We start this next chapter with the opening ceremonies of the Loy Krathong festival that took place in the square in front of the Three Kings Monument in Old Chaing Mai. Tonight there is an opening ceremony, streets full of people and anticipation of the two days of lanterns that are to follow.
The next morning we began our Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Festival days by switching hotels, to see a different area of the old city and be nearer to the river. We get out of the cab at our new hotel, hoping that they will let us check in super early as it was only 11:15am. We were greeted by a lovely woman, whose name we still need to get, who welcomed us in and immediately showed us to our room. This hotel, Wiriya House, isn’t newer or nicer than our last hotel but the atmosphere is so much more welcoming and warm. Plus they have a pool! Yes that’s right, look closer…
Awesome stuff. We got settled in and in the lobby the owner asked if we would like to join her and some other guests in making our own Krathong, a floating candle holder made of a slice of banana stalk and decorated with banana leaves and an assortment of different flowers. Once built and when the sun goes down we and thousands of others go to the Ping River, light the candle and incense, focus our negative thoughts and as we put our Krathong in the river we sent those thoughts away with it and ask for Buddha’s blessing. We had a lovely time making ours and were excited to get these bad boys in the water. As we were walking towards the river we passed by countless stalls selling Krathongs and many were works of art. So nice that it would be a real shame to send it down river.
The closer to the river the more dense the sidewalks and street got with people, food stalls, and carts with the Krathongs for sale. We found a spot to sit for a moment, tessa ran and got us some incredible street food, and watched the area fill up. Thousands of people began pouring in as we finished up dinner so we headed down towards the river to release our Krathongs. There are no pictures or videos of that because it was too dark, but mine was too tall with too small a base and tipped over, and Tessa’s masterpiece took on a bit of water but floated away graciously.
On our way to the bridge, before we grabbed dinner, we picked up a couple paper lanterns from a vendor on the street. So now with our Krathongs in the water we climbed up to the top of the bridge deck and alongside the swarms of people, stopped traffic. Vehicles on the bridge could not move at all for the next 30 or so until traffic police came to help them out. Once the first lantern was released it was a steady stream of hundreds of lanterns being released throughout the surrounding area for the next 5 hours. It was the perfect combination of complete and utter joy and absolute terror. There is nothing quite like the feeling of successfully releasing a lantern that joins the thousands in the sky, and there is also nothing quite like the feeling of watching a low-flying lantern touchdown on someone's head or watch as melting paraffin wax drips flame onto those underneath. Lanterns we getting caught in nearby trees and powerlines and then burst into flame, leaving the wick still burning. Nothing the burning lanterns landed on caught on fire for long but the risk was certainly there for it to get bad. Still, through all the scary anarchy of it all there was nothing like being packed on a bridge with people from all over the world all creating this huge, constantly morphing, constellation. From some of the lanterns hung fireworks and those were the shooting stars that evening.
And since our photos are not the greatest... here are a few videos to help you understand even a little bit of the beautiful mayhem that is the Yi Peng festival.
The festival continued the next day as well and we got to see the start of a very impressive parade and more lanterns being released. We stopped at this really awesome outdoor food truck/beer gardens with live music for dinner and had an incredible huge bowl of grilled seafood and veggies. But man was it hot, we ordered a 2 on a scale of 5, can’t imagine what 5 would be like! We came back to this beer garden/food truck heaven twice and would again if there wasn’t so much so see.
We walked with another paper lantern to the bridge that was just south of the bridge we were on the night before and it was a lot less chaotic. People could actually move and run if a lantern was on fire just above them. We found a good spot and lit the wick. After the lantern filled with hot air for a couple minutes we thought that was plenty of time so we got closer to the edge of the bridge, made our wishes, and released it. It slowly floated to the sand below the bridge and sat there, threatening to catch on fire. We thought it was a loss and after waiting for a minute or two decided to head back. Well slap my ass and call me Judy, the damn thing lifted off and floated to join the others in the night sky just as we were turning away.
We headed back to the hotel around 11pm, and thought, well... we are allowed to send these lanterns out into the sky until midnight, and we have rooftop access at our hotel... so... we bought one more lantern on the way home and had our own private send off just before midnight.
Our van was late and made us think that we gave them the wrong address so the day started with a touch of anxiety. It didn’t subside until we reached our first destination, the top of the mountain which was a 2 hour drive away. This driver was late to pick us up so he spent those two hours making up for lost time, it seemed. What really made me uncomfortable was that he didn’t slow down at all around blind corners. It was insanity. We really got to understand what it would be like to drive groat road in a van at 100 km/h. When we got to the top there wasn’t really a viewpoint, there was a sign telling us we were at the top of Thailand, which is cool, but no views as the whole peak is surrounded by trees. That was a bit of a let down. But we did get to walk around the jungle up there and saw thick moss covering everything and plants that were only found up there in all of Thailand. I also found a Rhino Beetle, cool.
Not far from the top is the Great Holy Relics Pagoda, which is two large monuments dedicated to a former King and Queen of Thailand. The Thai Army built these pagodas, as present to the King and Queen in commemoration of their birthdays; The King's 60th in 1987 and the Queen's 60th in 1992. They are surrounded by beautiful gardens and offer some amazing views from up so high.
On the way back down we stopped at two waterfalls, had a pretty decent Thai lunch near the biggest one, and visited a small tribe that grows coffee beans. The tour wasn’t what we expected but we still got to see some amazing things and meet interesting people along the way.