Yi Peng and Loy Krathong festivals are two separate festivals celebrated in Thailand that usually overlap and whose names are often used interchangeably. My understanding is that although they both celebrate the same notion of getting rid of the bad while welcoming the good, they are in fact distinct festivals. In Yi Peng, paper lanterns are lit up in the sky. In Loy Krathong, offerings decorated with flowers and candles are floated down a river. Some say it is also a way to celebrate Diwali - a Hindu festival (festival of lights as it’s more commonly known around the world) which also falls around the same time since Hindu and Thai calendars have a lot of similarities. I was fortunate to celebrate both with new friends that I know will be my friends for life.
Back track to a month and a half ago when I arrived into Thailand- my fifth country in SEA as a newbie wanderer. I felt the need to set up camp for a bit. I got tired of living out of guest houses, hotels and eating out all the time (yes, there does come a point in your travels where rice and noodles, especially if you’re a vegetarian, just aren’t that appealing anymore). I’d heard wonderful things about Chiang Mai from fellow travelers and thought it was as good a place as any to settle in for a bit, do some volunteer work and mull upon my future. So I set out to look for a studio apartment with a kitchen. The first ten encounters I had with landlords of various units went pretty much the same way - them bursting out into laughter when I told them I wanted a kitchen and then looking at me like I was from another planet when I acted out how I enjoy cooking (yeah, kitchens aren’t common in apartments around here since inexpensive food is so readily available outside.)
After searching in vain, wandering about the streets in the afternoon heat and passing through seedy go-go bars (this is Thailand after all) at night, I began to feel that maybe I’d picked the wrong place to be my temporary abode. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language and none of the places I saw fit in with what I had in mind. I began to feel extremely homesick when one night, wandering around the night bazaar area, I came across a restaurant called Imran’s Kebab Bar which turned out to be an Indian place run by a Pakistani and was neither a bar nor did he sell kebabs. Ah, the ironies of Asia! Using Indian food as an excuse to cheer me up, I ended up eating there (delicious food btw!)and started talking to Imran and his friend Saranya a.k.a. Tammy. I told them about the difficulties I was having finding a place to stay. We all drank Chang together, exchanged pleasantries and Facebook IDs and then I left thinking I would never see them again in my life. A few days later I got a message from Imran - “Come over to the restaurant, Tammy’s found a place for you”. And sure enough when Tammy took me to see the apartment, it was exactly what I was looking for! Here I was, in a foreign country, having just met these people and yet they went out of their way to help me.
Since then, we have become good friends - swapping stories of past relationships, our different cultures, making fun of each other in the way that friends do. We’ve had some fun times celebrating Eid and Diwali together but also some somber moments like when Imran met with an accident on his motorcycle. In the incredibly short amount of time since I’ve known them, we have formed a bond - this strange trio of an Indian, a Pakistani and a Thai.
As for living in Chiang Mai, I now volunteer at an NGO called We women which strives for equality and human rights for the brave women of Burma; I ride around on my scooter; I have taken up Yoga; I cook in my tiny kitchen and I have great friends that brighten up my day! I know at some point I will have to face realities of the world but for now life is simple, I am content and Chiang Mai is turning out to be the perfect place for my temporary abode after all.
So, as I lit my lantern with my new friends and watched it soar high along with thousands of other lanterns at the Yi Peng festival, I felt blessed and truly grateful for the experience!