Sawadeekha. Saabaay dii mai?
November 1st marks the first day of winter in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Yes, you read me right. There is winter in Thailand.
However, only the northernmost cities in Thailand has 3 seasons while winter lasts from November until end of January. Winter is the peak season for tourism in Chiang Mai, especially with the current Chinese tourist boom, digital nomads from across the world and festivities.
Daytime temperatures are at a comfortable 20 Celsius to 29 Celsius while nighttime temperatures go from 19 Celcius and below in Chiang Mai. In some places, especially up in the hills and mountains, temperatures drop to a freezing state. There has been one death reported in Northern Thailand due to hyperthermia at this beginning of winter.
Other than its cold weather, Chiang Mai is famous for its yearly Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festival during winter. So, what is Loy Krathong and Yee Peng Festival about?
This year Loy Krathong and Yee Peng fall on 3rd till 5th November. In fact, Chiang Mai is the only city in Thailand that still celebrates Yee Peng. Every year during this festive period, the airport in Chiang Mai is closed. It is reported to affect over 750 flights this year alone.
Loy Krathong can be directly translated as “to float a basket”. This festival takes place on the full moon in the 12th month of the traditional Thai Lunar calendar or November in the Western calendar.
The traditional Krathongs used for floating at the festival are made from a slice of a banana tree trunk or a spider lily plant which is biodegradable such as the one in the photo. Some modern Krathongs are made of bread which will disintegrate and can be eaten by fish. A Krathong is decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, incense sticks, and a candle. A small coin is sometimes included as an offering to the water goddess.
On the night of the full moon, both locals and tourists launch their Krathong on a river, canal or a pond, while making a wish. According to a local friend, this festival is where locals pay their respect to the water goddess guarding the river. It is believed that the Krathong would take away your sins, bad luck and, carry away your wishes as it sails down the river stream. Local tradition also includes cutting bits of hair or nails to be placed in the Krathong.
Yee Peng Festival
Within the Loy Krathong festival holds a smaller festival, which is the Yee Peng festival. The Yee Peng Festival is also known as the lantern festival. Thousands of lanterns are released into the nightline of Chiang Mai during this festival. Other than releasing lanterns, Thais would also lit up candles around their house compound.
As the rivers are filled to their fullest and the moon is at its brightest, this is the perfect time to ‘make merit’ by setting a floating Krathong off, or light a lantern in hope for good fortune in the new year. A must have experience for all travellers planning to visit Chiang Mai in November. However, do remember to check the annual schedule for the festivals as it differs yearly.
The highest peak in Thailand: Doi Inthanon
Chiang Mai is not only the home to the Lanna people but, it is also home to Thailand’s highest peak. Doi Inthanon, “the roof of Thailand”, was previously known as Doi Luang (Giant Mountain) or Doi Ang Ka (meaning the crow’s pond top). Not known to most, Doi Inthanon National Park is part of the Himalayan mountain range. Its elevation stands tall between 800 and 2565 meters. According to the official website, the park has an average daily temperature of 10-12 Celcius thanks to its high altitude.
Other than the summit of Doi Inthanon for its spectacular views of early morning as the main attraction, several waterfalls, few trails and the two chedis (stupas) are must visit too. On the main road to the summit of Doi Inthanon stand two adjacent chedis. One is named Naphamethinidon, meaning “by the strength of the land and air”. And, the other, Naphaphonphumisiri, refers to “being the strength of the air and the grace of the land”. These stupas were built to honour the 60th birthday anniversaries of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit, respectively.
One of the seasonal attractions of the park is the blossoms of Siamese sakura flowers covering trees in pink during late January and February. There is almost constant fog coverage all day and a stunning phenomenon of Mae Kha Ning or frost flower in the early morning during winter.
The entrance fee is 300 THB for foreigners (children 150 THB) and 50 THB for local tourists (children 20 THB). Avoid getting hyperthermia by bringing your winter clothing as temperatures can dip below freezing in the hills of Chiang Mai.
If you have never thought that there is winter in South East Asia, Chiang Mai will indefinitely prove you wrong. Other than the said 3 main attractions, there are many events that are held throughout winter such as Lanna food festival, Thai food convention, fashion shows and Muay Thai fights. Chiang Mai is definitely a place you will enjoy even on a super tight budget.