This, like oh so many of my posts, is very picture heavy. But it’s because I did some totally awesome stuff in Chiang Mai, like go to the Lantern Festival, and hang out with tigers… and there are some seriously fantastic pictures of the tigers. Enjoy 🙂
Chiang Mai ended up being an absolute favorite out of everything I had seen until this point. I had to fly to Chiang Mai due to lack of trains or buses running, which I wasn’t thrilled about, but was necessary. Ordinarily, I would have altered my plans and gone a different route, but the thing was that I needed to be there on October 29th for the Yi Peng Lantern Festival. I NEEDED to. And so, I made it happen.
I arrived at the airport, was given a free sim card (awesome), and then took a taxi to my hostel. I took a nap because I’d had to leave my hostel at 6AM to make my flight, which meant that I’d been up since about 5AM… point being, I was tired. After my nap, I went to visit the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) office to ask them about the Yi Peng celebrations. Typically, Yi Peng, or Loi Krathong, as it is also called, is celebrated on the full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna (an area of North Thailand) calendar. This meant that celebrations were to be on November 9th. However, this year, the people in charge of the festivities decided that they were going to have two events this year: one on October 29th, primarily for Thai people, and another on November 9th, that would cost $100 per person. So, the November 9th option was… not an option, but it was rather difficult to find information about the October 29th celebrations, thus my trip to the TAT office. It took ages to get to, so I took a rather long detour at a coffee shop on the way, before arriving and getting to ask a few questions. To my delight, they confirmed that the festivities were indeed planned for the next day, and gave me information about where to go and how to get there. I’d been worried that my trip to Chiang Mai had been in vain just because it had been near impossible to find official information about the events. On my way back, I walked through town and browsed the night market before returning to my hostel to call it a night.
On Tuesday, I explored the town at an easy pace, looking at a few of the myriad temples that are dotted around the old city. At about 4:30 I sought out a tuk-tuk to drive me the twenty-something kilometers outside of the city to get to the temple where the event was taking place. As we grew closer to the site, I noticed more and more people who appeared to be heading to the same place, and noticed more street vendors selling lanterns. I was growing more excited with every minute. My driver dropped me off, then I joined the crowds and walked about ten minutes down a dusty road to the temple grounds. I bought a lantern, picked a spot on the ground and took in my surroundings. Nothing really got going until after dark, and there was some sort of ceremony in which a group of monks entered the arena at the front. There was then about an hour and a half of chanting, during which some people looked very solemn and engaged, and others just chatted with friends. After the chanting, they announced that it was time to light the ground lanterns (see: candles) from which everyone would then light their lanterns. They declared that the guest of honor would light and release their lantern first, but we were free to begin lighting our lanterns in order to let them fill with the hot air that would enable them to float away. After the guest of honor went, they set off a firework, which meant that everyone else could go. In seconds, there were thousands of airborne lanterns, and to my surprise, I found that I was instantly in tears. As I’ve said before, I’m not religious, though I’d probably categorize myself as spiritual. Either way, it’s not often that I’m overcome by the feeling of something much greater than myself (which I assume is how religious people often feel; please, please forgive me if this is ignorant or presumptuous). However, when all of the lanterns started to rise, I was flooded with emotion. When you let go of your lantern, you’re supposed to make a wish, and I can’t help but think, however silly it may sound, that what I was feeling was all of those wishes, all of those good thoughts, and all of that love. It took me a minute to compose myself, after which someone helped me light my lantern! As you’ll see below, they’re quite big, so it’s at least a two person job… unless you want your lantern to catch on fire. So, someone helped me, and someone else was kind enough to take my camera for a minute to get some pictures for me. When the lantern is full enough hot air, you will feel it start to pull up, and then it’s time to let it go. We did, and I made a wish, and cried a little bit more. I’m a big baby. Whatever. I then continued to watch groups of friends release lanterns together, and watch the skies and thousands of beautiful glowing lights rose higher and higher. After a while I channeled a bit of my dad, and thought to myself, I should leave soon to “beat the rush” because I figured both foot and vehicle traffic was about to get intense due to the thousands in attendance. Getting out still took forever, but it didn’t matter because I was still feeling pretty giddy from what has undoubtedly been one of the most incredible things I’d ever experienced. I felt very happy and very content as I fell asleep that night.
