Tag Archives: Chiang Mai

The Magical Sky Lantern Release at Mae Jo, Chiang Mai

***2015 update at the bottom*** Last year (2014) we were staying in Chiang Mai for a few weeks, and luckily just before we moved to Bangkok we had the chance to witness one of the most exciting sights one can see – the Lantern Release Festival. We hadn’t explored the province at all, so we went along with our friend who rented a car with a driver. It was kind of a mistake, because firstly it was quite pricey to rent a chauffeur, and secondly, he wasn’t really sure of how to get there. That is why we lost a bit of time stopping and asking for directions, making U-turns and so on. There are plenty of other ways to get there, including songthaews, vans and buses, as on our way back we saw loads of them packed with people.

Once we arrived, and struggled to find a parking spot, we were greeted by the vendors outside the entrance to the festival who tried to convince us that there’s no food or drinks once we’re inside. There were plenty. Thais love their food, so how can you have a gathering of hundreds of Thai people with no food..? Nonsense!

A good walk before the entrance to the festival there were loads of vendors selling all kinds of lanterns. Yet that was another trick: if we had bought any we would have had to either light them up and release them to the sky before entering the festival or get them taken away from us at the entrance. The ones inside cost 100 baht each.

There were tons of tourists. Behaving like tourists. So I can’t imagine going to the international version of this event… It sort of ruined the atmosphere a bit: there were drones flying above our heads, people playing with lasers, fireworks going off behind the fence when the monks were chanting and people taking selfies every 15 seconds. Ok, selfies are common now, Thais do it too. (But why does the latest version of MS Word is still underlining the word ‘selfie’ in red??) Anyway.

At some point before 6pm the main area got shut, so if you didn’t get in early you were stuck behind the fence. We got there just after 4pm and there were no empty spots left on the grass area, so we just asked if we could squeeze in next to somebody else. Then about 10 minutes later there was an announcement that there were 400 places at the front just opposite the stage, and people dressed conservatively in white or in traditional Lanna costumes could get a space at the centre of the ceremony.

Maejo Lantern Festival Chiang Mai

Small groups of friends gathered in their own spots, with torches positioned in equal distance for lighting the lanterns. They were writing wishes in different languages, taking photos, and were all waiting for the big moment. There were random lanterns released every few seconds here and there, some got stuck in trees, and some were falling down frightening others (if not released properly). Once it got dark, about 2 hours later, everyone lit up and released their lanterns… This was the moment we, and everyone there, were waiting for… You can watch our short Youtube clip here.

It was truly breath taking. We’ve seen lots of photos online and we’d been wanting to go to this festival since the year before, but still, we didn’t expect it would be THIS BEAUTIFUL. I get goose bumps just thinking about it! You have to be there to experience it. It only lasts for about 20 minutes as the lanterns are released in unison 3 times and it’s that minute or so when hundreds of lanterns around you are floating to the sky that’s truly magical. After the first lot is released and they’re high up in the sky, everyone releases the second lot. It looks even more magical than the first one, as you can see the same lanterns, only this time with thousands of tiny flickering lights behind them in the dark sky.

Maejo Lantern festival Chiang Mai

And when they announced they would turn off the lights at 9pm they actually meant it. It must be a good way to force the people to leave the area when it finishes. But the lanterns looked so beautiful once the lights were off. They looked like zoomed in stars. And you could still see the random few people lighting more. But the masses disappeared. Some remained to take selfies with their family and friends, the monks, and the lanterns.

Traffic. Getting out to the main road was a challenge. There was pretty much no space to walk between all the vehicles basically triple parked on the main road from both sides. Even getting out on a bike was impossible, let alone a car. The worst part was listening to the siren of the ambulance stuck in traffic, knowing there was an emergency somewhere. If only traffic was as organised as the lantern release…

I think if the release of the lanterns was tangible, it could be called a world wonder. It’s amazing how a common agreement between people can create such a beautiful celebration. Maybe all beauty is temporary?

Maejo Lanterns Festival Chiang Mai

NOTE: There seems to be quite a bit of confusion around this festival. Firstly, it is not part of the Yee Peng / Loy Krathong celebrations, it is an independent event, so the dates differ. Also, (at least up until this year), there were two types of the same event. There was the free one, which we attended, along with many Thai visitors; and then there was the paid international event in the same location, but on a different date, which was basically for tourists. However, it looks like this year there will be no free mass lantern release, or at least there’s no information in English about it on the web. This website here states that there will be only the paid lantern release event (which is sold out), and a free candle event (whatever that means…).  That doesn’t mean that things can’t change last minute or it could be that there’s information available only in Thai about the event – this is Thailand, after all:)

Also, a new update about banned events on the website here.

From England to Thailand: 5 big changes.

At the moment I am sitting in the lounge of some vegetarian guesthouse in the Old Town of Chiang Mai, Thailand. I am writing up my CV using an old stationary PC and MS Word is in Thai. I am not sure how to change the language, but it’s okay – it’s fun this way. I’ve only been here a few months, but I can’t help but think how the little day-to-day experiences have made the bigger experience memorable.

