Wow finals week! Yes people I actually have exams believe it or not. I had four exams in the next two weeks and the Yee Peng festival in between. The big Yee Peng festival in Chiang Mai was what I had been dreaming about since the moment I came to Thailand. It is when thousands of lanterns are released into the sky simultaneously. It is said that a person who releases the lantern also releases their problems and the bad in their life. My roommate Aubie and me decided to take a plane since it would only take an hour and we could enjoy more time in Chiang Mai and less time traveling. Everyone who travels to Thailand raves about Chiang Mai because of its casual nature and honestly it is a great break from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Chiang Mai has a sort of hippy atmosphere, coupled with great restaurants, art and shopping. Our morning didn’t start so well as we had gone out the night before and had to be up by 7 on practically no sleep (WHY DO WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES..EVERY TIME). Then we got in a taxi and our driver took us to the wrong airport. Our flight was at 10:30 and we arrived at the right airport at 10:10, supposedly the gates closed 30 minutes before departure so we were already discouraged that we missed our flight. Our best chance was to hop on the next one. Luckily, Thailand is not so strict with airport security and policies. We arrived checked in and went through security in a matter of 10 minutes and hopped on our plane perfectly fine. We were both in complete shock at the fact we made it.
As soon as we arrived in Chiang Mai we decided to get going on our list to do all the things I wanted to do. First we went to a spa and got our first Thai Massages. Massages are so cheap in Chiang Mai we got an hour of Thai Massage and then Hot Oil Massage for $12. We felt so relaxed that we ended up having to nap instead of sight-see some more. This same night was Thanksgiving in the US so we found a place online called The Dukes that served a five course Thanksgiving dinner. We had a delicious cinnamon soup, Caesar salad and then a plate stacked with mashed potatoes, sweet potato, deep friend onions, stuffing and of course TURKEY! It was so delicious and so much food I literally could not finish my plate. After all that was time for dessert, apple pie and pumpkin pie. I had that all familiar Thanksgiving fullness feeling that I was seeking.
The next day we wanted to do something a little more adventurous and something neither of us had tried before, all the excursion agencies wanted to make us go trekking but we are really not the trekking kind of gals. Instead we opted for white water rafting and ATV riding. White water rafting was like a rollercoaster in the water, up and down followed by slow pace drift. I absolutely loved it. The scenery included elephants drinking water from the water, the sweet smell of local flowers and jungle as far as the eye can see. The entire time Aubie and me powered through the rocky slopes and remained inside the raft. We then drifted downstream slowly and suddenly I’m in the water. I don’t know how this happened, how I managed to stay in the raft the entire time we were actually white water rafting and when we slow down I plunge into the water. The fall took me by surprise I had no idea what was happening. The current started to take me downstream and while my fellow raft mates try to rescue me seriously, I’m laughing my head off. They extended their paddles and with some help from our Thai captain I was back on.
After rafting we were exhausted but we had to power through because we still the rest of the day to ride ATVs. I always wanted to try this but it’s always been too expensive in the US. At first I didn’t really like the ATV (mind you I hate driving almost every type of vehicle) but I just felt like it was too powerful and ultimately dangerous. I felt like the ATV was going to flip any minute and it wasn’t until 15 minutes into the ride that I found out I was in the wrong gear. Once I fixed that the ride was a lot smoother, I started to enjoy it and I actually felt empowered. In my head I was imaging some action film where I have to ride through the jungle for some obscure secret mission. Well mission accomplished, the ATVs were awesome and thankfully we made it back safely.
Finally Saturday was here! The big day, it almost felt like Christmas for me because I was so excited. We didn’t want to do anything strenuous in the morning so we opted for tiger kingdom and an umbrella factory. In tiger kingdom we got to play with baby tigers that were just adorable. In the umbrella factory we got to see how traditional umbrellas are made and hand painted.
