The Phimai festival takes place annually in early November all across the city of Phimai. The main festivities happen around the Phimai Historic Park and Chakkarat River in the Phimai District of the Nakhon Ratchasima province. It celebrates the reign of the Khmer King Jayavarman VII and gives thanks for the end of a successful harvesting season.
This epic five-day event is the host of many events, including exciting long-boat races packed with adrenaline featuring teams from all over Thailand, a lively cultural night performance honouring the king, a colourful craft fair, the infamous Korat Cat competition and, of course, a delectable food market.
Upon arriving in this usually quiet town of approximately 5,000 people, I was shocked to see that the population has temporarily doubled or even tripled with people from all over Thailand coming to be a part of this exhilarating celebration. A two-minute walk from our hotel brought us to the entrance of the festival. The barren street went from calm and empty to packed, loud and bustling within seconds. People were everywhere!
Walking in a group of four proves impossible for our team, as we got quickly separated by hundreds of Thai people, all with the intent to celebrate and honour this event to the fullest. A seemingly endless row of food vendors sold tasty bags of fresh mango, dragonfruit and pineapple; meats on sticks (my personal favourite); cream-filled pastries; and crunchy, barbecued insects!
A left turn brought us into yet another sea of food vendors making fresh pad Thai, grilled chilli pork, deep fried chicken dumplings, mango sticky rice, banana-leaf spring rolls and organic Thai tea. The smells were overwhelming and delightful. I wanted to try everything but there wasn’t enough time in the world, so I settled for a durian-filled pastry, a bag of fresh mango and a cricket (more on that in another blog!). My co-host, Jess, settled on a bag of fresh popcorn with so much butter it should be illegal, and a bright-green coconut snack resembling a Rice Krispie square.
The colours were electrifying! Flags, banners and paper lanterns gave life to the sky. Costumes of pink, orange, yellow, gold and turquoise lit up the evening as the parade marched down the lane toward the 1,000-year-old ruins of the ancient Khmer temple. Men dressed in deep purple and navy blue suits with tassels and shiny gold chains were accompanied by women wearing elaborate princess ball gowns that would put Cinderella to shame. Dancing to the marching band, they disappeared into the swarm of festivities.
It’s a feast for the senses. Everywhere I look people are smiling, children are playing and everyone is happy. A time of gratitude, a time of honour and a time to reflect on the past year. I am very proud that I had the chance to experience the Phimai Festival.