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Enjoying Loy Krathong and the Chiangmai Zoo

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Loy Krathong and Chiangmai ZooThis is the 2nd part of our 6 days in Chiangmai. Last time, we visited the elephant camp in Lamphang and 2 old temples in Lamphun. This time I will share our experience of the Loy Krathong festival and our visit to the Chiangmai zoo.

*See our full itinerary by following this link – 3 weeks in Thailand. BTW, the exchange rate is about 35 baht for 1 US dollar. All tourist attractions have 2 prices, one for Thais and one for foreigners. Typically, foreigners pay about twice of what the locals pay.

Loy Krathong day

Loy Krathong started off very well because my dad proved to us that he could get better local food more affordably than at the restaurant. He went to the early morning market and picked up a bunch of local food for around 200 baht. They were very good and we ate way too much breakfast.

The food from the market came in these little plastic bags. Each of them cost from 10 to 30 baht each, less than $1 per item.

On the big plate we had vegetables, fried pork chops, pork rinds, and sai oua sausage (this one was excellent.) On the 3 little dishes, we had kang hung lay curry, jackfruit salad, and beef larb. The jackfruit salad is called yum med kanun in Thai and it was very delicious. The kang hung lay was good too. One problem with northern dishes is that they aren’t very visually appealing. Maybe we need to serve them in nice dishes and garnish them with some herbs.

After breakfast, we went to my dad’s office at a stock brokerage. I don’t know how this works, but I think a customer can use a small office if they trade enough volume. He was having problems with his emails and new phones and I helped fix his accounts. Once done with tech support, we went to visit the first temple in Chiangmai – Wat Chiang Man.

Wat Chiang Man

Wat Chiang Man was built by King Mangrai at the founding of Chiangmai. King Mangrai was the founder of the Lanna kingdom who conquered Lamphun (where we visited last time) and absorbed the Hariphunchai kingdom. The chedi at Wat Chiang Man has elephants at the bottom tier that look like they are supporting the upper levels. That was neat and I wonder how much of this is original and how much is restoration.

Two very important Buddha statues are housed here. Prah Sila is carved from stone and originated in Sri Lanka about 1,2000 years ago. Prah Sila has the power to bring rain and plays an important role during the Songkran water festival. Phra Sae Tang Khamani or the crystal Buddha is a smaller Buddha image carved from quartz. These two Buddha images are the Palladium statues of Chiangmai and the city will continue to prosper as long as they are kept here. (Nice, I learned a new word today.) There is also a colorful mural depicting Buddha’s life in the wihan (shrine) where the Buddha images reside.

The Lanna kingdom went through a turbulent time after King Mangrai. A few centuries after its founding, Chiangmai was occupied by Burma and the Lanna kingdom eventually was absorbed into the Siam kingdom (modern day Thailand). Northern people still speak a version of the old Lanna dialect now called Kham Muang. This is different from the central Thai language and you might be confused because everything sounds different in Chiangmai. All the locals people can understand and speak the central Thai language, but they prefer to use Kham Muang. I used to be able to speak this dialect when I was a kid, but now I only understand a few words. 

Small Loy Krathong

Loy Krathong is a celebration to show our gratitude to the water goddess and ask forgiveness for the ensuing havoc we wreak on the water. It is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. Thais make a floating basket, called a krathong, and launch it down the river to carry away the bad luck. When I was a kid, we used to make the krathong from banana leaves, flowers, decorative paper, candle, incense sticks, and a styrofoam floating base.

It looks like we are a lot more environmentally conscious now and the bases are back to being made from the traditional banana stalks. Some krathongs are made from bread so they can break down in a few days and feed the fishes. On the full moon night, the locals go down to the river and float their small krathongs. This night is called small Loy Krathong. The next day, you can see the parade, boat races, a giant krathong contest, the Loy Krathong beauty pageant, fireworks and more. Northern Thais also like to launch floating lanterns during these two nights.

