Chiang Mai, Thailand

November 21, 2002

Weather: high of about 85ºF and sunny

Our arrival in Chiang Mai coincided with the three-day Loi Krathong festival.  This made our visit much more interesting in good ways and bad ways.  Dating back to the 14th century, this festival is marked by floating lotus-shaped boats in lakes and rivers all over Thailand during the November full moon.  It symbolizes the washing away of the previous year's sins and heartaches.  We heard locals describe it as an apology to the rivers.  

It brought a lot of people to Chiang Mai and we found it very difficult to get a room, but the parades and fireworks and boat lanterns were worth it.

We also fulfilled a long-held desire to take a Thai cooking class.

Here Julie is tasting her very own Tom Yum soup.  Our teacher first took us to a local market where he explained how to buy all the ingredients we would be using.  Then we each got a stove and made about 5 dishes each day.  Julie and I took the 3-day course, but most people just did one day.
Cooking class by day, festival by night.  The local market was in overdrive for the festival.  Roads were blocked.  Concerts were scheduled.  Thai boxers held exhibition fights.
Our favorite pastime during the festival is to follow the parade route from the old town to the river.  That lets us watch the parade, be in the parade, and see the lantern boats.
Spirit houses were especially well-dressed for the festival.  Spirit houses are miniature dwellings for the spirits that were displaced by the constuction of some other building.  This one is for the guesthouse we stayed at.  It is loaded with fruit, incense, and flowers.
Here the family that runs our guesthouse is sending off a hot air balloon with fireworks.  There were so many of these in the sky that it looked like new constellations of red stars in the section of the sky where the wind was blowing.  One night, the wind blew the lanterns right up to the full moon.  Gorgeous.
Here is something every city needs:  a bicycle-mounted dried squid stall.  The dried squid hanging from the light are wrapped in plastic.  The rows of squid below are skewered on sticks.  I think we were followed all night by this particular squid-mobile.  And I generally could smell it before I saw it.
We tried some of these rice and meat sausage balls.  Pretty tasty and not quite the commitment that you get with a whole hot dog.
Ahh, but life is not all one big party.  Not even in Thailand.  We need to get busy and acquire our visa for India if we want to make our scheduled flight.  But, darn the luck, we lose a crucial day due to this unexplained closure of the Indian consulate in Chiang Mai.
My poor handheld digital camera just isn't up to the task of fireworks and candle light.  But the candle boats on the river Ping are lovely.  Each boat has a candle, flowers, incense, and a coin.  As a result, there is a small army of boys swimming in the river collecting the coins and dodging the fireworks.
In the foreground here is the sugar toast vendor.  That's one of our favorite street snacks.  It happens to be near a temple, so you can see the cluster of monks in the back watching the parade go by.

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