I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand, planning to enjoy delicious and cheap Thai food, experienceg the culture through the temples and markets, and take some time to rest and reenergize after several months on the road. I have definitely achieved all of those objectives and more.
Chiang Mai is a wonderful place for travelers to “park” and take it easy for a while. The people are friendly and kind. The prices on food and accommodation are very cheap, the wifi is good, and all the amenities a Westerner might need are within easy reach. I was aware of these benefits, but I had not heard of the Chiang Mai Flower Festival. As luck would have it, I happened to be in town for this amazing event.
While eating lunch one day at one of my favorite restaurants, I happened to overhear some other diners mention that the Chiang Mai Flower Festival would be happening the following week. I didn’t want to make it obvious that I’d been eavesdropping, so pulled up Google on my phone and soon learned that, indeed, the festival was scheduled for February xx. After some more research, I found some additional event details and made plans to attend the festival events.
The festival takes place across Thailand, but I can’t imagine that there’s a better place to enjoy it than in Chiang Mai, which is known in Thailand as the “Rose of the North.” Here’s everything you need to know about attending the Chiang Mai Flower Festival.
Opening Ceremony & Park Attractions
The Chiang Mai Flower Festival takes place annually during a weekend in early February. In 2016, the event took place February 5-7. The events kick off on Friday evening at Suan Buak Hat Park, which is located at the far southwest corner of Chiang Mai’s Old City.
The park is transformed for the festival into an open-air exhibition of Chiang Mai’s beautiful flowers, which are in full bloom at this time of year. Vendors offer flowers for sale, floral sculptures dot the green spaces and performers play traditional music.
Booths featuring crafts made by various Thai hill tribes mixed with Chiang Mai’s ubiquitous street food stalls along the road just outside the park. I was entertained by the fact that every single booth featured a “photo set” in front, where visitors could pose for photos. While a fun idea, that practice certainly wouldn’t be so widespread at festivals in the U.S.!
I watched the festival’s opening ceremony and enjoyed watching the beautiful traditional dancers, the energetic young MC and the various speeches. The ceremony lasted about an hour and was in Thai, so I didn’t understand anything but the words “Chiang Mai,” but it was entertaining nonetheless! Be aware if you go to the opening ceremony that the small seating area is mainly reserved for ceremony participants and local dignitaries, so you will likely have to stand.
After the opening ceremony, I joined the other visitors in checking out the floral sculptures and vendors inside the park gates. It was a beautiful evening and many of the displays were pretty incredible. I would recommend making a visit to the park if you’re in town for the festival.
Friday evening concludes with the “Miss Flower Blooming Beauty Contests” onstage in the park. I didn’t stay for the pageant, which ran from 7-11 p.m., but if you’d like to attend, note that “seats” (a few backless stools) are limited. It’s probably a good idea to arrive early for a good view and bring a towel or low beach chairs for sitting on the grass.
The Flower Festival Parade
The highlight of Chiang Mai’s Flower Festival is the parade on Saturday morning. It was by far the most beautiful (and one of the longest) parades I’ve ever attended. The parade begins at 8 a.m. from Nawarat Bridge, east of the Old City, and ran until nearly 11 a.m.
The planned parade route goes west along Thapae Road, then follows Kotchasarn Road, Changlor Road and Arak Road before finally ending at Nong Buak Haad Park. Toward the end of the parade, however, the route was cut short and the procession only went from Nawarat Bridge along Thapae Road to Thapae Gate.
In accordance with a tip I found while researching the festival online, I walked from my hotel in the Old City to DK Bookstore right around 8 a.m. The author of the website recommended this spot because it offers adequate parking (in case you have to drive over) and lots of curbside space. It’s also early enough in the parade route that you’ll see the floats and participants looking fresh!
Realizing that it would take about an hour for the parade to reach this spot, I brought a book with me and claimed a seat on the fence that separates the parking lot from the curb. Shortly after I arrived, several others followed and the area eventually got pretty crowded, so arrive early if you can.
Once the parade began, I was stunned by the incredibly detailed floats composed entirely of flowers and all the beautiful Thai people in traditional costumes, ballgowns and other finery. People of all ages participated with gusto.
The parade consists of about 25 ornate, brightly-colored floats intermixed with numerous school marching bands, festival royalty and various tribal and community organizations. Parade participants were fully decked out in their brightest, most beautiful costumes and their biggest smiles.
One thing I found interesting – and endearing – was that when those walking in the parade noticed a spectator taking their photo, they would often stop walking, look directly at the camera, and smile. Apparently, there was no worry about delaying the rest of the show behind them. And the lucky spectators got some beautiful photos as a result!
Even if you don’t find participants willing to stop for your photos, the parade generally moves slowly enough that there is ample time to take some good shots. In fact, at one point, an entire school band decided to take a 10-minute rest break in front of where I was standing on the parade route. The rest of the parade paused as the band director handed out water and the drummers put down their drums. I had time to walk down the road and take a few photos of a float that had stopped. And soon enough, the parade was back in motion.
When the parade is over, the floats are parked outside Nong Buak Haad Park and Taepae Gate for visitors to view (and take more photographs). If you aren’t able to make it to the parade in the morning, be sure to stop by these two locations and see the floats on display.
The floral exhibitions are open through Sunday evening, and music and Thai dancing takes place at Nong Buak Haad Park and Taepae Gate on both Saturday and Sunday night. The festival officially ends at around 8 p.m. on Sunday night. Don’t miss this amazing festival if you’re in Chiang Mai in early February! Be sure to check online for the latest dates and times before you plan your trip.