The most magical time to visit Chaing Mai

Within days of arriving, Chiang Mai fast became my favourite destination in Southeast Asia. It's less crazy than Bangkok, the food is cheap and delicious and there is so much to do, making it an awesome destination year round; but having done this a few times now I can tell you will full confidence that plan your visit at the right time and you will experience this cultural town in northern Thailand at it's most magical.

Thailand has lots of festivals throughout the year and at the beginning of November, the country celebrates Loy Krathong. This is an enchanting festival by its own standard but celebrate it in Chiang Mai and you'll get to experience the wonders of Yi Peng the following day.

This year, the Loy Krathong celebrations started on the 10th November and Yi Peng, on 11th and 12th.

The whole city gets involved but as a backpacker, my favourite place to be is at Stamps backpacker hostel. I've stayed in 4 or 5 different hostels during my time in Chiang Mai and it is by far the best in terms for almost everything! Great location, comfortable accommodation but most importantly for me, the people who work there are the people who stay.

Loy Krathong loosely translates to 'to float a basket' and the festivities involve building an offering and floating it along the river to pay respect to the water spirits - and that's just what we did. Stamps organised all the bits and pieces we'd need and taught us how to create a traditional krathongs using a slice of tree trunk, folded banana leaves with toothpicks to keep them in place and flowers for decoration.

We walked down to the river as a big group, added a candle and three incense sticks to our krathongs and set them off along the river to join the hundreds of others floating downstream; there was something very Disney-esqu about the whole experience.

The next evening was the first night of Yi Peng, the lantern festival. The big celebrations happen on this day at the Mae Jo university which is about 15km out of town but to go to the actual ceremony, it costs hundreds of dollars so many people, including us gather by the river just outside. Stamps booked up coaches to take us there from Chiang Mai center and upon arriving, we bought lanterns and noodles at the street market and headed to the river bank to set them off by the water.

After writing our hopes and dreams on them, we lit the ring inside and waited for them to fill up with hot air. They're quite tricky to get right and require a few hands but it's a lot of fun to do together and it was great for group bonding.

By 8pm, the official ceremony started and all of a sudden, the sky opposite from where we were standing was full with thousands of lanterns; all launched into the sky at once. We all just stood there in awe, it was an absolutely magical sight.

And once they were far enough away, the fireworks started too.

This year, I missed last night of the festivities because I had plans in Bangkok but from my experience the first time around, this night is best spent in the city. With a big parade and the usual street market madness, there are people literally everywhere. Excited children and tourists who don't really know what they're mean that most of the lanterns got caught up in trees and fell to the ground in a big ball of flames so be wary if you do go out.

It was utter chaos if I'm honest but I loved every second!


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