Monday, November 10, 2014

Yee Peng and Loy Krathong-Thailand: Round the World Leg 2

The Kingdom of Lanna-Land of a Million Rice Fields.  When I say those words now they are part of me. No longer a dream. Home to lush mountains and thick green forests and thousands of candles slowly, silently floating high into the night sky-each a real and tangible representation of a wish...a hope...a dream.

United States to Thailand
New York offered more options and less expense than Philadelphia (though the journey takes at least 2 days each way no matter how you slice it) so it became a planes trains and automobiles thing.  Late the evening before our flight we took the MegaBus to NYC.  From the drop-off point we walked to NY Penn Station where we bought tickets to EWR airport.  The ticket is $11 one way/pp and includes all you'll need to get you to the airport: cost for NJ Transit Train (which is your leg from NY Penn Station to NJ EWR Air Train Station) and cost for Air Train (which is your leg from NJ EWR Air Train Station to EWR airport terminals).

MegaBus.  So...."taking a bus" to New York City did not exactly appeal to me.  I wont waste time listing the myriad of reasons "why" because in the end I have not a single complaint.  It was seamless and actually dare I say enjoyable.  It offered us an inexpensive comfortable and stress-free commute.  We had initially assumed we would take Amtrak, however, the timetable wouldn't work for us.  And MegaBus runs all. the. time.  They ask you to arrive 15 minutes before departure so they can check your confirmation and load your bags into the belly (you can take backpacks purses small carryons and the like with you if you want to your seat).  Even if you have a reservation you stand in the line (Ive noticed some destinations have a special line for reservations but PHL and NY its all gen pop).  I guess if it came to it and they say they are out of seats youd show them your reservation and sadly someone on board would be booted.  Several busses are lined up so you have to just look at the signs on each to find yours. 

We "paid extra" to reserve our seats b/c it *is* possible if you don't that the bus will fill and youll have to wait for the next one.  I don't know how often that actually happens but I didn't care to find out.  Not only that, I liked a particular seat so didn't mind paying a very small fee to reserve and ensure I got it.  I like the ones on the upper level, by the windshield, in front of the staircase.  Some say those with motion sickness shouldn't sit on the upper level but we didn't notice anything-both the seats and the ride were cushy and comfortable.  We also don't get motion sickness though, so.  There are four seats by the windshield; two on either side of the aisle.  I like the pair in front of the stairwell because it means nobody is sitting behind you. Coughing, talking, snoring, stinking, whatever.  This is a good thing.  The trash is right there  behind you (a bag tied to the staircase pole) but it looked empty and idt anyone ever even put anything in it.  But I just wanted to point out I guess technically it could be a point of concern.  The bus offers free wifi which we knew from reviews wasn't always the best and outlets to charge your devices which is a nice touch.  We came prepared in layers to add or remove though the temperature didn't seem radically hot or cold it was "fine."  There are signs for no eating or drinking but we did have some small snacks and were fine.  Chris, of course, despite my soothing and despite his seeing the "New York City" sign on the bus, asking the folks in line, then asking the MegaBus baggage guy, was concerned (putting that lightly) that we might not be on the correct bus.  So I was dying of laughter when the driver announced, as we entered the onramp for the highway, that this was the bus to Baltimore (he was joking).  Makes me laugh still.  In his defense: I get it!  We aren't going to NYC for the hell of it.  To tool around in Central Park or whatever.  We are going to the other side of the world.  A lot of time, research, expense was involved and being bussed to the wrong city would throw a wrench in the works.  So yes when his face drained my heart did go out to him b/c I know that's just the way hes wired <3

It was dark and rainy outside and soft and cozy inside as we settled in to motor to NYC.

NY to NJ.  I know it probably sounds like its a hassle to get to EWR but really its not.  As soon as you get off the bus anyone on the street can point you to NYPS (short walk).  Once there, any of the workers can explain exactly your next steps.  We know b/c we asked.  Incessantly.  And they were all very friendly and helpful.  Its really quite simple so if you are in a position where you are considering doing this don't let it scare you.  At a leisurely and no pressure pace and factoring things in for cushion time like waiting for next train the process takes about 1.5 hours.

We flew Cathay Pacific EWR-Hong Kong-Chiang Mai.  We knew from research this was a "nicer" airline and they lived up to their reputation.  Ranked right up there near Sri Lankan Air which has hands down been the best air experience for us.  The seating configuration was 2-4-2 and for our flight over we were an inside and aisle of a 4 across.  No problems, no issues, a long (16 hours) but otherwise uneventful flight.

Our layover in Hong Kong wasnt long enough to get out and see the city (plus it was the middle of the night) but it was long enough to make us antsy.  Plus nearly all the stores were closed-we were hungry and none of the locations opened offered animal-free options.  Tired and cranky and hungry we assigned a perhaps unfair rating to Hong Kong airport.

Was tough getting that sword through security.

Arrival Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chris had researched beforehand so we knew when we arrived at the Chiang Mai airport to look for a taxi stand for a ride to our hotel on Nimmanhaemen Rd.  For 150 baht (about $4.50) we got our much-anticipated first taste of life in Lanna as he deposited us on a picturesque side street off a larger road bustling with life.  Smiling with hands clasped at chest I spun round (picture: Sound of Music). Seeing things in slow motion I memorized every detail of every thing around me; the colors the people the buildings-THIS was Thailand!  I swear at that moment I could *feel* the place in my heart and soul.  As often in our travels it was absolutely palpable. I exhaled in contentment allowing this new world to totally and completely envelope me!

Then our driver proceeded to hit me with his car as he backed up to depart.

Nimmanhaemin Road area was not in Chiang Mai proper-it was a bit outside the thick of some things while right in the thick of others.  Because wed want to be near the gates (more on those in a bit) for festivities of Loy Krathong later in our stay we used this opportunity to check out another area of the city.  Near Chiang Mai University, it had been described as hip and trendy with a distinct vibe of its own.

The guesthouse we chose was likewise quite unique:

Nimman Gallery Resort
Here you have the amazing opportunity to lodge amidst works of art created by local craftspeople. All is for sale-the  paintings the sculptures the furniture, all of it!  Very neat.

Reception warmly welcomed our enthusiastic "swastheedka/krub!" before their eyes landed apprehensively on our hulking luggage then slowly panned to the steep narrow (yet utterly charming) staircase nearby.  Our two petite hostesses kindly, dutifully, instantaneously move toward our bags before we intercept with no no nos and smiles and it's fine we got its. While they certainly get props for their intentions no way were we going to allow that! Chris was the hero and carried all our bags upward ascending the final spiral to discover the uppermost level with only two rooms-we were excited to have a little nook of the guesthouse all to ourselves!

The look and feel of a room is, to me, almost as important as its cleanliness.  The room was absolutely spotless and the décor though minimal entirely satisfying thus did not disappoint in either regard.  Definitely a good pick (but man, corner of bed has huuuuge jut out on which I banged the heck out of my poor shin)! Interesting was the first of many signs we would see in Thai hotels stating "no durian" otherwise fines would be issued (durian fruit is notoriousy stinky though  see Sri Lanka-we didnt find it offensive).

It is customary in Thailand to remove your shoes before entering temples and homes-and this often extends to restaurants, businesses, and hotel rooms. Guesthouses provide shoes or slippers for you to wear.

We broke the cardinal rule and instead of fighting him we gave into the sandman and got a few hours of sleep before unpacking and heading out to explore!  We had a really enjoyable time that first evening getting our first exposure to the amazing world of Thailand.  Hungry, but enjoyable (: It does no good to point fingers but because "someone" wanted to "wing it" dinner that night consisted of Swedish fish.

Before we get into any more details of our trip I want to clarify one point and that is Loy Krathong (aka Loi Krathong) v. Yee Peng (aka Yi Peng).  It is important to me that I distinguish these experiences as they were the main purpose of our adventure.  And while they were both amazing, they are different.  Meaning two totally separate "things."  It doesn't help *at all* that websites, tourists, and even locals use these terms interchangeably.  For purposes of this narrative Yee Peng is 1. the mass release 2. of sky lanterns 3. at Lanna Dhutanka temple (near Maejo University) and Loy Krathong is 1. the week-longish 2. lantern festival 3. that takes place in Chiang Mai proper.

Some quick background, based on experience and what I learned from locals, as I understand it:

Loy Krathong
Loy Krathong describes a thing.  Loi means "to float" and krathong means "decoration."  So when you picture Loy Krathong it should evoke images of small usually floral displays set adrift, often with a candle, into the waterways of Chiang Mai.  HOWEVER, this has evolved a bit to include also release of sky lanterns.  This of course fuels the mixing of the terms and furthers the confusion of what is what with regards to these two separate things.  But hopefully Im clearing that up for you here.  You can see the rando release of sky lanterns all week, in groups of one or many, by local families, drunk foreigners, tour groups, etc.  The greatest number of sky lanterns for Loy Krathong are released along banks of waterways where their floating counterparts are launched on the night of the full moon (Thursday).  This despite thee celebration, and thus emphasis by locals, falling actually on the eve of the full moon in the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar (Wednesday).  This year Loy Krathong fell on the first week of November.

Yee Peng
Yee Peng describes a time.  Yi means "two" and peng means "full moon day." This celebration takes place on the day of the full moon in the second month of the Lanna lunar calendar.  Yee Peng has two events which they refer to as "for locals" and "for foreigners."  This year these two events were two weeks apart (local on 10/25 and foreign on 11/8).  Originally we turned our noses up at the "for foreigners" one b/c we wanted the most authentic experience.  In the end, as with Mosquito Bay in Vieques, we decided lets do both.  Im really glad we did and I you will see that I have strong opinions about the differences b/w these two experiences which will hopefully help you if you are in a position to choose.

The 12 month of the Thai lunar calendar and the second month of the Lanna lunar calendar coincide resulting in name overlap (read: confusion for many) but also in a chance to experience two really amazing celebrations in a single adventure.  These dates generally mean "November" for planning purposes but note, importantly, that the Yee Peng event date (the actual release of the sky lanterns) is not announced until a few months beforehand.  So have your research done and your ducks in a row so you can execute your bookings and reservations smoothly as soon as possible after learning the date.  Hotels do sell out.  Youll see how we learned that the hard way as you continue reading.

The two Yee Peng lantern releases can be looked at as bookends for how I lay out our narrative below. It begins with Yee Peng local, has Thailand sights and Loy Krathong in the middle, and ends with Yee Peng foreign.

Yee Peng Local
The next day was Yee Peng local.  You can get to/from the temple that holds the event by public transportation no problem.  Note though that we read they charge a premium to take you back to Chiang Mai (and by "premium" I mean in terms of Thai not US standards).  We decided to rent a motorbike instead (Nimman Gallery helped) and get ourselves to the event which gave us time to explore that morning and a bit more flexibility that night. The drive from Nimmanhaemin to Chiang Mai city center isn't long or bad at all.  I can still see the major intersections and the buildings on their corners so often used as landmarks for us in my mind's eye as I write this ha.  Id researched beforehand and found a handful of vegan places around Chiang Mai.  We tried this place to eat before hitting the road for the lanterns: Free Bird Cafe (read about how you can eat good food while helping Thai Freedom House do good things).