My dad drove and we purchased 3 krathongs to launch down the river. The simple ones cost 20 baht and the elaborate ones cost more. The streets and river banks were increasingly packed with people as the night set in. This was Mrs. RB40 and Junior’s first experience with Loy Krathong and they had a great time. They enjoyed launching the krathongs down the river and following them on foot for a while. Sending the krathongs down the river gave me a peaceful feeling and reminded me of my childhood.

Launching our kratongs

We launched our krathongs early and went to the Nawarat pedestrian bridge to watch all the krathongs float down the river. The river bank got really crowded later on so I was glad we did it early. When I was a kid, there were only a few foreigners who came to Loy Krathong. Now, there are visitors from all over the world here. We also saw many people launching the floating lanterns from both sides of the river.

The Loy Krathong celebration is toned down this year because the king recently passed away, but we like the more subdued celebration. The street was already crowded and noisy enough without all the extra stuff. Normally, there’d be a lot of loud music, fireworks, the Miss Loy Krathong pageant, and various other shows. Loy Krathong is called Yi Peng in Chiangmai.

Floating lanterns

I also learned something new. The mass floating lantern release that you’ve probably seen online isn’t a part of the official Loy Krathong celebration. The mass lantern release was invented by a few enterprising monks in the 80s to attract tourists and it succeeded brilliantly. Previously, there were two mass releases – one free for the locals and one for the tourists. The free one was discontinued a few years ago and now you will have to pay $100-$300 to attend this event in Mae Jo, about 30 km away from Chiangmai. This was a local religious celebration that did not coincide with Loy Krathong, but the authorities have limited floating lanterns to the 2 nights of Loy Krathong. This is due to the proximity to the Chiangmai airport and danger of collisions. So now the mass floating lantern release is held on the same day as Loy Krathong. Whew, that’s confusing even for me.

(Lovely full moon.) Locals and tourists release floating lanterns in Chiangmai too, but they are spread all over town and are not synchronized. It doesn’t look as impressive as the pictures you might have seen, but it was still cool to see the lanterns floating up in the air. My dad purchased a few floating lanterns for us and we enjoyed watching our bad luck floating away.

For dinner this evening, we just had a few sticks of meatballs and Esan sausages. We felt like we had been eating all day! We only went to the first night of Loy Krathong because getting there is too inconvenient for my dad. He prefers to avoid the crowds and the traffic jams. If you want to experience the full celebration, you should get a hotel near Mae Ping, the main river. We’ll probably do that next time so we don’t have to inconvenience my dad.

Retirement resort

On the 15th, I went to visit the Care Retirement resort in Mae Rim. This retirement resort is about a 45 minute drive from Chiangmai and I will write about it in full detail a bit later. It seems like a great option for older retirees who are open to relocating to Thailand. This is an all inclusive retirement home in a small resort setting and it is quite comfortable. The price starts at around $1,300 per month.

Mrs. RB40 stayed home with Junior and made him do some homework. We came back in time for lunch and went to eat Khao Soi again at Khao Soi Mae Sai. After lunch we went to the mall nearby to get a reward for Junior for coming on this trip with us. He has been behaving relatively well for a 5 year old boy. This kind of travel is tough for kids because there is no set routine and he doesn’t get to play as much as when he’s home. For dinner, we went to have some seafood at the restaurant next to our condotel.

Seafood

This is actually a huge all you can eat hot pot restaurant. Most people come for the buffet and order seafood as something extra. My dad only likes seafood so we skipped the buffet and went straight for the seafood.

We got crabs stir fried with curry powder, shrimps and sea snails roasted over charcoal, steamed egg crabs, tom yum shrimp soup, and shrimp fried rice. Wow, that was a lot of seafood.

We got 4 of these steamed crabs with chili sauce. The crabs were fresh and delicious, but Mrs. RB40 had a hard time with them. She doesn’t like eating shellfish in public because it is too messy.

The tom yum shrimp soup wasn’t much to look at, but it was really good. The shrimps were very fresh and the soup tasted much better than any tom yum I’ve had in the US. The bill for 6 came to about 1,200 baht or $40. That’s dirt cheap for seafood. 

