Every year, on the evening of the full moon of the 12th lunar month, thousands of paper lanterns are launched into the skies above Chiang Mai. At temples all across the city, monks help tourists and residents alike light their lanterns and send them into the sky with a wish. It is a stunning display that goes on for hours; until the sun comes up lanterns can be seen drifting up towards the heavens, carrying with them the desires of the people below.
If you don't have time to visit the actual tribal villages in the Thai mountains, you can visit the Maesa Elephant Camp and take an elephant ride through the jungle to spend a few hours at Baan Tong Luang- a Hill Tribe cultural preservation village. Here you will see villagers from the Lahu Tribe, Hmong Tribe, Palong Tribe and the famous Karen Long Neck Tribe. Members of these tribes have been imported to provide visitors with an opportunity to see the culture and way of life of Hill Tribe people and provide an opportunity for the tribes to earn income by selling their textiles. The village is also accessible by road for an entry fee of 500 baht; there's no additional fee for entry through the elephant camp.
Tuk Tuks are open air, colorful, motorized rickshaws that weave in and out of the streets of Bangkok and other Thai cities. They are usually similar in cost to a regular taxi but you should always bargain for the price before you get in to avoid the surprise of a large fare. More of a novelty for tourists than something locals are apt to ride in (though this Thai family appeared to be transporting empty water delivery bottles in theirs), it's still something you have to experience while in Thailand!
The busy streets of Bangkok have some of the most vibrant modes of transportation you can find; from the multi-hued tuk tuks, to florescent buses and taxis in hot pink, fire engine red and every shade in between, the highways are transformed an undulating, zooming rainbow of colors.
Each year on the evening of the Yi Peng festival, tourists and locals alike release floating lanterns into the sky, symbolizing the release of bad memories and new wishes for the future. Monks are on hand at the temples of Chiang Mai to assist visitors with their launch, but in a vacant parking lot across the street from one of the wats, I found three monks paying their own respects to Buddha and releasing lanterns.
In Thailand, nine is a lucky number and Buddhists believe that praying, or making merit, at nine sacred temples in a single day will bring prosperity and luck to their lives.
Is there anything more representative of a relaxing beach vacation than a fruity drink with a tropical garnish?
Tuk tuks are arguably the most adventurous way to get around Bangkok. Be sure to agree on a price first, as the drivers language can be as colorful as their chariots if you start haggling over the price once you reach your destination.
At local markets all across Thailand, like this one in Chiang Mai, you can find all the fresh ingredients & spices necessary to cook traditional Thai meals. If you're feeling less ambitious, let them do the work for you and take your pick from rows of locally prepared dishes.
My friends and I knew that there would be lanterns filling the sky for the Yi Peng festival in Chiang Mai, but we were unaware that the city would be decorated during the day as well so we were surprised to find row after row of colorful lanterns filling the main square as we were exploring during the afternoon.
The brightly colored woven scarves that the women of Thailand's hill tribes create are just some of the beautiful textiles you can bring home from their markets.
About 20 minutes outside of Chiang Mai lies the Maesa Elephant camp. Here you can see elephants bathing in the Maesa river with their mahouts (trainers), visit with baby elephants in the nursery, watch the elephants perform a series of tricks- including painting, and then take a 25 minute ride up the mountainside into the jungle on the back of an elephant in a howdah.
On West Railay Beach, all of the island's amenities are in one central location called the Walking Street. This short, sandy street at the edge of the beach connects to a path that least to East Railay- about a 10 minute walk away. The Walking Street consists of about 20 little shops; basically one or two representatives of the kinds of stalls you will find all over the Thai beaches- a restaurant, an ice cream shop, tourist info booths, souvenir shops, scuba trips, a pancake cart and a massage parlor. It's a cute little area where you can do everything from arrange a climbing or sea kayaking adventure, refuel afterward or pick up aloe for the areas you missed when applying your sunscreen.
Chiang Mai has around 300 wats, or temples, in and around the city, some of them dating back 700 years. Each is seemingly more ornate than the last and you could spend hours exploring the details and observing the monks that reside there in their practice.