Wed known from my research to take shoes off before entering but some people would stumble in (over the pile of shoes at the door) and quickly retreat to remove theirs.  The ambiance is light airy and open-lots of sunlight coming in which is all nice but nothing super duper special.  You can purchase new and donated items from their connecting store which further supports their cause.  Creeper alert in here-white guy says to the young waitress, who based on the other things he said to her indicated he comes in here a lot, "Your dress is really pretty," and it wasnt just what he said it was how he said it-kind of like his words were literally oozing with perv. We never saw her again another more adult waitress took over.

Bellies full we head off to the temple!  We wanted to get there on the early side to catch any festivities before the release and also have ample time to claim a desirable spot.  I hadn't thought this through (it happens occasionally) that we would be sitting on the ground so might make sense to purchase a blanket of some sort.  Id looked at Free Bird b/c wouldn't it be nice to purchase an item, use it, then donate it back?! But they had nothing.  And oddly nor did anyone else as we motored along, my eyes darting all about looking for a stand sending colorful anythings that we could plop ourselves on (which of course Id seen a ton of until now...). Oh!  There!  We make a U-turn b/c I see a warehouse type thing with a bunch of what looks like fabric.  We park, remove shoes, and enter.  Ok so it turns out to be some sort of bulk-buying factory with like thousands of same school uniforms, thousands of same mechanic overalls, thousands of same things like that and we look very very very very out of place here.  I try to relay in broken Thai what it is we are looking for.  Eventually we find and purchase something we think will work and later discover it is an extra giant shower curtain.  I can understand why this mustve seemed very bizarre to them.

Back on the road!  When we reach the temple there is already a line of cars but we follow locals on their motorbikes and weave through the traffic-nice!  Even as cars are forced to turn and park we are allowed to move forward.  We bypassed the long (hot/sweaty) walk and all the stands selling food drink and tat and pulled literally right up to the entrance of the field.  Parking = free.  I cant tell you how insanely easy and convenient this was so if you are considering it (self-drive via motorbike) do it.

We arrived on the field at about 2:30 to help put things into perspective.  We had nearly unlimited options regarding where to set up camp so we spent some time strategizing to choose the best location.  There is a stage then several rows of poles (which hold the candle you use to light your lantern) in a semi-circle shape-this area was special seating and off-limits to us.  Then a semi-circle aisle separating that special seating area from the rest of the rows.  Because 1) I knew we would be back for the foreign release in a few weeks and 2) had VIP seats I wasn't concerned this time around to be close to the stage.  I wanted sort of a different vantage point so wed have a chance to ultimately experience the best of both worlds!  So we choose a quiet nook along the cool and shady treeline on the right and outermost line of poles as you look at the stage.  I figure since there are no poles behind us this will give us some space.  We lay out our blanket/shower curtain and ask around where/how people bought their lanterns. (Even just an iota of research on the lantern release reveals you cant bring your own lanterns in.  And really I like this as I imagine the release of like lanterns is more visually stunning than a mix of shapes sizes and colors.)  Once seated head to the teepee shaped structure across from the stage.  Behind that there is a huge tent with tons of lanterns inside for your purchase.  Though we had a few hours before the festivities and it did appear things were happening in the temple next to the stage it appeared like it was just for family or just for locals.  In retrospect we should've confirmed by walking over, idk why we didn't.  So we sat and talked and waited.

little guy hanging out with us
our lantern!
And that space I thought wed have by the tree line?  Totally.  Gone. First, we were forced to helplessly tolerate those with poles "saved" elsewhere rudely encroach on our personal space seeking respite in the shade of tree line; many, females wearing these horrible baggy pants with elephants all over them sold to tourists throughout the city (we grew to hate those elephant pants ha, associating them with just bad travelers). Then, as the time grew near the field really filled.   People were packed in and definitely not courteous of the personal space of others nor the fact many of us had been waiting for hours and had claimed a reasonable amount of space for ourselves with our blanket. These people filling in behind us where not there to release they were there to watch.  It got even worse when a tour group of Australian "young adults" pushed their way in, even standing on our blanket.  I very kindly and politely asked them to move back as they continued to step on our hands and our belongings but they were pretty rude.  Further, talking and yelling and cursing and complaining and saying wholly inappropriate and disrespectful things about Thailand, the Thai people, the Thai culture, and this particular event. Seriously, what is wrong with people (rolls eyes)?

And, we thought this was a little weird, a local man and his mother and his 3 children came and placed their lantern on top of our lantern which was on top of "our" pole.  Ok....he gave us a huge and kind smile and really what were we going to do?  Would I have liked my own pole?  Yeah.  Dude, I crossed the world for this.  But whatever.  He was there with his family and we figured what harm can it do.  Further, maybe this was how it was done?  We hadn't taken notice of it before but as I looked around I saw many poles with multiple lanterns on it so maybe its accepted that you share?

So b/c the Aussies and another "group of people" (problematic throughout our travels-will remain unnamed) nearby were so loud and annoying we couldn't hear any of the announcements or the information or the explanations. (Not all but some of the event was given in multiple languages, english being one of them. Though we did hear what we'd later hear countless times throughout our stay and what to this day randomly pops in our head, one of us will sing it, the other will laugh-what we imaginatively called The Loy Krathong Song.)  So when Smiley stood we politely motioned for him to "please-take the pleasure of releasing your family's lantern first" as it seemed the respectful thing to do.  After, he showed us on his second lantern how to rip apart pieces of the wax ring base of the lantern and then light different sides of it.  He never used the pole at all.  Ok, so we copied what he was showing us-he must know what hes doing and his first lantern successfully floated away.  Also, he was the one with the lighter.  As lanterns floated up all around us I waited with *indescribable anticipation* as he slowly worked his way around the waxy ring.  Then, he motioned.  It was time!  He stepped back and Chris and I held the lantern.  Faces glowing softly with the light of a thousand candles surrounding us, we smiled at each other-lets make my dream come true!!

And then our lantern caught fire and burst into flames.

Gasps and ohhhhs as it fell from our hands but not before Chris chucked the fireball behind us.  The jerkies who claimed they didn't have any room to move off our blanket suddenly found plenty (;

Though I joked it might be a bad omen (and Smiley just nodded his head and of course smiled-but I cant be 100 he even knew what I was saying) it really didn't bother me our lantern didn't make it; my dream was to be in the midst of those lanterns-to be a part of the experience, not necessarily to release one myself.  The sky was alive with lanterns and it was more beautiful than I even imagined. I cried-so thankful!

Ours was not the only lantern to crash and burn-there was a breeze so we saw the wishes and hopes and dreams of many die in the tree line behind us that night.

Even as the crowd dissipated wishes continued to be released into the night sky!  Big groups small groups families individuals-we werent quite ready for the night to end so it was a nice time to walk around and watch the happiness and enjoyment of others!

So lessons learned tonight about the lanterns: 1) purchase more than one 2) bring your own lighter.

Once wed had our fill we returned to our motorbike and followed the locals to the exit.  If you've ever been to a sports game or a concert, this is what it looked like.  It was a line of cars barely moving.  We buzzed in and out and granted it got hairy at times (Chris has superior spatial relations heh) he got us through without scraping any knuckles.  It would've been a drag to just "sit" in that traffic.  Another excellent reason to a. drive yourself b. on a motorbike.

Long after wed exited the grounds, motoring home on the dark empty highway-my arms around Chris's waist and my helmeted head resting against his back, I could still see those wishes dotting the night sky.

Self-drive Chiang Mai to Chaing Rai, night on road
Because we had a week between Yee Peng local and the start of Loy Krathong we used this time to travel to the northernmost portion of the country known as the Golden Triangle, named so for the mountainous once-upon-a-time opium-producing area overlapping the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar (will always be Burma to me). This area had appealed to me for years and I was super excited to see the unique beauty and culture within.

We took a songthaew (SONG-tow, tow like ow that hurts not like toe) from Nimman Gallery to town where we then caught a local bus to the CM airport. We missed the first bus (green, recommended) so we sat around to wait for the next one (not green, less recommended) which ended up being totally fine. NB the bus made a pitstop for a bathroom, snack, smoke break so we got out and stretched our legs before wandering over to a little tented hut selling items. Chris had forgotten his sunglasses so we were on the lookout for a pair. This hut had a display so he tried on a few and the pair he thought were cool I thought he looked good in also-commanding even! Thanks rando hut in Thailand!  We poked around, got some water and headed back to the bus. At which point it becomes painfully clear to me that, out of the shaded shadowy dark of the tent and in the full bright sun of day, wed just purchased Chris a pair of women's glasses.  We spend the rest of the ride debating this; he insists that they are men's glasses and that they look fine. Judge for yourself.

From the airport we picked up a rental car and hit the road for Chiang Rai. We had a nice route mapped out to hit some sights along the way and spend the night at a hotel midpointish.  Then, the next morning we were going to hike to watch the magnificant sunrise from  Phu Chi Fa!  Our stops included Wat Rong Khun (aka White Temple) and Baan Dam (aka Black House), the unique structural aspects of each is what drew us.

Wat Rong Khun
Wat Rong Khun is right on the road so youre riding along doo dee doo open field, stores, houses, giant structure of...white bones?  (No.)  While accurately portrayed in photographs it was much more impressive in person I thought.  It was so convenient to stop on our route but I wouldn't go out of my way to see it.  That said, for some its the highlight of their trip to Thailand so...different strokes I guess.

White Temple

Baan Dam
Baan Dam on the other hand was not so easy to locate. Back and forth we drove, for a long time, narrowing our grid of where the temple could possibly be.  Our last attempt, we asked two teenaged boys in broken Thai if we are close. They have a brief convo and then one motions to us-he hops on his motorboke and leads us down the road to a spraypainted sign, which now that we see seems so obvious how could we have missed-like when you look at the solution to hidden picture puzzles, through a maze of side streets until we reach the location.  Except, it had closed about 15 minutes prior. Geeeeeeez. Maybe if we'd been able to FIND it...!  Truth be told I was most interested in the exterior (inside not exactly an animal-lovers ambiance if you're pickin up what Im puttin down) though it wouldve been neat for Chris to have had the chance to see. Further, there is a chain blocking the drive in with a sign asking you to NOT walk on the property after closing.  Nobody was around and I kind of wanted to see (and after all wasnt it really THEIR fault for such bad signage!?) but, again, rule-follwer. So we took what shots we could from the roadway. It wasnt how we'd planned but at least we got to see it!

