New Year's Eve in Chiang Mai
Floating up some new year's wishes from fifteen hours into the future
After three flights, ten time zones, and thirty-six hours of travel, we made it to our first stop: Chiang Mai, Thailand. I chose to spend new year's eve in Chiang Mai because in lieu of fireworks, it's traditional to send off large lanterns into the sky along with your hopes for the coming year. It sounded like a very appropriate ceremony to kick off a year of travel.
When we get into town, the Airbnb wasn't ready yet so we ventured into town. We're staying in the Su Thep area of the city off of Nimmanahaeminda road and we totally lucked out. It's central but not in a touristy area, and there's a fantastic mix of upscale and casual bars, restaurants, and coffee shops within a very short walk. I love this neighborhood and am quite content here.
Right after doing a bit of exploring, grabbing food, and resting by the pool for a bit, I went to sleep at 3pm and slept for fifteen hours! My goal was to sleep until at least 6am to try to get adjusted to the time change and I'm glad to report I'm almost there. No amount of ambien or half-hearted plane naps can compare to an actual bed.
Needless to say, I woke up pretty hungry around 7am and went out in search of food. Not relying on Google or Yelp to find places to go in a new city has been a hard habit to break, because all the best places rarely have a website or phone number. It didn't take long to find a stall on the side of the road with a large crowd of Thai people, and that's where I learned what a typical Thai breakfast looks like.
In Thai, if you want to ask how someone's doing, you ask, "have you eaten rice?" Rice is such a staple in Thai cuisine that if someone has had rice today, they've probably had a proper meal and are probably doing fairly well. In addition to rolling and frying some delicious looking donuts, most people were lined up to get a scoop of rice, a fried egg, a scoop of meat, and a scoop of veggies. I ordered the stewed squash and lemongrass vermicelli, which is completely delicious. You can top it with soy sauce or a salty chili vinegar sauce.
Oh, and this whole meal was 30 baht, less than a dollar. You can eat very well here for less than $5 a day.
After a long afternoon nap, I was prepared to stay awake long enough to ring in the new year. It's about a 40 minute walk from the apartment to the old city, distinguishable by the original stone wall and moat surrounding the thirteenth-century fortress. As soon as I entered the fortress through one of the gates, the quiet streets gave way to a bustling labyrinth of a night market. The city shuts the fortress down to block off cars, so scores of people like me wandered through packed streets jammed with stalls selling trinkets, clothes, fruit juice, fried skewers of meat, and mango salad. It was a one-of-a-kind experience to be a part of a city-wide celebration. We scoped out some of the temples and ruins of an ancient city right next to a band playing the drums and electric guitar. Old and new was enveloped under a night sky dotted with lanterns, beginning to trickle away from the city like bright, migrating jellyfish.
Tha Phae, the easternmost gate, is where the lanterns were taking flight. It didn't take long to find a vendor, borrow a lighter, and set the lantern afloat. It was exciting to handle such a large, flaming ball of paper, let it fill up with enough hot air, and release it up to join its thousands of other companions in the sky. Afterwards, Dain and I grabbed some Thai tall boys and sat by the moat to watch more lanterns take flight, We got a big kick out of seeing some get lodged in trees, or some unsuccessful ones burn up and fall from the sky like shooting stars. Midnight brought with it some fireworks (although we were told that there weren't supposed to be any), a kiss, our hope for the travels ahead, some late-night mango salad, and a warm walk home.
For those of you who are stateside, have a very happy new year! Cheers to fun, adventure, and clarity in 2017.