Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Chiang Mai Lantern Festival

On treacherous roads some pray to god, for me on the road from Pai to Chiang Mai I prayed to Gravol. I'd slept through the entire drive to Pai so I'd been blissfully unaware that there were 762 curves in the road however this time I was awake and feeling it...until the Gravol gods heard my prayers and the drowsy anti-nauseant kicked in. Praise Gravol! At the bus statiom we caught a songtheow and I felt proud that I had kicked ass at bargaining - something that fills me with dread and anxiety - and had properly conveyed our destination. The trouble came afterwards when we were on the right street and couldn't find the Mojo Guesthouse that we'd booked on Air BnB. Nobody on the street knew of it and even more perplexingly nobody knew the street name despite living on working on the street. We finally asked Baan Thai Resort for directions and discovered they'd renamed themselves ages ago and had forgotten to delete their old AirBnB account.

My mother bailed on the Sunday night market so I met up with Carlota and we made our way over to the giant, crowded street full of trinkets and food - which we thoroughly enjoyed. On top of the food and sights we ended up at one closed interection where a group of guys were jamming on didjeridoos and drums, so of course we pushed past the crowd and sat on the asphalt at the front of the circle. Then, because a night out with Carlota never ends early we found ourselves making our way to the Reggar Bar, something I found hilarious since Carlota had just bought a new 85L backpack so it came with us to the club. In Thailand the bars close at midnight so afterwards we were mingling outside with some others when a motorbike with a thai guy and Carlota stop in front of me and she shouts "Get on! We're going to a secret after hours club" which led to another Carlota-esque night where I found myself returning as the sun was rising.

The morning after I still luckily made it to the Myanmar embassy where the line was non existent, the staff were super friendly, and the application was easy despite a few odd questions (i.e. What is your skin colour?). Somehow the ride there was 40bht but coming back the cheapeast was 150bht so out of stubborness I walked back in the blazing sun, arriving just in time for my mother and I to sign up for a cooking class for later that evening. The class started with a tour of the market where we learned about some thai ingredients and then we drove out to the countryside to a farmhouse where we would learn several dishes. The entire course was so much fun and the instructor Richie was great, when teaching us how to make the chicken cashew nut dish he impressively set the wok on fire, then told us we would be doing the same trick,  starting with yours truly. He got me to tilt the pan, pour the mix in and leap back as a fireball seemingly erupted in my pan. The best part of course was eating what we'd made which consisted of papaya salad, mango sticky rice, curry paste, green curry, pad thai wrapped in an omelette, chicken cashew nut, and chicken coconut soup and every single dish was unbelievably good.

The day after our cooking adventure we decided to embark on an elephant adventure. I was dead set against elephant riding and wanted an elephant sanctuary whereas my mother desperately wanted a picture with an elephant and wasn't too picky where she got it. Luckily we found a place that was not just an elephant sanctuary but a BABY elephant sanctuary, for young elephants rescued from the circus. Kid, our fantastic guide, picked us and two other girls up and once we were at the sanctuary and had changed into our very flattering mahout attire we got to meet the 3 babies (more like toddlers).

The three girls were Nathalie, Bplaifun, and one with a name impossible to remember with the youngest, Bplaifun, being 2 years old and about a head shorter than me. It was actually intimidating at first meeting such a large foreign animal that had a trunk moving all over the place but we fed them an absurd amount of bananas, moved past the intimidation stage and into the stage of awe and admiration at these beautiful creatures. We led them up the hill for a walk, joking with the mahouts, one per elephant, and feeding the girls the entire way.

After the walk we ended up at a small pond where we waded in, fully clothed, to swim with and wash the elephants, which of course was just another excuse to joke around with the others while the elephants shot trunkfulls of water at us. My mother refused to go in the water because she heard the elephants pooped in the pond but so far on this trip I've been covered in worm poo (vermicasting at Layog Country Farm in the Philippines), chicken poo (cleaning the chicken shelf at Clayzy House Koh Lanta), bat poo (stupidly posing for a picture in a cave in Pai not realizing that was not dirt...), so whats a little sketchy pond water? Besides, we had a great time in the water with the elephants and I would not have traded that, not even for perceived cleanliness. Saying goodbye to the elephants was sad but it was a great adventure at the Elephant Park Rescue.

Part of the reason why we had chosen to be in Chiang Mai for those for those dates was because of the Li Peng and Loi Krathong festivals. We had watched some of the Li Peng  festival the night earlier where we'd watch them put floating lanterns down the river however as cool as that was, the main event would be the floating lanterns the next day. The only problem was that the festival was so disorganized. We finally discovered that there was the main event that you had to pay 100USD for and book a year in advance, and a free event that had been cancelled that year but was somehow still running anyways outside the wall of the main event. Another confusing option was that people were letting lanterns float up within the city walls however that option was an unofficial one and technically illegal. With the first two options we were able to watch the lanterns being set off by the unofficial event and then at 9pm the official release would happen. All this information we learned while picking up my visa at the Burmese embassy when we asked Kenny the super helpful employee there.  We found out the events were held near the Mae Jo University which was about an hour drive north and then as luck would have it, Kenny said he lived near it and if we could wait 40 minutes till his shift ended he would drive us there. Embassy hitchhiking, best way of getting around! For two hours we watched lanterns being released next to the river and even released one ourselves but the truly amazing moment came after 9pm when the official event was allowed to release their lanterns. Before the sky had been dotted with hundreds of lanterns but when the official release happened it was like a swarm of thousands of lanterns blocking out the night sky and full moon and was only made more impressive by the fireworks that were let off slightly afterwards.

Lesson learned:Cooking Thai food isnt that difficult and I fully intend to cook it frequently when I have a kitchen again (whenever that may be).

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