Black House

Back on the road.  Next stop:

Suanthip Vana Resort
Now this hotel I had mixed feelings about.  I *loved* how it looked online-in particular this killer outdoor shower area with regal stone walls and a giant wooden tub.  BUT I had emailed them (twice) to ask if they could help secure us a guide to transport us to/from Phu Chi Fa and never got a response.  I even considered cancelling b/c I thought "might be indicative of their service/the experience" but since it was only for one night I figured I could sacrifice good service for the amazing room.

There is a sign on the road so you know where to exit for the hotel.  After a road lined by grand trees we turn onto the property and it is stunning.  We park and get out and this insanely grand GWTW marble staircase greets us.  Above, the atrium ceiling is filled with large wooden beams and a massive chandelier. Around are splashes of decor reflecting local flora and fauna. We received an incredibly warm welcome-many genuine smiles.  And it becomes clear there wont be a ton of English spoken-which might explain no response to my emails? They maybe had no idea what I was asking?  Still, if you're going to provide an email address on your site.... Anyway, I learned a very valuable lesson that night and I love learning new things: dont jump to hasty conclusions!  Of course the lesson could've gone (but thankfully didnt) the other way: when a red flag is raised (them not responding to my email) heed the warning!

Our stay was a-MAY-zing.  From reception we hopped in our car and followed a lovely woman in a golf cart to a vine covered archway.  Here she no kidding grabbed our bags (and by bags I mean huge bulging suitcases) on her head and led us on an incredible little journey of softly light stepping stones and gravel paths through the forest to our own little secluded paradise.

The room itself was one the most impressive we had ever stayed at in terms of décor, cultural inclusions, amenities, EVERYthing.  I am giddy now just remembering it!

Once we were settled in the room we placed an order for room service (because we arrived on the later side and were afraid wed be having swedish fish for dinner again so were elated when they announced the restaurant hours-open wellll into the night which was great).  When it was delivered they set it up for us in our outdoor gazebo-we sat on these great big pillows as they prepared our place settings and lit candles.  It was beyond romantic and incredibly peaceful!  Nooked in the lush forest encircled by mountains the sounds of nighttime nature, various chirps and calls and croaks, were all around us!

Next up: that glorious outdoor shower area!  Light from candles, tucked nicely into little crannies within the stone walls, endlessly flickered throwing shadows all around us as we looked up at the sky full of stars.  Is this even real!?  It is also worth mentioning that the soap and shampoo and conditioner (locally made, which I know b/c the hotel awesomely includes a history of the ingredients and how they are harvested and prepared-THIS is the kind of attn. to detail I like) are seriously *thee best* I have ever smelled.  I feel like for me, that's saying an awful lot.  Sorry Aveda (:

Then...that wooden bath.  Just, amazing.  Tiny little snails surrounded us in our wet warm haven, tucked bewteen stones or perched upon ledges.

Sudsy and relaxed to the point of being drugged, I opened the door to the room, tuck my feet into the terrycloth slippers, and scuff to the little tiny nook which housed our hotel robes.  "Mmmm cant wait to cuddle up in all that softness!!" is the last thing Chris heard before the scream.  On the wall behind the robes was the biggest freaking spider I have ever seen.  Open your hand like saying "number 5" and maybe youll be close if you have alien-long fingers like I do.  Chris's initial reaction to my scream is of course to run in and get mad (see: Sri Lanka, giant black beetles).  I show him the spider and he goes, "Holy shit," now clearly realizing the magnitude of the situation.  It was really hard to take our eyes off of it....  So we discuss how to handle.

Me: Oh lemmie look him up online!  I know this site where-
Him: (cuts me off) Theres no internet here.
Me: Oh crap that's right. (Thinks.) We could sort of scoot him outside with something like a towel?
Him: Carrie, some of these things jump. I really don't feel like trying to "work" with it. (His eyes start scanning the room).  I think he just needs to die
Me: No. Maybe trap him? In the trash can or something? Then we go release him in the grass?
Him: And risk having him bite and kill me in the process?  No thanks.
Me: I know, let's call reception!  They can come overrrr and check him outttt...maybe they'll say hes totally harmless anyway and we can just leave him be
Him: They're like a mile away. Plus it's the middle of the night and besides they might not know either.
Me: Well fine but at least they might be able to help capture and release him..... (trails off in defeat)
Him: No, this thing could kill us Carrie! 

And I know that's not a completely unreasonable statement.  I should say here-its not like Chris looks for an excuse to kill.  100% at home he goes to ridiculous lengths to "release" instead of "kill" to appease me so I know in the middle of the dark jungles of Thailand that hes doing what he thinks is best to caveman protect us.  So I plug my ears and hum and pretend not to know that the slamming noises are the taking of a little life.

I'll spare you the wonder: To the best of my research I believe it may have been a huntsman spider.  Totally harmless.  Except:

They are able to travel extremely fast, often using a springing jump while running, and walk on walls and even on ceilings. (exorcist) They also tend to exhibit a "cling" reflex if picked up, making them difficult to shake off and much more likely to bite. The females are fierce defenders of their egg sacs and young. They will generally make a threat display if provoked, and if the warning is ignored they may attack and bite (Wikipedia).

The next morning I was so so so sorry to leave.  Chris and I both said this location could easily be a destination vacation.  Because we had arrived long after sunset the night before we spent a LOT of time that morning taking pictures of the breathtaking grounds and surrounding scenery.

We had some decent lodging coming up but this, this was going to be hard to beat.  If we didn't have to get on the road to meet our transfer I swear Id still be there today.  <3 Love this hotel and the people that work so incredibly hard to make it such a special experience.

Four Seasons Tented Camp
We had scheduled to meet our 4S driver at Chiang Rai airport.  Along the way from Suanthip Chris with his eagle eye saw a picture of a plate of mango sticky rice on a roadside sign. Id been really wanting to try this so was super excited hed spotted it! This was a huge open-air restaurant with dozens of tables and a huge display case of food options. And it was spotless, huge bonus.  In our broken Thai we ordered 2 drinks and one plate of mango sticky rice (90 baht total so about $2.75), which was prepared right before our eyes. We were served a giant portion of rice and mango and can I just tell you it was so. freaking. good!  We had MSR a few times after during our stay in Thailand but *nothing* compared to what we had that day at that rando roadside stand.

Finally we arrived at the airport. I don't care what you say but I love our 4S host had an old-timey "Dr. Livingston I presume" wood and leather (well, Id be ok with pleather) scroll with the hotel name on it.  For me-set the mood that we were about to embark on a really special experience!

The ride to Four Seasons Tented Camp in the Golden Triangle was a lot of fun because as usual we spent much of the ride asking our host, Khun Sam, about himself and the area, learning about Thai culture, and memorizing as many key Thai words and phrases as we could! 

At the end of a narrow dirt path with lush overhang, the car stops.  Immediately, smiling and immaculately presentable 4S hosts approach to welcome us to give a brief introduction to the golden triangle (loved the map on the floor at the pier) and move our bags to the boat.  I already know about the boat-you take a longtail boat along the Ruak River  to enter the Four Seasons property.  I am immensely beyond descriptors excited for this.  It still blows my mind that I read a review where the guy was like, "there is a road people-they only give you the illusion that access is by boat only."  Yeah, no kidding.  And the characters at Disney aren't real.  Get over it.

Needless to say I very much enjoyed the "illusion."  So here we are: in northern Thailand motoring through a river hugged by insanely green lush embankments dotted by the occasional villager going about his day.  On our way to something so amazing I cant even wholly fathom it. Did you ever have one of those "can you believe this is happening" moments? The entire boat ride was one of those for me.  Our host identified points of interest and gave helpful information about the property but I admit my mind was elsewhere.  Chris and I smile big at each other and give a quick kiss.  I lower my hand and allow the breaking waves to skim my fingertips and think wow *this* is what it feels like to make dreams come true.

When we arrived at the property we were met by Kate, for whom I will pause to give some serious props.  She acted as what I will call our personal assistant-she always knew where we were, where we needed to be, when, and what for.  Chris and I are generally pretty good with this (though see: sandbank dining, Maldives) but Kate allowed us to at least try to forget about schedules and timeframes and just relax and enjoy ourselves.  And she knew our schedule by heart (demonstrated when we showed up the wrong day for an activity)! We felt just so taken care of by her our entire stay.

So after we step off the boat she leads us up the steps to the welcome platform and explains we are each to bang the large hanging gong three times, for health, happiness, and prosperity.

Next, up the many many many steep steps.  Both out of breath (Kate, not at all) we listen as she explains "khun" is a polite and respectful way to address in northern Thai culture and from that moment on we are Khun Chris and Khun Carrie-which, even though it gives the staff two names to remember (instead of one last name for both of us), I actually really like b/c I feel first names are so much more personal than Mr/Mrs.

At the top of the steps we fall, out of breath, onto the loungers and-whats this?  Lychee martinis!? The very drink I had tweeted about weeks before?  I am one that appreciates that sort of attention to detail.  I had no idea at the time but our entire stay would be displays of massive amounts of attention to detail. And I noticed (and appreciated) every iota.

After the warm reception from Kate we and our drinks were led to the Nong Yao restaurant overlooking the river for some lunch.  The chef came over to greet us and introduce himself to discuss my vegan diet.  He was very very kind and mentioned he hadn't had much experience with these restrictions but was excited to try new recipes but absolutely did not want to disappoint.  At that point, he could have served me a head of lettuce every meal and I would have been happy b/c its the fact he cared so much to *try* that mattered to me (see Uniworld Christmas Cruise).

Chris and I toasted our coconut-mugged martinis and sat back, exhaled, taking it all in.  Then-whats that? Oh! Nearly right below our seat, across the river (more of a stream or even a large puddle at this point I totally couldve traversed-the other side of which, we learned, was Laos) was a small group of bulls whose  bells let out low, deep, echoing gongs as they grazed.  I mean, its like Four Seasons looked in my mind and gathered data to create the quintessential experience just for me and *poof* made it happen.  I smile b/c I can hear those bells in my mind now as I write this b/c I remember that moment so clearly.

After lunch Kate led us to our room which is guarded by a san phra phum or Spirit House (resembles a large birdhouse).  Thai people believe that by providing a Spirit House for spirits harmony and serenity will descend upon the house, land, or business. The idea is that if spirits have their own dwelling they will not feel it necessary to haunt the house or building.

Just like the scroll at the airport, our room is so Dr. Livingstone.  Plus Uncle Travelling Matt and probably Lewis and Clark all wrapped into one.  As soon as I walked in the décor made me feel like I was back back back in time returning to my tent after a day of exploring unknown lands!!  Seeing sights unseen!!  Setting my feet upon soil yet touched by man!! Amazing what a few knick-knacks (and maybe a splash of my imagination) can conjure!

We had debated whether to upgrade to the Superior Tent and I am so glad we didnt. The upgrade offers an outdoor tub on the deck rather than just the interior tub overlooking it.  The Superior tents are closer to the Burma Bar whereas the Deluxe Tents are closer to the restaurant. The reason why I'm so glad we didnt upgrade is because the Camp Host stated, and guests agreed, our tent, the Hill Tribe Tent,  and our neighbor's tent, of all tents on the property, offered the most excellent views of both the jungle and the river and riverbank. The outdoor tub sounds cool but the view, while still pretty, is just jungle.

