Each New Years Eve, people swarm from all over Thailand to Chiang Mai for the annual Fire Lantern Festival.
Around 8pm, we began the evening. Every hotel in Chiang Mai has its own NYE festivities and requires guests to pay an extra charge to attend the event. Although attendance is not mandatory, payment is, so we decided we would begin our night there. The Cinderella themed outdoor celebration was set up like a wedding with a big stage, dance floor and numbered tables filled with Chinese, Korean and Thai tourists. It featured a red carpet entrance with a photographer who provided a souvenir framed photo.
We were surprised at the main act, a lady boy drag trio lip-synching disco songs. They clearly did not know the words to the songs they were fake singing to. In between acts there was a strange lottery drawing for additional stays at the hotel where no one would admit to winning. We passed on the buffet themed to western luxury food - including wheels of cheese, lamb chops, carving stations and other non-Asian but not quite western food - anxious to peruse the local thai food stalls before the crowd of thousands made it impossible to move.
From there, we started towards the main NYE festival. Along the way bought some paper lanterns from street vendors. We lit a few off quickly in a crowded street intersection but then made our way into a temple where child monks assisted visitors with the lighting. We wrote messages in marker on the lanterns and held them until they were filled with enough smoke to lift off. There were thousands continuously lifting off throughout the night. We made our way from there through a crowded street market to a small river. We sat along the banks until the countdown to midnight and watched the steady streams of lanterns fill the air. At midnight, the packed city lit off a crescendo of lanterns and fireworks. The fireworks were lit off in boxes on the street corners. They shot out in every direction. Seeing all of the lanterns in the sky was magical and totally unforgettable.
We made our way back to the hotel past the bar scene. Scantily clad Thai women line each bar and blatantly beckon western men. Very interesting cultural quirk. We went to bed around 2am with only enough time for a couple hours of sleep before our 6am flight to the South.
We arrived in Krabi, an international rock climbing destination. It's tropical with gorgeous oceans and huge stone monoliths jutting out of the sea.
We took a taxi and then long tail boat to our hotel and had about an hour to nap before setting out on a sunset-snorkel-climbing-jumping-dinner cruise aboard an old pirate-like Hong Kong style trading ship run by a New Zealander. Onboard the Krabi Sunset Cruise there were no rules. You could climb to the roof anytime or jump in from anywhere. It was super cool and Dave sorely missed his cliff jumping partner, Mase.
We stopped at 2 islands for snorkeling and jumping. Dave threw a gainer, some backflips and a couple one and a half's from the boat roof. Next we forayed into an adventure sport called "deep water soloing" which is free-climbing up a limestone cliff over deep water. Even though it was over water, it felt intense to rock climb without any ropes. We both climbed up the jagged cliffs but Davey got to the highest point for an epic jump.
We swam until the sun went down, ate a fantastic dinner on the boat, then laid on the roof looking up at the myriad of stars - much more glorious than the 8 you can see on a typical night in LA. Once it was pitch black, we began a completely new experience - a swim with bioluminescent plankton. We jumped in the dark water and when we moved our limbs the sea lit up with what seemed like pixie dust. It was totally surreal. A couple of long tail boats came in and nearly crushed us up against our boat, but the psychedelic experience was worth it. We did a beach landing back at Railay and walked around the island on dark, sandy paths that you would not want to walk around alone on. There were tons of beach bars, outdoor tattoo shops, climbing basecamps and exposed power lines at head height everywhere.
We woke up early and hit Railay Beach before it got crowded and then waited for our speed ferry to Ko Lanta, an island further south. Again, no rules. We rode on the front of the boat with our legs dangling off for 2 hours then arrived at our bamboo beach bungalow. To get there, instead of a taxi, there is a scooter with a metal side cage attached that has a bench and room for bags. Once at our place, we took a swim, rented a scooter and took off through winding hills and ocean view points to try to find a perfect sunset dinner spot. It took us a few turnarounds but we found THE most epic sunset restaurant, unrivaled in any of our travels. After leisurely cruising our scooter in the island breeze, we paused before the final 300 meters to the restaurant. We stared up at the steep rocky incline that would be a challenge for any motorcycle pro. Erin got off and walked up while Dave gunned it. Eating came secondary to our excitement of capturing the gorgeous sunset.
This constant, 24-hour adventure, with the sunrise at 35,000 feet and the sunset on a seaside cliff, feels like the perfect way to start the new year.
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