Thailand is world-renowned for its festival culture. There are longstanding cultural events include Songkran Festival (National water splashing ritual to celebrate the new year), Phi Ta Khon (Mask ghost festival Isaan culture in the Northeast), and Yi Peng Festival (Lantern releasing even in Chiang Mai). The country does such a fabulous job at bringing crowds together to eat and share the beauty of the Thai culture, Chiang Mai Flower festival focuses on this natural beautiful through a showcase of the regions finest orchids. Thais and tourists to flock to "The Rose of the North" for a lush display of colorful floats, gardens, and cultural events showcasing the country’s most beautiful flowers. My sister Christina, a Hawaiian resident, joined my along for the ride up to this weekend of flower power. Here is quick look at my week in Chiang Mai:
The vibe felt very hometown. It wasn't overly former or commercialized. Tourists and locals lined up along the sidewalks, but we were able to walk into the middle of the street to take a good photo as the float went by. The dancers and participants were incredibly patient and stopped along their route to take pictures with peace-signing tourists. We were tempted to walk into the street and followed the trend during a full stop. Parents followed their kids, and partners followed their significant others wiping their sweat and feeding cold water to the beauty queens and kings frying in the Thailand sun. Floats are prepared in just days before the festival, since the fresh flowers need to be at their peek for performance.
Chiang Mai transformed Nong Buak Haad Public Park into an Instagrammers heaven. Christina and I couldn't fight our Asian impulses for selfies. There was even an orchid contest! The top ten were on display for the us flower fans. The crowd packed shoulder to shoulder, but we managed to find our Kodak moments along the way. The festival was not shy about color and quantity. I spent many spring weekends visiting the Philadelphia flower show, but this was another level. Despite the crowds, we were able to find a moment for our photo op.
The major performance was an evening of cultural dances specific to the north. I had gotten a taste of this at a Thai Tourism Festival in Bangkok, but I was excited to see Northern dances in the north. The audience was almost exclusively locals, possible friends, family, and community members supporting the young performers on stage. It took me back to my Philippine-American community in Central Pennsylvania. Tourists came and went, but we were the only ones who stayed the whole evening. The audiences were attentive, and the dancers were dedicated. I could see the hand and arm movements I've been studying with Kru Nid in Bangkok. The dancers gave it there all in each step, with a big smile on their faces. It felt like it was a mask. The costumes and dancers were indeed "beautiful," but I was not moved or emotionally impacted. This is a common feeling among my Thai artists friends. These dances are the foundation for all performance in Thailand, but it feels empty. Why don't you judge for yourself! Here is a short youtube clip of the highlights.
The Chiang Mai Flower Festival takes place every first weekend of February. Here are a few sites that helped me during my stay.