The beginning of the year in Chiang Mai is marked with lively and colorful festivals and celebrations all around the city. The most famous and popular being the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival (see Marcia’s photography corner), the Chiang Mai Flower Festival, and the Chinese New Year. Unfortunately, even while living in this wonderful cultural city, I missed all of them. And not necessarily because of anything else crucial that I needed to do either. I remember hearing about all of them and thinking, “oh cool I would really like to see that”, and yet somehow I ended up missing all of the Umbrella and Flower Festivals and catching just the tail end of the Chinese New Year. What a bummer.
Fortunately, Bo Sang has workshops open all year round to showcase how the handmade handheld goods are crafted. Exploring the artist town may actually be more fun and beneficial after all the crowds have died down, or at least I can tell myself that. Jamie, another intern with ATMA SEVA, and I drove from Doi Saket one day and wandered around through the shops of handmade wooden crafts and umbrellas. The festival displays hundreds of brightly colored and intricately designed umbrellas. There is a parade of parasols and a beauty pageant for women carrying the umbrellas. It is a busy and beautiful cultural spectacle, but the streets were fairly quiet the day we went, although the best umbrellas were still hung from shop windows.
At one workshop, we stopped to see the process of making the umbrellas: from the carving of the wood to the assembly of the parts, attaching the canvas top and finally the painting. The workshops produce other paper goods such as fans, lanterns, flowers, books, picture frames and small toys.
The Annual Flower Festival is held the first weekend of February every year, with a big parade presenting large flower floats, marching bands, traditional dance performances, and drawing a crowd of thousands. There was even “Miss Flower Bloom 2013”, and an appearance by the former Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. The festival is considered one of the highlights of the cool season in Chiang Mai. It sounded absolutely wonderful.
I was, however, happy to catch part of the Chinese New Year, celebrated at Warorot Market (Kad Luang) aka the Chinese Market. Apparently, I missed a stellar performance by two men dressed in a dragon costume dancing and between small platforms on stilts (click here to see last years performance), Cirque du Soleil style, some speeches, a band, and a series of beautiful Chinese traditional songs and dances. Luckily I made it in time to grab some delicious spring rolls and fried noodles but wasn’t able to get a seat to eat so I wandered a bit and was happy to take the noodles to go just knowing I had been part of the crowd.
As I was leaving and driving along the moat, I noticed another crowd at the other end of the street and heard the drumming and symbols of a lively band. I parked, walked toward the commotion and came upon a large and vibrant colored dragon head. The head and long body were held up by sticks and the creature is danced down the street. The dragon, preceded by the rhythmic drum beat, stops and roars it head at every store front. The shop owners “Wai” and place a donation of money or other small goods into the dragons mouth for good luck. The crowd cheers and the dragon slithers its way to the next stop.
I still have nothing on the flower festival though. Oh well, maybe next year.