Spirit of Thailand

Spirit of Thailand

Culture, Relationships,
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Amazing Big Festival in a Small Town in Thailand

The Atmosphere In Omkoi Thailand

The author, Shama Kern, and his wife Jang at dinner in Omkoi Thailand
The author, Shama Kern, and his wife Jang at dinner in scenic Omkoi Thailand.

Just when you thought you have seen Thailand, something totally unexpected happens. Like you happen to be in an ordinary and not particularly interesting town or village, and suddenly there is this gigantic festival happening which transforms the town into an exciting, happening, fascinating place.

This happened to me in the town of Omkoi in Chiang Mai province of northern Thailand. My wife and I were visiting friends there. When we arrived, there was a huge festival going on with music, food, dance performances, and many other events.

Even the governor of Chiang Mai province attended with many other dignitaries and a big entourage.

Elephants At Work In The Fields

elephant plowing a field in Thailand
A domesticated elephant plowing a field in Thailand

One of the most impressive demonstrations was of an actual working elephant plowing a field. This was quite unique since normally in Thailand you only see elephants which are trained to perform for tourists, doing all kind of tricks.

Previously domesticated elephants were used in the logging industry and other areas. However with the advent of machinery most elephants were out of work but still had to be fed. However this elephant belongs to the Karen tribe and works in their agriculture.

Let me tell you, the elephant did not break a sweat tilling the field! Also he was being fed continuously. An elephant eats more in one day than we do in a couple of month.

Hill Tribe People In Thailand

Lahu hill tribe people in Thailand
Colorful Lahu hill tribe people in Thailand

This festival was really colorful because Omkoi is an area which is home to many tribal people who wear very distinctive and colorful costumes. They don’t always wear them, but they do put on their Sunday best during such festivals.

Hmong and Karen hill tribe girls in Thailand
Hmong and Karen hill tribe girls in Thailand

It is quite a sight. The outfits have a specific significance. For example the white dresses of the girls show that they are from the Karen tribe and that they are unmarried. The black dresses show that they are from the Hmong tribe.

Hill tribe people are not ethnic Thais. Some have migrated to Thailand from China and elsewhere. They speak their own distinct languages and mostly live in the mountainous areas of northern Thailand.

Their main occupation is agriculture and they mostly live in small villages within their own tribal groups. However nowadays many of the younger ones leave their communities and move to bigger cities.

Thai People And Food

Eating is always a big part of any Thai festival. Thais love to eat and do so frequently throughout the day. Actually a typical Thai greeting is: “Have you eaten already?” That’s about the equivalent of the western “how are you doing?”

Thai people always combine and social or fun activities with food. A typical sight at the beach, at the waterfall, at the hot springs or in the park is a group of Thais with a big picnic basket.

This simple and colorful outdoor restaurant in the festival grounds only gets busy once the heat of the day subsides after sunset.

Open air restaurant in Omkoi, Thailand
Open air restaurant at a festival in Omkoi, Thailand

Thai Village Bamboo Houses

In Thai villages you still find people living in simple bamboo houses. This especially applies to the hill tribes. They might have a pickup truck, a smart phone and a TV, but still live in very simple houses. 

This is in stark contrast to the modern cities in Thailand with glitzy mega malls and highrise buildings. However in more remote and mountainous areas like Omkoi, many people still live in bamboo houses.

bamboo house in Thailand
A simple village-style traditional bamboo house in Thailand

In general the rural hill tribe people are quite short. Most of them barely reach to my shoulders. One thing they all have in common is that they are very friendly, welcoming, helpful and always ready to smile, if you know them or not.

Friendly local hill tribe girls with the author, Shama Kern
Friendly local hill tribe girls with the author, Shama Kern, in Omkoi Thailand

Thai Sweet Cooking Competition

The sweet cooking competition was one of the highlights of the festival. Several villages had their teams cook sweets in huge vats. The ingredients are simple and healthy – shredded coconuts, sugarcane and sticky rice.

It takes about an hour to boil it down until it hardens and can be formed into tasty sweets.

Sweet preparation in Thailand
This is how certain kinds of sweets are made in Thailand

Transportation In Rural Thailand

The typical rural village transport mode is a pickup truck which easily holds up to 20 people. There are no benches – everyone just piles in, precariously balancing on the sides of the cargo box. The villagers came from all over the area for this once-a-year event.

It was very notable that ethnic Thais, various hill tribe peoples, and even foreigners all lived together in peace and harmony. I have rarely seen a place with so many friendly and smiling people.

Villagers in pick up truck in northern Thailand
Villagers in pick up truck in northern Thailand

Festivals And Events In Thailand

Even the mayor of Omkoi was happy to pose with me for a picture. It felt quite relaxing seeing the highest local offical in a colorful outfit mingling with the crowd. He was even riding the elephant during the plowing demonstration.

The author, Shama Kern, with the mayor of Omkoi Thailand
The author, Shama Kern, with the mayor of Omkoi Thailand

Thailand is full of  such surprises. One day you might run into a hill tribe festival like in Omkoi. Another day you might encounter a big temple festival. Or you might see a “money tree” procession, or a food festival, or a multitude of other events.

Especially if you get off the beaten track and don’t just visit the famous, but crowed tourist attractions, you will find a delightful, colorful and fascinating side of Thailand. Foreigners are always welcome and treated very well. The Omkoi festival was one of the highlights which I have experienced in Thailand.


The author, ShamaKernThe author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand with his Thai wife for well over a decade. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy, an online training school for Thai Massage education. You can reach him at shama@shamakern.com.


Related Reading:
Historic Old Town In Ko Lanta Thailand
Island Scenery in Southern Thailand
9 Reasons Why Thailand Is A Great Destination

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