We had planned all of our SE Asia dates around Chiang Mai and the famous Lantern Festival. I couldn’t have been more amped to see the festival so I was a little disappointed when I heard that they decided to do the lantern release very very early this year and we had missed it, however we would still be in town for the Yi Peng festival. There is a lot of mislabeled information about the release and the festival on the internet and it is not easy to figure out how to weed out the good from the bad so I’ve written a post [here] on the differences and how to get to the one that you want.
Okay so back to our time in Chiang Mai (or CM for short). We got there and spent our first day relaxing, getting settled and seeing a couple temples that were close to the guesthouse we were staying in. CM is known for having more temples than any other city and the city absolutely delivered on that promise. There was Wat Chedi Luang, which had an ancient feel about it. Also there was Doi Suthrep – the temple on the hill overlooking the city. It is a pricey taxi and a windy road up to the base of the temple and then a walk up around 300 stairs to a very pretty temple that overlooks the city. The road was so serpentine that on the way down, a fellow taxi passenger threw up – much to Athena’s disgust.
Thanks to a couple of great matchmakers – we got to meet Ally and Walter who are traveling through Southeast Asia for 6 months on their honeymoon. We met for drinks our first night and became fast friends. It was really great to be hanging out with people that we got along with so well. We made plans to hang out the next day – the boys were headed out to play golf and us girls to get pedicures and do some shopping. CM is not a shopping mecca as is literally the rest of Thailand so we didn’t have much luck on that front but we did get some fantastic pedicures and just a day of relaxing girl time was great. Rob and Walt had a pretty interesting time on the green as well.
Golfing like many other common activities in the US, was quite an adventure just to arrange. Upon arriving at the driving range/course, we were led directly to the tees by an employee. That was great to get to where we needed to go so quickly, however we had no clubs (which was likely quite clear as we were standing there with nothing). The next 10 minutes were spent explaining that we wanted to rent clubs, which we did by pointing to the sign that stated that they rented clubs. We also threw in a good bit of charades because there still seemed to be some confusion. Another 10 minutes and the clubs were presented to us, hooray! After getting in some practice strokes, we decided to hit the links for real and were told that it was mandatory that we each get a caddy. This is where it really got interesting. Our carts pulled around shortly followed by two tiny Thai women who would be our drivers and would also hand us the clubs from our rented bag. They spoke no English and laughed at our bad shots. I tried to make conversation a few times, but failed on every attempt.
Me: “Are you excited for the lantern festival?”
Caddy: *blank stare, no response
Me: “You know, lanterns (with lantern release hand motion, pointing at sky, mentioning the festival by name, Yi Peng)”
Me: “Do you have family here?”
Me: “Oh, cool. Brothers and sisters?”
Me: “How many brothers and sisters?”
The golfing was a lot of fun, I played absolutely horrible, but it was nice to get out, and do something that was a bit reminiscent of home. Walt played well and we enjoyed just BS’ing on the course as we would have on any American course. While the fact that we had our tiny Thai caddies was initially hilarious, and we got a good story or two out of it, I found myself actually wishing we would not have. Would have been nice to split a cart and get to talk and joke around as opposed to sitting in silence on our drives between each shot.
After a day full of fun, we all headed to dinner for some BBQ sandwiches – a little taste of home, it was awesome. Then it was time for the festival to begin. There were elaborate floats heading down the streets and market stalls everywhere and then we started seeing them… like little stars in the sky. Lanterns floating up, just a few at first then more and more as the night went on. We headed for the first temple that wasn’t overrun to get some lanterns of our own. We found a little area to set them off and went two by two. Light the lantern, wait for it to heat up, hold it above your head, take a few pictures, slowly release it from your hands, release a years worth of bad luck into the sky and watch it float away. It was incredibly beautiful and a lot of fun too.