Khuang Singh Chinese Cemetery

For our last full day in Chiangmai, we squeezed in a couple of activities in the morning. First, we went to visit my grandparents’ grave to pay our respects. I don’t recall going there as a kid, but I must have visited before. Chinese descendants usually get together during Qingming every year to pay respect to their ancestors at the cemetery. It is an ingenious way to keep family ties strong. My grandparents were all Chinese immigrants and my parents follow some of the major Chinese traditions. These traditions are slowly disappearing in my generation especially for those who live overseas.

RB40Jr was fascinated by the cemetery for some reason. We have driven by cemeteries in Portland and he always asked about them. Maybe it was those zombie stories I was telling him at bedtime… My dad said the plot cost 5,000 baht 65 years ago, but they now go for half a million baht. You’d have to dig up your ancestor before selling the plot, though. That’s probably extremely bad luck. Not sure how much I can believe my dad sometimes.

Chiangmai Zoo

Actually, we didn’t have much of a plan for this day. I figured we’ll be pretty worn out by now and didn’t schedule anything. RB40Jr has been a trooper, though. His favorite activity was going to the pool because it was always so hot and humid out, but he has been interested in the various activities we’ve done as well. So I figured we’ll go to the Chiangmai Zoo so he can enjoy a kid activity. The Chiangmai Zoo is a very popular local attraction and it’s a cheap day out.

The zoo entry fee was 100 baht ($3) for adults and 20 baht for kids. I used to come to this zoo all the time when I was a kid, and it has improved a lot since then. The zoo is huge now (over 200 acres) and they have quite a few exotic animals. We saw koala bears, elephants, albino deer, gibbons, giant tortoises, crocodiles, and more. The enclosures were pretty good for the most part. The bigger animals have room to roam, most habitats depend on a moat to keep the animals in, and there weren’t a lot of cages. Some bigger birds like the hornbills were in cages and it looked like they needed more space. There is a nice aviary for smaller birds and I like that better than the cages.

Panda Exhibit

The main attraction at the Chiangmai Zoo are the pandas! The pandas are on a 10 year loan from China. The panda habitat is very nice and it cost 50 baht ($1.50) for adults and 20 baht for kids. The whole exhibit is heavily air conditioned and the pandas can come up very close to the visitors, maybe 10 feet away. The enclosure is airy and they even have a small play structure. It’s a very neat exhibit and we spent a while there. RB40Jr has never seen a panda in person before so he enjoyed their antics. We also got a souvenir photoshopped picture for 100 baht ($3.)


Aquarium

The Chiangmai Zoo has a nice aquarium on the premises and RB40Jr was eager to visit. The entry cost 250 baht ($7) for adults and 180 baht ($5) for kids. The aquarium is neat, but I thought it was a bit pricey for the locals. If you’ve been to a world class aquarium in the US, then you probably can skip this one. We went to the aquarium in Newport on the Oregon Coast last year and it was much better than here. Well, the Chiangmai aquarium has some very cool river fish exhibits, but the Newport aquarium has better ocean displays. The Chiangmai aquarium featured the world’s longest tunnel aquarium (436 feet) and that was pretty neat. RB40Jr. was fascinated with the large stingray.

It was nearly noon by the time we got out of the aquarium so we decided to finish off our zoo trip. Thailand weather is very hot and humid so we try to avoid being out in the sun in the afternoon. It’s somewhat funny that locals avoid the sun like a plague. They prefer to drive and stay out of the sun as much as they can. The only people walking around in the sun without an umbrella are tourists.

Chinese food

My dad took us to a Hong Kong style restaurant for lunch. The food was really good and we overate again. Overeating seems to be the theme here in Thailand. The food is fantastic so it is difficult to say no and older relatives always want you to eat more. They must think we are starving in the US!

This is the fish and thousand year old egg soup in the front. The fried rolls in the back are shrimp and bamboo shoots wrapped in tofu skin.

This is their salt and pepper squid and noodle wrapped shrimp rolls. The Chinese food was very good and it cost around 700 baht ($20.) My dad said the Thai princess shuts down the restaurant for 2 days whenever she comes to Chiangmai so she can have lunch here, it is that good.

