We took the 9:50 am bus from Sukiothai to Chang Mai. We paid a little extra for the VIP Bus 290 BTH each. The bus stopped for lunch, and we were given a 20 BHT voucher. We paid an extra 20BTH to get a Pho type soup which had “pork” meatballs. It was very good, and we did not spend too much time thinking about what was in the meatballs. Lunch was a bit rushed because as usual all the instructions were in Thai, so we had no idea when the bus was leaving.
We arrived in Chang Mai at a bus station around 4pm. We were not sure which one it was, and we were immediately set upon by the usual hoard of taxi drivers. Thanks to google maps and a data plan we figured out we were only about 4 km from our hotel. The taxis wanted about 150 BTH but we discovered “red cars” which are basically pick-up trucks with cabs and bench seats in the back. There was some confusion about where we were going but we eventually got there for 40 BTH each.
We stayed at the Luna Guest House 2. Which is not where google maps thinks it is. But once you find it the location is great. Close to the old city but a bit off the main street so quieter and cheaper. We checked in and headed to the old walled city. We had no real expectations and were surprised to find a large walking street and market. The market is usually there on weekends only but I believe because it was almost New Years it was bigger than usual. Hundreds of vendors and food stalls on the streets and in the court yards of the Wats. Complete with musical acts including the usual blind and disabled performers.
The stuff for sale was a mix of cheap tourist stuff and some better crafts. We ate at a stall in one of the Wats a noodle soup, something else which was a bit like a dumpling and some meat on a stick. We often have no idea what we are eating when we eat Thai street food, but it is almost always good, and we have never gotten sick.
Because it was almost new Year’s all the Wats were filled with Sai Sin and lanterns. It was really beautiful. We finished the night with a banana pancake from a lady by out hotel whose stall was very popular.
December 31, 2019
The last day of 2019 and we slept in. We found a local spot for eggs, toast and coffee (70BTH each). Harold bought a 100 BTH shirt and we dropped off our laundry (40 BTH a pound). We rented bikes for 50BTH each and rode toward the river and around the old city. We found a few Wats and a nice park just inside the old city wall. Riding a bike here was pretty sketchy. There is no where to ride car free and there is lots of traffic. The cars and motorcycles do try to avoid you, but I am not sure I would rent a bike to ride around town again.
We headed back to the old city for food. The night market was huge and the square in front of Tho Phae gate was full of candles in clay pots. They spelt out “Happy New Year”. It looked like you could buy smaller ones and make your own messages. It was really cool, but you had to pay very close attention to where you were walking to make sure your pants did not catch fire.
The night market had taken over many of the Wats with food stalls and decorations everywhere. We walked to Watt Pha Singhe (40BTH for non-Thais). It is golden in the evening light. There was some sort of celebration going on and we were offered food by random strangers. Most people were dressed in white. Sai Sin, which are white strings blessed by monks were tied to the Buddha Images in the Wat and out into the chairs. This is the same string used to make the bracelets which are often tied around the wrists of Thais and travelers by Buddhist Monks. The Strings represent purity and provide blessing and protection for all.
As the evening went on there were more and more people in the streets and monks chanting. The main square had a main stage celebration with a pop band and a movie playing on the big screen. The movie was being played on a real projector with real film. You could see the operator trying to splice the film together. It was an old American movie with Thai subtitles.
We saw lanterns in the sky and followed them back to the Tha Phae gate. It was 10:00pm and hundreds of people were gathered in the square. Some of them were setting lanterns up into the sky. We watched other people do it somewhat successfully, so we decided we needed to try it too. Yes, we know it’s not good for the environment. We bought what turned out to be a big lantern from a vendor for 100 BTH. We found some smaller ones for 50BTH later.
The lanterns are paper with a flammable ring which you wire to the lantern. You then set fire to the ring. We did not have a lighter ,so we did what most people were doing and used the lit candles in pots on the ground to set the ring on fire. A Thai couple immediately came over to help us launch our lantern. I think they took one look at us and knew we had no idea what we were doing. The key to a successful launch is to make sure the lantern is full of enough hot air to float up by it’s self without waiting too long so it catches on fire. They grabbed my phone and took pictures of us launching our lantern together.
We launched a little before midnight, but we stayed for the big launch. There must have been over a thousand people in the square at this point. The ground was covered in burning pots of wax and the sky was full of lanterns. Some of the lanterns went up into the sky but others caught fire and fell back into the crowd, trees and power lines.
There were trees actively on fire, there were random fireworks being set off and everyone was having a wonderful time.
We bought a couple of beers at the 7-11 and enjoyed the show. It was an amazing way to bring in 2020 and I highly recommend it. We plan to go back.