To celebrate the festivities, Rob bought fireworks from a roadside. Earlier in the week, I had brought the moped to an abrupt halt when I saw the oodles of likely cheap pyrotechnics along our path. Athena rolled her eyes and gave me her “Are you serious?” face while I excitedly picked out rolling/sparking tanks, spinning airplanes and roman candles. Athena grudgingly made her pick… a 10 pack of sparklers. After the lanterns we found a side alley, which we determined would likely not get us in trouble for shooting off fireworks and we set out to light up the sky once again. The smaller tanks and planes were pretty much duds, which I guess could be expected given their prices, but the roman candles delivered and then some. These were the most impressive Roman candles I’d ever seen or shot, and were well worth the couple bucks. They were a ton of fun to shoot off. With regard to the getting in trouble part, after our time in Thailand I believe I can say with confidence regardless of their legality, that it is quite difficult to get in trouble for little things like this, especially as they were set off in a celebratory manner. We had nothing to worry about. We then all used the sparklers in an attempt to spell some words out with a long exposure setting on the camera. The way it works is you leave the shutter open for 10 or 15 seconds and hold completely still – with the exception of one arm which is moving the sparkler in a letter’s path, a letter “S” for example. The result is ideally a picture of you/your group with the glowing message on display, pretty cool. Our results were mixed, you can check below, but the process was a lot of fun. Perhaps it’d be more accurate to call our efforts MIX”∃”D.
The most exciting thing we did, hands down, was the Tiger Kingdom. We our entire morning just cuddling with tigers. Yes, real tigers. For about $30-80 (depending on what size tiger you prefer) you can spend roughly 20 minutes hanging out, cuddling and taking pictures with tigers. We decided to go with the largest and smallest tigers. We started with the babies. Good lord were they cute! There were about 5 baby tigers in a “play area” and 6 people + 3 trainers. For the next half hour we were able to lay our heads on them, play with their tails – basically do anything we wanted with them except pick them up or put our face in their face, neither of which we had any intention of doing. Then it was onto the big guys! 5 full grown tigers in their living quarters, 1 of which was female. We were then told we could the same, cuddle, lay on them, play with their tails, their paws – use them essentially as GIANT stuffed animals. I filled up an entire memory card just getting shots of us playing with these amazing animals. It was truly a wonderful experience.
We took a day trip to a city a couple hours north called Chiang Rai where we went to see the White Temple. This temple was much much more modern than any other temple we had been too so far on our trip and really held our attention. It is completely white and covered in mirrored silver accents. On the inside it has a mural floor to ceiling with current characters from all different movies – superman, batman, minions, Monsters inc., Matrix and many more – it is incredibly interesting. The outside was insanely ornate. Covered from top to bottom with meticulous detail. I don’t think we’d spent this much time pouring over every square inch of anywhere else we’ve been simply due to the fact that there was always some artistic touch, some tiny bit of detail that could be so easily missed, nonetheless placed in that specific position with a intended artistic effect. Certainly the most impressive artistic experience we’ve had or observed in my opinion.
The weirdest thing we did, hands down, was ostrich rides. Not really much to say about this except for that for $6 you can jump on an ostrich’s back, hold on to the wings and be whisked around a pen, terrified as the trainers encouraged the giant birds to run around. They seemed to be pretty unintelligent creatures to be honest, like a dumb version of a cow in a bird form. I don’t think the bird noticed either of us on it’s back, it just wanted to the trainers to be further away so it could do as the other ostriches did, stand still and stare into space. As a rider, the experience felt like a tamer version of a bull ride, as you held on to the bird and tried your hardest not to fall off into a pile of mud or the biggest bird shit you’ve ever seen. It was hilarious watching one another during the experience – check out the pictures and videos below. After the rides, we went to the café and ate ostrich stir fry. Full circle kind of experience. The true point of the farm is after all to raise the birds as food, the rides are just a bit of a side show income supplement it seemed. Maybe you could say this provided closure to our experience? Whatever, it was tasty, yum yum.
Chiang Mai was a great city and a nice change of pace from a month at the beaches. We did some exciting things while we were there: played with tigers, rode ostriches, at ostrich meat, saw some great temples and made some amazing friends (thanks Roxanne and Charlie for hooking us up!).