After unpacking (dang these Thai beds! Another giant corner which this time did a number on Chris's baby toe!) we spent some time on the balcony watching the sun begin to set and listening to the wildlife around us-it was amazing.

Next we headed to the Burma Bar to catch the final bits of sunset!  And "heading to the Burma Bar" is like its own event.  Meaning, you need to prepare ahead for things like proper footwear and time.  We had a fabulous time talking with other guests (all a bit older, which we prefer) and Ali Mohammed the camp manager.  We spent the evening talking about the most fascinating topic in all the world: travel!!!  We were all so in synch I laugh now to think about it!  We'd been to places they've dreamed, they'd been to places we've dreamed-it was so exciting to swap stories and ask questions and give/receive travel tips or "little knowns" about the areas wed all experienced.  It blew my mind when after describing a tiny little hotel in remote eastern Italy that I wanted to one day visit, one of the guests finished my sentence.  Hed  been there (:  I LOVE that!!!  We all gelled really, really well.

Before I get into details about our activities I really want to share my thoughts on use and abuse and exploitation of animals (namely, for these purposes, elephants).  This topic is near and dear to my heart, to my very being, and one I spent several weeks ruminating. I don't have to tell you that most of the material online is slanted so it becomes a process of independently researching claims and refutes and finding the reasonable in-between of both.  So really I synthesized countless hours of research with the opinions of experts/professionals and some serious soul searching which led me to a peaceful place within myself where I viewed (not justified) this very hands-on, this very personal, 4STC interaction as a rare and awesome opportunity to build a relationship with some of the world's gentle giants.  You may not come to the same conclusion and that's ok-what's important is that you think about it and do what's best for you.  Now, on to those amazing ellies (:

Every morning at a set time the mahouts bring two elephants to the restaurant for breakfast!  It was a totally hands-on experience. I was surprised at how many people *didnt* care to partake in this!  But to each his own-more time for us (of course stepping aside when anyone wanted to join)! You could talk sweet to them pet them you could touch their earrrrs their feeeeet their faaaace their fleshy lips their giant soft pink tongue their trunk their mouth which made a perfect diamond shape when opened and that soft fleshy lippy proboscis at the tip of the trunk which we cant lie weve both always wanted to touch and had talked and laughed about in the weeks leading up to (and I *did* enjoy very lightly very tenderly squeezing that thing in my hands).

One of my favorite experiences during these encounters was when one elephant ran his all over me. Starting from my feet he suctioned his trunk all over my shoes as if vacuuming up teeny tiny crumbs. Then he made his way up my legs torso neckline suctioning all the way until he got to my hair and started playing with it!  I was giggling the entire time and the mahouts laughed as they said the elephant was "smelling" me! He left a tiny smudge of dirt on the shirt I was wearing that Im sort of glad never came off in the wash-its small enough nobody else notices but when I wear it I like seeing it and thinking of this experience (: The ellies were all very friendly but yes whoever happened to have the bananas were their bff ha.

Mahout Training
Nicely hung for you in your room are mahout outfits in various sizes which is a nice touch so you can determine what does and doesn't fit, mix and match if needed, and try to figure out the proper way to assemble the pieces, in private (note on this later). Youll wear your bathing suit underneath. Our meeting place was the Burma Bar where we meet the other couple that would enjoy the experience with us that day. I was so so excited and felt unstoppable, invincible so tried my best to ease the worries of the wife as we were jeeped to the elephants at the other end of the property.  Chris and I had read the "bio" of each of the elephants and were relaying them to the couple who hadn't had a chance to read them so we were all talking about which we might get paired with! (bios below)  I share how I had read about Yuki online many times and already knew her history by heart-she had been a movie star in Japan which I imagine like human movie stars maybe has a touch of glitz and glamour but more pain and heartache. The car rounds a bend and oh my gosh oh my gosh I see them I see them!!  Beautiful. Graceful. Gentle! Snacking on piled branches of crisp brown and lush green built just for them!  Our guide for today is Seng along with 4 mahouts-one for each elephant. These mahouts have an existing relationship with their elephant and know their personalities, characteristics, quirks, etc which I thought was very valuable and reminded me of my police officer cousin and his K-9.  Seng does a good and thorough job going over the safety features and commands with us and ensures we have no questions and understand everything well.  Now, time to pick our friends for the day!

I am asked first which elephant I would like to befriend. Smiling, hands clenched in excitement at chest, I turn to the group, eyebrows raised, questioning. Yes, they say-take Yuki! Ok!

Yuki's bio: Our jet-setting, supermodel elephant Yuki was sold and shipped to Japan at a very young age – so young that she did not yet have a name. She was named Yuki on arrival – Japanese for “snow” – but the young Yuki wasn’t able to cope with the cold weather in Japan and was soon shipped back home. For the next three years, she worked in the bar strip in Pattaya’s tourist area, taking part in a cabaret show every night until she became too big to perform.

Yuki now enjoys her quiet life in the Golden Triangle, although her superior intellect and inquisitive nature sometimes get her into trouble. She likes to keep her mahout on his toes by eating things she shouldn’t and wandering over to our neighbour’s banana plantations.

This is insane! Yuki is really really big. Like, TALL.  Way taller than the others. Shes like mama bear and they are the cubs. A rule follower, I do each step exactly as demonstrated to board Yuki. My very very first impression of being so close to and touching an elephant is how rough their hair is (: I hadn't pulled my 4S provided kneesocks up all the way but please do max them out b/c I had just a bit of skin above my leg bend that was exposed and it got very raw over the course of the day (my fault, not theirs). Once I am up on Yuki, looking down at the cement floor-the hard, potentially skull-crushing cement floor-I cant lie. I was wondering "can I do this?"  The wife asked me if it was scary and I said, in a broken one-syllable word explanation as I tried to get situated on Yuki's frame to feel even a smidgeon more sturdy: sort of, yeah...

Chris chooses Phuang Phet.

Phuang Phet's bio: Phuang Phet – which means “handful of diamonds” – literally walked into our lives when her owners brought her to the local village. She had been living in the back of a truck while her owners sold sugar cane along the streets, until they could no longer afford to keep her. Phuang Phet now lives at the camp and enjoys the never-ending supply of sugar cane with her best friend, Yuki.

Yuki's mahout is Kran and Phuang Phet's mahout is Krit.

The others take their seats atop their ellie friends and off we go!

The best I can explain what it felt like hanging out on top of Yuki was like a very slow very bumpy road with no seatbelt.  In truth though you *do* get used to it eventually. You feel her movements you learn her gait and, like water rushing around obstacles in a stream, you do what you have to in order to adjust.  There was never a time I felt completely uninhibited and really I think that's probably a good thing? But I did relax and was absolutely able to enjoy and appreciate the experience.

Yuki let out one small trumpet during the day which I giggled and thought "ellie back-chat" b/c it happened when she was snacking and Kran wanted her to "bai, Yuki, baiiii." (Go, Yuki, goooo!) Otherwise, vocally, she didn't have a whole lot to discuss.

Some of the highlights of the day were learning the three different ways to mount our ellie friends, the most interesting and most difficult of which was a standing jump from the ground up the trunk to the head. Yeah. ...  It reminded me of back in the day elementary school gym class when one of the exercises was to pommel over the horse. Difference: in gym class we took a long running jump and had the assistance of a trampoline.  Both which would have aided me and of course neither of which were available. So Chris does it first. And to set the scene his elephant is significantly shorter than mine and he is significantly taller than I. So he does it in one swift hop up.  The mahouts are encouraging me to try this. Im amazed that nobody is recognizing the obvious discrepancies here. They keep telling me I can do it, go on. But its like saying I can leap rooftops. I got lost in the cheers and for a moment I, too, thought...maybe? Deluded, I give a giant mighty HOP, setting off a little dusty cloud of dirt as I land. I barely get off the ground let alone anywhere near Yuki's trunk.  It fact, she doesnt even notice my efforts as she picks up a small branch and starts snacking. Im encouraged to try again, still wondering how on earth they see this playing out with a positive ending. But I hop and this time Kran ducks under my behind and hefts me onto Yuki's grand trunk.  Im midway up and dying of laughter now which makes it harder to really concentrate my efforts.  Kran has arranged his shoulders under my flailing feet which help me get some height needed to hoist myself up the rest of the way.  I am smiling, everyone cheers, the other wife says no way.

Next our friends carried us to the river where what happened next is the stuff dreams are made of. As we ease our ellies into the water the mahouts give a command-not any of the ones we'd learned.  Suddenly, the giants lower themselves, and us, deep into the water and fill up their trunks.  They lean their heads back in dramatic pose and surprise! Spray us!

We continued our walk through the forest.

I loved watching as Yuki would slow down and wrap her trunk tightly around massive tangles of green and yank hard, uprooting her next snack.  Our final activity was bathtime.  We dismounted our friends and led them into the pond where we were able to scrub and rinse them with a hose which they really seemed to enjoy.  We ended our day of Mahout Training by thanking our friends with bunches of bananas which they eagerly welcomed with big pink waiting mouths.

After our training we were offered fruit and cool beverages under the umbrellas in a lovely seating area which is down the hill a bit from the restaurant by the public bathroom building and before the pool.  A few things 1) the public bathroom is one you will want to see 2) we used this opportunity to spend some time by the pool. Many, in fact most, guests say they never even see the pool let alone get in and chill. Since we had our suits on anyway it really was great timing. We pulled off our wet Mahout outfits and laid them on loungers to dry while we splashed around the pool which is cozy and nooked perfectly into a lush corner of the property overlooking the Ruak. Afterwards we chose a pair of poolside shaded loungers closer to the river bank and had some drinks and snacks. Peaceful. Perfect.

Closing thoughts: Yuki was a good girl. And a very smart girl, according to the mahouts-so the biggest in both brawn and brain. We had a great time-I encouraged her and pet her giant prickly-haired head constantly that day. Even tucked my knuckles deep behind the netherworld folds of her massive ears and gently massaged as she guided us through the forest, me leaning down and softly singing to her along the way: Pretty Yukiii, goooood elephannnt, walking togetherrrr, innnnn Thailand.

