Category: Exploring Thailand

Loi Krathong

All this week is the festival of Loi Krathong, celebrated all over Thailand at this time. In Chiang Mai the celebration is known as Yi Peng (the full moon of the second month), as the twelfth month in the Thai Lunar Calendar corresponds to the second month in the traditional calendar of the old northern Lanna kingdom. The festival features illuminated lanterns, which are carried, displayed in houses and temples, and even launched into the night sky. Krathong are an offering – traditionally made out of a banana stalk and adorned with candles, incense and some money – which are floated down the rivers. At this time the people say prayers to ask that their wishes and hopes for the future be fulfilled.  The lights that are floated down the rivers are meant to symbolize the drifting away of bad luck and misfortune, but for many Thai people it is also an opportunity to honor the goddess of water, Phra Mae Kong Ka (พระแม่คงคา). Kong Ka is the Thai form of Ganga, the Hindu goddess of the sacred Ganges river in India. It is believed that Loy Krathong is an ancient Brahmanic or Indic festival. There are lots of fireworks going off all week, all around the city, and here in Thailand anyone can get all those fireworks that are illegal in America. Kinda hard to sleep lately.

I was invited by a new Thai friend to go to Maejo University for the ceremony of releasing sky lanterns. The sky lanterns are called Khom Loi. It turned out to be a special treat and a bit of an adventure. A large group of monks sat at the central dais, chanting and saying prayers while Thais circumambulated around the central circle, before lighting the torches and eventually the lanterns. There were thousands and thousands of white paper lanterns released; it was beautiful and awe-inspiring, considering we all sent up a prayer for world peace, among our own personal prayers and things to release. On the way back, we were hit by a storm and had an adventure on the back roads with downed trees and over-large buses amidst lightning and thunder, wind and rain. I’m told storms are unusual this time of year, likely due to global climate change. It was a very enjoyable evening.


City electricians working on street powerlines. That’s a bamboo ladder he’s climbing. Hmm…doesn’t look like the way it’s done in America…


This is a horned beetle. Some Thai people raise them and gamble on them in fights, not unlike the sport of dog or cock fighting. I was told the bigger they are, the more money the owner makes, ’cause the bigger ones usually win.


A view of Doi Suthep mountain from my apartment building.


silver temple

Recently my new friend Suchaya, a young buddhist monk, took me to visit the Silver Temple in Chiang Mai. Originally from a small village near Doi Inthanon, a mountain southwest of Chiang Mai, Suchaya is part Chinese, part Karen, and also part Hmong–the latter two are local hill tribe peoples. He is teaching me Thai and I am helping him with English, he attends one of the local Buddhist colleges. The temple itself is still under construction, and upon closer examination appears to be mostly polished steel or chrome, but still quite stunning to look at and I’m sure it’ll be radiant when it’s all finished. On the temple grounds is also a workshop where people can learn and practice sliversmithing. One could not escape the constant tapping of small hammers while visiting.

wat srisuphan

vientiane visa run
A week after securing a job, I went to Vientiane, Laos to obtain a b-visa so I can legally stay and work in Thailand. Vientiane was heavily influenced by the French in their recent past, and there are many French people living or visiting there today. Consequently they have great bakeries everywhere, with delicious bread, pastries, and Lao coffee which is especially smooth and flavorful. I saw several “replicas” of the Eiffel tower throughout town, each painted red and white and sprouting cellular emitters, but only one “replica” of the Paris Arc de Triomphe. 😉

buddha park
There were two highlights of my trip to Vientiane, the first was forming a friendship with a convivial couple from Chiang Mai, one of whom is American. The other was visiting Buddha Park, a sculpture park not far from Vientiane. Built back in the 1950’s by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, the park contains over 200 Hindu and Buddhist statues. The local name of it is Xieng Khuan, which means Spirit City. More information can be found at wiki/Buddha_Park. The most intriguing structure for me was the large globe with the tree on top. Inside were three distinct rooms/levels each ringed by a hallway. You could peer in through holes or go inside each room via a very small steep stairway, on your way up to the “roof” and base of the tree. Each room contained numerous sculptures, each with a distinct feel. The lowest level, accessed by first going up to the middle layer and then down, was filled with demonic figures, skulls, torture scenes and thorny trees, very much an “underworld” feel. The middle layer depicted people working and being overseen by godlike beings. The upper layer contained many naga-like beings, part snake part human. No doubt there are numerous stories from ancient Hinduism and local Lao mythology associated with these scenes.

interesting food
I’ve tried several interesting foods so far but these two have stood out for me the most. The first is called a beung, a kind of pastry filled with slightly sweet, sticky marshmallow-like substance as well as your choice of shredded coconut or another vegetable, one of which tasted a little like pumpkin. The other is a dish of rice and preserved egg topped with fried basil leaves. The contrast between the gooey preserved egg and the light, crispy basil leaves provided a unique texture experience, and it was also yummy. Just the other evening a group of us went to Sukontha Buffet, a gigantic all-you-can-eat restaurant, with long tables full of cooked Thai delicacies, as well as raw food which you can grill at your table. I ate so much my belly felt like a basketball late into the night.

