The Enchantments of Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a city in Northern Thailand known for its beautiful mountain views and colorful tribes. Founded in 1296 as the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom it offers options for every type of traveler; from luxurious spa retreats to adventures at elephant sanctuaries. You are sure to find something you love in this busy Thai city.
Two of the most beautiful celebrations to see in Chiang Mai are the Yi Peng & Loy Krathong Festivals held in November.
Loy Krathong is a one-day event where candles placed on boats made out of banana leaves are lit and set to sail on the Ping River.
Yi Peng (also pronounced Yee Peng) is where lanterns are released into the air at night creating a magical scene.
Every year they are held on different dates to coincide with the full moon of the Thai Lunar calendar. Luckily, Chiang Mai is the only place in Thailand where the two festivals are held at the same time.
This is why I fully recommend planning a trip to Thailand in November to coincide with these enchanting festivals. The memories we made were straight out of a fairy tale!
Let's start with an exploration on what we did in the city while we stayed there.
We stayed in the Old City in Chiang Mai. The reason for this is because it's easily walkable or explorable by tuk-tuk. It was also decorated beautifully (see below) in honor of the celebrations of Loy Krathong and Yi Peng. We loved walking to different Buddhist temples, hearing the chanting, and even sitting in on one of the services. It was nice to be able to simply walk back to our hotel after every activity, so I would definitely recommend staying in this area when visiting.
Things to Do
Besides walking around the Old City, we also explored the Doi Suthep Temple, played with elephants at a sanctuary, got pampered a spa all day, indulged in the best desserts we had in Thailand, and of course, attended the Yi Peng festivities.
is a Buddhist temple located near the peak of the Doi Suthep mountain located 1055 meters above sea level. The views at this temple are INCREDIBLE and we marveled at the model of the emerald Buddha. You can breathe peace at this temple despite the crowds, as there are tranquil gardens and an overlook that will leave you speechless.
I will say this: my #1 choice for ethical elephant sanctuary is Elephant Nature Park led by award-winning conservationist Lek Chailert. I still follow her rescue activities and dream of visiting the sanctuary on my next visit to Thailand. This sanctuary was fully booked when we tried to plan our visit about a month in advance, so I recommend booking ASAP in order to be able to visit.
We ended up visiting Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The elephants seemed to be treated well when we were present but I don't truly believe they are treated the same when tourists are not around. Something about the whole activity seemed very rehearsed, and the elephants did not seem to be in their natural habitat, or even comfortable. This is why I stress the importance of proper research when it comes to animal interaction! I left feeling like I had given money to a tourist trap and not a real conservation effort.
Elephants are magnificent, intelligent creatures, and this experience is one I will never forget. They were gentle and the camp we visited had a baby elephant that was very playful. I will however, do better research for future visits to any animal "sanctuary".
Get pampered -
Chiang Mai is known for its massages given by women who used to be prisoners and are rehabilitating their life. We did not visit the parlor where these women work but instead visited a parlor named Chinola Massage since their availability was better for our schedule. We were absolutely pampered for a few hours. They provided special rates for couples and we were given a scalp massage, relaxing couples massage, and foot massage. They ended the service with delicious tea and a complimentary bar of soap. Definitely recommend looking into this!
In Chiang Mai we had the best desserts of our 2 week stay in Thailand! We visited Barneo Dessert Bar and had fluffy Japanese cheesecake and Its Good Kitchen and had the best mango sticky rice I've ever had (to this day this reigns true).
This was what I was most excited about seeing on my visit to Chiang Mai. The festival looks beautiful in pictures, but nothing prepared me for how emotional I got when the lanterns started filling the night sky.
Like I mentioned above, Loy Krathong is where candles are placed onto banana leaf boats and these are lit and sent floating down the Ping River to thank the Goddess of water for a good harvest. This festival only occurs for one day, coinciding with the four-day celebration of Yi Peng. I loved that the ingredients were organic so it wouldn't create pollution in the river once everything burned away.
Yi Peng is where lanterns are lit and sent into the night sky. Since it's celebrated during the full moon looking into the sky and seeing these lanterns with the moon is really breathtaking.
I didn't expect the lantern to be so large! Once released it quickly elevated and joined thousands of others. Enjoy the video below!
Once we watched for about an hour we walked around the Old City and enjoyed the festival that was full of street musicians, local artisans, and food vendors. Definitely an experience to remember.
We watched the lanterns being released on the Ping River but you can watch for free from many other points in the city as well. There is a celebration at Maejo University about a week before Yi Peng but it does cost quite a bit and reservations fill up months before the event.
Chiang Mai is on my list of "Favorite Destinations". The culture, the food, the people, and the festival made it so incredibly special. I do recommend planning the trip out a bit more than we did as we faced a lot of availability issues especially due to the large crowds visiting for Yi Peng.
If planning a trip to Thailand I would definitely say this city on a MUST! Thank you to the "Land of Smiles" for being so unforgettable.