What sets Chiang Maiapart from many other Thailand destinations is how much its rich cultural heritage is an active part of daily life. For locals and visitors alike, Chiang Mai’s many festivals offer a chance to break from the norm and connect with Northern Thai Lanna culture or other unique communities in an exciting way. If you’re trying to plan the best time to visit Chiang Mai, we’ve compiled a helpful list of the city’s most memorable and unique festivals.
Bo Sang Umbrella Festival
Chiang Mai is home to numerous artisan communities, and every third week of January, the umbrella makers of Bo Sang put on a dazzling show. Thai Saa paper (mulberry paper) is used in many handicrafts, and its use in umbrella making has put this village on the outskirts of Chiang Mai on the map. Expect a riot of colours, a festive parade, and a chance to chat with local artisans and learn about their craft.
The 2018 Bo Sang Umbrella Festival is expected to be held from 19 January to 21 January.
Chinese New Year
Next year, as billions around the globe ring in the Year of the Dog, Chiang Mai’s own Chinese community will hold its celebrations in the Warorot neighbourhood between the Old City and the Ping River. This small festival lasts for about three nights, with the biggest night falling on the night of the new moon. Streets will be packed with food stalls and performances. Along the river, expect a nonstop riot of noisy fireworks.
Chinese New Year 2018 will fall on 16 February.
Jai Thep Music Festival
A number of music and arts festivals have cropped up all over Thailand, and the North’s answer is the Jai Thep Festival. This three-day festival boasts live DJs and thumping bass along with performing arts and a number of arty or spiritual workshops. What started out as a single evening event has morphed into a magical, musical experience, and next year, the organisers are excited to introduce camping.
The 2018 Jai Thep festival will run from 2 February to 4 February, you can learn more and buy tickets on their website.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival
The Chiang Mai Flower Festival is one of the city’s three biggest events. The festival opens with a parade of elaborate floats decorated with bright colourful flowers interspersed with Thai dancers, drummers and other performers. Winding westward from Nawarat Bridge, the endpoint of the parade is Suan Buak Had Park in the southwest corner of the moat where the floats will be parked for the remainder of the festivities. The numerous exhibition booths and flowers stalls set up for the festival are a flower and garden lover’s dream, and not to be missed by photographers who love colour.
The 2018 Chiang Mai Flower Festival will be held from 2 January to 4 January.
Songkran, Thai New Year
Songkran might just be Chiang Mai’s best festival; it is certainly its most famous! While the Thai New Year is celebrated throughout the country, few cities celebrate with such reckless abandon. Traditionally, Songkran is a time to visit the temple and make merit. Pouring water on Buddha statues and over the hands of elders was a way of washing away the previous year’s sins and bad luck. Flash forward to modern day, and the residents of Chiang Mai have turned this family-centric celebration into a week-long city-wide water fight. While not for the faint of heart, this festival is a truly unique experience and popular with both Thai and foreign visitors.
Officially, Songkran 2018 will fall between 13 April and 15 April, but festivities typically stretch out for up to a week.
Visakha Bucha Day
While there are a number of Buddhist Holidays observed in Thailand, Visakha Bucha Day offers a unique opportunity for visitors to participate. The celebrations start the day before Visakha Bucha Day when pilgrims trek over 10 kilometres from the city up to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep Temple. At the end of this journey, Buddhist observers enter the temple to make merit and many stay until the sunrise to ring in this auspicious day.
Visakha Bucha day 2018 will fall on 29 May.
Yee Peng and Loy Kratong
Loy Kratong is one of Chiang Mai’s largest festivals, second only to Songkran. This celebration is observed by the lighting of candles in temples and auspicious locations. Fireworks are a noisy and much-beloved addition to the ancient tradition. The name of the festival comes from kratongs, or decorated floats, which are released into the river and other bodies of water. These kratongs are traditionally made of the sliced stem of a banana tree and decorated with banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense.
Yee Peng Day also is also observed during this period, and is marked by a mass release of fire-lanterns to make merit. Mae Jo University is one of the most popular sites for Yee Peng, but the trail of twinkling lanterns can be seen for miles around, and lanterns will also be released throughout the city. The release of kratongs and lanterns symbolize letting go of past sins and transgressions to bring greater luck.
The full moon of Loy Kratong 2018 will be on 23 November, but official dates have yet to be released by the Thai Tourism Authority.
Chiang Mai, Thailand is an exciting place to visit at any time of year. If you have the luxury of choosing your travel dates next year, however, be sure to plan your visit to coincide with one of these festivals to check off a bucket-list item.