuak – the Northern moat gate. From here the shared Sorng-taa-ou depart, heading up Doi Suthep. After waiting around for 15 minutes, the driver decided he had enough people (about 8) and would depart. It took 40 minutes to drive the 15km to the entrance, driving round and round the winding roads – I felt quite sick!

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We were dropped at the base of the 306 steps up to the top! After passing a few lines of stalls selling food, bells and mini statues, I reached the main staircase. The edges of this staircase are enclosed by a large, very long snake, with the head being at the bottom. I reached the top fairly easily, I thought it was going to be a bit more difficult! Maybe all this walking is paying off!

I paid my 30 baht (60p) entrance fee, but you could probably get away with not doing so – nobody seemed to check.

The temple was really busy. There were lots of Thai people there, visiting to pray. They all carried flowers and candles as they walked around the central chedi.

The whole temple was really pretty. The main chedi was totally gold, which glowed brightly in the sunshine. This main chedi is surrounded by several golden ‘umbrellas’ and golden Buddhas are scattered around everywhere!

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Around the edge of the main temple, the walls were lined with rows and rows of big bells! And towards the back, a view out across Chiang Mai. It was a shame it was a bit cloudy/smoggy, meaning the view was a bit obscured, but you could still see down to the city – the large airport runway visible in the foreground! I couldn’t make out the moat, but it must have been there somewhere!

The journey back to the city was a fairly similar process; a 20 minute wait to fill 14 (!) people into the Sorng-taa-ou, and feeling sick for 40 minutes while we winded back down the side of the mountain. It was gone 1pm by the time I arrived back in the city.

Time for some lunch. This time I tried a Penang curry. This is a non-spicy, yellow curry made with peanuts. It was really good!

To return to Bangkok there are several modes of transport – to fly, to take the sleeper train or a bus. I’ve never been on a sleeper train before, so I thought I would give it a go! I booked one of the (slightly more expensive) lower bunks as they have a bit more room than the upper bunks. Plus I’m a little scared of falling out if the train is a bit bumpy!

The train station is a little outside the city, meaning I had to get a taxi. They charged me an expensive 150 baht (about £3…ok perspective!) to drive the 15 minutes there. I arrived around 4pm and although the train was scheduled to depart at 5pm, it was already waiting! I found my seat and managed to pack all my luggage underneath. I am surprised at how large and comfy the seats are!

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At exactly 5pm, we started to pull away from the station for the 14 hour (!) journey to Bangkok.

Bye bye Chiang Mai – I’ve had a great time!

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