31 December 2012
Or at least still on our way to Chang Mai. Somehow during the night we have been delayed by 3 hours so sadly we won’t be arriving in time for a planned cooking class but there will be other opportunities. My ‘breakfast in bed’ of a banana and croissant washed down with instant coffee this morning will have to last a while longer.
We are not sure quite what to expect when we get to Chaing Mai as it is New Year’s Eve and many Bangkok folk also head north. An earlier group on the same tour as us had to change their plans as there were major traffic jams out to the holy temple mountain Doi Suthep. Our hotel is very close to the night markets and to a square where major celebrations are planned. It may be another sleepless night but hopefully fireworks will make up for it. Several of us are hoping a massage (although Thai massage isn’t exactly relaxing you do feel good afterwards and apparently we can ask them to be more gentle) and a nap this afternoon might tide us over.
Well, plans changed several times today. We thought we would have a free afternoon and visit Doi Suthep at dawn before making our way to the Laos border but the driver was concerned that if we got held up in traffic we might be too late. So when we met for one of Kom’s ‘small meetings’ before lunch the plan had changed to finding a quick lunch on the way and heading to the holy mountain this afternoon.
Although it was considerably cooler than Bangkok, most of us were delighted to discover that there was a cable car alternative to the anticipated 300 step climb. Our minibus driver doubled as our local guide for the day and regaled us with stories of the hermit who first made the mountain holy followed by the white elephant that walked to the mountain carrying a Buddha relic and died there. There was more about the elephant trumpeting 3 times and walking around the mountain 3 times, and doing this on 2 separate occasions but I started to lose the plot around then as I continued my photographic quest to capture countless monks preparing for dawn and dusk ceremonies. As well as saffron robed monks doing flower arranging and generally sightseeing, there were also much rarer white garbed nuns giving devotions.
It was a big occasion for countless costumed children dancing, singing and playing instruments or huddling in nervous groups waiting for their turn to perform. The whole mountaintop temple complex was ringed with giant conga lines of devotees bearing their lotus blossom and incense sticks, lines threaded through by photographers amateur and professional jockeying to find the best pose for their subjects and by folded over people everywhere either putting on or taking off their shoes at each holy place.
Down at the base of the stairs a multitude of various garbed merchants peddling their wares to anyone passing their way. Jostling for pride of place was again the order of the day for various vehicles most numerous of which were the over laden “tuk-truks” (as we called them) with bodies crammed into every possible space and overflowing out the back and the scooters bearing whole families balanced precariously on top and usually carrying any helmets if they had them.
New Year’s Eve
The girls went out on the town to learn from Chiang Mai how to party. First stop the night markets where a restaurant table right on the edge of the market gave us prime position to people watch while sipping a drink and trying local food. Most colourful were the drag queens strutting around like peacocks parading their feathered finery. The markets were resplendent with brightly coloured wares and friendly sellers eager to barter. Fish spas were all the rage with many stalls where people sat dangling their feet in tanks so hundreds of tiny fish could nibble their calluses away.
We had seen on our way to the holy mount giant batteries of fireworks perched on the old city walls ready for the final countdown of 2012 and were told that down by the river was where all action would be centred. We set off following the map to find a good vantage point but disagreements as to where we actually were and confusing directions from helpful locals meant that with only a short time to go we had still not found a spot.
We found a couple of expensive looking hotels (a far cry from our ‘People Place Hotel’) that had countdown parties in full swing and went to see if we could gate crash the party. Very apologetically they told us they had no free tables. Enormous grins appeared when we said we were happy to stand. Soon afterwards we were directed to some bar stools they had found for us and they brought party packs of hats, blowers and poppers along with our Mai Tais.
Soon we had blended in with the guests and listened to the band in the lead up to the countdown. At midnight the skies exploded with light and sound as fireworks went off all around the city. The sky was alight with burning lanterns lit and set adrift along with a wish. They floated gently up into the night until there was a veritable milky way of golden dots in the sky.
On the way back to the hotel we also encountered lanterns drifting up through the power lines and rockets smacking into the sides of buildings but the city made it through unscathed.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
Note: After people telling me they had booked an Intrepid Tour on my recommendation, I now have affiliate links with the Intrepid Travel group of companies and may receive a commission if you book a tour online within a couple of months after clicking through to these sites. So if you are enjoying my tips and stories and finding them useful in choosing your own travel, please click on these links and help me to bring you more ☺.