As evidenced by our posts the past few days, Anna-Lisa and I are trying to catch you up on our travels in reasonably sequential order. However after our experience last night at the Mae Jo Mass, we decided it we should share it with you right away! Mae Jo Mass is only one part of the annual Loy Krathong Festival that happens every year all around Thailand.
One of the reasons I was attracted to visiting Chiang Mai was because I really wanted to experience what I knew as the annual lantern festival. My friend Gabriel had been to Chiang Mai during the festival in 2006 and said it was awesome, and the pictures online only increased my interest. Thus when we planned out the trip, I made sure that one of our set plans was to be in Chiang Mai before the festival started so we would be able to attend. As it turns out, it was really good that we arrived a week early, as we were able to learn more about the festival from people already here and found out where we needed to go to see the mass lantern release that I was able to capture here!
Once we arrived, Anna-Lisa was able to discover through some online research that the mass lantern release event we really wanted to see didn’t happen in downtown Chiang Mai as I expected, but rather is an event put on by a private Buddhist Group at the Lanna Dhutanka temple about 10 miles north of Chiang Mai. Thanks to some new friends we met, we were able to organize a Songthaew (basically a taxi) to take a group of us (13 people!!) from downtown to the temple. We left around 3:15pm and it took an hour to drive thanks to the heavy traffic. Once we got near the area, we had a nice walk of about 30 minutes through hundreds of vendors selling food, trinkets, and lots of paper lanterns to be lit off.
At the end of the walk, we were able to get into the temple grounds, and tried to make our way toward to middle where the ceremony was being held. However, the sheer mass of people made that impossible, so we instead went outside the main area and found an empty spot near a large gate which we settled into. The ceremonies went on for a few hours, during which time it got dark and many more people walked in and turned our once empty area into a completely full one. The entire time, people were releasing a few lanterns into the air, so anytime you looked up at the sky you would see them. However, the organizers wanted a simultaneous release, and kept reminding all the people that couldn’t listen to instructions (in at least 3 languages) that the goal was to release the lanterns all at once.
Finally around 8pm, the signal was finally given for everyone to light their lanterns and hold on to them, preparing for simultaneous release. Somehow the packed crowd was able to find the space to do so, because lighting a lantern required unfolding it and having one or two people hold it up while a third lit it from below. The view was gorgeous, as more and more lanterns stood tall, waiting to be released by their owners. We were told to then make a wish, and then…the signal was given!
Suddenly the sky was filled with light as thousands of lanterns floated up, lifted by the hot air instead. The sight was spectacular and my pictures don’t even begin to do it justice. We were also treated to a round of fireworks which added a nice background to the lanterns floating high into the sky. Once the initial explosion happened, then a constant stream of additional lanterns followed, as people lit and released additional ones. All in all it was an amazing 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, after this came a mass exodus for the single exit out of the temple grounds. We had heard about how challenging this was going to be, but actually experiencing it was another thing. The total crowd was probably 15-30,000 people, and most of us needed to exit through the same 15 foot wide entrance and walk along the same 10 foot wide path through the vendors as we way we came. For some reason, the organizers haven’t planned a way for there to be multiple exits to smooth out the process. Four of us that were together managed to find a hole in the fence which other people were going through, and used it to save some time. Still, we then had to walk through the vendor gauntlet. Luckily, we stayed right next to all the carts, so at least we were able to buy some delicious sticky buns and other goodies while we moved through. We finally arrived at our ride about 1.5 hours later, then took another 1.5hrs to get back to the city. All told, we weren’t home until about 11:45pm. A crazy and memorable night.
The festival continues tonight, with the festivities actually occurring in Chiang Mai. As I’ve been writing this post Sunday evening, we’ve had a great view of the lanterns and fireworks going up over the city against a backdrop of the full moon.