1. It has become normal to live with various types of insects.

You can’t leave food openly anywhere at home – the tiny little ants get in and walk all over your food. Yesterday I left a bag of watermelon on the table and carried on with work on my laptop. Ten minutes later I had this sudden realisation and thought “S#*t! Bye-bye juicy watermelon!”  On the way back home at night you see loads of chunky cockroaches running around the rubbish on the street – just try not to step on them. Or you‘re doing your work and you see a random praying mantis gluing itself to the balcony window trying to hypnotise you with its swaying little head – look away, look away now…

Chiang Mai dragonfly
A dragonfly of a decent size in Chiang Mai

 

  1. Being unable to communicate the simplest things.

Here’s a riddle: If a Thai street vendor answered “yes” to “can I have a Pad Thai with NO meat?(clear hand gestures)”, what type of meat would they put in my Pad Thai?

You may have to 'wok' a long time until you find vegetarian food
You may have to ‘wok’ a long time until you find vegetarian food

 

  1. Big changes in money value.

Currently I am paying in Thai baht, but when I shop I convert it to British pounds, use US dollars in neighbouring countries, and have savings in a Lithuanian currency that won’t even exist when I go back home! (Introducing Euros) At one point in Cambodia I was converting the Riel into USD into GBP and into Thai baht just to see if it was value for money!

 

  1. My definition of a ‘restaurant’ has changed pretty much into a new definition.

If you travel in Europe, you distinguish a restaurant by its exterior, and if you like it – you walk in. You take a seat, listen to the music while browsing the menu, maybe go to the toilet, wash your hands, come back to your table. You play around with the shiny knives and forks, maybe the napkins, then your drink arrives, followed by your meal. There are plenty of these type of restaurants in Thailand, but if you’re frugal with your baht, you go to different places, especially in the islands.  Now for me a restaurant is any place that has tables and chairs. Literally. If it has plastic plates and brown drinking water – it’s a restaurant. If it is a garage with two tired-looking dogs, four children in their underwear, a lady with a wok and a picture of a King above a table and two chairs – it’s a restaurant.

Open-style late night restaurant on a busy Bangkok street
Open-style late night restaurant on a busy Bangkok street

 

  1. And finally, the traffic.

Not comparing driving in Thailand to England, in general people drive quite safely – sound the horn to show presence, slow down at turns, and stop when needed. Sometimes, though, you can see funny things. Last night I saw a girl on a motorbike: it was a one way street, she was driving against traffic, indicating a right turn, and whilst taking a left turn. Or you can see a random motorbike speeding on the pavement. The saying goes look both sides when crossing the street, but I learned to look both ways before crossing, and then twice more after crossing!

Is this a restaurant? It may well be!
Is this a restaurant? It may well be!

 

Could I get a tea bag, please? Sorry, a bag of tea.
Could I get a tea bag, please? Sorry, a bag of tea.

There are many, many many more exciting things to be shared: anything from train travel tips and job hunting in Chiang Mai to Thai vegetarian food being meatier than actual meat, so stay tuned!

CELTA – done!

Auste and I boarded the 15-hour overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and she said to me: “We’ll finally get some sleep!” I thought – why couldn’t we do so when we were staying at this amazing secluded hotel with enormous bed for 30 days…? If you were there, you know why!

One of many 5am starts
One of many 5am starts
A reflection on the table - that's pretty much all we've seen of the world outside CELTA
A reflection on the table – that’s pretty much all we’ve seen of the world outside CELTA

A group of us left Assaradevi discussing the hundreds of online reviews all stating nothing but that it was THE most intensive thing. In our group there were professionals, people with teaching experience, degrees in law, PhD’s and unexperienced teachers – all of whom agreed that it was the most intensive course they had ever done. Content wise it is definitely manageable, but doing it in a month – that’s the challenge.

CELTA

CELTA
Lauren ‘squeaking’ away…

I remember being anxious about teaching on day 2 with a surprise evacuation of the whole building 10 minutes before our first lessons, and conversations in the pool that evening, all starting with “I can’t believe it’s only been two days”.

We've got a saying in Lithuanian that the first pancake always turns out burnt...
We’ve got a saying in Lithuanian that the first pancake always turns out burnt…

Now, unfortunately, we had to exchange our goodbyes, but that was due to come. We all know that we’ll all be fine and end up doing what we have to. And we’re all going to miss those awkward moments with Percy! I’m sure going to miss Mr Ferrero Roche, Grant ‘rhaa-rrgghh’ Thomas, Mr Tittymarsh, runner-up of Miss Catalonia 2014, a couple of geeks, a selective vegan and many more!

CELTACELTA

Is the CELTA in the past? Or is it in the future? Is it a long CELTA, or a short CELTA?

Thank you everyone for an amazing time, and good luck with the DELTA!

Dasha's and John's celebration dance
Dasha’s and John’s celebration dance