Everybody that I kept running into in Bangkok kept saying they were heading to Chiang Mai, and the final push to get me to come here was when my old Twitter friend from Vancouver, Canada: Donovan told me that he was moving up to Chiang Mai to start work and suggested I join him on the train up. Since arriving here in Thailand, Donovan has been my impromptu guide and friend in Thailand, introducing me to his favourite places and really kind friends along the way. He has been the most kind hearted human to deeply connect with here in Thailand, and we spend many hours sitting over a coffee discussing theories of life. I’m so happy I reached out to him when I was still in Canada to see if he could give me suggestions for here. Next thing I know, he was here and wondering when I arrived
Back to the story. I jumped on the day train on the 31st (the only one with seats, most people take a night train with a sleeper) and rode it up to Chiang Mai with Donovan, upon which we met four other travelers willing to chat with us about life: Lil (Berliner), Adam (American), Tania (Spanish) and Don (Philippine). It was funny, on the ~ 12 hr train ride, we were the only ones basically talking. All the other travelers – who seemed like mostly Thai folks – were silent and just sitting there. We, on the other hand, kind of all started to gather at the back of the train where we were sitting and having a good old time of it. Made the train ride go much quicker, and I got to know some cool folks that I’ve been hanging out here in Chiang Mai for the last week.
Whenever I am upon a journey, I have always a ebb and flow between saying yes to everything, and sitting down and doing my work. Somebody the other night said kind of jokingly: YOLO – meaning you only live once – when I was reflecting on my current state of mind when asked what I was going to do next. It’s a catch phrase that was circling the internet spheres for a brief second and it’s really hard not to get caught up in the essence of this when one is in a new place and everybody one meets is on a mission to do and see everything. It’s like the Roman poet Horace so elegantly said: carpe diem. For me though, it’s a very sensitive balancing act because I cannot help but feel this is not the experience I’m looking for. I’m not here to skydiving or bunjee jumping or ride elephants in chains or doing a jungle zipline. Even getting on a scooter and driving an hour outside of town to visit a wat seems a bit compulsive and obsessive when I haven’t even visited the 15 wats that are scattered throughout the city within walking distance. Yet in the exact same breath, what kind of life is it to say no when asked to join a friend on an adventure?
Since booking my flight here to Thailand I have wondered how I will be able to continue to work and do what I love while being here. So, here I am sitting in an empty hostel café (that is not my own hostel) watching through the big glass windows as scooters bustle this way and that, seeming like a max exodus after the lantern festival this city has been celebrating for the last three days.
Loy Krathong and Yee Peng Lantern Festival is celebrated on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month ever year, which normally means mid-way through November. I have been told many stories, but I’ve read in one mural that Loy Krathong festival is after the monsoon season to thank the water for constantly cleanings everything and washing away the bad to bring vibrancy. I have also heard it is a festival to send away all bad things that have happened over the past year, as well as an opportunity to make a wish or two by sending off a lantern. All of these combined with general festival gaiety make it one hell of an experience. Apparently last year it was much smaller out of respect for the King that passed on.
Walking the festival streets for three nights in a row made me feel like I was in a very special place and time. I remembered this festival I experienced in the Basque region of France when I was much younger, running around throwing confetti at everybody. I was young and stupid and was running up behind girls and putting it down their shirts. I am pretty sure I got at least one French girl cursing furiously at me. Good times. Last night was supposedly the biggest night for the local people with a parade to culminate the precedings, but I think the night before was much more of a general festival ecstasy with everybody setting lanterns free. I prowled all the food stands for anything non-animal based and ate a range from banana rotte (with nutella), deep fried potato balls, pad thai, and more banana rotte (it’s like a crepe folded over sliced banana, some have nuttella in them, some even have peanut butter in them, and even others have raisins on top of that… yeh, so good). Every night though I’d fall asleep to fire crackers and fire works going off: the city was alive.
I’ve been here for four full days now and have found a few favourite places in Chiang Mai now, becoming fairly acquainted with the old city. The old city is surrounded by a square moat which was protection in the old days. I imagine they had sharks and piranha and alligators swimming in the water, now they just have a few fountains. I’m in the North East corner of the city, just outside the old city by about 100 m walk. Tomorrow I’ll move to my own private apartment inside the city which I’m looking forward to. Much more places opened up at my price point after the end of the festival. I’m kind of waiting to decide what to do next once I see how the city is after all the people here for the festival go away (ask me some time about my thoughts on the contrasting levels of respect between tourists and Thai people, especially evident during the festival).
So far, no Thai massages, though I have got a haircut from The Cutler which I can’t imagine anything would feel so nice to have done that I’m kind of thinking I’m going to just go get my hair cut instead of a Thai massage. I’m too bloody practical, aren’t I?
I have to say, I think I’m getting pretty good with this manual camera and street photography. The faces here are just so extra-ordinary and walking the festival streets has just been like a gold mine. When I really get going I feel like a pinball going from frame to frame.
I’m starting to learn some Thai, which makes me feel like I’m blending in a little bit. Thank you, hello, no, yes.. that’s about it, but I feel it goes a long way. After leaving my first hostel the owner of it left feedback for me saying that I was really taken an effort in learning the local language, so I guess that’s positive feedback? One thing I’m noticing about the Thai is that they’re incredibly resourceful – perhaps this is a characteristic of most countries that aren’t fixated on more and more consuming rather than being satisfied with what we have. For example, last night during the parade, I noticed that the lantern bearers (almost like flag bearers) of one party had their really long poles, and than a 90 degree pole coming off of that. In Canada it would have been secured with some fancy clasp or bracket, but here, it was packing tape.
I think so far, a beautiful concept here is: anything goes.