We then went on the hunt for a tuk tuk driver that would like to take us to the festival. We knew it would be hard because the location was far and everyone kept saying no. Finally we find one tuk tuk driver that was rather enthusiastic about taking us and he even didn’t mind bargaining the price. Since the festival was far from the city center he decided he would come with us to festival in order to bring us back. We agreed and Thai company would be nice since this was the local festival after all. Once there he took out his camera and bought himself a lantern, the joke the entire night was that he knew he was coming to the festival. The location was a massive field in Mae Jo a town just outside of Chiang Mai, this part of town is also called Lanna.The first hour that we were there was really for the Thai Buddhist citizens. There was Buddhist chanting and a lot of the Thai people were sitting praying. Then they made the big announcement everyone light your lanterns and wait for the release signal. The lanterns were massive; it took at least two people to hold it down. In seconds the announcement was made and everyone released their lanterns in the sky. No matter what I write here or the pictures I post, nothing will compare to actually seeing this in person. It is probably the one moment in my life that I would like to relive over and over again. I experienced so much joy seeing something I dreamed about for months that I couldn’t help but burst into tears, I even forgot to make a wish. Even better was the fact that I had my awesome roommate Aubie next to me to share it with. She knew how much it meant to me to see the floating lanterns and really wanted to be there with me. It was like my life was the movie Tangled, me Rapunzel yearning to see the floating lights. It was one of the best if not THE BEST day in my entire stay in Thailand. My expectations were more than met and I was the happiest person on Earth at this time. I thought once the massive release was done the festival ended but instead people continue lighting and releasing lanterns. I got a chance to make a wish after all! This continued for another hour before a huge thunderstorm began to strike. If this storm had been an hour earlier the entire festival would have been cancelled so we got really lucky.
We still had one more big day in Chiang Mai so we decided to tour the city on our favorite mode of transportation, bicycles. At first it was fun but as it got late the streets began to close for the Sunday night market. The market was huge, spreading across various streets in the old side of town. There was thousands of hand-crafted souvenirs, huge art portraits and Thai street performers everywhere. It was also the first day of the Loy Krathong festival which coincides with Yee Peng so lanterns filled the streets and they even hosted a beauty contest. Aubie left this night in order to be back for her Entrepreneurship exam but I stayed the night since I still had one more day before my next exam. I headed to Anansara market to watch “THE BEST FREE SHOW IN THAILAND”, it was a lady-boy show (what we Americans call Drag show) which are expensive in Bangkok. The show is completely free although they do try to push you into buying drinks, honestly I couldn’t believe they had such a great show for FREE. The costumes were amazing, the lip singing was perfect, the dancing was well choreographed and what I loved most of all is that they did like three salsa songs. AHHHH I hadn’t heard the beautiful sound of Gloria Estefan and Marc Anthony in ages, my Hispanic subconscious was definitely jumping up and down.
Now came Monday, my flight was at 4 so I had all day to do something. We practically became friends with our tuk tuk driver after the light festival. We even exchanged numbers in case we wanted to go somewhere else and needed a ride. Monday he called asking if I still wanted to go the see the famous long-neck tribe. I was hesitant because I didn’t want to pay too much just to see people, the whole human zoo thing was in my head. But the driver convinced me, telling me he could take me for free and I could give him whatever I wanted (he probably got a commission for taking me). So he picks me up in his car not his tuk tuk and we head into the jungle looking for the long-neck tribe which are actually called the Kayan. Once there he explained to me that they come to Thailand looking for work because in Myanmar they are really poor. He said most of their population living in Myanmar is famished but the tourism industry in Thailand has given them a better living. This comforted my whole “human zoo” dilemma. After spending a day with the tribe and seeing their homes I was ready to head back to the airport but the driver insisted on taking me for lunch. I wanted to avoid the awkwardness so I told him I had no money which in turn made it even more awkward when he offered to pay. I knew this was a bad idea but well it was a free meal and I had 4 hours to kill. He then takes me to a little Thai restaurant where everyone knows who he is, he even introduces me to some of the workers. The awkwardness reaches insurmountable levels when he proceeds to making me try his dish and putting his hand on my shoulder. Now it was time to get out of here. So I finish my plate as fast as I could and tell him I HAVE to go to the airport. He says he wants to keep showing me around but I sternly say NO. Even after that the poor man offered to take me to the airport so I let him and in the end gave him 200 baht because I felt so guilty. The things that happen in Thailand don’t happen anywhere else, lunch date with your tuk tuk driver..seriously?