More than 200,000 visitors are expected to attend a festival in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai being held to celebrate and honor...

More than 200,000 visitors are expected to attend a festival in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai being held to celebrate and honor Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej (also known as Rama IX), who is the world’s longest reigning monarch and will be celebrating his 82nd birthday on December 5.

The Ratchaphruek Festival’s opening ceremony will be held on December 1, but the entire festival will run from November 30 to December 10 at the Ratchaphruek 2006 Garden in Chiang Mai. The king ascended the throne in June 1946 and his coronation took place in May 1950.

Organized by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and Chiang Mai Provincial Administration, the festival is expected to attract thousands of Thais, expatriate residents of Thailand, and international visitors to the northern region of Thailand.

The organizers expect the festival to help boost domestic tourism, raise hotel occupancies in Chiang Mai, and give extensive exposure to North Thailand, which is projected to be a bridgehead for Thailand’s plans for future economic development and linkages with the Greater Mekong Subregion.

On December 1, the official opening ceremony will feature welcoming parades from all four regions of Thailand. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will deliver the opening address and then join the people in floating the 999 Kom Loi (Sky Lantern). This will be followed by Thai classical dances from the four regions, each dance featuring 99 people from each region.

(Thai people consider the number nine lucky. A slight variation of its pronunciation also means “progress” or “advancement” in Thai.)

The festival’s biggest event will be held on the king’s birthday on December 5, with the lighting of thousands of candles, offerings of prayers and blessings for his continued good health, and singing of congratulatory songs, followed by a display of fireworks and a son et lumière show.

Throughout the festival, visitors will be able to see a horticultural exhibition of flowers, trees and fruits, as well as sales and competitions of agri-products, handicrafts and village-made souvenirs. Orchid lovers will find this festival a particular delight, the organizers say.

This is a view from Doi Suthep mountain over the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand

This is a view from Doi Suthep mountain over the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand

The Ratchaphruek Garden was originally built for the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2006, an international horticultural expo held in Chiang Mai as part of the celebrations commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the king’s ascension to the throne. Roughly 2.5 million plants and flowers, including some rare species of orchids, were on display at the expo, which received over two million visitors.

Chiang Mai is the economic, communications, cultural, and tourism centre of Northern Thailand. In recent years, it has undergone considerable economic development but still retains its historic heritage. It is also becoming increasingly well-known as a center of traditional Thai massage, meditation, spas, health, and wellness.

Flights to Chiang Mai are available through Thai Airways International, Bangkok Airways, Nok Air, Thai AirAsia, Silk Air, Lao Airlines, China Airlines, and Korean Air. Additionally, in the foreseeable future, the Asian Highway network now taking shape throughout Southeast Asia will link Singapore with Kunming, via both Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

The Ratchaphruek Garden continues to be a major tourist spot in Chiang Mai. Additionally, the festival’s organizers say some of the “Royal Initiative Discovery” projects, which highlight the king’s economic-sufficiency initiative, are located in North Thailand and are well worth checking out.

The schedule for the Ratchaphruek Festival’s events is as follows:

● Tuesday, December 1, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Opening ceremony and cultural show from 4 regions;

● Wednesday, December 2, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Showing of drum and music playing from 4 regions;

● Thursday, December 3, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Folk shows from 4 regions;

● Friday, December 4, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Jazz music (the king’s songs);

● Saturday, December 5, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Lighting the candle to celebrate the king, 999 fireworks and Thai folk music;

● Sunday, December 6, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Thai folk music (from the north and northeast regions) and the champion from the Ching Cha Sawan TV programme;

● Monday, December 7, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Thai folk music (from the south and central regions);

● Tuesday, December 8, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Orchestra, folk songs and son et lumière music show (Lopburi Sri Nakorn Ping Chiang Mai);

● Wednesday, December 9, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Khon “Phra Ram Khrong Mueang”; and

● Thursday, December 10, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Thai Puppet and International Puppet Show.