Celebrating Buddhist festivals with locals in Chiang Mai

Situated in the northern part of Thailand, Chiang Mai is one of the most lively cities I’ve been to.
Even though I arrived in Chiang Mai already exhausted, after the longest night of my life, (we had to travel third class), there was something about the city that excited me and gave me the energy to explore it.

Read more on how I survived traveling third class in Thailand.

Celebrating Buddhist festivals with locals in Chiang Mai

Getting around Chiang Mai

Once we arrived at the train station in Chiang Mai, we ordered a Grab, and we had a lovely lady drive us. On the way to the hotel, we started discussing our plan. There was so much to do and so little time.

We finally decided to rest a couple of minutes, take a shower, have lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, and go to a temple.

Our Grab driver agreed to pick us up in 3 hours to take us to the Doi Suthep temple.

Celebrating Buddhist festivals with locals in Chiang Mai

Visiting Wat Phra Doi Suthep

This Temple is situated 20 km from Chiang Mai, but the car ride took almost 45 minutes due to high traffic.
Wat Phra Doi Suthep is one of the most sacred sites in Chiang Mai, located on the Doi Suthep Mountain, at an elevation of 1,073 meters. They even say that you didn’t really visit Chiang Mai if you haven’t seen the view from Doi Suthep, and that’s spot on! The Temple overlooks the most incredible view of the city.

We planned to arrive at Doi Suthep at sunset. However, the ride took longer than we expected, so we arrived when it was already dark outside. Not ideal for filming or taking photos, but we managed to take some decent shots.

Celebrating Buddhist festivals with locals in Chiang Mai

We were lucky, though. There were not very many tourists, and the Buddhist monks invited us to attend their ritual.

They were chanting and praying for peace during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, which is one of their most important celebrations of the year.

We had the chance to talk a bit to some monks, and they are the most positive, kind people we’ve ever met. Just a short discussion with them will make you realize your cheeks are hurting because of constant smiling.

It was almost a shock when we talked to them about our love for travel (one of the monks was in the process of applying for a visa), to our surprise, they are also pretty tech-savvy, and use the latest smartphones in such a remote location.

Visiting the Doi Suthep temple was an incredible, almost surreal experience, but we wanted to celebrate Yi Peng with the locals as well.

Celebrating Buddhist festivals with locals in Chiang Mai

Yi Peng and Loy Krathong

Our Grab driver was still waiting for us outside the Temple and took us to our hotel to take our Loy Krathongs.

The Krathong is a banana trunk decorated with flowers, banana leaves, candles, coins, and incense sticks.

Loy Krathong is a Buddhist festival celebrated for over 6,000 years. Thai people are gathering around rivers to pay respect to the water Goddess called Pra Mae Khongkha. Floating the Krathong into the river is also symbolic of letting your worries and misfortune float away. You are also supposed to make a wish when you put your offering in the water, which I totally forgot to do.

But Loy Kratong is not the only festival celebrated in Thailand on November’s full moon night. On the same night of the full moon, you’ll see thousands of lanterns floating in the sky.

Those floating lanterns are a symbol of gratitude and sending the mistakes into oblivion.
The festival is unique to northern Thailand, and it’s such a significant event that even the Chiang Mai international airport cancels all flights into and from Chiang Mai during Yee-Peng.

The atmosphere in the city was insane; people were partying, releasing lanterns into the sky, laughing carefree, and singing loudly in the streets. The entire experience made me remember that life begins once you let go of all the things that no longer serve you.

Only past midnight, we realized we were starving and went to eat a pizza (yeah, we were already craving European food).
On our way to the hotel, we watched a cabaret show and talked about how amazing this whole experience was.

Watch here the entire experience:

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