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Events and Festivals not to miss in Chiang Mai are listed below.
Chiang Mai has many festivals and events besides the major ones listed below. Details of what's happening around town can be found in the many free tourist guides but English speaking locals generally rely on the monthly City Life magazine and it's bi weekly supplement City Now which is best consulted online as events are added frequently. Both are free and can be picked up around town but often only during the first week of the month since those in the know grab their's fast! City Now can be viewed here.
While maybe not a reason in itself to visit Chiang Mai, the local music scene is plentiful and varied. There may well be lots going on in Bangkok but it's hard to beat the accessibility and quality of what's on offer around the centre of Chaing Mai. In addition to special events you'll find nightly music at The North Gate Jazz Co-op (modern jazz), Guitarman (varied but there's always a guitar!), Riverside Pub and more. There are also weekly sessions such as Sunday night at The Garden in Ratchamandan Road which feature folk and blues. If you're visiting for more than a couple of days (at least a week is a good time to allot if you're planning a couple of days trekking too), forget the freebies and pick up a copy of the Big Map from one of the many bookshops around the centre of town - Gecko Books is one that carries it - and find your way around with ease.
North Gate Jazz Co-op © Wyndham Hollis 2007
There are many expat groups that meet regularly and most welcome visitors. The Chiang Mai Expats Club has a list on its website.
Chiang Mai Photographic Group
The Chiang Mai Photographic Group meets on Wednesdays at 7.00pm every fortnight and visitors or residents with an interest in photography, be it film or digital are warmly invited. Details of meeting dates and the venue can be found here. Meetings are conducted in English.
"Waiting To Go On" ©Wyndham Hollis 2005
The CMPG holds an annual exhibition in the last two weeks of January at CentralPlaza, Chiangmai Airport and it's well worth a visit. This year's show is from January 14th - 29th and features a remarkably diverse collection of over 100 images by 25 photographers from half a dozen countries, now living in Chiang Mai. If you've been travelling in Thailand a while you may need reminding that there’s a lot more to be photographed than the usual fare of temples, hill tribes and sunsets and this show will certainly do it for you!
Event: Chiang Mai Photographic Group Exhibition 2012
2nd Floor, Northern Village, CentralPlaza, Chiangmai Airport
January 14th – 29th 2012
A dazzling procession of hanging lanterns, Krathongs (floating offering trays made of banana stalk holding coins, incense, flowers and a candle to float down the main river) , Phi Yi Peng Festival (which is the release of thousands of Kom Loi - fire balloons), as well as fireworks displays at the Ping River, traditional Lanna lifestyle displays like fruit carvings contests and beauty contests and Lanna cultural performances all welcoming you to participate or merely observe the fun. The mass release of Khom Loy at Mae Jo is scheduled for Saturday November 6th 2011 but you should verify this date before making firm arrangements. If you do decide to take part in this wonderful event, get there early (5pm is getting late) and try to share transport with others as the traffic is horrendous. Thoughout the whole week of Loy Krathong, activities around the city are plentiful. 2011 Dates: 9 - 12th November. Place/ Activity At Chiang Mai citywide, Chiang Mai Province.
"Loy Krathong at the Mae Jo Meditation Centre" ©Wyndham Hollis 2007
The Songkran Water Festival is the northern traditional New Years.Mid-April, depending on the moons, is when Chiang Mai really get a little wild and wet. Not from the rainy season, but from the celebrations of the northern Thai New Years and Chiang Mai is easily the wildest place in Thailand to come and celebrate it.
With the temperature rising, as the hot season approaches, reaching the high 30s the whole city starts to celebrate with "the worlds biggest water fight". Nobody is off limits, even the police are soaked to the bone*. If they are here by late morning they are here to play hard. But ONLY from about 10:00 am till dusk. Please don't be the "stupid tourist" that will not stop at dark, it disrespectful. There is no excuse for that. Travelers are culturally aware. *(Don't wet monks and the few people trying to rush to work before the water really starts fly - Thai players are respectful of these people you should be too!).
Songkran in Chaing Mai starts early! © Wyndham Hollis 2011
During the day it is a free for all, with religious celebration going on for the mature Kids and a bit too much drinking, so be aware that not all drivers are at their best. The wildest area is around the old city walls but children will be playing all around the north, so drive carefully and watch out for them and soak them before they soak you!
The elders and most local will use perfumed water to slightly pour over friends, as to offer a new years blessing to each other. If you are up early after a hard day of playing water you will see this still being practiced. Presents are also given to special elders who have assisted you in the year before. As well, there is a ritual parade where many locals will cleans the Buddha Statues from the local temples that are paraded down Thapae road, to allow people toss fragrant water on the statues, as they pass by on decorated floats. Well worth the time out from the fight to watch or better still partake in.
If you come bring waterproof bags for your passport and camera. Also take a taxi into town (not a tuk-tuk) if you arrive in the middle of the festival and allow enough time for traffic if you plan to escape early.
The Flower Festival is a new festival being held for only 30 years now and has proven to be a event for all to see with a parade with floats covered with real flowers only. It comes with beauty pageants and live entertainment which is usually held over the first weekend in February. It is a wonderful relaxed event where westerners and Thai people get to see floats and just hang out.
After the parade is finished they park them by the park and people are welcome to have photos taken with the floats and see them close up.
Festivals here are about showing respect and getting together which is what Chiang Mai is all about, just having fun and enjoying each other.