A Little Adrift

A Little Festival…Thailand’s Northern Rose

If you’ve ever wondered what Chiang Mai, Thailand will feel like during the zombie apocalypse then hit the streets of the old city, inside the moat, around 9:00am on the Saturday of the city’s Flower Festival Parade. The parade starts at 8:00am just outside of the moat, near Warorot Market, and the rapid exodus of city inhabitants leaves the streets inside the moat uncommonly quiet.

Food vendors set up for crowds in the early morning hours of the Flower Festival

As the Rose of the North, Chiang Mai’s sweet nickname is never more applicable than the first week of February, when the city is flooded with colors and sweet scents for the Chiang Mai Flower Festival. The Flower Festival is an annual event – which is really no surprise because Chiang Mai likes festivals (cue the montage music for the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival last month).

I can’t help but love these local Chiang Mai festivals; it’s as though the locals are vying for the title of  “most enthusiastic city in the world.” Each fesitval is celebrated with varying amounts of gusto and the Flower Festival tips the scales on the high end of gusto-y-ness.

The three day festival permeates every aspect of the city for the weekend—even the Chinese New Year was rolled right into flower festivities and the joint celebration double the city’s number even . Plant vendors plant their stands on the roadsides around the moat for three days and city’s large east entrance, Tha Pae Gate, is overrun with a stage, food stalls, flower showcases, beauty pageants and people.

Oh, lordy, the people.

Both breeds of tourists descend on Chiang Mai for the three day festival, foreigners and Thais, and the clogged streets are a stark contrast to that zombie-apocolypse I mentioned earlier.  Locals on motorbikes mazing through the city, going about their business and artfully weaving through instant road blocks and darting around slow-moving tourists.

Prettily dressed woman carry signs and flowers in the parade

The morning of day two though starts with an early morning mad dash (and that’s a dawn dash to anyone hoping for a seat in the risers) to the stage outside Wororat Market for an hour and a half of enormous flower floats and pretty performers.

Famous Chiang Mai orchids

The shining glory of the weekend are the orchids, healthy, beautiful, and deeply hued Chaing Mai orchids; the city is world renowned for their breeds of orchids the climate .

My friend Claire was visiting for the weekend and we were both surprised by the school bands parading through the streets – they added a nice element of pep and enthusiasm to the festivities but I had no idea Thai schools had traditional high school style bands as well!

What parade is complete without some lady boy action and dancers?

The city swells in size like a puffer fish for the annual Flower Festival and the freshly planted flowers and artful arrangements are a testament to how a city can transform itself in just a matter of days with the right impetus. Chiang Mai is a decent sized city (and that means a fair bit of smog, traffic and garbage to accompany it) so I fell in love a bit more when I saw her gussied up and outfitted to the nines with fresh flowers in the city’s gardens,  streets cleaned of garbage, and dressed up in first-date attire.

More photos and a thanks to Claire for allowing me to use some of her shots!