Date 24th November 2012
For those who have been following my website since 2010 – or have landed on my website when searching for information on Loi Krathong in Thailand – you must have read about how disappointing my 2010 attempt to capture the Yeepeng Lanna festival was. Long story short, I got confirmation when and where the event was taking place but by the time I got to the venue, I missed the big release of lanterns by a matter of minutes!
I was gutted the remainder of the night and vowed I would go back to do it right the next time. I wanted to go to Thailand in 2011, but last year’s floods ruined my plans. This year, I could wait no more. I had plenty of good reasons to go to Thailand and I did.
Even though I had a friend for company, I made no compromises about getting to the venue early this time. As soon as we were done with lunch, we found a tuk-tuk driver willing to take us to Maejo University and back for 600 baht. In 2010 I paid 500 baht, so 600 baht for both of us sounded like a good deal. Plus our driver spoke fairly good English – something of a rarity in Thailand. We felt comfortable knowing everything was going smooth so far. (Yeah, wait till you read how it all ended!)
After getting directions from the university staff, we reached the same point where I was dropped off last time. It all came back to me now — how I walked for at least a kilometre before reaching the actual grounds where the event was taking place.
But this time, we drove down the same road and found parking right next to the main grounds! It was just past 2pm and we were really early. I was happy though. I knew I was safe inside and sure to witness the big release of lanterns this time!
Our tuk tuk driver said he would wait for us until evening and told us he was just going to go out for lunch. But we knew he was leaving the venue to go about his business of picking up other passengers. Who cares, as long as he came back for us. We hadn’t paid him yet.
I drank a lot of ice cold water and went to the restroom because henceforth I wasn’t moving away from my spot.
Sadly the instructions were only in Thai and English, meaning some Chinese and Japanese around me couldn’t wait to light up.
All around were just screams of joy and exhales of utter amazement! Even Ramesh and I were going: “Oh man, oh man… oh oh-ho-ho!” Really… there are no words to describe how you feel at that very moment you see it. It’s a visual-sensory overload! Even though I was shooting at my widest, no camera can capture the sheer scale of the what the night sky looks at that moment. Your eyes are the only best tool.
I immediately then tried to try an capture a panorama comprised of multiple shots. I never once thought how the end result would look… I just clicked-clicked-clicked-clicked.
I had to piece together the above 4 shots (out of 6) manually as no photo-stitching software (including Photoshop’s otherwise impressive Photomerge) could find common links between each photo. Here’s a larger version.
With the activities slowing down at the grounds and people making their way out, Ramesh and I went up to the big hall to get an overhead view.
Well, done taking photos of other people having fun! Now it was our turn. We went to buy one of the big lanterns but sadly they were all sold out. We went out to the main road by the river stream to check with the vendors there.
This year though, I had a smile of my face. I captured the amazing moment the lanterns went up and now I just felt like lighting up some lanterns myself. We looked around until I finally found a big one lying unused and wasn’t torn. Ramesh found a vendor inside and bought another.
We decided to light up the bigger one first.
But I later realized she was only helping us so we would finish up and leave. She was one among the many volunteers who immediately began cleaning up the venue.
Walking back, looking at all the volunteers cleaning up the grounds, putting out the lamps and clearing all the trash, I now understood why the organizers have started commercializing this festival. For over 20 years, this privately organized event grew into one of the most symbolic of Thai festivals in the eyes of many tourists. Heck, I’m sure this event is what inspired this scene in ‘Tangled‘!
Last year when they announced a separate event would be a paid event, that too with a US$100 entry fee (slashed to $80 this time), I scoffed at how greedy they had become. Of course, now they hold two – one free event and one ticketed event. But even this event had large sections of the ground cordoned off by tour groups, reserving the good spots for those who surely paid to attend this festival.
Still, I won’t blame them now. Just because it’s free for many of us, doesn’t mean there aren’t expenses. Somebody has to pay for the free ice-cold water, somebody’s got to pay for all the free plastic chairs they handed out to those who waited since afternoon. Not to mention, again, the hard-working volunteers cleaning up the entire venue and helping out with the various activities.
