After finally making it to Chiang Mai, I headed to check in to my hostel, called Deejai Backpackers. Out of all of the hostels/guesthouses that I have stayed in, this is definitely the best! I am staying in a fan dorm room with private bath. I have two roommates and our room is pretty clean and complete with hot shower (luxury)! The common area is really great to meet people and today the hostel was providing materials for anyone who wanted to make a krathong (basically like a water lantern).
Loy Krathong (or Lantern Festival, as I have been referring to it) is a huge festival in Thailand, but the place to celebrate it seems to be in Chiang Mai. The festival is a time when Thais pay respect to the water goddess by making krathongs and setting them afloat as an offering down the river. It is celebrated during the last full moon of the Thai calendar, which usually falls in November. Thais also believe that it is a way of sending bad spirits off with the krathong, ensuring good fortune for the coming year.
The hostel provided us with the materials to make our own krathong. Using the trunk of a banana tree as a base, banana leaf is used to cover the base and as decorations. The krathong is also usually topped with flowers, sticks of incense and a candle. It was a great way to get into the spirit of the festival and to meet new people as we all took part in an afternoon of 'arts and crafts'.
|Making my krathong.|
After making our krathongs, a few of us decided to wonder out into the city to find some good Thai food. We passed this one restobar that had a pretty good list of Thai food options. We were greeted by a very well dressed and tall "ladyboy" who worked there. She told us that we must eat there because they had the best food in all of Thailand. Of course we were a bit skeptical but figured this place would probably be as good as any. So we asked her recommendation for us to order. Without hesitation she told us to get kao soi. So we did. And it was the most amazing meal I think I have had yet! It is a Thai soup made with chicken, rice, and coconut milk, usually having a chicken leg in the bowl and topped with crispy noodles. SO GOOD. After we had our fill, we, slowly, made our way back to the hostel in time for the evening festivities.
At around 6pm the hostel arranged for a number of taxis (which resemble more of a jeepney to me) for about 20 Baht each to take us all to the river to set our krathongs afloat. Despite a little rain, we were able to successfully launch our offerings down the river (though whether our candles stayed lit was doubtful). After making our Krathong offering we walked around Chiang Mai, taking in the sights of the festival - lanterns being launched, krathongs floating, fireworks in the air, music and tons of delicious looking street food!
|Lighting out lanterns.|
|Sending out lanterns down the river.|
I had a great time enjoying the festival and reconnecting with some of my volunteer friends who are also here for the festival. But it didn't take me long to get pretty tired (especially considering the previous 24 hr of travel), so we headed back to the hostel and now I look forward to a good nights sleep!
Day 26 (Wed)
Today I decided to take it easy. I woke up and had some breakfast while looking through my guidebook trying to decide what I wanted out of my time here in Chiang Mai. Then I went out with some of my volunteer friends to walk around and get to know more of the city. There are of course lots of wats (temples) but I have to say that as beautiful as they are, I am getting kind of wat-ed out. But while walking past yet another wat, we were able to watch as three Buddhist monks launched a lantern into the air. After it got a few meters from the ground, the tail of the lantern started exploding as the fireworks attached went off. Pretty cool.
|Sights around town.|
|Enjoying a leisurely walk around Chiang Mai.|
Deejai backpackers yet again proved its awesomeness by having lanterns for us to send off for free! So we went to the courtyard behind the hostel and lit the giant cylindrical paper lanterns, wait a few minutes for it to fill with hot air and then made a wish before sending it into the night sky. Afterwards we headed to the river for more of the festival activities. Today is the last official day of the festival and we were craving some good festival street food!
|Getting ready to let our lantern fly!|
|People lighting lanterns in the street.|
|About to chow down on some fried noodles!|
|Sushi cart! My favorite!|
|more street food!|
|Strawberries with sugar and crushed red pepper - spicy sweet!|
|The parade going past us.|
At this point we are moving pretty slow. We stood around for awhile digesting and watching the parade as it went by but then the food coma started to set in. So we walked back to the hostel, every few steps glancing up at the night sky to watch the lanterns rise. What an amazing festival night!
Day 27 (Thurs)
Today was our tiger day! We decided to visit Tiger Kingdom to see and even pet tigers. Now I know these places are sometimes known to drug the animals to make them sleep but I did some research before going and Tiger Kingdom does NOT drug their tigers. The tigers are bred in captivity and therefore use to being around humans. Tigers and also nocturnal animals, therefore it is natural for them to be somewhat sleepy during the day. The only tigers that are pet are females and only up to a certain age.
Now this was an especially amazing experience for me because tigers are my absolute favorite animal. EVER. Ever since I was young and begged my mom to buy me Zoobooks (as advertised on t.v.) I have been mesmerized by tigers. I think they are the most beautiful creature in the world and could spend hours watching them at the zoo, never thinking I would one day be touching them!
When we got there we were able to choose what tigers we wanted to see. There were four ages of tigers that you could see: smallest, small, big and biggest. I decided to see the small (6 month) and biggest (18 months). It. was. amazing. And those tigers were most definitely not sedated. It was later in the day when we went so the tigers were slowly getting more and more active. The 6 month olds were really cute, but still bigger than the average house cat. I couldn't believe how big their paws were for still so young. We had to always approach them from behind and we weren't allowed to touch their heads and paws (apparently they don't like it). It was so surreal. At times I would look down and see how cute and sweet they looked lying around that I almost just wanted to jump on them and hug them. But then I remembered that they could quite literally rip my face off, so I resisted.
|A childhood dream comes true!|
|The most beautiful creature in the world!|
So my experience at Tiger Kingdom was pretty awesome. It was a lifetime dream of mine that I never thought would come true. But it also makes me sad to think that in my lifetime the wild tiger will probably become extinct. Habitat destruction and illegal poaching has left the tiger population in the thousands and decreasing every year. But I am so glad I was able to experience them here in Thailand. It was most definitely an experience I will never forget.
to be continued..