Thailand chose me. I dare say it, because it was never on my travel list. At least not in 2016. It only appeared suddenly on my life and it happened at the right time. Those were 10 days in which the word “plan” was not on my agenda. I just ventured to a totally unknown region for me: Southeast Asia.
I do not regret it. I believe It’s one of the most captivating countries on earth. The wonder of its beaches and its majestic temples surround you. The extreme contrasts are the reason why it’s so alluring and constitutes its very essence.
Deep religiosity, reverent loyalty to the King and visible prostitution may share the same area. And the best thing about Thailand is that you don’t need a fortune to experience the country. Even a low budget can give you options.
It all happened in November for this reason: Yi Peng or the lantern festival in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. Searching for air tickets was not difficult with Expedia. A week before the event (Nov 13) I found them at 630 USD by China Southern Airlines. The price may be even cheaper if you get them in advance.
I must remind you, the first flight departing from New York has an average of 16 hours and almost all other options have extensive layovers in Chinese cities that you probably have never heard of, where hardly anyone speaks English, so you must be prepared.
In my case it was seven hours in Guangzhou, China and later on, eight hours in Bangkok, to finally arrive in Chiang Mai. In terms of accommodation, the range of options is extensive. Hostels, luxury hotels, bed & breakfasts located in the historical sector of the city with different prices for every budget. I chose Fuengfa Place for a nightly rate of 34USD for a double-bed room.
Chiang Mai is a city with a lot of traffic and noise, but its imposing Buddhist temples are the main attraction. On each street, the monks in their orange robes give a colorful fleck on the landscape, and tuk tuks (tricycles) and the songthaew (small public transport vans) finish the ensemble with an urban touch.
These sites are a must: Wat Pa Prao Nok Temple, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Phan Tao, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and the oldest, Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan, for which you only pay 1.50 USD. The bazaar and the night market are the perfect places to shop.
The Prices are unbeatable: In one day your expenses can include 60 cents USD on transportation, 5 USD for a full lunch, beer brands like Chang for 1 USD a bottle, Coconuts 50 cents USD, T-shirts for 3 USD, Handbags for 10 USD, and the famous Thai massage for 6 USD.
My friends and I rented a taxi so we could take the tours outside the city. The first stop was at Elephant Nature Park, a rescue center. For 79 USD, We fed, walked and bathed our new friend Satawy for two hours. It was unforgettable.
We ended up in the village of the Kayan tribe, whose women are known for the collar rings on their long necks.
It was finally the night of November 13. The full moon was the perfect background setting to kick off the lantern festival that happens every year. Since we couldn’t buy the tickets for the main event, we had to go to a town called Lumpung.
At that site the tour cost us 60 USD including transportation, food coupons, entrance and the floating lanterns
Letting go and leave all bad things behind is part of Buddhist doctrine. The monks’ prayers and blessings, turning the lanterns on and releasing them was magical. Thousands of yellow lights adorned the sky, just like in the Disney movie Tangled
For a moment, you immerse yourself in a light show where you don’t know whether to take photos, hug those who are with you or let go of your lantern. That moment was a joyful checkmark on our bucket list.
Once the event was over, our next destination was to discover the south and its beaches. For what I’ve lived at that point, I thoroughly recommend Thailand. Whether on a budget or not, this is a destination that you can’t say no to.