On Wednesday, I took it easy for most of the day, and wandered around town for a while. I then decided that I wanted to go to the “Tiger Kingdom,” outside of town. I had been planning to visit the Tiger Temple, a bit outside of Bangkok, but this was essentially the same thing, and I didn’t have anything else I would rather have been doing. I got a tuk-tuk and off we drove. There are options as to what sorts of tigers you’d like to interact with, and various package deals you can choose from, the more you want. I chose to play with the smallest tigers and the biggest tigers, and got a photographer to join me in both enclosures, as I was all by myself. It was such a remarkable experience; I felt so lucky to be able to interact with these magnificent cats! The little ones were such fun; they were all about three to four months old, and so playful. Sometimes it was difficult to get pictures with them, as they were too busy playing with each other. The big ones were absolutely magnificent, and I think far more indifferent to the humans who were touching them. The photographer was funny, and kept instructing to me lie down on the tiger, pretending it was a pillow. Kinda cheesy, kinda totally awesome… because, uhh… I lay down on a tiger. If you’re ever in Thailand, it’s an experience I would highly recommend. People warn about the animals being drugged in places like these, but by my estimates, there is no way that these animals were drugged. They all seemed very aware, alert, and well cared for. I loved my experience here. Once I had my disk of pictures, I headed back to Chiang Mai and got some dinner; it had been another fantastic day.
On Thursday, I planned to head into Laos… but uhh, things didn’t go exactly as planned. I checked out of my hostel and headed to a coffee shop to use the internet because it was broken at the hostel. I got to talk to my parents and my Michael, and then I got a tuk-tuk to the bus station. When I went to buy my ticket, they said that all the buses were full to the town of Luang Khong, which is the Thai side of the Thai-Lao border I was planning to cross that night. So… that was a problem. I bought a ticket to a town that was about halfway and hoped that from there I would be able to get another bus the rest of the way. It was rather urgent that I made it across the border that night, because I was due at 8:30AM in the town of Huay Xai, the Lao side of that Thai-Lao border crossing. The last bus to Luang Khong arrived, and I waited by, while all of the passengers boarded. Once it seemed like everyone was on, I asked if there were any spots left. They said that it was full, but I stood by, watching and waiting. Another man came up and asked me if I was going to get on the bus, and I told him I didn’t have a ticket, but was hoping to get on. Luckily for me, there was one spot left, and he let me on! The money i’d spent on the other ticket went to waste, but I didn’t really care, seeing as I would have been happy to bribe my way onto the bus for much more. The bus didn’t arrived in Luang Khong until 7:30PM, and unfortunately for me, the border closed each day at 6PM. At this point, there was nothing to do other than get a place for the night, and the next morning, either I would make it or I wouldn’t, and no amount of fretting would change anything. I had a delicious curry for dinner, and went to bed, with plans to wake up early in order to be the first person in line to cross the border in the morning! Gosh, gosh, sometimes I get myself in these messes, but it’s all part of the adventure, right?
Ornamentation on one of the temples in town
So many people at the Yi Peng Festival!
Some friends beginning to light a lantern together
This is a few minutes before the mass release, and you can see that many of the lanterns are nearly ready to be let go
You have to be rather careful when lighting them because otherwise they may catch on fire!
And now for the most adorable baby tigers!! The following are the pictures I took on my camera (except for ones that I’m in)
Play fighting babies. Even at three to four months, these cats are huge
OK, below are tons more pictures of tigers! The difference is that these were all taken by one of the staff photographers, and not me (that part’s kind of obvious because I’m in all of them…).
Sometimes they instructed some really silly poses. Still fun though. 🙂
Alright. So the important question now is this: Who’s going to buy me pet tiger?? Michael. I’m looking at you.