Blog // Tales from the trail

24 Nov
2015

The Final Countdown!, Thailand

By Corallie

When I think back to our last-gasp, cross-country tour across northern Thailand, retracing our steps from Laos but in reverse, I remember it being a relaxed and free-spirited time. We were ready and eager for our next adventure and I felt in control of our destiny; these empowered feelings I put down to being familiar with our surroundings as we went back to Chiang Khong to find out if our community permaculture-project design was a starter.

We were in luck when Paul decided he'd travel with us on his way across to Laos and the three of us had quite a merry time playing cards, 'shit-head' specifically, over ice coffee and/or beers whilst putting the world to rights. We learnt several important things over this week together:

  1. We (the sprouts, or is it the English in general I wonder?) say 'quite' a lot. Quite a lot in fact, as pointed out by Paul, and a few others we have met along the way, which I was quite utterly oblivious to. Quite.
  2. Shit head is not about winning; it's about not losing.
  3. Not all Norwegians are diplomatic! I've never been called an imperialist before - what was my crime? Ordering a gin and tonic, which according to this particularly drunken man, is an imperialist's drink. Who knew?! And never mind what his views on American beer were, blaming Paul for that and almost all American foreign policy too, before coming to apologise half an hour later for the outburst.
  4. Travelling is made all the better with good company, good food and good beer! (Which we actually, already knew, but it never hurts to keep testing the fact!)
Quirky lunch-stop - buy some chicken wings and get a free sketch!

Quirky lunch-stop - buy some chicken wings and get a free sketch!

Our quick pit stop in Chiang Rai was as unremarkable as the first time apart from two key events - we found an awesome burger joint for dinner, but our award-winning cafe wasn't open the next day for a breakfast coffee before we headed on across to Chiang Khong.

Our arrival back in the border town felt like a home-coming with many familiar faces still there, almost 2 months later. Unfortunately Alan wasn't there (off preparing for the King's birthday invitation ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, which was as good an excuse as any) but the lovely Mai was and immediately invited us to join in the 'Loi Krathong' celebrations. It was also soon evidently clear why we hadn't heard much on the garden project - immigration were paying too much attention to tourists volunteering without the appropriate 'working permits'. Foreign workers, even down to the volunteer, are a touchy subject in Thailand. The government want to maintain jobs for Thai people (although some say, unless the job is 'beneath' a Thai person, in which case it can be done by a foreigner, usually a Burmese) which is fair enough, but I feel that not seeing the overall benefit of exchanging skills and knowledge is rather short-sighted. Anyway at least we knew.

Loi Krathong - a festival of light, although is translated literally as 'to float a basket' - is celebrated across Asia at slightly different parts of the year (influenced by Diwali, the Indian Lantern festival) and follows the lunar calendar. All of us at the hostel excitedly got involved in making our own floral wreath or krathong, made out of the trunk of a banana palm, which was then decorated with flowers, incense sticks and candles. When adding incense sticks, then there should be three - representing the three forms of Buddhist existence (or the Brahman gods in Diwali) - for good fortune. Any less and you might as well have not added any.

Preparing the Krathongs

Preparing the Krathongs

Our krathongs!

Our krathongs!

A parade through town started the festivities with each of the regions being represented by their own DIY-float - adorned with everything from ornate flower arrangements to band-playing ninjas. Each region also selects their 'Miss X' who sits at the top of each float, presumably mentally preparing her speech for the beauty pageant that ensues, the winner being crowned 'Miss Loi Krathong'.

Ornate flower-arrangements

Ornate flower-arrangements

Following the parade

Following the parade

Managing the parade

Managing the parade

Ninja-band!

Ninja-band!

Preparing her speech for the crowning of Miss Loi Krathong

Preparing her speech for the crowning of Miss Loi Krathong

Following the parade, we headed down to the Mekong and joined in the crowds lighting Chinese lanterns which was quite chaotic due to a bit of wind. There were several people worriedly hurrying after lanterns that were being carried off by the wind at head height instead of rising up into the sky.

Lighting lanterns

Lighting lanterns

Lighting lanterns

Lighting lanterns

Steady...

Steady...

Down at the river banks we took it in turns to light the candles and sparklers on our own floats, making hurried wishes before placing them on the water so they were at least part way down the river before the candles blew out. I think we were all just relieved to see them actually float off rather than the half-expected capsizing or even worse, sinking, which surely would not have been good luck. It was lovely to see children being shown the ritual by parents and grandparents, taking their time over blessing the floats and really considering their wishes before setting their Krathongs adrift.

Quick, make a wish!

Quick, make a wish!

Watching the krathongs float by

Watching the krathongs float by

The magic of the event was slightly marred though when we talked to some people who said they'd stood on the other side of the bend where the floats had collected in the shallows and were being relieved of their treasures, mostly money, by some local opportunists. I believe that, if the gods, spirits, or river fairies are really doing their jobs they'll know which wishes were made in good faith, whether the offering was still attached or not! It was a very special evening to be involved in, a reminder that celebrations no matter what the occasion bring people together. We didn't really know what we were celebrating, but it didn't matter; we had a great time all the same.

Loi Krathong - A festival of light

Loi Krathong - A festival of light

Cele-brate!

Cele-brate!

Our 3-day stay at the Hub Pub wouldn't be complete of course without a bike ride and after one failed attempt (several flat tyres and a snapped pedal) the three of us breezed down the hills, (and then chugged/walked up the other side - fixed-gears and steep hills don't mix well!), one lucid afternoon along the Mekong.

It

It's easy going downhill!

Enjoying the view of the Mekong

Enjoying the view of the Mekong

Paul on his racing fixie

Paul on his racing fixie

The Mekong - a watery border; Thailand on the right and Laos on the left!

The Mekong - a watery border; Thailand on the right and Laos on the left!

We had come for and had gotten closure on the project in Chiang Khong. Now, it was time for us to look to the next adventure, this one in Malaysia. How had we managed to find ourselves at the furthest point away from Malaysia, we wondered as we caught the 7am bus out of Chiang Khong to kick-off the next 48 hours of travelling before the next border crossing?!

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