Salak Yom Festival
Salak Yom Festival takes place in the tenth month of the lunar calendar, which usually falls in September or October. In 2016, it was celebrated from September 14th – 16th, but the dates for 2017 are yet to be confirmed.
As with most Thai festivals, the Salak Yom Festival features parades, cultural shows and competitions (they even have a competition for chanting).
The most impressive feature of Salak Yom Festival, however, is the Salaks themselves. Salak Yom means ‘Tree of Gifts’, and over the years the trees have gotten bigger and bigger, to the point where they’re truly vast. The Salaks are made out of bamboo, with a thick central column and dozens of branches, then decorated with colorful paper.
The Thai people hang gifts on the branches, some of which are given to the monks, whilst others are intended for the spirits. After all the parading is done, the Salaks, along with their presents, are donated to the monks.
Salak Yom originally began as a rite of passage for young Thai women, aged around 20. They would present Salaks – albeit much smaller Salaks than those used today – to the local monks, and this would symbolize their ascent to adulthood (effectively meaning their eligibility for marriage).
The festival was actually stopped in the mid twentieth century, due to the sheer amount of time, effort and money that went into constructing the Salaks. At the request of the monks, however, it was restarted in the 2000s and continues to this day (luckily for us!).
The Salak Yom Festival was originally brought to Thailand by the Yong people of Burma, who settled in Lamphun in the nineteenth century. Lamphun province is located in the north of Thailand, slightly to the south of Chiang Mai, and not far from the Burmese border to the west. The center of the celebrations is Wat Prathat Haripunchai, which is in the city of Lamphun.
Getting to Lamphun from nearby Chiang Mai is extremely easy. Technically you can take the train, but it’s far quicker and more convenient to go by roads. It’s a very scenic drive (like most in northern Thailand), so renting a motorbike and heading there in your own time is a great option for those who are confident of riding in Thailand.
If a bike isn’t for you, you can catch a bus from outside Chiang Mai’s National Museum. The fare is only about 25 baht, and the ride shouldn’t take longer than an hour. Alternatively you can take one of the blue songthaew, but they’re a lot slower than the proper buses.
It should be noted that Lamphun’s bus station is located slightly out of town, meaning you’ll need to utilize some local transportation (a motorbike taxi, perhaps), for the last little leg of your journey.