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Loy Krathong and Yee Peng

Mary Ann and I were on the 14th floor of the Hilton Hotel for NYE in Caracas, Venezuela. Everyone in Caracas bought BIG skyrockets, and with no organized program, complete mayhem ensued. That was the most impressive display of community participation in an event  I have ever seen. Until now. The night(s) of the November full moon find the city of Chiang Mai alive and vibrant in a wonderful celebration. Actually there are two different traditional celebrations happening at the same time. The first is Loy (some times spelled Loi) Kathrong. The origin of this celebration is lost in folklore. It is either to thank the river for bringing bounty to the land or to celebrate Buddhas first steps on the bank of the river Narmaha river in India. No one seems to care. What happens now is that couples make rafts, mostly the size of a medium pizza, with flowers, incense and a candle. They light the incense sticks and the candle and include a token coin on the raft. They make wishes for the next year and set them afloat in the  Ping  river. They drift down river but never reach  the Pong river (sorry, dumb joke) before they get collected by young   boys for the coins.

Girls preparing to launch their kathrongs.

Kathrongs floating down the river, Poor photo I know, there were thousands of these in the Ping this night.

However, the most impressive part of this celebration is something that makes Chiang Mai almost unique. I hear this is done other places, but I also have read in magazines and in a book about cultural festivals that nowhere else is this done on the scale it is done here.

This is the scene at a place north of town where thousands of these lanterns, called Khom Loi, are set off simultaneously.

This is what these lanterns look like before being launched. They are made out of rice paper. I think the fuel is a half inch thick cut of a toilet paper roll, soaked in Kerosene. I could be wrong about the toilet paper, but it is some sort of paper, and definitely soaked in something flammable.

This is the paper being lit. You hold onto the lantern until it wants to float, then you let it fly! This is one of the three I sent up. I included a firework attachment (The thing hanging on the right side) that made it send of sparks all the way up.

Now what would a community celebration be without a parade? Chiang Mai did up an excellent parade. OK, if the Rose Bowl parade is excellent, that makes this one very good. Lots of pretty girls and floats. In my coomitment to a full service blog, here are some photos.

The princesses and the queen on this float

I'd be remiss if I did not show you the queen!

Of course every parade has to have a military presence. This is the float of the Royal navy of Thailand. It is shaped like a royal barge, and was gold in color with lots of flowers. The two guys riding it could have been made of plastic, I mean they never moved a bit.

And no parade ever walked the streets of any town without politicians. This is the United States Department of State at work.

When I got close to this guy,( the US Counsel in Ching Mai) closer than his security detail was comfortable with, I shouted out to him "Hey man, You've gone NATIVE!" This made his wife laugh uproariously, he smiled and said "yeah, native".

And last, the music. The parade started off with a marching band bigger than my high school’s,  but smaller than say Ohio State. They were playing, of all things…wait for it…the theme song from Rocky 1. Gotta play something I guess. I always like the drummers in my former home of Bocas. This is what the drummers looked like in Chiang Mai last night.

They kept up a great rhythm.

The entire town was gussied up. Here are a few photos for those of you still awake.

These elephants were constructed along the moat that surrounds the old city. There was a competition and these were finalists.

An elephant in front of one of the ancient gates to the city.

The square at Tha pea gate is huge and this photo only captures a small % of the lit lanterns covering the entire area.

Of course for every celebration, there must be an aftermath,

These spent rice paper lanterns, so magical the night before, could be found all over the city in the morning. Make that early morning because people were everywhere cleaning them up. I was lucky to get a picture of one.

Thank you so much for joining me for Loy Kathrang and Yee Peng. I hope you get to see it yourself someday. One thing I forgot to mention, booze was prohibited outside of bars and inebriated people were not present anywhere. When you play with fire, safe and sober is a good idea.

Although I have other places to explore, Chiang Mai is now on top of my retirement possibilities.  After all, if the US Consul can go native, why can’t I?

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Aw Phuket

We are now in Phuket. It is not pronounced like you just pronounced it. The locals pronounce it like Bukcket. Close anyway. It is an hour and a half flight south of Bangkok.

It has a huge international airport with flights from Oz, Europe, the Middle East and Japan. Airlines I have never heard of. Tiger Air? Eidelweiss Air? Pacific Blue Airlines?

We flew in on Air Asia, the local equivalent of Air Arabia. Air Asia started after WWII as an arm of Air America, which was the CIA’s worldwide on-demand transport service. Their motto was “Anything, Anywhere, Anytime”. My father worked for Air Asia until he found out that they were dropping rice into Viet Cong held villages during the monsoon so that they could keep up the fight, prolong the war and sustain America’s war machine. Anyway,  the CIA sold Air Asia after the Vietnam war and it is now a profitable airline. It serves all of SE Asia, Japan, China, Oz, India and even flies to London.

Phuket is a tropical island. I find it hard to compare to anywhere else I have been in this whirlwind year. Of course nothing like the UAE Nothing is like Nepal. The closest is probably Bocas. But once you get past the palm trees and the banana trees, the similarities cease.

First, the airport. Although there are houses alongside the airport, there is a real  fence and there are no people meandering along the side of the runway carrying stuff home. They deliver your bags on a carousel instead of stuffing them through a whole in the wall. The bathrooms work. The parking lot is not mud.

The island is maybe 10 times the size of Isla Bocas and has been a tourist destination for over 40 years, consequently, it is “built up”. Every chain store and brand name you can imagine is in town. There are wonderful white sand beaches all around it. I have not noticed any surfers. I think the last big wave here was the Tsunami. One thing in common with Bocas is Euro Trash tourists walking around in nothing but a nutbag.

Hotels here, at least ours, are quite nice. You can choose on or near the beach, as we did, or up in the hills if you are paranoid about another tidal wave. Of course being an international destination you have a choice of any kind of restaurant. Menu prices are higher than Chiang Mai or Bangkok, but lower than Bocas.

International destination is an understatement. We have heard every language other than American here. There are many many young Japanese couples in Phuket. They have this weirdo custom. They wear matching outfits that “split” a T shirt. It is hard to describe, but I will try. Imagine one of those Japanese cartoon characters talking into a soup can, with a string leading off the left side of the guy’s shirt. The girl will have on a shirt with the string leading on from the right side, to a soup can held to her ear. Maybe this is easier. Each has half a butterfly, so if they stand next to each other they make a complete butterfly. Maybe they are honeymooners. I cannot imagine walking around like that for very long. In fact, I cannot imagine ever doing it, at all, not for one day,one hour, one minute. Crazy as shithouse rats is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.Mary Ann thinks it is cute. When she told me that, she watched my face, and said “don’t worry”.

That is all I have to bore you with today. If you want to know what I had for dinner you will have to read about it on FaceBook. Isn’t that why you are on FB anyway so people can tell you what they had for lunch?

Some pics follow. Thanks for reading, tell a friend, make  a comment. Peace.

At the BKK airport, we were behing this gut with bookoo stuff to check including what looked like a chicken in a bag,

Airport security, THAI STYLE!

Mary Ann will not be able to attend Lo Kathtrong this year, so she launched a lantern from the beach last night. It floated higher and higher while we stood and watched. I'm not sure if it gives you a thousand years of good luck or anything, but is fun, and beautiful.

Finally, a useful souvenir!

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