New Year’s in Chiang Mai

To bring in 2013 Erik and I were lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai, Thailand where the celebration centers around people in the streets, fireworks, and lots of lanterns. The old city of Chiang Mai is completely enclosed in perfect square moat and for the occasion the city had closed off a large area around one of the sides to pedestrians only which was filled with food stalls, craftsmen selling their wares and a huge stage for music and celebration.

DSC00913WWe arrived in the city around 8:00 for a late diner and as soon as we entered into the old city we could look up and see small clusters of small yellow lights dancing in the sky. We were lucky to find a cozy German restaurant along the moat where we could relax in peace (apart from the random thrown noise-maker firework) and enjoy the spectacle along the water. Although I was expecting a massive release of lanterns, I was delighted to see that even with hours to go people all along the water were standing in small groups and releasing intermittent lanterns into the air or setting off small fireworks.

DSC00909WAfter dinner and a beer we went to join the groups sitting along the water and watching the lanterns rise which was really beautiful along the water because of the reflections. It was incredibly peaceful to watch lantern after lantern join the others in the sky. We should have taken a video because it is impossible to describe how beautiful it was, but apparently we were too transfixed.

DSC00922WWe took a lap around the area and decided on some delicious looking ice cream bars to cool us down. It was quite a different experience to see people drinking beer along the water in tank tops when I’m used to heavy coats at the end of the year.

DSC00916WErik and I picked up our own lantern from one of the many vendors along the water.

DSC00910WA lantern isn’t anything more than a flame resistant but durable tissue paper tube adhered to a wire rim at the bottom that holds a ring of solid fuel in place. . Most of the lanterns are white paper tubes, that appear to be yellow-orange once the fuel is lit, but there were also a few green ones as well as some red hearts and a few Angry Bird lanterns.

DSC00928WOnce lit, the air in the lantern must heat up to a certain temperature before it will lift out of your hands and rise straight up into the sky.

DSC00923WThis seemed to be trickier than it seemed and some impatient groups let their lanterns go too early.

DSC00918WThey would then travel mostly sideways instead of up and usually get caught in one of the many trees lining the moat or a power line, where they would usually stay until they pulled free or caught on fire and burned to a pulp.

DSC00920WAfter watching this happen several times we were very careful to wait for our lantern to really tug before we released it.

DSC00927WThe idea behind the lanterns is that you light the fuel and then stand holding the lantern with someone else or alone, and for the 3-5 minutes that it takes for the air to heat up, you are supposed to think of all of the good and bad things from the previous year. Then when the lantern is released, so are all of your worries from the previous year, leaving you to start the new year unburdened. A nice thought I think.

DSC00912WAs the new year dawned there was no countdown or dropping ball but rather hundreds of lanterns slowly rising into the sky all along the moat against a backdrop of impressive fireworks. It was impossible to get a good picture of this, but we tried.

DSC00938WAs we head back home, I kept looking over my shoulder one last time to view the worries of hundreds of people slowly float away.

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