Will I attend this lantern festival again? Although I managed to get in early this time, I’m still not absolutely thrilled with the photos I took. I shot altogether over 440 photos today, but I only used a quarter of that for this post. Many came out blurred. I don’t entirely blame myself, because I did the best I could with my Canon 7D and 10-22mm f3.5 lens. Being surprised by the moments of amazement that took place before my very own eyes, it was hard to plan every shot. Trying to capture what your eyes see with a camera is always tricky. I would like to think had I got a full frame camera with the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 lens, I would have taken better photos. Then again… ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’. We all have such thoughts after something has happened.
As we walked back to our waiting tuk-tuk driver, it was 8:45pm. But we were happy. Not for long though.
When we approached our driver, he had the look of displeasure on his face. He complained saying he’s been here for hours and we promised we would be out by 6pm (which we never did). I knew why he was acting this way and it soon came out. He demanded we pay 1000 baht instead of 600 baht. I refused, saying that was too much for a tuk-tuk ride. He said he would take us to the police station if we didn’t pay up. So I said “sure, go ahead” and got in.
I wasn’t afraid as this wasn’t the first time a local tried to pull this trick on me in Thailand.
But then, strong winds started blowing. Blowing so hard it was toppling sign boards, chairs and other things off shops on the road side. Then came the loud sound of thunder. Then it began to rain. And how! It was pouring cats, dogs and any other animal you can throw at to describe a torrential downpour! Myself and Ramesh, although with a roof over out heads, were still getting wet with the heavy wind throwing water at us from all open sides. I tried to take my rain coat out of my camera bag but hesitated to move from the covering position I was in. Even opening up the rain coat was a challenge with the wet winds rendering it counter-productive even before I could use it as cover. My camera was getting wet too, so I needed to stuff that back in before it could take in any more water.
And just when you think bad weather in the midst of heavy traffic couldn’t make things any worse, our tuk tuk sputtered to a stop. Water got inside the spark plug making it hard for the driver to restart the vehicle. So yeah, we were stuck in the rain. Then the power went off all around us. Yup.
Ten minutes later, the vehicle restarted and we were off again. But given the driver had chosen to take the inner roads to hopefully skip traffic (or take us to the nearest police station), driving through puddled roads… the tuk tuk stopped again. For the same reason. We now had to wait longer. In the rain, in the dark, and with no clue where in Chiang Mai we were!
But the driver’s attitude changed by now. Although he complained of how cold he was (he was getting drenched too), the talk moved to light banter complaining about Thailand’s electricity cuts, calling it the worst in the world. We assured him there’s always India to make Thailand’s infrastructure look far superior. But as light as both our attitudes were by then, Ramesh and I couldn’t believe how our night was turning out to be. I couldn’t believe my drive back from the lantern festival could possibly make me sick again. We were shivering in the cold and prayed the tuk tuk would start again. It did, some 20 minutes later, and fortunately by then the rain had reduced to a drizzle. We asked the driver to avoid potholes and see if he could connect back to the main highway.
Funnily enough, all I kept thinking was how the rain could have possibly been caused by the development of hot air caused by the thousands of lanterns in the air from the Yeepeng Lanna grounds. It was as though god was pissed with all the fire we were sending up his way and he decided to wash us out with a massive downpour of water! But the driver told us he had heard in the weather report that there was a depression from Vietnam heading towards Thailand. Still, I think the hot air could have aggravated the rains.
By the time we reached Chiang Mai city, it was 10:45pm. It took us two hours to get back, but what horrible two hours it was. We asked our driver to drop us near the Night Market as we just wanted to have some hot food before everything shut shop early because of the rains.
When it came time to pay him, we still gave him 700 baht feeling sorry for an old man shivering out at this time of the night when his wife kept calling asking him where he was.
It’s not that I have it usually, but we felt like having some rum or whiskey to warm our bodies. This was a moment when I craved hot Indian food too, and although available aplenty at the Night Market, most places were Muslim-run restaurants. Which meant we would get the food, but not the alcohol.
We just sat inside a popular restaurant and ordered everything. I desperately wanted to be done with dinner so I could run home to take a hot shower.
Done with dinner, shivering and soaking wet from head to toe, we walked back to our room and I quickly took a hot shower. It felt soooooo good.
So that was my day. From hot and sunny in the morning, thrilling in the evening, to cold and rainy in the evening. I wasn’t even in the mood to look at the photos I took because it was well past midnight and we had a morning flight back to Bangkok where I had to attend SM Town III the next day. I had to sleep.
But I was still happy
P.S: Here’s a video Ramesh took when the lanterns were released into the air:
My 2010 Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai posts: