Category Archives: Chiang Mai

Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2011

One of the biggest events of the year for Chiang Mai is the International Horticultural Exposition Royal Flora 2011. It was originally intended to open during November, but due to the flooding situation in Central Thailand, it was decided to move the event to December. This is not because the site was flooded, the organizers just felt that with rail and bus transport affected, it will be difficult for some people to go. The event will now take place from 14 December 2011 to 14 March 2012.

I visited the expo site last weekend as it is open for preview at the moment for the media and travel agents. It is about 90% finished but already looking very beautiful. The Expo is spread out over an 80-hectare area and features a display of colorful plants and flowers and greenery from Thailand and 30 other countries. The expo is aimed to mark and celebrate the three auspicious occasions – HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 84th birthday anniversary in 2011, Queen Sirikit’s 80th birthday anniversary and Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn’s 60 birthday anniversary in 2012.

Highlights of the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Fair include the Giant Flora Wheel, Imagination Light Gardens and Kids’ Eco Park. The 40-meter high Giant Flora Wheel allows visitors to enjoy the panoramic view of the entire park. The Imagination Light Gardens has millions of lights and luminous butterflies dancing around to the accompaniment of music. The Kid’s Eco Park features exhibitions and fun activities about global warming to help create the nature loving generations.

The Royal Park Ratchaphruek occupies 80 hectares of land in Mae Hia district in the provincial town of Chiang Mai. It is only 8 kilometers from the airport and has ample parking spaces. Tickets can be bought at the expo at 200 Baht for adults and 100 Baht for children.  Tickets can be bought for half price from now until 13 December. The admission is free for senior citizens and children under 100-cm tall. For further details please contact the Information Center of the International Horticultural Exposition at Tel: +66 2 610 2011 (every day from 08.30-19.30 hrs.) Website:

Lin Ping The Thai Panda

Lin Ping, the Panda Born in Thailand

Thailand has had panda fever ever since the birth of Lin Ping at Chiang Mai Zoo in May 2009. They even have a 24 hour reality show so that people can watch from home. This is a picture that I took of Lin Ping when I visited Chiang Mai Zoo a couple of months ago.  The queues to see the pandas used to be very long. Fortunately when we went we were able to go straight in. The temperature inside was a comfortable 15 Celsius.

Lin Ping and her mother Lin Hui

The area where the mother and daughter pandas stay is quite large. Maybe too big and dark if you want to take a picture. You are not allowed to take a picture with flash for obvious reasons. This is a picture of Lin Hui, on the left, and Lin Ping who is now one and a half years old. She will be two years old in May 2011. She is more active than her mother and was climbing up and down a lot.

Tourists taking picture of Chuang Chuang

The father panda, Chuang Chuang, is kept in a separate area. Here it is lighter and you can also get closer to observe his habits. When we first entered his enclosure, Chuang Chuang was sitting up on a chair as if he was a King on his throne. He then came down closer to observe us. The whole time he didn’t stop eating. A couple of weeks after our visit, Lin Ping was moved out here with her father for the first time.

Chuang Chuang Happily Eat while watching the Tourists

Under the agreement with China, any panda cub born abroad must be returned to China within two years. On Monday, a delegation from China arrived to check up on the panda. She only has about five months left in Thailand. However, Thai authorities have made an official request for Lin Ping to stay longer. They want China to send a male panda here for Lin Ping to mate with. In the meantime, there might be a chance for Lin Ping to have a sibling as Lin Hui usually ovulates around January and February.

Lin Ping with her mother

Entrance to Chiang Mai Zoo is 520/390 baht (290/190 baht for Thai people). For the panda enclosure you have to pay another 100 baht (50 baht for Thai people). The snow dome is also extra at 150/100 baht for both foreigner and Thai.

Chiang Mai’s Yee Peng Festival

One of the most beautiful festivals in Thailand takes place on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month. It is known in Thai as Loy Krathong, but is sometimes referred to as the Festival of Lights. The next one will take place nationwide on 10th November 2011. For many years I have been floating my krathong, a kind of bowl made from banana plants, on my local river in Samut Prakan. This year I was really happy to get an invitation to take part in the “Yee Peng Festival” in Chiang Mai.

