#FindingAsia: Thai Festival Chicago

Thai Festival Chicago 2015

The great thing about Chicago summers is that they’re filled with all sorts of festivals.

I guess since we really only get a few weeks of great weather here, we have to make up for it by packing it all in come summertime. On any given week you can find at least four festivals going on.

My favorite festivals are the cultural ones. From Japanese and Chinese to German and Irish, almost all cultural enclaves in Chicago are represented by a festival at some point during the summer. To me this is great as it only helps to foster cultural understanding.

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I was surprised when my local Thai restaurant handed me a flyer for Thai Festival Chicago. Although this year marked its 15th year, I had no idea this festival even existed.

Despite having over 30,000 people of Thai decent in the Chicago area, we have no proper Thaitown since the community is rather dispersed. I’m pretty sure most Chicagoan’s knowledge of Thai culture doesn’t exceed a take out menu, which is why I was really intrigued to check out this three-day festival.

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Sponsored by the Royal Thai Consulate General of Chicago, Thai Festival Chicago kicked off in the heart of the Loop at Federal Plaza with a traditional drum and dance parade.

Throughout the afternoon attendees could discover a taste of Thailand through plenty of food stalls offering Thai cuisine, cooking demonstrations and various cultural performances showcasing dance, music and boxing.

One of my favorite performances was actually a fashion show.

From traditional to modern, from the southern regions to the north, they did an excellent job displaying all different kinds of typical Thai clothing. And the girls looked stunning!

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Once the fashion show was over, they went right into a traditional Thai wedding demonstration.

They explained traditions such as the parade from the grooms village to the bride’s with dowries and the gate crash (which is also seen in Chinese weddings) down to the ceremony itself.

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Those who wanted to have their own Thai wedding were later invited to get dressed in traditional Thai wedding clothes and have their photos taken.

After seeing some of their main stage performances, I decided to get up and walk around through the different booths.

There was information on traditional Thai arts, such as Muy Thai, that people can get involved with right here in Chicago. And of course, plenty of brochures and travel deals for visiting Thailand.

I loved that they had a whole section of booths that focused on traditional Thai handicrafts. Some of the things they focused on were hun krabok (traditional puppets), bunga rampai (fresh potpourri) and bai sri pak cham (banana leaf decorations often used as offerings).

At each booth you could actually try your hand at making the craft they featured, which was really fun. I tried making a bung rampai since I love the smell of Thai potpourii and oils.

The bai sri pak cham they had on display were some of the most elaborate I’ve seen. I watched as they folded the banana leaves into serpents and dragons.

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Back near the food stands they had cooking demonstrations all day long.

The main show included a tom kha kai soup and roast duck curry demonstration by Chef Wilairat, but even in between those they had smaller ones that showed how to make beautiful lotus flower dumplings or fruit carvings.

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Being around the smell of delicious food I gave into temptation and had my favorite massaman curry– which I learned is ranked by CNN as one of the most delicious foods in the world. But there were plenty of other great choices as well.

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Before heading home I lined up to receive a free Thai massage, because who could say no to a free massage? Not me that’s for sure.

Overall I was really impressed by Thai Festival Chicago because I felt they did a good job giving insight to Thai culture. And all for free. Thailand has always been one of my favorite countries because of its exotic culture and I’m glad to see Chicagoan’s embracing it.

I look forward to attending the festival again next summer, but until then I’ve got a trip to Thailand to plan!

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Does your city have a Thai festival?

35 Comments

  • Erin Kennedy says:

    This looks so awesome! I would love to attend an event like this! The outfits are beautiful! What a wonderful event!

    • Beth Williams says:

      Yes! I think Thai outfits are some of the most beautiful. I’ve always wanted to try one on. :)

  • Kendra says:

    Oh, this sounds so awesome! I love attending cultural festivals!

  • April G says:

    Growing up, one of my best friends was Thai and I loved the food her family cooked. I haven’t looked in a Thai festival, but I surely will now.

  • Jeana B. says:

    What a really beautiful festival, indeed! I would love to see one of those next time.

  • Fariha N. says:

    I don’t know if we have a Thai festival here but I will be looking into it. This looks like just the type of event I would really enjoy with my family.

    • Beth Williams says:

      It would be such a fun family event! Unfortunately they held it for three weekdays during work hours, which made it a little difficult for families to attend.

  • Carly Brydon says:

    This looks like it was a really good festival! We’re visiting Chicago in a couple of weeks and can’t wait to go to a few of the festivals going on.

  • Elizabeth O. says:

    Sounds like a wonderful event. This is definitely a fun way to learn about different cultures.

  • This sounds stunning! I wish we had events like this local to where I am… I’d never miss an event! – Jerusha, TheDisneyChef.com

    • Beth Williams says:

      Chicago has so many great events in the summer. It’s hard to pick and choose which ones to attend!

  • Keianna says:

    Sounds like a fun time!

    • Beth Williams says:

      I had a lot of fun even though I was only there a few hours. Would love to spend more time there next year.

  • Keianna says:

    We don’t have such a festival in my city, but I wish we did. Sounds like soooo much fun.

  • Ron Leyba says:

    Wow, great thing that this kind of rich festivity is celebrated near you!. I would love to try some of the finest Thai foods if I was there :)

    • Beth Williams says:

      Yeah, it’s a bit rare to find good Thai food in Chicago, but now I know of a few places thanks to this festival!

  • R U S S says:

    Interesting statistics about the number of people with Thai decent in Chicago – didn’t know about that till now. This though, seems like a fun festival .. quite different from those that I’ve seen but I’m sure there are so may things to learn. Would love to watch that fashion show.

    • Beth Williams says:

      The fashion show was totally my favorite part– and I almost skipped it. So glad I didn’t because seeing all their outfits was really cool!

  • Wow! This looks like fun in the sun! I love the beauty of the dresses these women are wearing. Such a wonderful culture.

    • Beth Williams says:

      It is! When it comes to Asian culture I’ve always found Thai to be one of the most exotic.

  • Wow, this festival looks so fun and colorful! I hope to be able to attend some day soon. :)

    • Beth Williams says:

      For being held in a pretty mundane, grey square… it was a nice pop of color!

  • Nicci says:

    That sounds incredible. What a fun way to learn about another culture in a hands-on way. The lotus flower and banana leaf dragons are so intricate too. What craftsmanship!

    • Beth Williams says:

      They were so cool! I really wanted to take one home, but didn’t know what I do with it.

  • The Chicago festival looks like a really great time. So many things to see and do!

    • Beth Williams says:

      I was surprised by how much there was to do! It was a lot larger than I thought it would be.

  • Liz Mays says:

    How did I not know about this? What an awesome celebration! I bet my daughter would be pumped to see this for the first time.

  • I would love to go to the Chicago festival some time. It sounds like an amazing event and I sure love your photos.

  • Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says:

    That sounds amazing. What a lovely experience that must have been. I would have loved to be immersed in all that culture.

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