Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lantern Festival

Every since I found out I was coming to Thailand I wanted to go to the lantern festival.  You know the movie Tangled?  It's exactly like that.  but more amazing because it's in person.  This year it happened to be on our anniversary weekend!  So we enjoyed a fabulous weekend with lanterns, fantastic (not Thai) food and celebrated our 6 years of marriage.

 We took the train Friday evening and got there late Friday night.  This was the first long distance train experience since being here.  The ride was about 7 hours.  It had AC and there was a little more leg room than on the bus.  It was pretty comfortable and I would take it again.  I did see some bugs close to the end and that wasn't my favorite, but other than that I really enjoyed it.  They even brought us a couple meals!  One I did't touch, but the other one was pretty good and we both gobbled it right up!

Saturday we slept in then went to lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant: Salsa Kitchen.  It was delicious as usual.  We didn't do much in the afternoon.  At 4:30 we headed out to Mae Jo University.  The traffic was pretty bad and it took around 45 minutes to get there. When we got there we had about a mile to walk to the entrance.  The sidewalk was lined with booths selling food, drinks and lanterns.  It was crowded, but that was what we had expected.  Especially since It was after 5:00.  Everything I had read online suggested that we get there between 4 and 5.

The lawn was already quite full, but we managed to find space right by the aisle at the very back.  We bought a couple lanterns and had a seat.  

We got seated between 5:30and 6:00.  We sat and watched as a few random lanterns went up.  As the sun went down and it got darker the lanterns looked even cooler.  

Sometime around 6:30 they started the ceremony.  Over the loud speaker they gave instructions on how to pray and bow to the Buddha. A line of about 15 minks walked down the long red walkway right next to where we were seated.  The monks walked about 1/4 mile up to the stage.  At this point they turned off the loud speaker and performed some ceremony.  We couldn't see or hear, so we just sat and waited.  It was getting more and more crowded.  Even the sidewalks were packed with people standing.  At the end of the ceremony the microphones turned back on and the monks carried candles, chanted and walked through the front part of the crowd.

Next they light all the ground lanterns throughout the crowd. 

Over the speaker they kept telling people to light the lanterns, but not to let them go.  We were asked to wait for the signal.  People weren't listening very well and there were hundreds of lanterns going up.  That message continued, cycling through in Thai, English, Chinese and Japanese.  We got out lanterns light and waited.  Finally they blew a loud horn and we let our first lantern go with the first round.  THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of lanterns floated into the sky.  It was amazing and breathtaking and surreal!  

They then announced that the second release would happen shortly.  We got our second lantern ready.  They blew the horn again and the second wave of lanterns went up.  This time it was even better.  People started to understand that it was much cooler when they waited for the sound and let them go together.  

We only had 2 lanterns, so we just watched for the third round.  I know I already said it, but it was just incredible!  It was easily one of the most incredible things I have experienced!

Shortly after the third launch we decided to get out and beat some of the rush.  We walked about 200 feet fairly quickly.  Then we encountered the most terrible human traffic jam I have ever experienced!  Bodies were smashed together on all sides.  We were hardly moving-only 5 or 6 steps a minute.  people were pushing.  Feet and shoes were being stepped on.  It got really warn really quickly.  I was grateful that I was a head taller than 95% of the people there.  After 45 minutes of traveling with the biggest crowd of my life we got out to the main road.  We hopped into one of the first red truchs we saw.  We were at the front of the crowd and so we got out fairly quickly.  The drive back only took about 20 minutes.  We watched out the back of the truck as lanterns were still raising into the sky.  We had the driver drop us off at an Italian restaurant and enjoyed a lovely dinner as the finale to an incredible night.

The next day to finish off our anniversary trip we went to church, to lunch [where I ate one of the BEST burgers of my life and we discovered AMAZING giant cookies] and walked around the city. Good good trip.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bangkok and an Animal Fair

Ton told us there was an animal market in Bangkok and we were dying to go.  He took 2 of the volunteer girls, Tanner and me.  We drove down Friday evening and spend the night Friday and Saturday.

Saturday the girls and I did some eating and shopping.  Tanner went to an electronics fair with Ton.

We went to a shopping center called Platinum.  There were 5 stories and it was packed with little shops.  We spent a couple hours there and didn't even see half of the shops.

Street market

I found a Cold Stone Creamery and enjoyed the Founder's Favorite.

Kim really wanted to do some Muay Thai training so she found a gym that offered that.  Courtney and I watched while Kim did her boxing.  The street where the boxing gym was located there was a big festival going on.  It was the Navaratri festival which is a Hindu worship of the deity Durga. There were booths on both sides of the road for blocks.  There were flowers, dancers, incense, prayers and music everywhere.  We didn't know it was going on and just sort of happened upon it.  It was really interesting to see and I was happy that we found it unintentionally.

We had to walk by this random, abandoned grave yard to get to the boxing gym.  Super spooky and strange.

Kim boxing.  Courtney and me watching and waiting.

Sunday we went to the animal fair.  It was really cool and they had so many animals!  They had common things like turtles, cats, dogs, and fish.  Then they also had owls, squirrels, groundhogs, hedgehogs, sharks, kangaroos, I saw the cutest animal that looked like a mix between a fox, raccoon, and ferret.

This groundhog REALLY, really loved Tanner.