Chiang Mai on Fire

· by wendy · thailand

We were moving quite quickly through Thailand. Only seven days in the country and we were on to our fourth destination! I have to admit, I was feeling tired, worn out and just plain old. Dusty was suffering from some jet lag and a case of the poops. Just keeping it real, people! You think traveling the world is all rainbows and butterflies? We were in rough shape, but there was no rest for the weary, old and digestively challenged.

By complete accident, we arrived in Chiang Mai just one day before the famous sky lantern holiday called Yi Peng. We only found out about it because it happened to be in our in-flight magazine. This year’s holiday coincided with another holiday called Loi Krathong in which small, decorated floats are placed in the river as an offering. The whole thing is nuts. So often we point out things that “Would Never Happen in America”. Things such as roasting marshmallows over hot lava pouring out of a volcano and mountain biking down The World’s Deadliest Road. This holiday ranks toward the top of that list.

The bank of the Mae Ping River was a mad house. I think we were all a little stunned at the sight. So much was happening at once, we didn’t quite know what to do or where to go first. Standing on a bridge that crossed the river allowed us a somewhat clearer view of the action. Total insanity.

It’s really quite amazing that the whole city doesn’t burn down. Fireworks exploded in all directions, being lit by anyone and everyone in the packed house. Some would hold a lit firecracker in their hand and toss it out over the river. Others leaned them up against the railing on the bridge and watched them take off in whatever direction it pleased. To the right, to the left, back into the crowd on the bridge. It was a free for all. One fizzled out into our friend’s hair. Her hair was not harmed in the making of this festival.

On the water, little floats were launched making their way down the river. Made from banana tree stalks, they were wrapped with banana leaves, decorated with flowers and carried lit candles and burning incense. Thankfully, the incense brought a nice aroma to the air, likely masking the massive amounts of burning fuel, garbage and street food odors.

Above the streets lanterns were being lit and launched all night long. At any moment you could turn to your left or right and catch people lighting the flammable discs strung to the bottoms. Moments later the lanterns were puffed up from the hot air and ready to be released. Well, sometimes they were ready. Eager launchers sometimes let go to early only to have their lantern rise just high enough to fool them but then take off sideways and down into the crowd. It was important to be sober and have your head on a swivel!

Speaking of staying sober, it seemed that everyone was. I don’t recall a single stand where Chang or Singha beer was being sold nor did I witness anyone carrying some around. Good thing because alcohol would have turned this insanity from dangerous to mass destruction in a matter of moments. I tried to imagine this festival in the US. A third of the population would be protesting the obvious safety concerns with explosives and flaming things flying this way and that. Another third would protest the “greeness” of the affair. Where exactly do all of these things end up? In Bangkok? The final third would be wasted, trying to fly the biggest damn lantern you’ve ever seen….fueled by an entire couch. Someone would get their eye poked out and the fun would be over.

This holiday should stay in Thailand. I’m sure we wouldn’t even have the half hour foot massages for $2.50 during our fire blazing affair. Thai people rock.

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