Dancing at the base of the mountain: the Shambhala Festival, Thailand

Dancing at the Shambhala Festival, Thailand

Massive teepees, waist-length dreadlocks, rainbow bunting and mystic dance circles: just one weekend at the Shambhala In Your Heart Festival in Chiang Dao put me up close and personal with a perfect slice of northern Thailand’s hippie scene. Started by a pair of Japanese and Thai friends, Shambhala Festival is an annual retreat into the countryside around Chiang Dao mountain, between hot springs, caves and Karen villages, that fills up more than a week with art, music, and socialising.

At the moment, it’s still small enough that you could meet almost everyone there, and creates a strange friendliness in all the festival go-ers: simply looking at someone is enough to make them smile and say hello.

Once I heard about a ‘Japanese reggae festival up north’ from a friend, I rented a scooter and rode up from Chiang Mai after my stay at the farm, arriving at the base of a mountain that seemed to appear out of nothing. Though I only planned to stay for the day, the people at the festival were so welcoming that I never found a moment alone or a reason to leave.

We danced on the grass, ate raw energy bars and 10 baht pad thai, talked to jewellery makers and yoga teachers, and sat by the fire listening to some of the most haunting, poetic music from Isaan-Lanna bands and crazy, intense jams from a Japanese ukelele player.

As the party died down to the folk sounds of an eclectic expat band, we rented blankets and crept into a teepee to sleep, curling up around the fire on bamboo mats and watching the smoke move up through the hole in the top, with one tiny star peeking through. Though I woke up cramped, cold once the fire died, it was so comfortable to be surrounded by now-familiar faces, ready for the next day of the festival.

I wish I could have stayed for longer, but there were more adventures to be had in northern Thailand…and who knows? Maybe I’ll be around next year.

Musicians at the Shambhala In Your Heart Festival,  Chiang Mai, Thailand

Karen Village in Thailand

Karen tribe house in Thailand Man at the Shambhala Festival, Thailand

Juggler at the Shambhala In Your Heart Festival, Chiang Dao, Thailand

Festival stage at Shambhala In Your Heart

Hippie clothing in Thailand

Jewellery seller at Shambhala Festival, Chiang Dao

Map of Shambhala In Your Heart Festival, Thailand

Food at Shambhala Festival, Thailand

Campers at the Shambhala In Your Heart Festival, Chiang Dao

Dancing at the Shambhala Festival, Thailand

Schedule of the Shambhala Festival, Thailand

Musicians at the Shambhala In Your Heart Festival, Thailand

Have you ever been to a music festival abroad?
How was it? Share your experience below!

Getting there:
The Shambhala In Your Heart Festival takes place at the Doi Luang Youth Camp in Chiang Dao, north of Chiang Mai. You can take a bus from Chiang Mai for 40 baht ($1.30), then hire a songthaew to the camp site.

You can also rent a scooter (200 THB or $6.40) and drive yourself, which gives you freedom to go check out the other sites in the area (and it’s a beautiful drive!!). However, I would recommend this only if you feel comfortable driving on Thai highways. It’s scary out there. My trip went off without a hitch, but you never know. This map is key if you’re driving. But note! The ‘five way intersection with blinking lights’ means one blinking yellow light. Don’t expect a 5 way intersection with a legit traffic light, because then you’ll wind up driving waaaay too far north and have to turn around after a half hour…


18 Responses to Dancing at the base of the mountain: the Shambhala Festival, Thailand

  1. Alana - Paper Planes 5 March, 2013 at 16:55 #

    I’m bummed I had to miss it!

    • na-o-mi 8 April, 2013 at 21:10 #

      Now you know to listen to your good pal Naomi more often… ;) xx

  2. Erica 10 March, 2013 at 03:15 #

    Sounds like you had a terrific time at the festival! While I’ve seen plenty of music concerts abroad, I’ve yet to visit a festival.

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 19:02 #

      I think there’s a really different vibe at a festival, though concerts are great fun too! ;)

  3. Jessica Wray 10 March, 2013 at 16:06 #

    Wow, what a unique experience to have in Thailand. Looked like tons of fun!

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 19:02 #

      It was! And I’d do it again in a heartbeat…

  4. Jenny James 12 March, 2013 at 09:01 #

    I’ve done a couple of music festivals up in the mountains in Ubud Bali…wonderful experience! Your Thailand experience looks like so much fun, wish I could have been there :-)

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 19:03 #

      OH! In Ubud?? Oh, how I hope I have the chance to do so as well… ;)

  5. Shivangi 18 March, 2013 at 15:52 #

    A hippie festival in Thailand….who wud’ve thought ? so different from the standard image of Thailand !!

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 19:03 #

      Is it? Northern Thailand seems to be all about that scene…or maybe that’s just the people I’ve been hanging out with… ;)

  6. Jennifer 21 March, 2013 at 01:44 #

    Wow I always say how I want to visit Thailand, and this is not what I picture when I envision it. Is this a common festival to occupy this area? We have many of these festivals close to my home in Oregon, and I really don’s find them appealing, but understand many do. I know this is not a to do on my list if I go to Thailand.

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 19:04 #

      Thanks for weighing in, Jennifer – it’s good to hear from a different preference :) There’s a lot more to Thailand, of course, and something for everyone!

  7. Laura In Wonderland 27 March, 2013 at 22:01 #

    Wow! I’m jealous! When I was in Pai about two months ago I saw lots of posters for the festival, but I missed it because I had to go back to work in Bangkok. It sounds amazing!

    Btw, I iust found your blog and I’m so glad I did. Will definitely read about your future adventures – whenever I can find a decent internet connection :)

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 19:06 #

      Are you around next year? You could always go then…or to one of the other million little festivals happening up around Pai all the time ;) You work in Bangkok? Very cool!

      • Laura In Wonderland 5 June, 2013 at 20:08 #

        I don’t think I will be in Thailand next year. I was working in Bangkok before, but I quit my job in March and now I’m cycling to China. So I think I will also miss the next Shambala festival. But I’m sure one day I will be there :)

  8. Grace Britton 17 April, 2013 at 17:06 #

    This sounds really fun and Thailand has never missed to gives it’s best when it comes for festivals.

  9. ThomThom 7 March, 2014 at 16:37 #

    Hello Naomi!
    Your Shambala’s picture are so beautiful! It makes me happy to see these people with whom I have also shared some laughs and smiles! Do you have some other photo of the festival to share? I’m greedy review bits of faces of friends up there!
    Hoping that the world will continue to carry you to its paradise.

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