Today we’re taking it easy and exploring a bit more of Chiang Mai. We started with lunch at Coconut Shell in Old Town. It had very high reviews and we were looking forward to trying a new to us place. It was pretty good, but maybe not quite up to the hype. It was cheap though, so that’s always a pleasant surprise. 😉
Next we headed back up to Time to Table for another round of board games. We’ve really enjoyed the break from sight seeing on foot but still getting out of the house. Sushi Go Party edition is a new favorite game and we played it several times.
Part of our intention of coming to Chiang Mai this fall was to be here for the famous lantern festival, Yi Peng. It falls during the full moon of November and thus this year is the 11th and 12th of November. However, the 10th was the official start of the festival and included a parade, dances, and dignitaries near the Tha Phae Gate. We staked out a place where we could watch the stage performances, but the delayed start and Thai language presentations lost the kids’ attention pretty quickly. The costumes were quite lovely though!
From there we headed into the chaos that was the Sunday Night Market. This market runs every Sunday evening and is usually hopping. Adding in thousands of tourists who were in town for Yi Peng and you amplified everything by a factor of 10! We were there pretty early though, so we were able to wander through the market and take our time before it got too nuts.
We found some tasty street food (pad thai and grilled pork and sausage) and Kamy chose a couple of silver rings from a stall as souvenirs.
It was a little tricky to find a Uber ride back home though, since there were so many people out and about. We worked it out though!
Today is the full celebration of Yi Peng. The kids wanted to make a krathong to float in the river, so we started by walking to the market for some crafting supplies.
We also walked to Khao Soy Maesai for lunch. This was definitely Keller and my favorite stop during our food tour and we wanted to enjoy Khao Soy one last time. Khao Soy is definitely a Chiang Mai specialty and apparently it’s quite unusual to find anywhere else. The combination of crispy fried noodles on top really creates an interesting texture and the flavors are so well balanced. Yum!
This afternoon we spent time back at the apartment — crafting the kids’ krathongs and playing with Leo for a bit. Near dusk we grabbed a Uber to the river. We found a low dock to launch our krathongs into the river. Caden added his paper lace flag he created the day before to his krathong.
Next we staked out a place on the main bridge crossing the river — Narawat Bridge. It wasn’t quite dark and we weren’t sure what time the lanterns would be released but we didn’t want to be late either.
So many lanterns are released at Yi Peng that they actually close the airport to flights from 6pm – 2am on the holiday. Starting about 7pm we saw a few people lighting lanterns and releasing them into the sky. They are a lot bigger than we were expecting! We never actually saw the lanterns for sale while we were looking today, but apparently that’s because it’s kind of a gray-market item — technically they’re prohibited but people make, buy, sell, and release them anyway. Some lanterns were 3′ in diameter!
We opted not to purchase any lanterns for our own — I figured we could enjoy the festival without creating additional fire hazards and trash too.
The bridge was definitely filling up by about 8pm, as were spaces on the bank of the river. We were still happy with our place though, right on the bridge and the kids were buffered by the balustrade and protected. We did have to keep an eye around us for lighting, rising, and falling lanterns. Not the safest thing!
Lighting the lanterns is a bit of a trick. They are all made of rice paper and are very flimsy, but they have a ring of yellow wax or flammable substance suspended on wires at the bottom. You light the ring and then hold the lantern open until the fire can warm the air inside and let it go. However, if you wait too long they can burn up or catch on fire. Sometimes people would let them go too soon and instead of going into the sky, they’d end up slowly falling in the river.
By now thousands of lanterns were going up into the sky. It was quite beautiful, though it was difficult to photograph since there was also a full moon. A little bit of Google searching will give you an idea of what it was like.
The kids’ attention spans had been exhausted by now, so we decided to head back home. There was no sign of the lantern release slowing down, but the kids were done. Now the trick was to get across the bridge!
In a very short-sighted situation, the police never actually closed the bridge to traffic. More and more people were working their way from Old Town to the bridge and we were literally swimming upstream against the tide of humanity. We split up — one adult with one kid and worked our way through the crowds. The kids were pretty little and led the way while the adults kept a death grip on their hand and followed in their wake.
Ultimately, we did make it back across the bridge and to the thinned out crowd. Whew! Keller said that’s one of the most stressful situations he’s ever been in. Not only was there a zillion people all around us, there were cars and motorcycles (with hot exhausts) woven in the crowd. Plus there were still people stopping in the middle of the crowd to light their lantern — with ash and lanterns right above everyone’s heads. It was quite amazing that we didn’t see anyone caught on fire, because that was definitely a possibility.
We ended up on the north side of Old Town looking for dinner — and found a place at Cowboy Hat Lady’s stall once again. Caden chose pad thai from a few stalls further down and we all shared some deep fried banana spring rolls with condensed milk for dessert.
Overall, I was very glad that we were here to experience this annual tradition. It was beautiful! However, I am glad that we were only in the chaos for a short time and if there is a next time, we’ll opt to walk up the river on the far side before crossing back. I don’t need to do that part again!
Today is our last full day in Chiang Mai. In theory the Yi Peng festival will continue today, but apparently almost all the lanterns are released on the first night. So instead we had a relaxing day and stayed close to home. The kids played with Leo a little bit in the morning.
We ate lunch at Tikki Cafe and then returned to the board game cafe one last time. For dinner we snatched our favorites from the street market stalls on the north side of town.
Today is our travel day — though our flight doesn’t leave until 3:30pm. Our AirBNB host let us have a late check out, so we took our time getting ready in the morning. We cleaned up, packed up, and ate at Tikki Cafe one last time. (Side note — I think we ate at Tikki Cafe more often than we did at Yawee in Koh Lanta, though our favorite still remains Yawee.)
After lunch we took an Uber to the airport and flew back to Bangkok on Air Asia. While it is a discount carrier, we didn’t have any complaints about the experience. Just make sure you’ve purchased enough baggage allowance before checking in to avoid any surprises. =)
Back to Bangkok!