Most tourists associate Loi Krathong with the now famous activity and sight of paper lanterns floating in the air. What doesn’t get as much attention is the 'Grand Parade' that passes through the city during the festival and what an exquisite display of Thai culture it is.
The grand parade is led by a slow march of participants, beautifully dressed in mostly traditional wear.
Various local organizations participate in the parade -- universities, businesses, hospitals, and even foreign consulates based in Chiang Mai join the fun.
The main attractions of the parade are of course the impressive floats. A lot of the designs and concepts are based on Thai folklore. A folklore that incorporates Hindusim, Buddhism and Chinese influences. As an Indian, I’d love to learn more about this Indo-Thai historical connection if I could.
For photographers, this event is a chance to capture many facets of Thai heritage and the great artistry on display. One can only imagine the time spent making these ornate floats was immense.
If following the parade ever gets too tiresome, there is no shortage of delightful street food and drinks on offer at the many stalls that line the streets along the parade's path.
The parade eventually makes it way towards Mae Ping river, which is also where a lot of people congregate to release krathongs. A krathong is a candle raft made with a banana stem base. Locals pray for prosperity and release the krathong into the water hoping it would take away along with it all the sins and bad aura of the person floating it.
Some people even put some money in the krathongs too. But don’t expect the money to make it far. Some poor folk stay in the river and take the money from all the floating krathongs. It's quite the sight!
If you felt like you have seen enough of the grand parade, then there are other activities to keep you entertained as well. Tradittional beauty pageants, street performances, fireworks, and of course the ever-so popular activity of releasing paper lanterns.
The word I often use to describe Chiang Mai is ‘charming’ — ‘Charming Chiang Mai’. It’s a lovely city — laid back, full of rich history and lots to do besides shop & drink. One of the best times to visit Chiang Mai is undoubtedly during Loi Krathong festival. The whole city lights up and is buzzing with activity. But do not assume Loy Krathong is only about releasing paper lanterns in the sky. Really, the lanterns are something that only became a trend a decade or two ago, mostly due to the Yeepeng Lanna event just outside Chiang Mai city. If you are planning to visit Chiang Mai, I suggest staying for a few days during Loy Krathong week, take in the sights but stay until you have witnessed the wonderful Grand Parade.