We took it easy the rest of the day and went swimming again. For dinner, we walked to eat at the food court in the mall nearby. (Walking is okay when the sun is low.) We had crispy Thai oyster omelette, takoyaki, garlic chicken, and some meatballs. These were okay, but not as good as what we had in the local restaurants. Mrs. RB40 said the mall food seems sterilized somehow.

Last morning in Chiangmai

We didn’t do anything on our last morning in Chiangmai. The next day will be very busy in Siem Reap so we needed a rest day. My dad went to the market and got us a bunch of local food again.

Again, these food weren’t very visually appealing, but they tasted great. The lower right dish is some kind of small fishes and vegetables wrapped in a banana leaf. To the left of that is the kang hoh (dry pork curry) and beef larb. The top plate has fried pork chops, and 3 local vegetarian dishes. I don’t even know the names, but they were very good.
Our flight left at 3 pm so we headed to the airport at 1 pm. Junior didn’t eat much breakfast and we got him a burger. He really surprised us by scarfing down a whole Big Mac. A hamburger is much easier on a kid’s palate than Thai food. Also, he must have been tired of all the strange food we’ve been feeding him. The adults didn’t eat anything because we were still full from the huge breakfast.

That’s it for Chiangmai. It was great to spend a few days with my dad. That’s my 5 year limit, though. Our personalities are so different that it’s better for him to live in Thailand and we live in the US. At least we didn’t fight this time. Next stop, we’re going to Siem Reap to visit the legendary Angkor Wat. Stay tuned!

Our condo is in the building on the lower right corner. 🙂

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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Mr. Tako @ Mr. Tako Escapes November 21, 2016, 12:46 am

    Looks like you’re *still* having a great time Joe. Thanks for all the food pics….that seafood restaurant looks AMAZING.

    It’s very interesting to hear about the festivals and how things have changed since you were a kid. Did you grow up around Chiang Mai then? At what point did you come to the States?

    • retirebyforty November 21, 2016, 3:30 pm

      We are starting to wear down a bit now. Mrs. RB40 got bit by a lot mosquitoes the last few days. Once we got out of the big cities, the mosquitoes is a big problem for her.
      I came to the US when I was 12. That was just early enough to retain some Thai culture and fully assimilate into the US culture.

  • The Green Swan November 21, 2016, 4:08 am

    The festival sounds pretty neat. That’s great you planned your trip around it, definitely something I would want to do on a visit. Interesting how it has become much more popular with tourists!

    • retirebyforty November 21, 2016, 3:31 pm

      Yes, it is very popular now. It’s good for the local economy, but it definitely changed the character of the festival. I’m sure that’s the same for any popular event.

  • Thanks for all the amazing details and photos Joe. This is a culture I know very little about and I love reading your accounts. The cemeteries seem so similar to ours and that was a real surprise. I love the krathongs floating down the river too. I bet Jr. won’t forget that either – and glad they don’t use styrofoam anymore 🙂

    • retirebyforty November 21, 2016, 3:32 pm

      We took a lot of pictures so he can refer to them when he’s older. I don’t remember anything from when I was 5 so I doubt he would remember much of this trip. We’ll see…
      I’m very glad they don’t use Styrofoam anymore too.

  • Pennypincher November 21, 2016, 5:31 am

    The cuisine looks amazing! Eating your way thru Asia! I love those lanterns, but I think they are banned in many places in the US=forest fires.
    I’m sorry, but the 5 year limit on your dad makes me laugh out loud. You can borrow the hand painted wooden sign on my front door. It reads: Friends Welcome. Relatives by Appointment.
    Now I’m hungry looking at all your great food photography. : )

    • retirebyforty November 21, 2016, 3:36 pm

      There are a lot of forest around Chiangmai too. I guess the lanterns are pretty good at burning up before coming down. Maybe it’s a bit wetter in Chiangmai than western US.

  • Mr Crazy Kicks November 21, 2016, 5:56 am

    Wow, that seafood looks awesome! And those are my kind of prices. Although Junior really seems to be digging that big Mac 🙂

    I’ll be interested to hear more about the all inclusive retirement resort.

