Lights Up: an inside guide to the Thai Lantern Festival
…and the day finally arrived. The opening night of the lantern festival in Chiang Mai.
We were so excited to see it. Personally, I was trying to keep my expectations low in case I would have been disappointed. Well…useless move.
We were coming down from a very adventurous and eclectic day-tour to Chiang Rai (you can check that out in our article about it) and we were exhausted. On the way back though, our minibus got stuck in a lot of unusual traffic. I was getting anxious we wouldn’t not make it on time for the opening (apparently when they made women, anxiety came as free gift).
But of course Thailand was preparing another surprise for us. On the way to our hotel we had to pass through some rural villages as there was no highway and just when I was loosing hope, I looked around: the villages were all decorated and enlightened for the festival, there were people dressed up, parades, chants… it was just amazing. As traditional, as Thai and as colourful as you can imagine.
When we finally got to Chiang Mai we quickly got changed, jumped on a tuk tuk to the city and I brought the paper lantern we bought from a local shop some days before as I was worried we wouldn’t find any on the night of the festival. Well, it turns out the city is full of lanterns to buy, they are cheaper and you can find also some funny looking ones if you feel fancy. Mind you, for cheaper I’m talking of a few TBH which for us were literally like $0.50 or a dollar but you will see you kind of the change your perspective on money there.
Oh, one advise, if you are not a smoker, just remember to bring a match with you or a lighter.
So as I explained in the last article the festival is articulated in two main parts.
One is of course the lantern part. What I recommend is for you to go in the actual city, and follow the people on their procession to the temples. We did so and we found ourselves into one. The monks were chanting as than released the first lantern, giving the way to everyone else.
It is quite of an experience turning around and seing everyone, locals and tourists, helping each other lightning their lanterns and altogether watching them floating in the sky, as if all of them were one single soul, as if for one night the sky had real shooting stars carrying real wishes.
Of course the release of the lantern goes on for the whole night, so don’t worry if you miss out that very first moment, you will find people in the streets util late evening, mostly on the bridges near the water, lighting up lantern of all sorts. For all the days of the festival the sky will seem real, almost reachable.
The other part of the festival involves the water. Everywhere in the city you will find women selling those beautiful nests made of banana leaves, decorated with flowers, and braided into different shapes. The price range is super low, all you need is a few THB and a smile.
Once you picked yours, all you have to do is follow the people at the river and wait for your turn to place your artwork into the water and let it go… Another magic moment that words cannot really describe, you will have to test it yourself !
After we had our dose of spirituality we decided to go into the streets, to get some dinner and see all the street markets. We had some amazing street food. I highly recommend the satay along the street (Em had something like 15 by himself).
After some bargains, new people met in the streets in great mood – how can you be unhappy in a day like this?? – Em found out he lost his wallet into the river with all our money and credit cards in it. Funny story I know. and the even more fun fact is that the day after we received an email from an acquittance from the elephant tour saying they had been contacted by a Thai person. Apparently this person had found the wallet, found that email written in a piece of paper inside of it, and wrote to it, hoping they could reach us somehow. Fate…sometimes it is funny.
This is a little stupid story, which I am sure you do not care much about but I want to tell you the end of, sees us the next morning at the Chiang Mai police head office collecting our wallet from a very friendly Texan/Thai Officer. He than took a snap of us to hang it on the “Happy People’s Wall” in their office.
We came back for the festival of the lanterns the next day and the day after, I did not want to miss one day and poor Em had to bear with me, but it never got boring. Maybe as advice, which is what we did, try and see it from different perspectives: maybe go onto a high temple, go on the other side of the bridge, and don’t miss out on the parade!
So to wrap it up… we lived unforgettable moments that we actually decided never to live again (we are never going back there) to let the memory stay perfect, as it is.