Yee Peng (sometimes written as Yi Peng), is Northern Thailand’s version of the Festival of Lights in the 12th lunar month. Like the rest of Thailand, they do float krathongs on the rivers and canals, but they are increasingly more famous for their floating lanterns called “Khome Yee Peng”. This is what you can see in the pictures on this page. The idea is much the same. You say a prayer and make a wish and watch as your “krathong” or “khome” floats away.

I am sure Loy Krathong used to be just a one day affair, if not just one night during the full moon in November. However, in recent years it seems to be a much longer festival lasting three to five days. I don’t think any where else in Thailand do they celebrate the Festival of Lights more passionately than in Chiang Mai. The whole of the city was beautifully decorated with lanterns and flags. But, it is the sound of firecrackers and fireworks exploding that amazed me the most. Even when I woke up at 7 a.m. I could still hear them celebrating.

In Chiang Mai they had parades and cultural demonstrations every day with the biggest and most impressive reserved for the last day. At first I thought people would be setting off the lanterns only on the night of the full moon but they were doing it every night. On the evening of Loy Krathong we ate our dinner in a restaurant along the Mae Ping River. The sound of firecrackers was constant and up in the sky there were countless floating lanterns. And more were going up all the time.

It was such an emotional sight seeing so many happy people taking part in this event. I took quite a few pictures and then decided it was time to float my own “khome” up into the sky. It is not that difficult and they only cost about 35 baht each. You stand in a circle with friends holding onto the edge and as the flame fills the lantern up with hot air you can feel it starting to rise. I made a quick wish and then we all let go and watched the lantern float up into the sky. Many people believe that the lantern will carry your troubles away with it.

The biggest launch of lanterns takes place outside of Chiang Mai City and I would love to go again to spend more time enjoying this wonderful and unique festival. Many thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for inviting me on this trip. Please visit our Thai Festival Blogs for all the latest news and dates for festivals and events in Thailand. You can also follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow where you will be able to see live pictures from these festivals.

Ramblings at Mae Sa waterfalls

A motorcycle trip to the Mae Sa waterfalls was the first daytrip we shared with my Thai boyfriend exactly eight years ago. I have been reluctant to return ever since.

Now that I eventually did, I am looking for familiar landmarks – a rock, a pool of water, a twisted branch, something that may remember me and my footprint, but everything seems new, unfamiliar, as if I have never been here.

I am sitting by a thundering waterfall, enjoying that it is louder than my rambling thoughts that never leave me alone. I am wondering if fish hear the water at all – or maybe for them, this roaring sound is silence itself – the only reality they know.

I take photos – hundreds of them. On the little screen, the falling water is motionless for a split second, giving the funny little illusion that I can escape impermanence. I press the button again and again in a vain attempt to stop the water from falling, to freeze it in mid-air, playing with the thought that it may even un-fall if I try hard. The water laughs at me and thunders on, and I laugh at the water, in the end.

The little stream flows, falls, thunders, sings, meanders on and on, for decades, centuries, millennia. The photos – imperfect, fragile memories of the moment, remain. I wish I could hold on to more. Just enough to fill my cup with.

Then I put my camera down and plunge into the water. Unexpectedly, time stops while everything is moving and I swim against the current. This is as close as I ever get to permanence.

I find out later that one of my kids from school was watching me from the bridge. “You are so funny”, she says. I wish I could remember….

If you would like to be down-to-earth…. Mae Sa waterfalls are not the picture perfect azure waters that you see all over Thailand. The falls are not especially tall or spectacular, the pools could be deeper or slower. It is simply a wonderful little piece of nature, ideal for relaxing in the shade for a few hours on a lazy weekend, or as a quick stop on the Samoeng loop. The walking trail is 1 km long along the stream, steep at times but quite nice and easy, manageable even without shoes as any Thai teenager will show you. There are well-placed viewpoints on the edge of the stream and at the top – waterfall number 10.