Foraging Walk
We had signed up for the Foraging Walk which we had hoped to have early-on to help get the lay of the land but it wasn't available at that time. And really if this is your thinking also, you don't need this at all to get the lay of the land. We *love* to learn about local flora. In fact we recently visited an Asian grocery near our home and it was like a trip down memory lane! Durian! Dragon Fruit! Mangosteen! Galangal! So it was no surprise we enjoyed this activity, led by the wonderful Mimi. She walked us around the chef's garden and showed us all sorts of fruits. vegetables, and herbs. Even had us smell and taste things for comparison. Then she led us to other areas of the property where the Four Seasons' lead gardener joined us. We were learning about some Thai flora when our guide hopped back and exclaimed "leech!" and hurried us off in the opposite direction haha. I didn't actually see it which truth be told might've been kinda neat. The coolest thing about this experience was that the items we collected along the way the chef later prepared into dishes for us. I really was a sucker for this. It was like me picking out some colors and handing it to a famous artist and saying "here, make me something amazing!" The chef did create a masterpiece for us <3

Baby Elephant and Hall of Opium Museum
On our way to the Hall of Opium Museum we were to pop over to the neighboring property and visit a baby elephant (Sam) that had recently been born. Before we set off I asked Kate, excitedly, how big, or how LITTLE, is a baby elephant, ha!? She laughed and said I will let you wait and see!  As we approached the enclosure with our guide, our friend Khun Sam, I exclaimed at how big the baby was!! He laughed and pointed to a much smaller mound in the background. HAH! Ok that made more sense. I loved watching this little guy interact with his mommy-she'd scoop dust and spray on her back, he'd scoop dust and spray on his back. And he was very interested in us! He was swinging that insanely adorable little trunk of his around like a wet noodle. The time there was much too short-I could've stayed all day in fact I should've let the boys go on ahead to the museum and swing by to get me here when they're done!

The Hall of Opium Museum was *awesome* we were really really impressed with both the displays and the content. Although, strangely, MANY of the displays were not lit.  Not "under construction," simply not lit. While this was actually super disappointing there was still a great deal to see and we learned so much about the area's history-and even finally got our answer to why every opium picture we see the user is laying down (: We got so lost in the displays and the accompanying texts we had to hustle to get through the rest before closing time. I would one hundred percent recommend this museum if the opportunity presents itself.

Golden Triangle
This was another excursion we really liked.  Our guide Paul was excellent! Departing by boat we motored our way from the Ruak to open waters. We stopped at the confluence of Thailand, Laos, and Burma while Paul gave us a fascinating history of the area as we bobbed gently on the waters of the mighty Mekong River. In theory one could jump ship and swim to all three shores, we were that close.

We made our way to land then boarded a songtaew to first explore a local market. This is *exactly* the kind of thing we love! A glimpse into real life of locals.  He led us through aisle after aisle of long rows of tables topped with everything you can imagine-and some things you probably cant (; and told us about all kinds of foods and customs of life here in Northern Thailand.

Additionally he happily fielded our bazillion questions such as the story behind the "money trees" we kept seeing.  The trees range in size but generally speaking are about the size of a table-top Christmas tree. We often saw multiple money trees very close to each other and Paul said how they represent different villages, towns, and communities. We were as surprised to learn that nobody ever ran off with the money as he was to learn that no way no day would it last two seconds out in the open where we are from. He said it is a very strong religious law not to steal. So I asked, especially in younger generations, whether people who might not be as fervent in their beliefs might steal. He told us a story he said is relayed all throughout childhood re stealing warning in a thief's next life he would be a tree-but a very tall and narrow one with no branches and a tiny feeding hole in which it is very difficult to eat. Scary! (Note: I did notice the donation box at some temples were actually safes.)

Enroute to the ancient temple of Chedi Luang we popped into an open-air temple on the side of the road. It was amazing to us the amount of beauty contained in these temples that are set up willy nilly on a dirt plot. And not just the gold shiny Buddhas but the intricate wood workings and fabrics-just, gorgeous.

We were curious about what looked like a large wooden card catalogue-turns out this is a fortune telling device.  You pick up a cylinder of sticks which looked to me just like when you buy a bunch of incense sticks. You shake slowly pointing downward until just one stick falls to the floor. If more than one falls (me) you must do again. The stick has a number on it. Using a key, you find your number to read the corresponding fortune.

We ended our day with a visit to the anciet temple of Wat Phra That Chedi Luang-built in 1290 by King Saen Phu, the 3rd ruler of the Lanna kingdom. This temple is the tallest religious Lanna monument in Chiang Rai.

Sunrise Elephant Trek
Naturally, the sunrise elephant trek started early so we swiftly made our way through the cool morning air with our flashlight beams guiding us up and down the path and across the bridge to the Burma Bar. It is just the two of us for this experience (which is not part of the all-inclusive package) so that was nice that we felt it was personal/just for us. Our guide today is again our friend Paul and of course our Mahouts Krit and Kran and our ellies. As I approached Yuki I sang "our song" and I know it may have been coincidence but I like to believe it was something more when she raised her head from her crunchy snack of branches and extended her trunk in greeting <3

Our friends carry us a different direction through the forest and up some steep hills to arrive at a mountain top. There was no breakfast laid out for the elephants like in the pictures on the website but they went their own ways and snacked on the trees while we watched from a covered hut, with coffee tea and fruits, the gorgeous sun rise above the mountains of the golden triangle.

We really did like to have this additional time with the elephants.

The spa is along the same path as the Burma Bar except at a T you make a left. The setting and décor couldn't be any more perfect. We are led to a covered open-air room surrounded by lush greens and raised stories above the jungle below. The space consists of a wooden bench seat, which has the cutest built in potties (yes, I just described potties as being cute, they were!), an open-air but curtained shower, and two massage tables. We are given a cool glass of tea and a fluffy robe to change in to. Our hosts Mimi and Eff stepped out to let us prepare. We had just taken showers at our tent literally 10 minutes before our massage but just so they knew we were clean we took another one there (: When they returned they gave us a lovely foot bath on the bench as we looked and listened to the beautiful nature all around us. Next, to the tables! My massage was without a shadow of doubt thee best quality I have had ever anywhere in my whole life-thanks Mimi!

There were some really interesting night sounds during our stay, all of which kept us awake but all of which were utterly fascinating. Some were of man some were of nature.

Nature: sitting in bed in our pitch black room we finally got this guy on tape: 

Man: Chanting and drums from night til dawn drew us from our slumber each night. We went out to our large deck and could see in the hills of neighboring Burma the dotted lights of countless torches weaving their way up a mountainside.

"Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spirital life." The Buddha.

Buddhist Candle Festival

Buddhist Lent Day in Buddhist countries is in July every year and is mainly practiced by established monks.  The day before the start of Lent, the Candle Festival is celebrated by the people. According to tradition, Buddhist Lent Day started as a result of villagers complaining to the Buddha. It is said that a group of ordained monks were making merit and had walked through wet rice fields. At this time the rice fields were at the peak of their growth and by walking in them they had ruined the crop. As a consequence the legend has it that the Buddha told all the monks to practice making merit whilst only staying inside the confines of their temples for a period of 3 months during the rainy season, beginning on the first day of the eighth waning moon.  The people offer a range of goods to their monks and this offering also includes canlds and this of course inccludes the famous Candle Festival. In previous times most temples had no electricity and so candles had an important symblic significance for ceremonies but also more practically for illumination in daily use. Furthermore they are said to represent wisdom as divine light. During the Candle Festival the Buddhist laity practice their beliefs by offering large and often extravagently decorated candles to the monks.

So essentially, in October, during our stay, the monks had just completed their 3 months of being holed-up in the temple and this is the celebration of their reemergence into the community. I thought it was pretty cool to witness this, even at the expense of sleep.

The room, the grounds, the activities, the food (loved the lighted magnifiers given to view the menu at dinner-we couldnt stop holding them up to our face to make our eyes look huge) the ellies, the kaaaa's (hehe)...each of these far surpassed anything we have experienced before.  And no doubt it is the people of 4STC that made the difference.  Im telling you they genuinely wanted us to enjoy our stay and whole-heartedly ensured we were happy and pleased every. single. moment.  And not in an "its my job" sort of way-they seemed to have a great, close-knit relationship among each other and they sincerely welcomed us into that family.  So many extraordinary very personal touches were so kindly bestowed upon Chris and me during our stay but I choose not to share; I choose to keep these special moments tucked deep inside my girl heart, where, with great fondness, they can  be accessed by only the two of us for the rest of our lives <3

Chiang Mai Four Seasons
We booked the Four Seasons transportation from Tented Camp to the Chiang Mai property-we figured we could experience the best of both worlds this way (self-drive one way, guided drive the next). At first we were a little disappointed our buddy Khun Sam wasn't our host for the day but quickly warmed to our new host. As usual we had a blast practicing Thai and learning more about the culture and the area. We learned that until recently 90% of guests had been American; now they receive lots of Chinese and some Europeans.  He even surprised us with a stop at the Chiang Rai Hot Spring (Thaweesin).

We passed the hours to 4SCM learning about his family, his job, more about the history of the area, and of course saying silly things in Thai. He also taught us some new words and after a few mispronunciations we'd finally get it right and he'd respond with a firm nod and a very excited and and very encouraging, "Jess!!"  He told us, more accurately-insisted, to go to the Peng River and release our krathong Wednesday night. We'd read Thursday was the day but he said no; he was adamant: Wednesday.

We had lunch along the way at a "rest stop" which I put in quotes b/c it was like a gourmet experience compared to fast food and vending machines at rest stops in the US: Charin Garden Restaurant, a large open-aire structure with vaulted beamed ceilings and plentiful seating overlooking a stream and beautiful flora. The fresh mulberry juice I had was insanely delicious as was the pad see Chris ordered. Fun fact: The owner spent 18 years in Los Angeles where she learned how to bake delicious pies, for which the restaurant is widely known.

A very large and very ornate spirit house spirit house greets you as you enter the Four Seasons Chiang Mai property. Followed of course by a warm welcome from the property manager and our hosts for the week, especially Gee who presented us with beautifully scented jasmine necklaces then, shyly smiling and a little uncomfortable, said, "I dont normally do this..." and pulled a cocktail shaker from behind her back. She "chi chi chi" to the left then she "chi chi chi" to the right then served us two perfectly prepared lychee martinis-not their usual welcome drink but made just for us! She was laughing, we were laughing-it was fun silly and perfect (:

We and our bags were golf-carted to our upper-story room which had a magnificent view: our Sala (Thai: open pavilion) directly overlooked the large pond and had the mountains in the background. We watched as a little chipmunk made his way back and forth from a tree to our roof. Really, walking the property, I couldnt have chosen a better location/view. At first, when looking online, Id thought Id wanted to overlook the rice fields but they face inward towards each other-no mountains.

Further, we had a wonderful anniversary welcome of roses displayed on our bed-so special! 

