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Published: November 9th 2009
The Lion Buddha.
We are so lucky.
Today is the first day of one of the most important festivals in Chiang Mai; we weren't aware of this when we'd initially mapped out the dates.
Loi Krathong is a 2-day festival that celebrates the harvest and the end of the rainy season, and always takes place during a full moon (tomorrow night). People pour into Chiang Mai from all over Thailand to do three things:
1. Party and light firecrackers
2. Launch little boats (called "krathong") into the Ping River. Krathong are made by putting beautiful flowers (orchids, etc), incense sticks, candles and sometimes fruit into a small box made of banana leaves. The purpose of launching a krathong is to ask for forgiveness and to thank the water goddess for a good harvest.
3. Send highly flammable hot air balloons/lanterns up into the night sky (especially popular after consuming large amounts of Singha beer).
Hope the fire department is on full alert!
The festival starts at 6pm tonight. We managed to squeeze some sightseeing in this afternoon which, in Chiang Mai, means either wat-hopping or bargaining at the markets. We did both.
The Chiang Mai wats (temples) are almost
Interesting mural in Wat Phra Singh.
as ornate as their siblings in Bangkok, although slightly different because they are more of the Lanna style. Lanna was the name of a kingdom in Northern Thailand hundreds of years ago; Chiang Mai was its capital.
There are over 200 temples in Chiang Mai and today we saw three. One was Wat Prha Singh, which houses the "Lion Buddha" (named because of his strong face). Tucked away in an alcove was a monk who was meditating and absolutely, perfectly still, like the guards at Buckingham Palace. Pretty impressive. The people at the second wat, Wat Pundtow, were in full decorating mode for Loi Krathong, putting up dozens of colorful paper lanterns and bunches of flowers.
The third one, Wat Chedi Luang, had an impressive chedi (stupa). The chedi is a tower structure shaped a bit like a bell or lotus that holds some relic of the Buddha, maybe a hair or a fragment of bone. Since there are probably tens of thousands of chedi/stupas/chortens, etc throughout Buddhist countries in the world and all claim to have a bit of the actual Buddha in them something does not add up unless Buddha was a giant. The most important
Building housing the "Lion Buddha".
thing about Wat Chedi Luang, besides the chedi (chedis are always important), is that the Emerald Buddha (who now lives in Bangkok) made his home here during his stint in Chiang Mai.
One the highlights of the day, and our entire trip in Thailand, was participating in "Monk Chat" at Wat Chedi Luang. In order to practice their English, young monks sit at tables in some of the wats and talk with tourists. They told us that no topic is off-limits but we kept our questions pretty tame. Both monks were about 20 and had studied together at a Buddhist university in Bangkok. After graduation they both came to Chiang Mai. One was from a northern hill tribe (the Karen) in Thailand; the other from the south of Laos. The Thai monk told us that he had become a monk at age 9, mostly because it was a chance to get a good education, which his parents could not otherwise afford. Their English was excellent and we had a great time talking with them. Monk tidbits: they shave their heads once a month, at the time of the full moon, and they have three different sets of robes depending
The chedi at Wat Prha Singh.
on the religious occasion. They also told us that for young people the Loi Krathong festival is a bit similar to Valentine's Day ; you're supposed to launch your krathong with your sweetie.
We spent the rest of the afternoon checking email and researching a tour to a special wat on a nearby mountain. Our hotel offers this tour but their guide's English isn't very good.
If you ever plan a trip to Chiang Mai, try to make sure that it includes a Sunday evening. That's when the highly popular Sunday walking street happens. Every Sunday the police close down several of the main streets of the old city and a big market is set up. Hundreds and hundreds of vendors line the streets selling everything imaginable - food (all kinds, which smelled divine), drinks, massage, clothes - especially silk, carvings, other textiles, etc. Because of the festival, it was even more crowded than usual. We had a great time walking the streets and looking at all the fun stuff. Angelique bought a beachy dress for $8; it was the man's first sale of the night and he celebrated with a little happy dance, touching his other merchandise
Loi Krathong decorations at Wat Chedi Luang.
with the baht and saying "lucky money, lucky money".
The atmosphere was very festive - the streets were lined with hanging paper lanterns of all colors and twinkling white lights. Around 6:30p, we made our way from the old city across the bridge to the river. In the main plaza at the city gate, we passed a number of floats all lined up, most with beautiful women in traditional dress sitting on top surrounded by glowing lotus flowers. We caught a few minutes of the Miss Krathong beauty contest and then headed to the river.
The bridge and waterfront were lined with people selling balloons\lanterns and krathong. We managed to get excellent seats at the Riverfront Cafe and we dined on noodles and beer. We had a great view of the floats on the river. People were beginning to light their balloons and we watched dozens of them floating up into the night sky. Enchanting.
Not all had a happy end. We did see one balloon that reluctantly ascended about 10 feet and then crashed into a bunch of power lines - and caught fire. Yikes!
After dinner, we bought and launched our own krathong together
The stupa at Wat Chedi Luang.
into the river, saying a wish for safe and healthy travels.
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