Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A celebration fit for a King

December 5 is the King of Thailand's birthday, King Rama IX, the longest reigning monarch in Thai history. There are framed portraits of the King, large and small, all over Thailand!

We had heard the day before that there would be an early morning alms procession at Wat Phan Ohn. So we headed there for about 7am, and listened to a prayer ceremony until about 8am, after which locals clad in yellow set up behind a long row of tables where they handed out packaged food and beverages, hygiene products, and money to the dozen monks walking slowly past. Just as quickly as their monk bowls would fill up, a pair of people walking alongside each monk would take the offerings from the bowl, filling garbage bag after garbage bag. A kind man explained to us that it was the King's birthday, and invited us to stand at his table and hand out the oranges we had brought.

We spent the afternoon partway up the mountain at Doi Suthep temple, after a truly nauseating drive up the twisting, turning roads. I almost, almost didn't make it. Opting not to take the funicular, we walked up the 309, snake-flanked steps to the temple with the blindingly gold stupa, to where we had a commanding view of sprawling Chiang Mai, and the hazy mountains on the other side of the valley.

In the evening we happened upon several places where paper lanterns were being set off into the sky. We'd been seeing these magical, floating constellations each evening in Chiang Mai, but couldn't figure out where they were being set off from. This time we were determined to find the source, and we walked around until we were able to trace their source to Wat Bubparem. We watched several take flight and soar majestically into the black night. And when all the lanterns had been set off, we wandered back to the old city to the Tae Pae Gate, where more were being set off. We watched again, observing the most effective technique to gain lift-off, and avoid a fiery blaze, as was the fate of several we watched... But we couldn't not participate! So we bought a lantern for a whopping 30 baht (about 96 cents), lit it up, and waited until it felt as though it was ready to float away, which unfortunately is several painful seconds beyond when the heat is almost too much for your fingertips to bear, and after a few false launches (and some deft and delicate catches by Mark), our lantern floated up to join the other stars.

Oh David Byrne, you have no idea.


  1. Oh my. I would one day love to see those lanterns float into the sky.
    You are such inspirations.
    Much Love,

  2. Oh, Erin, it's so magical, and it wasn't even their big lantern festival. During Yi Peng it sounds like they send off hundreds all at once.

    It would be fun to make your own and set off a whole bunch at once. Though I'm sure it's frowned upon in Canada to send flaming objects into the sky. Bah! Bylaws be damned! I want lanterns!

  3. I expected it to be small when you wrote how much it weighed but that is a large lantern! Awesome! and I love the description of the deft and delicate catches that Mark made to ensure its sendoff!

    ALL of the pictures are amazing Amberlea!!