Chiang Mai Flower Festival a Blooming Marvel
Cool season is the reason for the timing of Chiang Mai flower festival. It’s at this time that roses, chrysanthemums, gladioli and other temperate flowers are in bloom, while tropical plants such as bougainvillea and frangipani are also blossomi ng. This huge variety of shapes, scents and colours provides a rich palette from which to create the dazzling floral floats that are featured in the parade the highlight of Chiang Mai flower festival. During the week leading up to the event, employees and students from the various organizations participating in the event (which include schools, government offices and private companies) spend hours meticulously decorating their group’s float, using not only flowers but also grains of rice and pulses with which to depict typical Northern Thai scenes in intricate detail. Each float represents a local place or theme, which may be a temple or activity such as woodcarving or silk-weaving, and the participants’ costumes reflect this motif. Local schools use the chance to show off the skills of their marching bands, which pump out a medley of familiar tunes as they enliven the procession.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival will takes place on the first weekend of February. Early on the Saturday morning the participants and floats are lined up to the east of Nawarat Bridge along Charoen Muang Road; since there are usually over 25 floats in the parade, it often stretches almost as far as the railway station. Beside Nawarat Bridge, a viewing platform is prepared for the Chiang Mai governor, along with the judges whose task is to select the float with the most creative design and most attractive decoration ready for the prize-giving ceremony later in the day. After a short opening ceremony and speech by the governor at around 8 a.m., the grand parade leads off.
The colourful procession makes its way westwards down Tha Pae Road, then turns left (south) at Tha Phae Gate to go along Kotchasam Road to the southeast comer of the moat, and finally follows a westward route along the south side of the moat to finish in front of Buak Haad Park in the south-west comer of the Old City. The parade pauses frequently to allow time for the enormous floats, carried by concealed pick-up trucks, to negotiate blind turns, with participants shouting instructions to unsighted drivers. These pauses also provide onlookers with plenty of opportunities to take photos of the floats and of themselves posing beside the participants, who are all dressed in colorful costumes. Eventually, the last float in the parade reaches the park sometime between midday and 2 p.m.
The floats would not be complete for a real Thai festival without a contestant in the beauty queen competition to crown their splendid shapes and colours. This gives the local maidens an opportunity to show off the Phasin a wrap-around skirt woven with traditional designs, as well as bright parasols made in nearby Bor Sang, which provide protection from the strong midday sun. Swarms of people, both locals and visitors, line the route, some just for a glimpse, others following along to the park. Since it can take several hours for the parade to pass, you might want to consider reserving a table at a restaurant along the route, such as Ratana’s Kitchen, opposite Wat Mahawan on Tha Pae Road, or Art Cafe, opposite Tha Pae Gate. In this way you can enjoy the parade in air-conditioned comfort rather than standing in the sun for hours on end.
While the parade is the highlight of the festival, other fun activities take place throughout the weekend both at Tha Pae Gate (on the east side of the Old City) and Buak Haad Park. In the park, vendors cater to the hot and thirsty crowd, selling ice creams, hats and balloons, which add to the atmosphere. Horticultural companies make the most of the opportunity to promote their products, displaying everything from bonsai trees to hybrid roses and water features for gardens. Families settle in the shade for a picnic, while pop music blares from loudspeakers. One of the most popular sidelines is to dress up in hill- tribe gear for a souvenir photo among the beds of brilliant flowers.
Most visitors are content to watch the parade and join in some of the evening fun at either Tha Pae Gate or Buak Haad Park.