Upon check-in we had booked a time for dinner that night at the Thai restaurant but after settling in we decide we'd rather have a quiet night in so ordered room service-thought we could just chill on the bed with our dinner and watch some tv in our robes or something. Our waiters arrived swiftly which, kudos for their promptness, I was just surprised and had barely gotten myself out of the shower when the knock came at the door! Two very nice smiling gentleman entered and asked if they could set up on our Sala. Not what we'd had planned but I felt bad saying otherwise so "yes, please!" and off they went outside closing the door behind them leaving me inside. A short time later they return and ask where is Mr Smith. Chris was still in the shower. I went into the bathroom and whispered "I think they are sort of waiting for you..." And used this opportunity to get out of my robe and throw any old thing on. Chris and I, wetheads and no primp, exit to the bedroom. Our smiling hosts lead us to the sala where they have prepared an AMAZING ambiance for us-flower petals lead us to our table, a bottle of wine awaits us, votives lining the railing around us throw faint flickers of soft light in every direction. It is really and truly breathtaking. And completely unexpected!!! Then, one holds his iphone and takes our picture. So, Im thinking: Ugh, we look so bad he wants to laugh with his buddies when he leaves. But we smile and cheese, picture is taken. Our hosts insist they see themselves out as they leave us to this most romantic dinner. Totally not *at all* what we had planned but way way way way better (:

Well after our meal was complete we spent time on our sala as our hosts left the flowers and candles and wine when they removed our dishes. They also left, in the room on the mantle, the picture they had taken earlier, now framed with a personal message written on the back. By now you couldve knocked me down with a feather and thats a phrase I have never used in my life. Just, what a very thoughtful surprise! What a very special touch! Even if we do look awful!

One of our favorite things to do is explore the property. I like to do this twice to see things by day and again by night as the soft lanterns and candles offer a different experience than the glow of the sun. Try as I might, I never seem to be able to properly capture these moods in photographs-you'll just have to take my word that this property is absolutely stunning.

Let's take a walk!

Countless bloom displays such as this were recreated across the property every single morning!

Water Buffalo
One of the things Id been really looking forward to: Khun Tong, the resident water buffalo. His caretakers bring him to the lobby each morning and each afternoon for guests to pet, talk to, feed, and even ride (we did not but a woman I still swear was Kathy Bates, did). 

When we arrived at the lobby we found not only Khun Tong (albino-looks like strabwerry milk), but Khun Tone (dark guy) and two new young yet named buffalo still getting used to life at the resort (again, one albino and one dark guy).  Khun Tone I really felt a connection with haha. I laugh but while he did love his food he also seemed fine to just let me pet and talk to him (and hed look at me like our dog when trying to figure out what Im saying) whereas Khun Tong not so much; he was probably the least interested in anyone that wasnt holding a banana.

The other two Chris and I unilaterally decided to call Khun Happy and Khun Shy. Khun Happy (dark guy) because he was most curious and open to interaction with guests and Khun Shy (strawberry milk) because, and this was so adorable, he would peak out and look at you but if you approached, even bent down and moving softly and slowly, he would look down and retreat behind his buddy, Khun Happy.  The staff liked these names so much they said they were going to suggest them as permanent but I dont know how that turned out-it would be pretty cool though!

 Every single morning and afternoon we werent out exploring we visited our friends!

Cooking Class
We had never taken a cooking class before but because we had experienced such insanely good food in Sri Lanka that we've been unable to replicate we thought we'd give this a shot. We went back and forth about whether to take a class with a local third party or through the much more expensive 4S. In the end, despite the cost, we chose 4S as we were certain the quality of the experience would be stellar and my vegan diet would be accommodated.

The class began with a trip to the local market (which-yay!) with the fantastic Pim to learn about ingredients commonly used in Thai cooking. The market trip itself was worth the cost of the entire cooking lesson as Pim took us down each row explaining various items and how they are used-there was a lot of "taste this" opportunities as well which was neat (mainly for the others-not a lot of vegan options though one woman, a baker, kindly made me a special animal free tapioca dish-realllly good)! The occassional severed pig head sitting out like la dee da.

After we returned from the market Pim led us to a spirit house where a third couple joined us. Here we each lit a stick of incense and made a wish (me: to safe travels while making dreams come true).

Next, to the kitchen where we would be preparing our dishes! If I could create a dream kitchen it would look just like this. It was a large open-air architectural wonder. I remember again thinking "this is definitely worth the additional cost."

Before each session we sat at the bar that formed a semi-circle around the demonstration area where the chef would explain the dish as he made it, us taking notes along the way, then give us each a sample to taste (Note: Even though the other guests would be preparing theirs with animal products, I *greatly* appreciate that the chef prepared these sample dishes vegan so that I could also try them-this is the kind of personal service that really means a lot to me).

After each demo we returned to our assigned stations which were spread nicely so that each couple had their own section of the kitchen. Each individual had their own space-this wasnt a team effort! Well, unless you counted the Chef and his assistants-each dish you had someone present the entire time to help you with the ingredients and execution. This did feel a bit rushed sometimes at least for me. I didnt end up even having a chance to read my recipe and my notes b/c my aid would just tell me what to do next (though we had the choice to make our dishes as "ped" (spicy) as we wanted!  Ped ped ped ped!). I think they probably needed to just keep things moving along but again I would have liked I think to go at a slower pace. That said, as my first time cooking with a wok, these dishes arent meant for lollygagging! Definitely not a situation where you can have some sips of wine and take a twirl around the kitchen with your honey while the vegetables are sitting around in the wok. Its like rapid fire!

After our dishes were made out hosts led us to an outdoor dining area where each couple had their own table set with the dishes they had created. It was so so cool. Really, we both kept saying: I cant believe I *made* this!? It tastes so good!  I would without a doubt hands-down with zero reservation recommend the cooking class.  Really a neat experience.

After the cooking class a carving session was offered which the other couples declined. Ever wonder how on a platter the vegetables can be sliced and diced to look so nice? Me too. We learned.

Night Markets
4SCM offers complimentary shuttles from the property to Chiang Mai proper.  We utilized this service to check out the city and its night markets. The night markets werent something we were super interested in but one of those things that if you are right there anyway you might as well see. Sort of like Stonehenge. Chris tried some Thai sausage and a coconut waffle (it was ok, he said-hot and slightly sweet) and I tried some vegan coconut ice cream and we wondered what all the black jello was about. We popped into stores along the way b/c we like to see what passes for fun snacks in other countries (: We preferred the Sunday market to the Saturday though we saw many of the same faces at both-as in beggars that lay in the middle of the walkway like the old couple (no musical talent) and guy with frog legs yelling "hello" to get attention for money and the blind band (who was impressive-we donated). Chris spent 30 solid minutes standing right there in the middle of wall-to-wall sweaty people picking a gnat body from the center of my eye. It was hot enough that night but knowing a jolted elbow or swinging handbag could send his finger digging into my socket had us both drenched by the end of the process.

Glass jelly, or chao kuai

We were fortunate to be early for an excursion departing from the lobby early such that we witnessed the arrival of 3 monks from a nearby temple. Reception allowed Chris and I to participate in the giving of alms consisting of small bags of hot soup to the monks, one older and two younger, who we later learned were from a vegan sect (yay). (Interesting side note: their robes were yellow versus the typical orange we'd seen in Thailand.) Wed read many things in our research that sometimes they wont accept from a female and not to look them in the eye but in this case it was a woman from the hotel leading the alms so that took care of issue one and as to issue two I kept my eyes averted just in case. After accepting our offerings the monks said a prayer for us. Even though we didn't understand the words it was a very powerful experience. After, reception explained they had prayed for our health and happiness.

Bike Ride
The resort has complimentary bikes for guests so we were really looking forward to spending the day exploring. Wed read a review that you aren't able to take the bikes off the property which sounded strange and turned out to be totally false (rolls eyes).  Not only can you take the bikes off the property they provide you with a map and directions and phone numbers and phrases if you need assistance and of course helmets and (nice touch) water.  Really they couldn't do a better job-def 4S quality prepping us for the day.

The map was ok-a bridge or waterway wasn't always where we expected and we did end up taking the long way due to a missed turn but that's part of the adventure (: We rode all day long; it was my favorite activity during our stay at 4SCM and one of my favorite activities of our entire time in Thailand. We visited the very monastery from which the vegan monks had come, took a dip in the refreshing Mae Sa waterfall, stopped for cool water at a local shop, and just overall blended into the background of everyday local life which really feels like such a privilege. Part of why I enjoyed it I think is because we worked so freaking hard for it!

Rice Planting
This was something that sounded unique-Id been looking at the rice fields of the resort in pictures for years so I thought itd be neat to actually plant some of what Id been looking at for so long! The following arent complaints just "areas of opportunities for improvement" (I feel complaining is saved for when service providers just dont care-and that is *certainly* not the case here). Unlike at Tented Camp, the outfits for this activity are not provided beforehand-in fact, we had to call reception to find out what to wear (pictures of the excusrion show people in mahout-like outfits though nothing was in our room, nothing was ever said about where the clothing would be). Turns out the clothing will be provided at the meeting spot, which is the gym. Fine. So I go to the ladies locker room and nobody knows how to properly put their outfit on.  I, having just worn one at Tented Camp, assist. Nothing was said about what to wear under the ourfit so everyone has bra/panties and some of the women are clearly uncomfortable changing in front of a group as there are no private changing spaces.

The excursion starts late and families pour in well after the specified time. Kids running amok. We all hike out through the paddy fields, most of us in flip flops mind you as (we know now) you arent provided footwear until after already having walked through them. Your feet stick in the mud along the way and some ended up removing and walking barefoot.  The wellies provided are not properly sized. It is adult or child. Mine were huge, Chris could barely get his feet in his. And one poor lady had larger calfs and couldnt get in them at all.

Very, very brief background is given about the rice, mainly the stages of rice. I would have liked to have learned more about the history of rice planting in the area and how the rice is used. For example, we later read in the room material how the rice at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai is actually donated to local temples and charities-I would have *loved* to learn this information that day at the excursion versus on my own after the fact.

The actual task of planting the rice was fun but takes no kidding 5-10 minutes.

After Chris and I had planted our rice we mosied to visit our friends Khun Tone and Khun Tong who are right next door to the planting area. Eventually the kids followed and the whole group essentially sat around for quite some time doing not much. Next we were led to a building to learn about the equipment used in the rice process. This was interesting but once the information was delivered we all sort of stood around watching the kids mess around with the equipment. Chris and I were one of three groups of couples and at this time we noticed the other couples deserting the activity as we did.  The surrounding area though is lovely.

I think the activity was interesting but I think maybe they should offer an adult and a family session. I cannot recommend doing this activity as a couple otherwise. Though it wasnt awful, it was the least exciting of our experiences at the property.

Thai Language Class
By now we werent really surprised nobody else attended the Thai language class but us. Based on the interactions wed had with other guests here it became clear they didnt give a hoot about the history or the culture of the area let alone "go out of their way"/"waste their time" to learn the language. We literally pitied those fools. Our host Apple was impressed with the words and phrases we had already perfected (we'd been in Thailand over a week by then) and we all laughed as we tried to pronounce the ones we didnt (eg there is a fine line b/w the Thai words for pretty and evil, one that I never mastered, and Im certain I more than once smiled and kindly said how "evil" ones crafts were). It was fun though I think it's most beneficial for those that really have no existing knowledge of the language so if you are deciding whether to participate use that as your guide.