    • retirebyforty November 21, 2016, 3:37 pm

      The seafood was quite good. Surprisingly, Junior even liked those roasted sea snails.
      I’ll try to get the retirement article up next Monday.

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher November 21, 2016, 6:23 am

    Man, I’ve always wanted to try jackfruit. They had them at our grocery store for a while, but they only sold the whole fruits, which cost $30–not good if you’re just curious about the taste.

    All of the food looks incredible! You’re making me have wanderlust. 🙂

    • retirebyforty November 21, 2016, 3:40 pm

      Jackfruit is good, but you should buy a packet and not the fruit. It’s hard to take the flesh out. The sap is hard to clean up and doesn’t taste very good. The flesh is quite delicious. Travel is a lot of fun. 🙂

  • EL November 21, 2016, 9:43 am

    Hey thanks for sharing, its good to learn about other cultures. A retirement home sounds appealing, but being away from family(kids / Grandkids) might be hard for many US citizens. Nice Condo pic you snapped.

    • retirebyforty November 21, 2016, 3:42 pm

      It probably work better if you don’t have a strong tie with families/communities. It depends on your personality, right? Thanks! I thought the condo pic was cool too. It was a pretty lucky shot.

  • Fiscally Free November 21, 2016, 11:10 am

    I’m glad the krathongs are more eco friendly now. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to thank the water goddess by putting a lot of styrofoam in the water.

  • Sam @ Financial Samurai November 21, 2016, 11:33 am

    Good looking food as usual!

    What are some of the issues that have created conflict with you and your father? Is he overly critical and demanding? My father is quite critical of me, no matter how hard I try or how well I do. It’s frustrating, but I’ve learned to accept it.

    Sam

    • retirebyforty November 21, 2016, 3:47 pm

      It’s mostly our differing personalities. He likes to go fast and I’m much more conservative. If the speed limit is 65, I usually drive 70. He doesn’t mind going 80 or 90.
      I focus more on long term goals and he focus more on short term goals. We’re just different people. I don’t like how he does things and he feels the same about me.

  • Jason in Vancouver November 21, 2016, 2:35 pm

    Great stories. Reminds me of why I love Chiang Mai. Can’t wait to go back.

    Restaurant suggestion for Siem Reap: Haven. It’s not cheap compared to how cheap you can eat locally but it’s not too expensive either ($4-$9USD/dish). It’s actually a training restaurant, run by a very nice Swiss couple who hold a high standard, for young adults to give them life skills. Regardless, the food is delicious and reservations are a must.

    • retirebyforty November 21, 2016, 3:48 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation, but it’s too late. We’re back in Thailand. 🙂 Next time…

  • Xyz from Our Financial Path. November 21, 2016, 2:57 pm

    Great post! I miss Chiang Mai so much!

    Thailand has a lot to offer! I really enjoyed the various temples and religious sites, they are all free to visit and are full of history. It is a great, frugal, way to discover the culture, history, and beliefs of this beautiful country. There is a lot of architectural landmarks such as the Wat Rong Khun that are simply stunning!

    If you are on the more adventurous side, you can even taste BBQ cockroaches or salted ants. Those turned out to be surprisingly good. 🙂

    Tell me what you think of them!

    • retirebyforty November 21, 2016, 3:53 pm

      I’d like to learn more history too. The old warring states period is so fascinating.
      We haven’t tried weird food yet. There are too many good things to eat. I had flying ants when I was a kid and they were good. You just put a bucket of water out near the light and soon, there’d be a bunch of flying ants.

  • Ten Factorial Rocks November 22, 2016, 8:44 am

    Great travel post Joe. Certainly want to visit Chiangmai during the festival. Thailand seems to be a great country and would love to take in the architectural and cultural sites, especially the Wats. It’s always good to reconnect with our roots.

  • Melissa Yuan-Innes November 22, 2016, 2:24 pm

    Drooling over the food photos. Also laughing because my parents also liked to whip through the attractions like they were a video game, then overeat. #asian

    Keep ’em coming, Joe. Your honest and thorough travel diaries are my favourite!

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