Sawatdee khrap! Which means ‘hello!’

I could not have landed at a better place in Chiang Mai. Owned by an American-Korean man and a local Thai lady who are very friendly and VERY helpful, Sethee Court sits in a quiet neighborhood twenty minutes walk south from the center of town. Having lived here more than 4 years now, Stephen knows all about how to extend one’s stay with which visas, where to go, what to do, etc., if I don’t get a job and B-visa (work permit) before my 30 days are up. They’ve given me tons of suggestions for interesting places to see and things to do, things to watch out for or avoid, as well as advice about the general ‘climate’ here as far as teaching English is concerned. They rent scooters and they own two buildings in town which they mostly rent as apartments, except for a few rooms which they reserve for shorter-term visitors, tourists, etc. Their rates are incredibly reasonable, and the rooms are clean and functional with a fan and A/C. Each building is close to popular local Thai massage schools. If you’re coming to Chiang Mai, I highly recommend staying at one of the two. Sethee Court

It’s very hot and humid here, highs around 90 in the day and lows around 70 in the evening, but I’m told the weather is cooling down as fall and winter approach. I have seen older residents wearing coats and hats already. The sunshine has been abundant since I arrived, although every couple of days it will rain, a very pleasant and somewhat heavy tropical rain sometimes with thunderstorm and never lasting more than an hour or so. From where I sit on the patio of Sethee Court, the mountain is often obscured by clouds; when not, I see beautiful hills. I’ve been up in those mountains twice now, on scooter, and both times experienced rain and fog, delightful waterfalls, and friendly people.

More than a little trickster energy has been happening ever since I arrived. On my first day here I went to a massage place where they employ blind masseurs, and had 300 baht lifted from the wallet inside my belt pouch. I was quite surprised by this, and have been a little reluctant to get a massage anywhere ever since. Twice now I’ve rented a scooter and both times, the scooter got a flat on the back wheel. The first time I was delivering my resume to a school out in the country, a beautiful place surrounded by lush green hills.

The second time was a ride purely for pleasure, to visit Wat Doi Suthep, the popular, touristy temple up high on the mountain. For a brief moment I thought I was back in China, given all the hawkers lining the approach walkway, and all the Chinese tourists.

From there I went to the smaller-of-two Hmong villages where they grow coffee and macadamia nuts, and make textiles by hand from bamboo fiber. The children wear traditional clothes, also made from bamboo fiber, at their school.

After leaving that area, I went to a local lake where one can rent a thatched roof platform right on the water. A lovely place to relax, where food can be purchased, and I was told one can even get a massage there on the platform. For both flat tires, the owners of Sethee Court were very helpful, the first time over the phone with a local: miles from Chiang Mai, a young couple who spoke no English whatsoever helped me load the bike into their truck and took me to two different places, the first of which was closed. I tried to offer them money but they would not accept it. The second place replaced the inner tube for a whopping $4.50, labor included! For the second flat tire event, the owners of Sethee actually came out to the lake to help. People are so friendly and helpful here!

I spent all last week going all over Chiang Mai and outside of it, by foot, red truck (taxi), and scooter. I’ve been warned to avoid the tuk-tuk’s here, they tend to rip off tourists. I’ve left my CV at about 20 different schools so far, and have yet to hear from any them. I’m told I’ve arrived at a good time, for the between-semester break has just begun; there may be opportunities arising in a week or so, at the start of the next semester, if and when teachers leave. Competition is stiff in this city, there are many westerners seeking work. I’ve learned that Thai people here are hesitant to hire someone unless they feel that person will stay a while, apparently they’ve been burned by frequent backpackers who leave after two weeks or so. Which means it may be a bit longer before I can not only say “I plan to live here at least a year” but also “I’ve been here a month,” or something similar. I’ve also been told that they don’t generally follow up on things like we’re used to in America, for example, the repair shop has long ago fixed the bike and is waiting to be paid but won’t bother to call and tell you. So I may need to exercise a little “friendly persistence” soon, and make some calls. Strangely, very few schools provide the exclusive B-visa, so there are some teachers who work under the radar. Not my preferred way of staying long term, but it may be necessary in the near-term until something comes through. So different from China in many ways!

There are Wats (Thai for temples) everywhere here. I’ve made friends with a few monks via the “monk chat” area of the main central temple, a place where monks sit and talk with visiting westerners to improve their English, and where westerners can learn about Buddhism and life as a monk. Or in my case, teach them English. Two are from Cambodia, one of whom took me to his University just outside of town where I left my resume. It’s an agricultural school which I’m very hopeful about working for. The third is a Thai, whose major is English, he’s agreed to meet regularly for a language exchange.

All things considered, and despite the trickster energy, I really like it here. I like being so close to jungle-covered hills and will likely buy a used motorcycle to get out and up into them more often. Repair costs are incredibly cheap so I see many older, well-maintained motorcycles of the small cc variety here. Traffic’s a little crazy in the center, tons of scooters and cars going every which way, all driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road like in Britain…just kidding, my Brit friends.