Day 166: Lampang & Chiang Mai, Thailand. After a last coffee at the fabulous guesthouse garden cafe in Lampang, where we were treated to a Sunday morning bout of Thai yodelling music, we packed up and walked to the bus station around 11.30am.
The queues at the bus station were unexpectedly long. Presumably people were visiting Chiang Mai for a few days for the Loy Krathong and Yi Pen Festival, or returning home to Chiang Mai after a weekend spent visiting friends and family in Lampang. Who knows? What we did know was that we were going to be lucky to get any bus tickets at all, given the length of the queues.
Thankfully we managed to get two seats on the 3.30pm bus, which meant a four hour wait. A short while later, a sign was taped onto the bus ticket kiosk saying next available bus 5.50am tomorrow. So we really did get lucky.
While were were waiting, we bumped into Marjorie again, the lovely retired lady we met on the bus from Sukhothai a couple of days ago, who is travelling around Asia on her own. She said her stay in Lampang was great; she hired a bicycle and had a ball pedalling around the temples and quiet streets on her own. She was also on her way to Chiang Mai, so perhaps we’ll bump into her again there.
We had coffee at a cafe near the station, did some travel planning and some reading, and kept ourselves amused until our scheduled bus departure. It’s only an hour and a half to Chiang Mai, so a large chunk of the day was spent on going a very short distance.
We arrived in Chiang Mai just after 5pm, clambered into a red truck and headed into crazy town. The Loy Krathong and Yi Pen Festival is a massive event, with people flocking from across the country and overseas to be part of it. The streets were heaving as our driver weaved his way in and out of the traffic, towards the centre of town.
By the time we arrived in the centre, the evening festival activities were already well underway, with lanterns strung from every roof, lamp post and corner, and the streets packed with people taking in the sights.
We settled into our accommodation, which to be honest is a little bizarre. The guesthouse must have run out of standard rooms, so they assigned us an apartment on the top floor which is filled with an eclectic range of furniture, none of which matches. There are office chairs at the dining room table, old antique chairs next to the TV, and even a second sink in the living room. What the second sink is for, we have no idea. But the apartment is really clean, it’s in a great location and it’s fabulous to have so much space, so we’re very happy.
We headed out into the evening to catch a bit of the festival, starting by watching adults and kids lighting thousands and thousands of tea lights on the pathway around the moat. A spectacular sight, and very moving.
Then we stood and watched a street procession for a bit – lots of traditional costumes and huge festival floats. It was fabulous, but very, very slow.
There was lots of pushing and shoving as late comers tried to get a spot at the front. A French lady next to us growled at anyone who tried to secure a better spot and pushed them backwards again. We were almost expecting her to start a full on punch up, but thankfully she just kept growling at people. The beers she was knocking back (throwing the empty cans into her baby’s pram) probably weren’t helping.
After a while, we decided to head off and walk around the town for a bit. We spotted a bar called ‘Sax Bar’ which claims to be a music pub, though there was no sign of live music. A pavement table had just come free, so we grabbed it and sat with a couple of beers for the most excellent people watching session in a long time.
We also had the opportunity to watch some lanterns being launched into the sky. Officially, lanterns are only meant to be set off tomorrow and the next day after 7pm. Over a hundred flights into the local airport are being cancelled or rescheduled to allow this year’s mass lantern releases at out-of-town venues, which people pay hundreds of dollars to attend.
It was after 10pm when we left the Sax Bar, and lots of restaurants were already closing. We found a small eatery tucked down a laneway where the lovely lady owner cooked us a superb red chicken curry, green chicken curry and a fabulous papaya salad.
Then home to bed for a very long night’s sleep. Tomorrow we’ll explore the town a bit more, and see some more of the festival – and we may even have the chance to see some live music, which would be amazing. And perhaps we’ll bump into Marjorie again.