The pool area was truly stunning. There is an upper and a lower. The upper has the bar and many seating options and this is where most guests were nested so of course we went to the lower which is smaller more intimate and has sweeping views of the rice paddies all around you. Why one would choose to sit at the upper deck is beyond me but Im glad b/c we had the lower pool to ourselves most of the time. 

The gym is not super large but big enough that we never needed to wait for equipment. The cardio machines have their own television and earphones are provided (nice touch) so you can watch whatever your heart desires while its getting a good work out (more channels at the gym than in the room). The staff at the gym I thought was really excellent. Very friendly and, though we didnt need anything, seemed like there wasnt anything they wouldnt do for you. Each time we exited we were offered a cool bottle of water-again, a very nice touch. And they didnt just hand it to you like they were checking a box they smiled, asked about your work out. Just so genuine-can you please send some of that to America! 

Overall our time at Four Seasons Chiang Mai really couldnt have been made any better by the staff-in particular the gentleman who served our surprise sala dinner (and it wasn't just that they DID it, it was HOW they did it-which was with such kindness and sincerity). Really just excellent friendly sincere service!  The reception desk, when compared with Tented Camp, was a touch less intimate, a tad more formal-sort of like when you compare "city folk" to "rural folk."

The fruit left/replenished in our room was either underripe or flavorless by nature so this was a disappointment as typically the fruit of far-off lands is bursting with flavor! The housekeeping was inconsistent and if you know anything about me (see Banyan Tree Maldives and Ventana Inn & Spa) you know room cleanliness is of utmost importance. Remember how we were presented with lovely fresh jasmine necklaces upon arrival? The room's previous occupants' fresh jasmine necklaces, now brown and crusty, hung on the sconces by the bed. Further, OUR fresh jasmine necklaces which I had planned to keep as a souvenir and which I had laid out and displayed nicely, were removed and discarded (an oversight Im sure). The bathroom was not cleaned to my satisfaction. This includes noticeable lack of "moving things" like the soap container etc to wipe under instead of just wiping around. The bathroom floor was not adequately swept/cleaned. I looked at my same small ball of curls lay in the corner for the length of our stay-it became a test really, ha. Will they clean the floors today?  I expect spotless. Every single time (:

Finally, and we cant directly blame 4SCM for this although it might behoove them to address: we didnt care for the actions of some of the guests.  For example, the loud adult male at the pool that kept yelling? Just, no need. And the pushy couple that would bully and push others to be first on the shuttle? Unnecessary. I think it was just "a different crowd" staying at this property than at Tented Camp and we just prefer the latter. But, without a doubt, it was an excellent stay-a relaxing respite after our action-filled days at Tented Camp (:

Interesting side note: we had some downtime to play online and was our first experience abroad having a website blocked by the government. We'd read about this but still were surprised, only b/c we sort of forgot about it, when the screen popped up denying us access. Daily Mail, if you're wondering.

U Chiang Mai
I think we summed up this place perfectly in our tweet at the time: Hip and historical with a touch of luxury meets oasis-very cool. Friendly knowledgeable hosts and great location for Loy Krathong! A floating Spirit House welcomes you (we placed a flower) from the sidewalk into the sophisticated décor of the open-air lobby from which you can take a back entrance to the restaurant, see/access the pool, and head upstairs to the restored former residence of Chiang Mai's governor, a must see! Antiques, upholstered wingbacks, and dusty old books tucked into cozy dark wood was like stepping back in time (ok the books weren't really dusty). One of the most interesting books I flipped through was like a Dear Abby with everyday people asking how to address impossible situations except the advice was coming from a monk (:

Our room was on the bottom floor, right across the hall from reception, and had a patio which opened up directly to the pool which gave us, imo, a very nice view because people were rarely in it and it was so tastefully lit at night it was just a really nice space to see through our windows. Though it did rain a bit during our time here but we were able to squeeze in a short dip (water was freeeeeezing).

The bathroom was shiny black and while you could tell they tried to clean it I think it's just a difficult surface to really keep looking fresh. Nonetheless, either clean it right, or change it. I wasnt super impressed with that aspect. Though I was super impressed with how freaking good their giant purple heavy towels smelled! Toilet paper: single-ply which, apart from the cushiony soft offered at the 4S properties, was status quo for Thailand.

Breakfast was included in our rate except (we loved this) it didn't have to be "breakfast" it was basically one meal, any time of day, included.

The service was friendly and knowledgeable and the food was better than average-if there hadnt been so many other places to try we would def have returned. The space is on the small side though never overcrowded. One row of tables runs along the windows so you can watch Thai life go by as you dine which is fun.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Today, after an ok but nothing super special lunch at Whole Earth Cafe, our scooter takes us up the mountains of Chiang Mai to the temple atop Doi Suthep Mountain.

We past loads of shuttle busses slowly putt-putting up the inclines.

We'd known from research it Doi Suthep was "touristy" but we werent really sure what to expect. When we arrived there were rows of storefronts and stalls and it did all seem a bit chaotic but we were pretty immune to this and simply slid our scooter into a parking spot near the base of the temple and began the long but exciting hike up that magnificant steep staircase!

We arrived before nightfall so we sort of had the best of all worlds in that we saw the temple by day, by sunset, and by night-all of which were a real treat.

There is an opportunity to circumambulate in prayer which we were going to do but monks began chanting so we instead fell to the background to watch their prayer session. Times like this, when by mere happenstance you get to be part of something so amazing, are really so special. And of course like all sacred moments in Thailand so far there was tourist couple loudly talking and laughing through the whole thing. I cant believe I actually sshh'd them but I did-they were just so rude. And then those around me joined in sshh'ing as well. Not enough obviously to cause more disturbance but enough to get their attention. 

We saw the sun set and the moon rise and then on our way down the mountain we were greeted with some amazing sweeping views of the city lights of Chiang Mai far below-it was breathtaking! It reminded me of like in a movie where a boy takes a girl on a first date to be romantic (:

Loy Krathong Local
It was raining today so we got some rest, had a delicious lunch at the U Chiang Mai restaraunt, and hung out in our room until nightfall (which I had come down with a cold so this was kind of good timing). 

We headed over to the Nawarat Bridge where stalls had been set up selling snacks and krathongs. The krathongs were all priced about the same so I was incredulous when the single one that had stood out to us both (a pair of hearts) was quoted at like double the cost of all the others. "Mai khap ka," I scoffed (no thank you). But after circling all the stalls again and not seeing a single other one I liked we returned and with my tail between my legs we bought the prettiest and most expensive krathong in Chiang Mai.

You can release your krathong into the river any place youd like but if you know anything about us youll know we looked for a tucked away space all to ourselves. We spotted a small wooden pier on the left side of the bridge. Some local boys were setting off small fireworks but when they saw us approach they smiled and so politely stopped and stepped aside. Here, from the secluded Ping Riverbank, we released a floating lantern for my mom for health and happiness and one for us with thanks for present & hopes for future <3

Thapae Loft
Today we check out of U Chiang Mai and into Thapae Loft-a hotel so new even the staff of our other hotels hadn't yet heard of it.  We were really excited b/c it was super contemporary and unlike the lodgings wed stayed at thus far- a nice modern way to finish up our time in Thailand.  Reception was friendly and we were given a krathong upon check-in which was a nice gesture.

On the elevator (though I didn't understand at the time-Chris had to explain it to me later-I am embarrassingly bad with accents) our host explained the only room types we reserved that were left in the hotel were underground with no window so she was putting us in a different room.  So this room had a window view of: a building. Like, mere feet away.  But oh if Id only known then what I know now.  Chris goes to the desk to ask if there is another room available-one with perhaps not a completely obstructed view.  They oblige and clean and prepare another room for us while we wait.

This all takes a good bit of time so I take some mental notes on this new establishment. Areas of opportunity: ease off the extraordinarily strong floral "additive" being pumped through the vents in our room (like the scent of the U Chiang Mai towels but X 100), use real flowers instead of artifical, offer some degree of complimentary water for guests (only hotel in which none was offered), bathroom visibility is awful-even to me who loves low ambiant lighting, handsoap is the size of a breath mint. Props: love their use of cement and wood with the splash of art, they offer in-room coffee (yay) but not tea (boo).

Once the "new" room is ready (offers a lovely view of the mountains-score!) we drop our bags and leave for another full day of adventure!

Had some problems finding this place but note: it is in the same shopping center as the "Apple" store. And, yeah, this place rocked. This is a little cafe where you go to hang out with cats. They ask you to remove your shoes and wear their provided slippers and wash your hands before entering. No vegan options but they have tea and Chris had some bitching cheese cake. All tourists.  And, of course, cats.  We probably outstayed our welcome-we saw maybe 2 to 3 rounds of people come and go but nobody said anything to us. Finally, when it got so full inside others had to wait outside we took that as our sign to leave. But it was reluctantly!

Loy Krathong Tourist
Tonight is the tourist Loy Krathong so we want to have an early dinner. We choose Bamboo Bee. This was my favorite vegan experience in Thailand! Id been wanting to try true Thai pad thai and it was here I got served a giant plate of it-it was *excellent* I have since purchased Bamboo Bee's cookbook and though the outcome is tasty it just cant replicate what I had that night. Prob that special ingredient I just cant find in stores here: authenticity.

We weren't sure where best to experience Loy Krathong tonight so since we were already in town we began inside the gates along the moat.  Perhaps most memorable were the sleepy residential side streets down which souls need not travel but whose soft glow from dozens of votives peppering the darkness beckoned us like a siren's song. We allowed ourselves to get wonderfully lost in these streets, in this calm...

We eventually made our way towards the river, catching the tail-end of the parade (which we had known about but hadn't really planned around to see-it just happened to be blocking the way to the bridge). The bridge tonight was in deep contrast to what had been a beautiful intimate experience releasing our krathongs the night before. It was no kidding shoulder to shoulder. Drunk, loud. Pushing and spilled drinks. Firecrackers set off in the middle of crowds. Elephant pants (: Masses of people herding towards a single portion of the river's edge (not a soul was on the side with the pier) to release their water lanterns, others trying to release their sky lanterns from the bridge. We made our way to the side of the bridge overlooking the water and it was nice to have such a good view of both the river and the sky dotted with candles. And it was nice to go and sort of see what the feeling was here versus at the moat. And this is where I hope my experience can help you. Ive described Loy Krathong Local. Ive described Loy Krathong Foreign at both the moat and the bridge. My recommendation: Local, go to the bridge, release your krathong. Foreign, stay in town by the moat. It is so much more of a mellow experience. In my opinion there is simply no need to subject yourself to the madness of the bridge that night. Unless madness is your thing, of course (;

After we'd had our fill at the river we drove along some side streets for a scenic route home to end the evening on a more suitable note and take in the beauty and serenity of the candles marking the perimeter of homes and businesses, all along the way not forgetting to look up and catch yet another glimpse of that night sky filled with lanterns-another glimpse of my dream come true <3

After a very long day we return to our room at Thapae Loft. Um, wtf is that smell? It was eminating from the bathroom, either from the shower drain, the toilet, the small doorway leading to a bunch of pipes, or all three. It. was. horrid. After spending loads of time trying to identify the source of the odor then going to the store to purchase air freshners and stick ups we determined it was just totally unstoppable.  It was the most horrible experience we had ever had in a hotel. Fresh air was simply non-existent.  We proppped the windows open but it was futile.  We didnt sleep at all and spent a good portion of the night just wondering deciding researching what to do. The city was nearly completely booked due to Loy Krathong and Yee Peng. Then, we found the Empress Hotel. We emailed them in the middle of the night. We explained our situation and asked if we could check-in immediately, essentially. They responded promptly and welcomed us to check in whenever we like. You have no idea what a relief this was. We swiftly gathered our belongings and checked-out of the gutter stench of Thapae Loft. Which, interestingly, when we explained why we were leaving early reception did not seem surprised to learn of our issue. Apparently they knew the stench existed but didnt know how to fix it. Um, not ok. AND after we returned to the states I googled "Thapae Loft sewer" and it actually had results. Granted, at the time we made our reservations the place was still so new and had so little internet buzz these "sewer" comments didnt yet exist. They do now and from here on out before I book a hotel, esp a newer one, Im googling it with "stench."  Totally unacceptable. And two nights' worth of $$ wasted-just saying.

