There is a temptation, when writing about Chiang Mai to try and come up with some kind of pun, probably scatological in nature, which is mighty hard to resist. What can I say, I’m twelve at heart. So I’ll attempt to stand firm against this craving, even though every fiber of my being calls out to write something that I will no doubt regret to the end of my days. Fortunately, I have given Mary access to the editing functions of this blog, so should I succumb to temptation, I have no fear that the offending words will be quietly deleted, and I’ll get a well deserved whack on the back of the head.
Chiang Mai is notable for a huge festival, Loi Krathong, which is held during the period when we’d be in Southeast Asia. This wasn’t coincidental, as Mary tweeked, and pushed, and prodded, and jumped up and down on the schedule till she could make it fit. There are actually two Loi Krathong festivals, one on the full moon of the last month of the traditional Thai calendar, and another a week later, which caters primarily to tourists. Though we are tourists, Mary wanted the more “authentic” experience, so that’s what we went with. There were plenty of tourists to go around, in any case.
As far as I could tell, the festival seems to revolve around several different activities. The first, was to make krathongs, which are little floats, covered with flowers, and containing candles and/or incense sticks. These are then placed in the river so they can float down to the sea, where they will be consumed by the fishies, or more probably just foul the inlet filters of water purification plants. The act of releasing the krathong to on the river symbolizes the letting go of anger, hatred and the like. Add a candle and you are venerating the Buddha with light. I think the joss stick is just so it smells good, if you like incense that is, which I do, but Mary doesn’t, so her krathong didn’t have any incense, which could mean that Buddha will be displeased. Is it possible to displease Buddha? Seems unlikely.
Two, launch big sky lanterns to fill the sky. This is actually part of a different festival, Yi Peng, which is celebrated in Chiang Mai at the same time as Loi Krathong. So we got two festivals for the price of one. The release of the sky lanterns, if I understand correctly, is a means of gaining merit. I don’t know what kind of merit, but what the hey, it’s a sky full of floating lanterns. Reason enough I say.
Three, set off fireworks. There doesn’t seem to be any religious or philosophical significance for this activity, so I put it in the “just fun” category. And who doesn’t like setting off fireworks? Especially, if you’re twelve years old. Mary wouldn’t let me get any fireworks of my own, so I just had to watch longingly as others had all the fun.
Along with the festivals there were Buddhist temples to visit, strolls around the old quarter of the city, plus lots of Thai food to sample. We discovered in the course of this trip that pretty much everyone in SE Asia has an opinion on their local food as compared to national cuisine of the neighboring countries. Much of it seems to be based on how flavorful the different countries’ cuisines are, and by flavorful, I mean spicy. As far as we could break it down it sounded like this:
Thais think Cambodian food is pretty bland. Laotians are convinced that Thais are wimps who under season their food. And everyone thinks that Vietnamese food is bland, unappetizing slop. Of course, we liked it all, and it’s as spicy as you can handle.
Next on to Laos