Bucket List Beginnings: Chiang Mai

The Lantern Festival, also known as Yee Peng, has long been a Bucket List item of mine. I had been to Thailand as a child with my mother, but we had only made it to Bangkok and I didn’t have to many memories that I could recall and retell. Ryan had also been dying to see Thailand for himself which meant that a trip to Thailand was inevitable. As I scoured Pinterest to figure out the perfect time to visit Thailand, I came across several mentions of Yee Peng which is one of the biggest celebrations is held in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Luckily, we had ample time to plan and we decided that we would venture off to Thailand for Yee Peng that November (2016).

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Yee Peng is probably one of the world’s most recognizable celebrations, but many don’t know it by name or its origins. The trends of releasing lanterns for celebrations and in memory of loved ones has certainly picked up in popularity over the last few years. For those who are not familiar with the festival, Yee Peng follows the Thai Festival, Loi Krathong. The two holidays involve releasing an offering or a lantern which is said to signify letting go of “ills and misfortune” from the previous year. Many people also encourage making a wish upon releasing your lantern. We were told that if the lantern floated into the sky and you were able to keep a line of sight on it until it disappeared, your wish would come true. A great description of both festivals can be found here

We flew into Bangkok late at night and caught the first flight to Chiang Mai the next morning. On our flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, we were fortunate enough to meet the Furtches. Mr. Furtch used to be a missionary in Chiang Mai some time ago when the roads were not yet paved and elephants wandered the streets. He, his family, and their friends were making the journey back to Thailand visit their old stomping grounds and offered to let us tag along with them during Loi Krathong. Might I say that they were some of the kindest  and loving people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

We checked into our hotel, Karinthip Village to get freshened up and settle in before heading out with our new friends. As you approach the hotel, you’re greeted by a beautiful white staute of an elephant with wings adorned with gold. Elephants are highly regarded in Thailand and you will find statues and various other tributes in honor of them as well as live ones and sanctuaries for them scattered throughout the country. The hotel and room were nice, but the real highlight was easily the shower. Although there was indoor jacuzzi tub and toilet, the shower was in an outdoor area and ran through a tree stump. I’m not one for outdoor experiences, but this was one that I could easily get used to. It was one of the most enjoyable parts of the day especially after beating the Chiang Mai heat.

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We met up with the Furtches that night for dinner. Unfortunately, the restaurant that we all had planned to dine at did not have enough room to accommodate the entire party. So instead, our unfortunate event turned into a great experience. Instead of dining in a restaurant, we stopped and ate in an area filled with food vendors. I recognized some of the foods after spending 3 years working in a Thai Restaurant in college and a few items the Furtches suggested or introduced to us. I will throw out a word of caution. As in any country that you’re not native to, if you choose to eat street food, there is a chance that your stomach will not agree with it. Street carts may not be as clean as actual restaurants and even at that you’re introducing your body to new foods that may not be treated or cleaned in the same manner as you are used to. By God though, sometimes street food was best food. This was the case for us. We went absolutely crazy trying a number of new things and even tried a papaya salad to die for. **Side note: Papaya Salad (not this one) would later become what I felt like was the death of me.

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Enjoying our first taste of Thai Street Food

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After dinner, we joined the Furtches on a boat ride down the river to watch as people released their lanterns and krathongs. Watching the krathongs light up the river and the lanterns in the sky somehow brings a sense of peace over you. It’s honestly an out of body experience. I had seen tour groups offered for doing lantern launches from a designated area and temple and found that it was expensive and difficult to book if you hadn’t done so months in advance, but sharing this time with our new friends surpassed our expectation of that.  Although the pictures are beautiful of the tour group launches, it is not necessary to partake in a tour group to launch lanterns or enjoy the experience. You can find people all over Chiang Mai launching their lanterns especially off of bridges or anywhere that you can find a clear opening. ChiangMai-4623ChiangMai-4626Upon returning to land, we went back to the outside of the temple where our boat had launched from and hurried to buy krathongs before it was too late and so that we could launch our own into the river. After carefully choosing a krathong that we liked best, Ryan and I anxiously returned to the river to release our own. As we watched it drift down the river until it was no longer in sight, we each made a wish and hoped for good fortune in the coming year.

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Our Krathong

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Because it was so late by the time that we finished our river tour and dinner, it was nearly impossible to find lanterns for sale. We stopped several people that night and asked where they had bought their lanterns. The results were a number of places during the day. What we got out of it was to look for someone selling them during the day throughout the city and with that we settled on finding and launching our own lantern the following day.

We spent most of the next day wandering the city and viewing temples. In my opinion, Thailand hosts some of the most beautiful and ornate places of worship that I have ever had the opportunity to see. Most temples welcome tourists to enter and view and even give offerings. A word to the wise, especially women, wear something that you can either convert to being a little more modest or bring a scarf. Scarves double over great as both shawls or makeshift skirts when necessary. Tuk tuks are a great mode of transportation, but we found it to be much more exciting to walk the from temple to temple. We chose to mark off a few temples that we wanted to see, but for the most part just happened to stumble across many of the temples that we visited. I cannot begin to describe how beautiful some of these places were, so I will leave the pictures to speak for themselves.

ChiangMai-4702ChiangMai-4752ChiangMai-4757ChiangMai-4704ChiangMai-4777ChiangMai-4761After visiting our last temple for the day, we came across a guy selling lanterns and made sure to buy 2, one for a test run and a second as a back up. Feeling like we had conquered what we had set forth do to for a large chunk of the day we decided to treat ourselves to one of Thailand’s greatest treats before heading back to the hotel to get ready for lantern launch. None other than mango and sticky rice…

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That night we were all set for our most anticipated night in Chiang Mai. We walked through the lively streets filled with parades, tributes to the belated king, and thousands of people ready to release their own wishes and negativity off into the night sky. We settled down on a bridge which would allow us to release our lantern without any obstructions. Plenty of people had managed to get their lanterns stuck in trees and a few unfortunate souls had their lanterns strike power lines, and some even released their lanterns only for them to come crashing back down at the crowd. After watching a few people and gathering tips on how to successfully release the lanterns, I bummed a lighter off of a group of fellow travelers who also pitched in some tips and with smiles on our faces Ryan and I successfully sent off to lanterns into the calm sky of that November night. The burning lights and the laughter and joy that filled everyone that night radiated and spread just like the fires fueling the lanterns. There are not pure enough words to describe the feeling of being part of something so positive and vibrant. The feelings and experience that I felt that night are some that I would encourage everyone to experience at least once in a lifetime. It may have been in those moments that I found one of my greatest senses of peace in a place that I am not luckily enough to call my home as my hopes and dreams lingered and drifted off in the night sky.

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Have you ever been to Chiang Mai or the Yee Peng? What are some of your greatest memories? If you want to go or plan to go, what would you like to know?

I’ll be dividing our trip to Chiang Mai into a few parts. For a full glimpse of our trip to Chiang Mai, check out Ryan’s Chiang Mai video on YouTube.

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