Empress Hotel
The only rooms available were the executive suites which, fine. Aside from Four Seasons most of the lodgings in Chiang Mai, even the "expensive" ones, are quite reasonable compared to western standards. And the room did not disappoint. Frankly by then we'd had our fill of the interesting and quirky and local and a corporate atmosphere with generic though tasteful decor and giant marble shower was just fine with us-not mad luxury but a safe bet, reminded us of a Loews or Starwood. And the endless array of goodies left for us day and night by housekeeping always gave us something to look forward to! We met a local in the elevator who, upon learning we were from "America" (which is how the US was always referred to in Asia) exclaimed "I love democracy!"

Samoeng Loop
We had been really really excited to spend a day scooting along the Samoeng Loop which is a 50ish mile circuit winding through the mountains of Chiang Mai. The weather had been rainy but this was our last chance so we bought some ponchos and hit the road!

Along the way Chris spotted the Thai symbol for vegan (man, love his eagle eye!) which is the sign that looks like the number seventeen so we pulled over for a tasty meal at J-Ryu.

The owner, a mother whose child watched cartoons as she prepared us a yummy snack, was beyond friendly and, particularly, when she learned we were from America (she asked) we were treated like royalty.  It was really really cute. We got a small bag of "beef" jerky for the road!

Once we were in the mountaints you could always tell the weather that lay ahead based on the clothing of the people motoring towards you. It never failed-we would take off our ponchos, ride a while, then see ponchos coming towards us and we'd have the saaaaame conversation every time: Should we pull over and put them back on?  We kept taking them off b/c despite the breeze during the ride it was hot hot hot and sweating inside of a plastic coat was gross.  We risked it and 4 out of 5 times we didnt pull over to put them on and those 4 out of 5 times we were wrong-we did indeed hit rain so wed have to pull over, new wet getting on top of our old wet, fish the ponchos from our seat storage, unpeel them, and put them on (rolling eyes at our poor choice). One time we pulled away and nearly immediately we had to pull back over b/c something was stinging my ankles!! What the heck!  They were little biting ants that had found their way on me while we were stopped along the woodline, chivalrous Chris working fast to pick them off me. Anyway, moral of the story is to trust what is coming towards you!

The images below I think all would agree are green and lush and pretty, however, most would probably say they either all look alike or evoke little emotion. I, on the other hand, know that each time I tapped Chris's shoulder to stop so I could take one of these pictures I had seen something of beauty that moved me. Instead of scrolling past perhaps take a moment to imagine yourself in the quiet calm of these amazing mountains.

The sun set on the loop so it was dark by the time we got  back to town.  We grabbed some dinner (had wanted to try pizza in Thailand-another creeper in here hitting on the waitress) then hit some sights that we had read would be really pretty seen at night.


Along the moat hundreds of couples and families released both sky and water lanterns, minus the chaos of the night before. Puttering along the main thoroughfare it was picturesque and serene. If you're looking for the most low-key lantern event Id say the night after Loy Krathong tourist is your best bet.  

It had grown quite late but we had one more temple we wanted to see. It was hard to find, tucked back in a secluded residential area, but worth the effort. And bonus we made a little kitty friend while we were there-we sprinkled some of the vegan jerky we'd gotten for lunch earlier and he ate it right up then followed us around as we quielty explored. The dark sky, lit only by lingering lanterns, hung peacefully above us; a perfect way to end the night.

Monk Chat
A monk chat was something a bit out of the ordinary we found researching that sounded right up our alley. And it is as it sounds: a chat with a monk.  We'd read online this is a unique experience usually with a novice monk (which means new/young-so I brought some fun candy from America (Nerds) to break the ice/share) that allows us to learn about Buddhism and life at the temple and allows them to practice their English and ask us questions about where we are from and what our lives are like.

Various temples offer this but we chose Wat Chedi Luang which jived nicely with our final weekend in Chiang Mai. It was pretty difficult to find the actual "chat area" though everyone we asked on the property was very helpful. At first no one knew exactly where it was so we were sort of kindly passed along like the baton in a relay race, each time getting closer to our goal, until finally we were pointed in the right direction.

Two monks, not as "young" as I'd expected (these guys were in their mid-twenties), were separately engaged in two chats when we arrived so we asked the members of one (a group of 5 about our age) if theyd mind if we listened in. Very welcoming, they kindly waved us into the circle and invited us to participate. Eventually another monk joined our group. One was from Thailand, the other from India. We learned that once upon a time the color of one's robe held meaning but now it is nothing more than personal preference. They didnt have many questions for us (theyd exhausted those years ago, they said) but we kept them busy with our questions for what seemed like hours as we all snacked on tiny pink and purple balls of tangy goodness. Every question under the sun. Us: You play video games? Monk: Yes.

Yee Peng Foreign
By the time we purchased our tickets for Yee Peng foreign online (and I say "by the time" but it was only about a week after the tickets went on sale-we were in Vieques when the date was announced) only VIPs were left-and even those were lucky to get b/c our contact had sold out and had to check other sources.  Our contact was a company I found through my online research called CMStay who was amazingly efficient, responding quickly and thoroughly to our questions.  I was going to book a driver through them (b/c they had been so helpful we wanted to give them more business) but it just didn't really work out.  Anyway, once we had our hotels secured for Thailand they said they would have our tickets waiting at reception for us and that we would have to sign in order to pick them up. They also offered transportation to/from the event for an additional fee.  We went ahead and booked their transportation "just in case" and figured if we didn't end up using them it wasn't a lot of money lost.  We paid them via paypal with no issues.   Cool.

So, because we had had such a great experience with our scooter last Yee Peng we were going to do it again.  Except we had to be at the airport early the next morning and the shops to return the scooter didn't open until later in the day.  And we couldn't drop it off later that night after the event b/c the shops would already have closed.  So funny how it worked out-that we had booked transport and actually ended up needing it!

CMS had listed in an email to us and also on their facebook page four locations we could wait for the shuttle.  They were *explicit* about being on-time, early, even, to ensure efficiency (fine with us)!  So before we returned our scooter we squeezed in some last minute sights including the remarkable Wat Chedi Luang and swung by the Flower Market. Only a few blocks long this is a nice little stop to walk around and smell the pretty flowers of Thailand. I had fallen in love with the fresh Jasmine necklaces 4SCM had welcomed us with and really was hoping I could find one to wear for the lanterns/our last night but alas I found only one display and the buds closed and on ice (so wasnt sure theyd open/release scent immediately).

Next we picked up some umbrellas which we would need to block the sun during the event since we would be in the VIP section and not in the shade of the trees like before.  Then we peed and got a cool drink from the starbucks near the Burger King which was the stop we chose to meet the shuttle.

Though I don't often spare you the details, I will in this case.  Basically, the shuttle was extremely late, people were extremely pissed, it was extremely unorganized, and the drivers had absolutely no. idea. how to get to the event (which, hello-don't you *live* here? And hi Chris and I found it alone on a moped 2 weeks ago). Also, the old lady sitting behind me kept burping.

By the time we arrived at the location it was 1. dark (wasted umbrellas purchase, just saying) and 2. on the wrooooong side of the road (one way in, one way out, separated by a large stream) so we all started rush walking to the event only to have to turn around far into our progress to backtrack to the shuttle, past the shuttle, across a bridge, and do it all again on the other side of the road.  A real shit show.  We missed a ton of the program and were shown to our seats by (sorry) clueless volunteers who didn't know where our seats were.  We actually determined the layout and had to show them our seats.  I looked at the time the moment we sat in our chairs: 6:27 pm (it started at 5:00...).  So how can I say that despite allllll this, I was pretty fine with it?  B/c I was there for the lanterns, and we hadn't missed those.

So I will pause here to lay out the differences b/w Yee Peng local and Yee Peng foreign:

•unlimited masses
•smashed into every ounce of space
•on the ground

•not free (though not expensive)
•limited number
•defined and assigned seating
•with assigned chairs, nice touch

Both events had scores of people outside the actual field along the stream I told you about "partying" and releasing their own lanterns.  And if you just wanted to get some pretty photographs of the mass release you could do so from here without a. putting yourself in the messy thick of things at local or b. purchasing a ticket for foreign.

I am very glad we experienced both versions of Yee Peng but since I know now what you still might not: There is really no reason to do both.  If you want to *participate* in releasing a lantern I would choose foreign-its just so *not* a complete circus on the field like the local felt.  And I should say the masses at the local, were not local, if you know what I mean.  So its not like youre sharing this special event with "them" versus a bunch of tourists (which is actually what I had thought beforehand and what had appealed to me).

Ok now, back to the lanterns!  As mentioned, we missed most of the program which according to the literature was cultural in nature and probably wouldve been pretty interesting.  Before the lantern release was the meditation/circumambulation-the first thing to move me to tears that night. Monks following a path lit by the candles they carried chanted slowly, deliberately as they cirlced round us. Very. Powerful.

After some very clear instructions on lighting and releasing your lantern (which wouldve been great to have been able to hear the first time around during the local release), it was time!

Our lantern happily, eagerly floated to join hundreds of his friends in the night sky!  A fitting and wonderful note on which to end our unforgettable stay in beautiful Thailand.

ชีวิต เป็นสิ่งที่สวยงาม!

1 comment :

  1. Carrie, You have been to so many areas and countries around the world, but I think this was one of your favorites! The pictures were beautiful, your writing exquisite. I have lived vicariously through your memories, laughing, angry and even crying along with you. You love different cultures, ethnic groups but most of all you love LIFE! I know you will experience many more beautiful things in life and more importantly, you will appreciate them. Between you and me, What a wonderful world! Xoxoxo Mom


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