Mae Sa waterfalls are about 20 kms from Chiang Mai, 5 kms along the Mae Rim-Samoeng road. Tickets are 50 baht for foreigners, that is much better than the 200 baht they used to charge years ago. There is no parking outside, so you need to fork out a further 20 baht for your motorcycle or 50 baht for your car. Parking lot 3 is the closest to the waterfalls; however, if you would like to fully explore both banks, leave your vehicle at parking lot 1. There are shops selling souvenirs and food. The lower levels are popular with Thai families at the weekends. Shallow and deeper pools are suitable for swimming, just keep an open eye for the bilingual noticeboards telling you where not to swim.

I have posted more photos at the Chiang Mai Forum. This location is also marked on our Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand map.

Flower Festival in Chiang Mai 2009

Every year, there is a moment when the city pauses for a last glance before the heat unleashes its fury and the smoke rolls in from the mountains. These are the last few days when colours still vibrate alive, before the city turns into molten air and concrete, and gets swallowed up in a bleak orange-grey haze. Now the sun is welcome and bounces back happily from the million flowers flooding the streets. All the colours are on the palette, hues of green, mild pinks, crazy purples, serene oranges, shiny whites, smiling yellows.

In this last moment, Chiang Mai’s flower lovers, gardeners, photo enthusiasts, balloon sellers, food stall owners, excited children and pollinating insects all descend upon Buat Hat park for the city’s 33rd annual floral extravaganza. Not to mention our canine friends!

Flowers are special in this region, and it is not just floral language that Chiang Mai is called “the rose of the north”. Their Majesties the King and the Queen have been working tirelessly to provide alternative crops and sources of income for the previously mostly opium-growing hilltribes of Northern Thailand. Besides vegetables and fruits, flowers are now a major produce of the region, thanks to the cool climate at higher altitudes. Near the entrance, the display from Phuphing Palace, which has a majestic garden near the top of Doi Pui, always dazzles visitors with the largest roses and vivid floral landscapes.

The orchid, rose, bonsai and bromelia growers have a major competition but the crowd seems to enjoy flowers of all shapes, sizes, colours and awards.

The floats are of course the main attraction: after the parade around the streets of the city on Saturday morning, they are neatly lined up in front of the park to be admired close up. With Makha Bucha just round the corner, the themes of the 23 floats were mostly in tribute to this auspicious occasion.

The Buddha images, chedis, elephants, nagas and other mythical figures are initially sculpted from styrofoam, mounted on cars, and decorated with millions of cut flowers, petals, seeds, white and brown rice grains with painstaking detail for a truly dazzling overall effect.

This year saw a large number of elephants in leading or supporting roles: carrying chedis, flanking chedis, kneeling down before the Lord Buddha, carrying jasmine garlands, poking at visitors.

My favourite float of all, a giant kneeling elephant, was the first runner-up in the float contest this year, representing Hang Dong district.

On Arak road, the western side of the moat, yet another strip of spectacles unfolds. Food stalls dot one side of the road, selling everything from fruits to squids. Families with children may initially frown at the large number of vendors selling balloons, toys, and other assorted junk. Miraculously, I don’t remember seeing a single screaming child – but maybe some of the parents were upset.

On the other side, plant vendors set up temporary mini-jungles and inviting gardens, offering everything you have ever dreamed of for your garden, maybe more. There are hundreds of blooming orchids, needless to say, in much better shape than my dried-up orchid sticks with new shoots of fresh green at home! For a while, I read the Thai names of flowers and tried to recall their names in my mother tongue, but many probably don’t even have names – well, bromelias do.

In a few stalls, OTOP products from all over the province are on display: strawberry jam and wine from Samoeng (advertising the annual strawberry festival coming up next weekend up in the small hill town of Samoeng), woodcarving from Baan Tawai, umbrellas from Bosang, textiles and clothes from faraway districts.

When you are tired, Buat Hat park swallows you up for a little rest, but no peace and quiet. You may rent a straw mat, eat, doze off, sign the kids up for a mad session at the bouncy castle or a ride in the mini ferris wheel. In the evening, there is music, the obligatory beauty contest, and more food. Sorry guys – no pictures of the beauties :-)

This is my favourite time in Chiang Mai, and my favourite festival. It is a final reminder of all the best this city and region has to offer before we face the worst of what it can throw at us.