The Thai calendar is full of magnificent events and observances. My trip here falls in-between time for almost all of them. But there is one event unique to Chiang Mai that I have been fortunate to enjoy.
On Saturday morning I rose early (6am) and headed out to view the annual Flower Festival Parade. It’s part of a 3-day multi-event display of civic pride and eye-popping pageantry and color, celebrating the abundance and diversity of the local flower industry. There may be some debate about the best parts, but there is a parade, a street fair, live music and a beauty pageant.
The parade progresses through the heart of the tourist zone and skirts 2 sides of the Old Town before spilling into a public park. I scouted various possible viewing points, but since there wasn’t much traffic yet, I went closer to the site of origin, the Nawararot Bridge. As I waited, parade participants filtered through the crowd toward their appointed positions.
People started gathering near the viewing stands about an hour before the scheduled start. As the start approached, crowd control became increasingly assertive, moving people behind designated lines. Following about 30 minutes of dance performances and speeches that could be viewed on giant screens at the major intersection where I was standing, the procession finally began.
High school marching bands (playing American standards?), boys dance/cymbal drum corps, girls in traditional dance groups, and amazing eye-popping color of flowered floats inched by, most carrying the obligatory local waving beauties. The costumes, the makeup, the decorative gold accessories were stunning enough. But the floats, about 20 in all, were dressed in fresh flowers and greenery in amazing and lush detail.
As soon as the procession got going, all crowd control rules were abandoned and there were no longer any parade marshals, military or police to be seen. Everyone wants their picture taken in front of an advancing float. Everyone wants the direct unobstructed frontal shot. Everyone wants a selfie with one of the costumed dancers or other young ladies in the parade. The crowd presses forward until there is barely enough space for the floats to advance. Sections of the parade are halted due to popular interference, creeping forward for a few moments at a time, lagging behind the groups ahead and arresting everything behind them. Exuberance is everywhere and delightful chaos reigns.
And these are some tired girls after their 4K walk.
After standing mostly in one place for 3 hours, I was beat. I walked through the crowd back to my scooter. But I had parked on the south side of the street, with no possible way to go north of the parade route without taking a significant detour through the south side of town. I meandered blindly through completely unfamiliar neighborhoods, following other motorists who looked like they knew where they were going, only to find myself more than once heading directly back into the blocked streets of the parade route.
After several tries, I followed other scooters weaving through crowds, now finding myself part of the parade as it neared its terminus, the southwestern corner of Old Town. I was also watching my fuel gauge sink into the red. Being diverted south again toward the airport, I finally found a gas station ( this is sort of like desperately needing to find a bathroom, right? Only, you know, the opposite.) and headed back north. The entire southwestern side of the old city had become a glorious street fair.
I saw the parade from its beginning. I became part of its conclusion and found what is now becoming a characteristically colorful, diverse and thoroughly entertaining Chiang Mai event at its end.
©2015 Gary Horvitz. All rights reserved.