Saturday, 07-02-2015 — Monday, 09-02-2015.
Days 171 — 173.
Chiang Mai is a very festive town, and during the next two days we took in some of those festivities. First, we walked up to see the Chiang Mai Flower Festival, then the next day we strolled around the Sunday Walking Market, which takes place every week at Tha Phae Gate.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival
The Chiang Mai Flower Festival is held during the first weekend in February each year. We walked up to Katam Corner (so named because it's where people used to place traps to catch fish; katam means trap) in time to see the Flower Festival Parade, which is a lot like the Rose Parade in Pasadena but with a fraction of the people and better weather.
We watched the parade until the last few floats went by where we were standing, then walked along as it continued down toward the Suan Buak Haad public park, where the parade ends.
We wandered around, checking out the floats and the other features of the festival, like the bonsai and orchid competitions, as well as a lot of flower-filled displays.
Like any sort of fair, there was a good selection of food, too. All our favorites, like barbecued pork on a stick, chicken on a stick, roti saimai (fairy floss in a crepe), mango with sticky rice, and baby pineapples were there, as well as other staples like sausages, pad thai, and all sorts of other noodle dishes.
After we finished checking out the festival, we walked through the center of town to find a restaurant. Chiang Mai is a sprawling city, but at the center is a town square, about six kilometers in perimeter, surrounded by a moat. We'd heard stories of some people taking drunken midnight swims in the moat, but it's not something I would recommend—the water was pretty questionable.
We ended up eating a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant that was recommended to us, then we walked the thirty minutes back to the apartment and settled in for the night.
Chiang Mail Sunday Walking Market
On Sunday, we just lounged about at the apartment until the early evening when we walked back up to Katam Corner and then up the street until we got to Tha Phae Gate, which is where one end of the Sunday Walking Market begins.
The street was packed with people from curb-to-curb. Both sides of the street were lined with vendors selling all sorts of handmade crafts, clothing, tourist trinkets, artwork, toys, and other goodies. There was plenty of food, too—especially at the wats along the road. The area around the temples seemed to act like food courts, with a higher concentration of food vendors there.
At one point as we were browsing, everything just stopped. The busy, noisy street went totally silent. It was like time froze for everyone except us. Then the Thai national anthem blared out over a loudspeaker system. Everyone stood quietly at attention as it played. It only lasted about a minute, and when it stopped everyone picked up what they were doing as if nothing happened. We later learned that the national anthem is played twice daily (once at 8:00 a.m. and once at 6:00 p.m.) on television and radio and in public spaces, and while it plays the people always stop to pay their respects. We'd been in Thailand 12 days at this point, so it was a little weird we hadn't experienced it until then.
One of the perks of the apartment we were staying in is that it came with four bikes. While we were searching for places to eat in the neighborhood, we came across the Art Cafe. On the map it looked like it was nearby, so on Monday morning we rode our bikes over to where it was supposed to be and had some breakfast. The owner was there (she also owns the Art Cafe at Tha Phe Gate), and greeted us enthusiastically. The food was good, too. We ended up eating there almost every morning during the rest of our stay in Chiang Mai.