The best moment to visit Chiang Mai is during one of the yearly festivals. Loi Krathong and Songkran are the most famous festivals when the city will be crowded with visitors. Make sure to plan your visit and book accommodation well in advance.
Loi Krathong is the festival of lights. It is celebrated during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, which is usually early to mid-November. During this festival traditional banana leaf floats (krathongs) are prepared with some incense and candles and in the evening these are set adrift (loi = to float) in rivers, canals or ponds throughout the city. Usually the krathongs will have the shape of a lotus blossom.
The Loi Krathong festival is celebrated throughout Thailand, but in Chiang Mai it has become a spectacular celebration with krathongs in the river and with hot air balloons and fireworks lighting up the sky. The festival goes on for several days and includes a great Krathong procession.
The Songkran festival, also called the water festival, is the Thai New Year (12-15 April). During this festival Thai people will pay respect to Buddha images, they clean their houses, and they sprinkle small amounts of water on their parents to honor them.
Sprinkling larger amounts of water is also the big fun during this event which takes place right in the hot dry season. In Chiang Mai, for three days the streets are full of people throwing water over each other or using water guns. Some "gangs" put big containers of water on the back of their truck and drive through town showering everybody who comes within their reach.
Apart from Loi Krathong and Songkran there are of course many other festivals and events that are celebrated in Thailand:
- Children's Day is celebrated on the second Saturday of January to honor the role that children play in society.
- Chinese New Year is celebrated by people of Chinese descent.
- The Chiang Mai Flower Festival takes place every year during the first weekend of February.
- Visakha Bucha Day is an important Thai festival on the full moon day of every sixth lunar month. This is usually in May each year. This festival marks the three key events in the life of Buddha: birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha.
- Sunthorn Phu Day is celebrated on 26th June to remember Thailand’s famous poet.
- The King’s Birthday on 30 July.
- Queen’s Birthday on 12 August is celebrated as Mother's Day because the queen is regarded as mother to all Thai people.
- Chulalongkorn Day on 23rd October is the day to pay respect to King Rama V who is one of the most famous kings in Thai history.
- Christmas on 25th December is a relatively small event in Thailand celebrated by a Christian minority, but most shops will have Christmas trees or other decorations.
- New Year's Parties take place on 31st December and 1st January. On this occasion many people in Thailand exchange gifts.