Sawat dee pee mai! For those of you who don't speak Thai (myself included), Happy New Year! I hope you all had a safe and joyful celebration, full of good people, good times, and good food (and drink)! I write to you from 32,000 feet in the air, a mere 2 hours into my 12 hour flight from Bangkok to Paris, where I will have an 8 hour layover, followed by another 7 hour flight back to Detroit. A small price to pay for the absolute trip of a lifetime I just experienced during my two weeks in Thailand. My cousins and I traveled to Bangkok, Petchaburi, Chiang Mai, and Mae Hong Son, doing virtually everything from riding elephants, to kayaking, to shopping, to visiting temples, to playing with tigers, to shopping, to eating amazing food, to shopping again. Needless to say, we had our fair share of awe-inspiring activities to keep us occupied.
It was a little weird to be away for the holidays. I must admit, hanging out in 90 degree weather on Christmas day is not something I am accustomed to (but something I could definitely deal with). Additionally, on New Year’s Eve, rather than the usual gathering of friends and family with fancy clothes and classy drinks, my cousins and I experienced something quite different in Chiang Mai. I had seen pictures of the lighting of the lanterns, but thought I had missed my chance to see it in person, seeing as Yi Peng (Floating Lantern Festival) occurs in November. I was thrilled to see lanterns being sold on nearly every street corner as we made our way to dinner. We learned that these lanterns are also a New Year’s Eve tradition. Each person that sends a lantern off into the sky is supposed to make a wish for the year to come. My cousins and I all took turns lighting our lanterns and sending them on their way, watching as they joined thousands of other glowing masses carrying the wishes of everyone on the ground below. It truly was a sight to be seen, and nothing I could capture with my personal camera. Though these professionals seemed to do a pretty good job.
Rather than listening to everyone’s New Year’s resolutions revolving around hitting the gym more, spending more time with friends, or learning a foreign language (a resolution I fully support, by the way), the Thai people are much more reserved, silently sending off their wishes for the new year into the sky.
At midnight, the lanterns were joined by a seemingly constant stream of fireworks ringing in the new year. Unfortunately, some of these lanterns quickly became casualties and fell into the river below (that can’t bode well for those New Year’s wishes, could it?), but for the most part, they floated out of harm’s way into that black abyss. We didn’t stick around Chiang Mai long enough to catch the after math of the lanterns making their way back to Thailand (as Sir Isaac Newtown said, what goes up must come down), but I have heard that it is a sight to see, as well.
I know that lighting the lanterns was a really special moment on the trip for my cousins and I, and I am so happy that we were able to be a part of something so different than from we were used to, especially because the tradition is laden with cultural relevance. It is something truly unique to have experienced and something I will never forget!
What is the most interesting New Year’s Eve tradition you have heard of around the world? Have you ever been able to participate?