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.
How was it? Share your experience below!
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…