The What’s Up Guide to the Culture of Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand

The culture and long heritage of Thailand especially the North are evident in the way Chiang Mai people behave, their traditions and the diverse annual events calendar. Chiang Mai and the North uphold their traditional values and customs. Visitors will find the traditional wai greeting of pressing the palms together and giving a slight bow is still omnipresent.  

Festivals are another facet that show Northern Culture is alive and kicking. Songkran staged in mid-April is a festival extraordinaire and celebration of the Lanna New Year of olden times. Songkran water throwing battles are a modern take on the old custom of pouring water on elders’ hands. Building huge sand pagodas and colourful parades are among other key Songkran happenings.

Yi Peng and Loy Krathong are the other main festivals and are jointly staged in late autumn. Chiang Mai is the top spot to witness the spectacle of lit up khom loy lanterns soaring ever higher into the night sky and the mass release of small krathong boats into the city’s waterways or the Ping River. Other major festivals include Chinese New Year, the Buddhist themed Visaka Bucha and the vibrant flower festival.

Chiang Mai is renowned for its thriving cottage industries. Artisans at small studios and workshops in the localities surrounding the city pay homage to skills handed down through the generations by creating stunning souvenirs and handicrafts which make the perfect Chiang Mai keepsake or gift for a loved one. Chiang Mai shopping tours typically cover Baan Tawai Village, San Kamphaeng, Wualai Road and the weekend street markets on this same road and near Thapae Gate.

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A Khantoke Dinner is the ideal means of getting to grips with Northern behavioural and dining culture. Diners get to sample the finest dishes of the North at low tables while sitting on mats and being serenaded by dancers dressed in traditional dress. Menu items typically include nam phrik num (chilli paste), geng hanglay curry, panaeng curry, kaeb moo (crispy fried pork skin) and fresh vegetables. Dances include fon lep (long fingernail) and ram dap (sword). [Read more about the Best Places for Khantok Dinner and Shows in Chiang Mai]