After the sun goes down on the beautiful beaches of the Phi Phi islands, the night life picks up. Kicking off the beach party, each evening at 10pm, the string of bars on the main beach at Phi Phi put on fire shows in which batons and bolos filled with kerosene are whirled around at impressive speeds by daring young locals.
For about $13 you can jump on a long-tail boat leaving from the main beach of Phi Phi Don and spend the afternoon island hopping. There are multiple tour companies, most offering a visit to Monkey Island, Viking Caves, Pileh Bay, and Maya Island for snorkeling and exploring before filling you up with fresh pineapple and a bucket of Sangsom and coke as you cruise back to Phi Phi in the warm glow of the sun setting over the Andaman Sea.
There's nothing like taking a break from touring temples to sip a delicious Thai iced tea! This regional treat is made of black tea with crushed tamarind seed, sweetened with sugar & condensed milk, poured over crushed ice and topped with evaporated milk.
At the top of Wat Traimit Wittayarama, the Royal Temple in Bangkok that houses the Golden Buddha, is a series of bells that can be rung for good luck. These bells surround a giant metal kettle where you can throw some change to make a wish when you are finished.
Located 11 miles outside of Chiang Mai, Tiger Kingdom is a great day trip where you can play, pet and take photos of tigers. There is no fee to enter the park, but if you wish to enter the enclosure with a trainer for 15 minutes at a time, you pay according to the size of the tigers- smallest, small, medium and big (ranging from 5 month olds to adults). While there have been reports of mistreatment at similar institutions in Thailand, these tigers appeared to be well cared for and not sedated- the handlers told us that they are so calm around people because they are raised in this environment by humans from birth. It is a thrillingly surreal experience to sit next to a fully grown tiger and stroke his fur or sit on the grass as the little guys wrestle around you.
About 20 minutes outside of Chiang Mai, the Thai Farm Cooking School is a fun and educational way to spend an afternoon. After being picked up at your accommodations, you and your classmates for the day are taken for a tour of the Ruamchook market and given some time to explore. When you arrive at the farm, your instructor will take you outside to learn about all the different herbs & vegetables and how to pick them. You then spend the rest of the afternoon alternately cooking and stuffing yourself silly. Over the course of the day you learn to make dishes in 5 categories, with three selections to choose from in each, at your own cooking station- appetizers, curry and curry paste, main course, noodle dish, and dessert. The instructor was very helpful and the food was delicious. Best of all, before taking you back to your hotel you receive a recipe book so you can recreate all your...
South East Asia's most popular form of transportation between islands is the long-tail boat, or Reua Hang Yao. These large wooden canoes are powered by a second hand car engine with a propeller mounted on a moveable pole that extends out into the water, like a tail, and allows the driver to steer. Affixed to the front of the boat are colorful scarves that blow in the wind as you race across the waves towards the next beautiful beach.
Every night the fire dancer pictured above lays out his supplies in the sand and warms up for his nightly show on West Railay beach as the sun slowly sinks below the horizon. He has performed every night for the last 14 years either in Railay or Koh Phi Phi and his experience is evident in his performances . The Flame Tree Restaurant places mats out in the sand so you can order some tropical drinks to sip as you enjoy his performance. At the end of the show he invites up anyone who would like to give spinning the fiery staff a try under his supervision, which is a very unique and slightly scary experience.
One of the most important parts of a Thai wedding is called Pook Mue. During this ceremony, sacred white cotton cords are tied around the wrists of the bride and groom by each guest as a form of congratulations and a symbol of warm wishes for the couple's future happiness.
You're bound to work up both a sweat and an appetite walking around Chiang Mai, so take some time to stop at one of the carts on the street where the locals sell perfect portions of delicious coconut ice cream.
In the markets of Chiang Mai you can pick up some fresh fish stuffed with all kinds of delicious spices. And if you're too hungry to wait until later, you can point to the fish of your choosing and one of the local vendors will grill it up for you right on the spot.