After the Gibbon Experience adventure in Laos, we decided to head straight for Thailand. There are frequent buses from Laos overland into Thailand and the land border crossing was really easy. The bus to Chiang Mai was supposed to take 6 hours, but we had yet another driver who drove like he stole the damn thing. We made it in 5 and beat the bus that left 30 mins before we did.
It was really late in the evening when we arrived so we walked around and found a place to call home for the next three nights. Pretty much most people stay within the mote. There’s a mote that encloses the old city and is filled with bars, restaurants, guest houses and the famed Saturday and Sunday Walking Street Markets.
We sort of knew going into Chiang Mai that visiting temples was one of the main tourist attractions. I know it’s kind of harsh to say, but we are templed out. If we happen to pass one by and could view it from the outside, we saw it, if we didn’t, we didn’t. Some people might say we’ve missed out and we’re okay with that.
We cruised the streets the first day at a nice leisurely pace and didn’t accomplish a whole lot. The night before a guesthouse owner told us about the Yi Peng lantern festival that happens there every year. It just so happens the one time of year was this very day. At least now we had a mission.
We rallied a few people to come with us and split the cost of the journey between us all. We were asked if we’d be ok riding in the back of a pick-up truck. We all assumed it would be like the other pick-ups with small benches bolted to the floor on either side. Nope, just the good ol’ fashion sit your arse in the bed of the truck ride. Well, for the boys anyway, us ladies rode in the truck.
The lantern festival was technically a Buddhist festival and literally translates to ‘Two Full Moon Day’ Yi Peng refers to the full moon day in the second month according to the Lanna lunar calendar. We don’t know much more besides that. The outside of the festival had vendors lining the pavement selling food, beer, lanterns and clothing for the Westerners that don’t come prepared. At religious events of any sorts you’re not supposed to show your shoulders or knees.
Quite honestly, the start was slow and drawn out and got a little boring. For about an hour before the lantern lighting the word of Buddha was shared. The religious rhetoric was obviously not in English and it went on and on and we were all starting to wonder why we were even there. Occasionally an English translator would warn us to wait to light our lanterns.
Finally all that buildup from Buddha and the fun began. There were thousands of people there and when we got the OK we lit the torches next to us. Everyone then lit their lanterns (a few people accidentally set their lanterns on fire completely) and we let them off at the same time.
It’s hard to put into words how magical and beautiful this was. You really wouldn’t think that a paper lantern could make you have a huge smile on your face, even in some cases people had tears in their eyes. The energy in the crowd was exhilarating and contagious. It was truly an awe inspiring event and we felt really grateful to be a part of it.
That night, still buzzing from the excitement of it all, we hung out and shared a couple beers with the people we went to the event with. They were from Austria, Germany, Holland and Canada. One of the greatest parts of travelling is meeting people who are in various stages of their travel adventures swopping stories and hints.
The next evening we went to Chiang Mai’s Walking Street Market. We didn’t really know what to expect because some markets are filled with tat and often stalls seems to sell the same merchandise. This market was different. It had such a variety of stuff with decent prices and products were made to a higher standard than many other markets. It was enormous too. We walked for 3 hours and still didn’t see the entire market. If you happen to be in Chiang Mai during the weekend, this is a must.
Chiang Mai is a nice place. It’s really quite liveable and you can see why so many expats dwell there. It’s small and quiet enough that its not overwhelming and annoying. It’s also big enough that there’s enough variety and you don’t feel like you can see it all in one day.
Some more photos
Our next stop is Pai which we keep hearing great things about. Hopefully it lives up to the hype.
Stephen and Katie x